LIVERPOOL'S season, the triumph of disillusionment over expectation in recent years, took a familiar turn last night when Everton inflicted damage on their hopes of catching Manchester United. Even second place in the Premiership and a chance of qualifying for the Champions' League, is a diminishing hope after this result.
Liverpool, nine points behind the champions, needed a win to rekindle their League ambitions but instead got a draw that failed to lift them above second-placed Arsenal, who have two games in hand. With only four games left at Anfield and out of three knock-out competitions, a Uefa Cup place increasingly looks the height of their ambitions.
The fact that Everton helped them confront this unpalatable prospect will have brought extra pain although not even the most red-eyed supporter could claim it was unexpected. Everton have now gone eight matches since they last lost a Merseyside derby and the distance between the present and that last success, in March 1994, is sufficient that a local radio station could offer prizes last night for the first person to name the managers on that occasion.
"We played well," Paul Ince, the Liverpool captain, said. "In terms of chances and possession we should have taken three points." That is becoming the slogan of Roy Evans' team.
The result continued an unhappy spell for Liverpool, who have taken three League points out of 12 and gone out of the Coca-Cola Cup since 31 January. They began as if they wished to make full amends in the first 10 minutes, however, tearing at Everton and if they had been 2-0 up after that period it would not have been an injustice.
After two minutes Steve McManaman sliced the Everton defence in two with a pass to Michael Owen. The striking prodigy has been scoring goals from angles that seemed impossible in recent weeks so it was a surprise when he hooked his shot wide.
A minute later Robbie Fowler shot from 20 yards, bringing out a flying save from Thomas Myhre, and after six minutes the Everton goalkeeper did well to block a more substantial effort from Owen. What Everton's defence was doing in this spell was a mystery that appeared to baffle their manager, Howard Kendall, as much as anyone given the animated signals coming from the bench.
It required something exceptional to break this spell of visiting inadequacy and Mickael Madar provided it after 10 minutes, trying a volley from the wing that almost caught David James flat-footed. In a flash the mood had changed.
Everton reached the interval with at least as good a chance to their credit as any of Liverpool's. Slaven Bilic's 32nd-minute pass was weighted in such a manner that any touch from Duncan Ferguson would push him beyond the home back four. That he provided, but his shot was turned round the post by James.
That was a warning that went unheeded by Liverpool, who continued to waste possession after the interval and paid when Ferguson scored for the visitors after 57 minutes. Michael Ball launched a long throw from the left which Madar cushioned delightfully into the gangling Ferguson's path and he hit a half-volley as sharp as the cool air past James.
An Everton win loomed and it would probably have arrived if Madar had scored after 65 minutes. James fumbled a cross, Ferguson headed forward and the French striker had only to beat Steve Harkness on the line, but he shot wide.
It proved an expensive miss because within a minute Liverpool had equalised. McManman passed into the area, Slaven Bilic's clearance hit Claus Thomsen and Paul Ince whipped a shot across Myhre into the far corner.
That instigated a prolonged Liverpool assault but with Myhre crowning an excellent night with a dive to halt Jamie Redknapp, it proved another frustrating night for Liverpool.
"It's not a surprise any more," Kendall said of his Norwegian goalkeeper. "That's the biggest compliment I can pay him."
Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Kvarme, Carragher, Harkness, R Jones; McManaman, Redknapp, Ince, Leonhardsen; Owen, Fowler (Murphy, 90). Substitutes not used: Berger, Thompson, Rizzo, Friedel (gk).
Everton (3-4-1-2): Myhre; Watson, Bilic, Tiler; Ward, Farrelly, Thomsen, Ball; Cadamarteri (Oster, h-t); Ferguson, Madar (McCann, 69). Substitutes not used: Short, Thomas, Gerrard (gk).
Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).Reuse content