Inspirational Gerrard denied happy ending

Poignant Anfield night for Liverpool captain ends in derby disappointment
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The Independent Online

It was an improbable image to conjure with: Steven Gerrard sleeping away the afternoon at his place in Formby yesterday, knowing of the torrent that he was about to encounter down at his spiritual home. That is how he told it before this match, though. It was Gerrard's preference to play at night, under the Anfield floodlights, he said in his programme notes, because "I can get a sleep and come into the ground fresh".

This night had always looked like it would be one of poignancy and difficulty for the Liverpool captain, of course – ever since it was known that he would be facing charges of assault and affray on Friday, and precisely nine minutes had elapsed before the shouts about his chances of future liberty first sounded.

There was more for Everton's fans to capitalise on, too, the chants of "Rafa's cracking up" helpfully supplied by the Stretford End five days ago. Time will be the judge of whether Benitez's loud pronouncements of the past two weeks – about his contract and Sir Alex Ferguson – will prove to be wisdom or hubris but when Benitez touched his badge and the Spaniard's face adorned a flag which was unfurled on the Anfield Road, it looked like the siege mentality was working.

It was Gerrard they had all come to sing about, though, for better or worse. "Steve Gerrard, Gerrard, he'll pass the ball 40 yards", the Anfield Road end song runs and there is also a line in there which is probably sub judice in the circumstances but it was that bit which applied as Gerrard provided the defensive mettle which was missing when Rafael Benitez decided to opt for the creative dimension Xabi Alonso provides, instead of Javier Mascherano.

He stood just behind Alonso for much of the first half, blowing steam into the night sky, his face held in a grimace, those pigeon feet of his patrolling an area 10 yards in front of the Liverpool box. Gerrard talks in his biography of his propensity for a thumping early challenge to welcome an opponent to Anfield but Everton were ready. It was Phil Neville who did the welcoming and Mikel Arteta soon after, the nature of their challenges providing a sense that they knew what Gerrard was up against.



He misjudged a thumping Tim Cahill pass in Everton's half which sailed past him to Arteta. He chased back to land a tackle, which summed up a half which showed the free spirit their manager said he had hoped their recent form would engender in them.

Liverpool foundered, Alonso failing to provide what Benitez had sought in him, Robbie Keane chasing shadows, a bystander whose sprint from the field when substituted just after the hour suggested that he wanted out. It was Gerrard Torres looked for in possession, rarely Keane.

The shot the captain unleashed 10 minutes after the restart was a precursor, the captain gathering from Alonso 20 yards out, pushing the ball a few yards and forcing a scrambled save from Tim Howard. Then, a defining moment, Gerrard pushing another ball across the greasy surface, weighing up the chance and firing, 30 yards, past Howard. There have been enough of those Gerrard moments here that one celebration looks much like any other – but last night's did not.

It was Gerrard who led the march back out to the centre circle, too, when Tim Cahill had swept in the equaliser which deprived Liverpool of the chance to go back top – though in vain. The euphoria of the Everton fans took thoughts of the court case far away and it was the shouts of "you're going to win f*** all" which rang around the stadium as the sides processed him out. They would have distressed him more than any.

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