Everton 3 Liverpool 0: Johnson lifts quality of Mersey

Goodison's new hero enhances his status with tireless front-running performance
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The Independent Football

Tim Cahill, the scorer of Everton's opening goal yesterday lunchtime, described this fixture as "our Champions' League final" and the home support celebrated as if they had won the European Cup itself. For Liverpool and their followers, the only similarity was that sinking feeling at falling three goals behind. But there would be no Istanbul miracles this time, only a grim raft of statistics to emphasise just how unusual an event the capacity crowd had witnessed.

It was Liverpool's first defeat in 18 games stretching back to last March, and only their second in 14 derbies. Everton, when they do emerge triumphant in this backyard scrap, tend to do so by the minimum margin, so this was their most impressive winning margin since a 4-0 triumph at Anfield in 1964.

The scoreline may not have reflected the balance of play, but the visitors, in making so little of such abundant possession, unwittingly illustrated their limitations on the day. Sami Hyypia and the clearly unfit Jamie Carragher were outwitted and outpaced by Goodison's new hero Andy Johnson; Steven Gerrard was unable to influence the game sufficiently from out on the right; Robbie Fowler and Peter Crouch were a hapless pair in attack, both of them pulled off with little more than an hour played.

The best Liverpool could point to was a penalty that should have been given for handball against Tony Hibbert at 2-0 with quarter of an hour to play, when a goal might have caused Everton to lose some of the composure displayed at the back by their new defensive pairing of Joleon Lescott and Joseph Yobo.

Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benitez, who once again seemed to have one eye on a forthcoming Champions' League tie with his team selection, was reluctant to blame individuals but admitted: "We were too nice. We normally keep a lot of clean sheets but this time the team's defending was poor."

Benitez's opposite number, David Moyes, ran on to the pitch at the end of the game in his excitement, though he claimed to have disappeared down the tunnel before the big screen flashed up a League table with his team sitting proudly on top of the tree, at least until being overtaken by Portsmouth and then Manchester United.

"I hope in my time at Everton I'm able to see that more often," he said. "Liverpool are an excellent football team and always hard to beat but I thought we deserved it."

Moyes praised the "hunger" of his most expensive signing, Johnson, who did not have the support of a second striker until the last few minutes, but always foraged willingly and with no little skill. There had been a strong hint of things to come as early as the seventh minute when he gave Carragher three yards start and still beat him into the penalty area before losing out to the labouring defender's desperate recovery tackle. Carragher had not trained all week and was expected to miss the game, as he had England's two international matches.

His error would also lead to the second goal, only 12 minutes after the first. For that opening strike, Johnson laid the ball out to Mikel Arteta, whose cross was nudged on by Lee Carsley. Leon Osman held off Steve Finnan, perhaps illegally, and Cahill was all alone to knock in one of his regular derby goals.

Liverpool might also have been awarded a free-kick in the build-up to the second, which involved Carsley playing the ball through, and Hyypia leaving it for Carragher, whose catastrophic miskick allowed Johnson a cool finish.

In between times there was a little flurry of Liverpool chances, with three shots drifting wide, Tim Howard saving from Luis Garcia and Gerrard jabbing the rebound against a post. Benitez knew his team needed the next goal, and after he took off his two strikers to bring on Dirk Kuyt and John Arne Riise, Gerrard or Finnan might have got it, both driving wide of the far post.

Gary Naysmith at left-back was Everton's one weak link, passes regularly played inside him for attackers to cut in on. Kuyt brought a smart save from Howard and Gerrard drove against a post for the second time, Hibbert handling Kuyt's effort from the rebound.

Nothing would go Liverpool's way. No sooner had they used a third substitute, Jermaine Pennant, than Riise turned his ankle fouling Arteta and had to be carried off, with referee Graham Poll adding a yellow card to the injury.

Even the addition of five minutes' added time did not discomfort Everton and in the last of them Liverpool's goalkeeper, Jose Reina, dropped Carsley's 25 yarder and the indefatigable Johnson nodded in his fourth goal in as many games.

The visiting supporters disappeared immediately rather than bear rare Evertonian taunts of "easy, easy". What a night it was to be a Blue on Merseyside.