Which Scouse wit from the 2008 City of European Culture named this fixture "the friendly derby"? As Liverpool and Everton went at it for the 203rd time in their Mersey War, that old Fireworks Night warning came to mind: light the blue (or red, according to club preference) touchpaper and retire.
There were, in fact, two retirements, one from each side, as the result of the referee, Phil Dowd, waving his red card. Mr Dowd also flourished yellow 11 times. With seven of the yellows collected by Everton, they are automatically in trouble with the Football Association.
Perhaps in a pre-match bid to calm the potential fireworks, a player from each side wore 08 on his shirt to promote the aforementioned Culture award - James Beattie for Everton and the revered, adored Steven Gerrard for Liverpool. For the second time in a Mersey Derby (1999 was the first occasion) Gerrard did not last beyond the 20th minute, having collected one yellow for dissent and then promptly felling Kevin Kilbane for the second one. His manager, Rafael Benitez, correctly des-cribed Gerrard as "a player with a lot of passion" but stressed that he, and the rest of the team, needed to learn from the more violent elements of this match.
Benitez himself was not immune from the passion. In his natty light-brown suit and complementary tie, the Spaniard had to be ushered away more than once from the fringe of the action by the fourth official, Steve Bennett.
The 08 responsibility which had seen off Gerrard also appeared to weigh heavily on Beattie, since he rarely rose above the ground, never mind the mundane. The first yellow came after just 12 minutes, awarded against that feisty fellow from Down Under, Tim Cahill, and it set the trend. Another eight minutes and Gerrard was gone, and as Xabi Alonso was cautioned for clattering Phil Neville there was the possibility of Apocalypse Now as Duncan Ferguson warmed up along the touchline.
With barely half an hour gone the card count was up to seven and Mr Dowd had spoken to a bunch of other miscreants. Goals immediately either side of half-time had the Kop gleefully reminding the Evertonians: "We've only got 10 men".
Failure to make much progress against those 10 persuaded the Everton manager, David Moyes, to prepare a triple substitution on the hour, as Ferguson, Andy van der Meyde and Simon Davies stripped for action, but they sat down again as Cahill clawed one back.
The decision eventually to send on just Ferguson and Van der Meyde could be said to have backfired, since the Dutchman lasted just five minutes before becoming the 14th player to be sent off against Liverpool this season, for an arm into Alonso's face, Moyes later pointing out tartly: "To jump you need to use your arms."
Ferguson, of course, could not dodge trouble, either. He had been loping around for just eight minutes before collecting a yellow card for deliberately running into Alonso. Though the sides were down to 10 men apiece, Liverpool were edgy about preserving their lead, but that was gloriously dissipated by Harry Kewell's thunderbolt seven minutes from time.
Even the three minutes of added time were not permitted to pass without a further caution, Tony Hibbert picking up a yellow. By then the Koppites didn't much care, contenting themselves by chanting the name of Stevie Gerrard to the tune of "Que Sera Sera". A sweet end to the Friendly Derby.Reuse content