Trust the neighbours to do you a favour. Everton can still enjoy the feeling of superiority on Merseyside, according to the Premiership table at least, but the balance of power remains on the red side of the city after Liverpool recorded their third consecutive victory over Everton yesterday at Goodison Park.
Whether the game should have been played was open to debate. Gérard Houllier, the Liverpool manager, had voiced his disquiet at the decision to go ahead with a full programme so soon after events in America. "To play football you need a playful mind," he said. No one has expressed football's dilemma more effectively.
Reference to the "165th Merseyside clash" served as a reminder of how easily the language of sport can slip into hyperbole. "How can you bring enjoyment when you feel sad?" Houllier had asked. The answer, in the currency of football, is to win a derby. But pleasure at what he termed a "kick-start" to his side's season was tempered by the week's events. "It's not a period when you can express satisfaction," he said. "But I'm happy we've done well despite the circumstances."
Goals in the first half by Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen, from the penalty spot, surprisingly his first in a Merseyside derby, gave Liverpool a deserved half-time lead after an early fright. But it was John Arne Riise's solo goal just after the break that sealed Liverpool's second victory of the season and lifted them from the indignity of 16th place in the table.
Everton, for their part, can look to a couple of late chances, both saved by Jerzy Dudek, for evidence that the defeat was not as complete as the scoreline suggests. There were also encouraging signs for the future in the debut of Tomasz Radzinski, their £4.5m buy from Anderlecht, and in the return of Paul Gascoigne, another half-time substitution, as Everton went for broke by switching to 433.
"I'm not sure we had a better shape in the second half," said Walter Smith, the Everton manager. "But Paul can take the ball forward and create opportunities." He still weights a pass better than anyone in the Premiership. Yet when the impressive Riise, Gerrard's only competitor for the man-of-the-match award, strode forward to score Liverpool's third with a low shot past Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard on 53 minutes, it seemed the home side might be in for a drubbing. But they held on and, had Tony Hibbert shown more composure from an unmarked header at the far post, the finale might have been less of a stroll.
Houllier's tactical plan, once he had decided to spare Nicky Barmby the taunts of his former fans, was to bring Danny Murphy into the centre of midfield to stifle Everton's supply line. But the long ball for Duncan Ferguson and Kevin Campbell was always going to be Everton's most potent outlet, and Stéphane Henchoz and Sami Hyypia fell for the old one-two. "A classic," as Houllier ruefully remarked. As early as the sixth minute, Ferguson's neat header found Campbell with his back to goal 12 yards out. The Everton captain's turn was too swift for Hyypia and his shot slipped underneath the unsighted Dudek, who was beginning to grasp the frantic nature of Merseyside derbies.
With Everton already enjoying an unusual view down the League on their lowly neighbours, the goal prompted a glimpse of untold riches at Goodison. When Gerrard, faced with a 20-yard volley, slipped and ended up flat on his face, the locals were in seventh heaven. But Everton fans have been brought up to know better. Within nine minutes, the visitors were level through a goal of sublime quality by Gerrard, who picked up a loose ball on the edge of the Everton area, bounded past Gary Naysmith before firing a rising angled shot past his namesake in the Everton goal. Sublime, but almost routine from the England international these days.
The goal eased Liverpool's nerves. With Murphy the dominant scuffler in midfield, Gerrard lending support from his station on the right and Riise and Grégory Vignal combining intelligently down the left, Liverpool began to expose their neighbour's inflated pretensions. A neat move between Vignal and Riise worked Emile Heskey some space in the Everton area and when Paul Durkin pointed to the spot after David Unsworth's ungainly lunge, Owen scored his 13th goal of the season from the inevitable penalty. Liverpool could have gone further ahead before the break, but Gerrard's ferocious right-foot shot forced a good save from Gerrard and Dietmar Hamann ended the game's slickest move by blasting over.
Smith switched his system at half-time only for Riise to increase Liverpool's lead. Henchoz cleared Campbell's header off the line immediately after, but, realistically, from then on Everton were chasing a lost cause. "There are three elements to a derby" said Houllier. "Physical, mental and tactical. We had a plan and we deserved the win." For once, though, the victors had no just cause for celebration.
Everton 1 Liverpool 3
Campbell 5; Gerrard 12, Owen pen 31, Riise 52
Half-time: 1-2 Attendance: 40,855Reuse content