Derby to provide ultimate test of Gerrard's resolve

Manager's support will be key as Liverpool captain faces Merseyside ordeal, writes Ian Herbert
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The Independent Online

If his previous controversial night out in Southport is anything to go by, yesterday will have been one of intense private agonies for Steven Gerrard, an introspective individual at the best of times. No fracas ensued when an Everton fan threw an insult at Gerrard back in 2001 but when word reached the papers that the then-fledgling England international had been drinking that night, six days before a World Cup qualifier against Greece, he was inconsolable.

Gerrard's sensitivity, when it comes to incidents off the field of play, was also illustrated by his genuine devastation when he hit a child in the Liverpool district of Norris Green while driving his Bentley last year. This, don't forget, is the same individual who felt such profound homesickness having been called up for Kevin Keegan's Euro 2000 squad that he initially resolved to pack up his bags and fly home. So now for his biggest test.

Four days before his appearance at North Sefton Magistrates to answer the charges read out to him at Southport police station at 11.30pm on Monday evening, Liverpool will host Everton, the club whose fans more than any other have goaded and abused him to a point that no player should have to endure. Gerrard was livid, in October 2007, when Rafael Benitez, as the Liverpool captain saw it, humiliated him by substituting him in the Goodison derby. He ain't seen nothing yet. The more voluble Everton fans have that Monday 19 January date ringed in their diaries already.

Gerrard can at least reflect on the fact that Benitez will not provide another difficult reception for him when, as expected, the two encounter each other in L4 today. A stickler for detail and conformity to the team Benitez might be, but he is not the kind of manager to read the riot act before the magistrates read the Public Order Act, under which Gerrard has been charged. Witness the way Benitez responded when Craig Bellamy was travelling down to Cardiff to answer charges of assault while still a Liverpool player, in 2006.

The mood music suggests that the relationship between manager and captain has strengthened even in the past few months, the Spaniard's description marking Gerrard's 10 years as a Liverpool player – "he is one of the big names in world football, who will not lose his power" – a far remove from the aloofness which has always infuriated Gerrard.

Their new-found mutual understanding is going to be more important than ever. High-profile court cases like the one in question have a history of dragging through many adjournments and that will leave a cloud over Liverpool's captain at arguably the most significant juncture in his footballing life, with the drive towards the Premier League title Anfield is obsessed about finally a reality. After Everton, there is a difficult trip to the JJB Stadium to face Wigan Athletic and then it is the arrival of Chelsea on 1 February. No time is a good time to face the magistrates' bench.

It is why Gerrard may have been reflecting, as were many Liverpool fans yesterday, that it simply had not been wise to head out to Southport to celebrate the statement of title intent his side had made in Newcastle that afternoon. When the footballing good times are rolling Gerrard likes nothing better than heading for the resort's Lord Street – "Shirt ironed, jeans on," is one of the sayings captured by his biography for such occasions – but Scousers can have a difficult time of it in Southport during the holiday period when there are more Mancunians around than usual.

Gerrard cannot afford that kind of agonising, of course. The only word from his camp yesterday was that he had received a number of messages and emails, for which he was grateful and that he was determined to return to a training pitch. How he will cope with thoughts of a court case and all it entails remains unclear but if recent history is anything to go by, it seems that the hell-raisers fare much better in times like this than the more reflective souls like himself.

Bellamy did not seem to have too much trouble coping with a situation like this, nor Joey Barton, who received a fresh assault charge while awaiting trial for a previous one. Lee Bowyer, then at Leeds United, was a picture of relaxation, too, when he swaggered daily into his own assault and affray trial at Hull seven years back, minus socks for the purposes of convincing the jury that a piece of his personal testimony was valid. The case did not do Bowyer's form much harm, either. Not so his co-accused and team-mate Jonathan Woodgate, a reserved and private individual who struggled as much on the pitch as in the witness box.

Liverpool will be hoping that Gerrard does not conform to type on this occasion and that the unremitting kind of resolve he displays on the field of play will prevail.

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