No happy return as Kop and Keane join in condemnation
It doesn't take away the word that Luis Suarez directed at Patrice Evra 106 days ago but it does take away a little of what Liverpool have been feeling in these past few weeks.
Of all the potential match-winning scenarios, Dirk Kuyt leaving Patrice Evra looking like a man stuck in treacle was as good as it got from a Liverpool perspective.
It was Kuyt whose altercation with Evra prefaced the fateful fracas with Suarez on 15 October – "stand up, stand up," Kuyt screamed at him that day when he suspected gamesmanship – and that the Dutchman should have made such light work of the same adversary in the same area of the Anfield turf yesterday somehow capped it all.
Evra did not know where to turn when the whistle sounded and Anfield ignited with the chant "Luis Suarez". There being no one in red whom he dared approach, he threw away his gloves and trooped off, Jamie Carragher being the solitary Liverpool player willing to offer a hand along the way.
Carragher then embarked on a celebration so loopy in front of the Kop that he lost a boot and had to paddle back to the dressing room wearing one.
Up in the TV gallery, there was a reminder of how brutal an environment football can be because for neither Roy Keane nor Paul Ince did it matter that Evra had spent most of this match having his every touch booed. "Absolutely shocking," was Ince's assessment of how the defender failed to anticipate Andy Carroll beating Jonny Evans in the air and carving Kuyt an open path to goal. Keane went further. "I think he gets caught in a lot of the big games," he said of Evra. "He should be tucking in."
This was not entirely fair. Evra's display in United's 2-1 win at the Emirates last weekend was his best in several years. But it is fair to say that the Suarez imbroglio has obscured the way that a player voted the Premier League's best left-back in the 2006-07 season by his fellow professionals has experienced a collapse in form. Evra actually looked vulnerable at times in the 8-2 demolition of Arsenal in August. James Milner made the 6-1 derby day defeat at Old Trafford miserable for him and it wasn't just an offensive racial term that Suarez dished out in October. He nutmegged Evra twice and generally caused him mayhem. Logic runs that, at 30, Evra has lost some pace.
Evra (right) could have used some pace yesterday from the team-mates who dawdled when he was left alone to brave some vitriol by running for a second half throw-in near the Kop end and the subtext of Suarez was never far away. While Steven Gerrard meant what he said in his programme notes – nothing other than "passionate backing" from fans was "welcome or will be appreciated" – his sentiments for Evra were self-evident when the two captains came to offer each other a hand in the centre circle. There was not a flicker of eye contact from Gerrard. The second half was two minutes old when, as he and Carragher rose together from a tussle, the Liverpool man tapped Evra on the back of the head – the precise action, from Suarez, which so infuriated him.
Evra did not respond. The players, in concert, heeded the FA's pre-match reminder of their responsibilities not to inflame tensions, which never got much beyond the United banner – "MUFC defending titles, LFC defending racism" – raised by an away following which still thought it acceptable to sing of the 96 lives lost at Hillsborough. When Maxi Rodriguez made a two-footed challenge on Ryan Giggs which warranted a dismissal, referee Mark Halsey reserved judgement long enough to see the Argentine was about to be substituted. It was a judicious way to keep the temperature down.
Similar wisdom prevailed in the press room when Dalglish shaped up for a Vesuvian reaction to the question of whether the boos for Evra had disappointed him. "Are you winding me up? Why would I be disappointed for Patrice Evra?" he asked his questioner. "Have you ever played football...?" A hand was placed on Dalglish by his press manager. Actions had already spoken louder than words. Liverpool had their day.
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