James Lawton: Carragher's final hurrah cast into shadow by bout of penalty-box 'wrestling'

The game offered few suggestions it would be a contest

Jamie Carragher can carry many plaudits from his last Merseyside derby and maybe one of the most enduring is the assessment offered by the World Cup-winning full back George Cohen.

It came at that time when Carragher became disaffected in his often unrewarded effort to become an integral part of the England team.

Cohen said: "It's a pity that his international career has ended like this because I've long held the opinion that he is possibly the best pure defender in the country. A lot of players gain more attention because they are flashier on the ball but the thing about Carragher is that he has really learned how to defend."

Now the years have eroded such distinction, it is maybe a duty to remember that what we had in yesterday's inconclusive battle was rather more than a major eruption of folklore around the superbly committed career of Carragher.

We had a most significant football figure limited to some extent by the nature of his football times. His content was rather more than ornamental, or self-advertising, and maybe at a pivotal stage of his career he suffered for that.

Something of the same might be said of the man who should have collected the spoils yesterday, if not on the balance of play but the old truth that legitimately scored goals should decide any game. This might also have been the last derby of Everton manager David Moyes after 11 years of fighting various accumulations of odds.

Certainly it was impossible to pick an argument after his assertion that: "I don't want to sound like a whingeing manager but we scored a legitimate goal. It should have counted."

It should indeed. That it didn't was maybe another prime example of some of the random injustices that are so randomly inflicted in today's football.

Referee Michael Oliver's decision to rule out Sylvain Distin's header would have been bizarre in most circumstances but yesterday's were a terrible indictment of the mayhem that has so progressively taken over the penalty areas of English football on the occasion of a set-piece.

The foul went against Victor Anichebe when Pepe Reina collided with him in the routine melee. It was an arbitrary call by any standards but what made it particularly outrageous were the preliminaries. The Everton forward had been required to fight off the utterly routine grappling of Liverpool defender Jose Enrique. None of that molestation was, of course, deemed worthy of censure. This was because it was utterly routine and as long as it remains so football displays a scarring which can only be healed by concerned action.

It is 21 years since the old back-pass to the goalkeeper was banned in the wake of a catastrophically dull World Cup in Italy on the grounds that it was disfiguring the game. Defenders were no longer required to defend honestly. They passed the ball back to the goalkeeper with a dismal frequency. It was a corruption of the game – and so is the wrestling of today.

That certainly had to be the overwhelmingly depressing conclusion of a derby game which offered only spasmodic suggestions that it might graduate into a genuinely red-blooded contest. For this, a number of players could be freed from all responsibility, including the two best performers on the field, Liverpool's Steven Gerrard and Everton's frustrated match-winner Distin.

If both are at that point of their careers when the shadows tend to appear they still managed to give the working impression that they might just play on forever. Distin suffered badly after a devastating mistake in the Wembley FA Cup semi-final last spring which opened the gates to Liverpool but yesterday he was a figure of immense serenity.

With Phil Jagielka, Distin was a brilliant obstacle to the best of Liverpool's invention, which centred on the authority of Gerrard's passing, the movement of Daniel Sturridge and the growing evidence that in the young Philippe Coutinho manager Brendan Rodgers has happened upon a source of both intelligence and sharp creativity. Unfortunately, none of these elements conspired to produce a game likely to linger in the memory.

There was, in the end, just the sense that Carragher could hardly have gone out of the derby action displaying any more of the competitive passion that had distinguished his career – and an equally impressive reminder of the work of Moyes. Victory would have cemented the manager's achievement of finishing above Liverpool in successive years, a landmark last reached 50 years earlier. As it is, Everton's five-point lead with just two games left for both clubs looks both utterly secure and a completely inadequate measurement of the extent of his achievements.

Moyes has been relentless in the demands he has made on his players and the result has been a wonder of over-achievement by a club so outgunned in all resources but those of recurring professional character. What the man who declared that Everton were the "people's club" when he arrived on Merseyside does now should be a matter of fierce interest in all walks of the football life.

In the meantime, though, we can be sure that his club will fight on under his command quite as long as it lasts. It is the least tribute we can give a football manager of both impeccable professional values and unrivalled stamina in what many rivals might have considered an impossible task some years ago.

Such achievement was never going to be touched by either victory or defeat yesterday. However, that was no reason to dismiss the injustice of at least one result.

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