Liverpool 0 Everton 0: Everton make Benitez's small talk look cheap

Stubbs and Yobo hold their nerve for Moyes's men as Liverpool lose ground on leaders
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The Independent Football

Rafael Benitez had asked everyone to curtail talk of the title, and after this result he will probably get his wish. On a day Liverpool were expected to increase the pressure on the Premiership's top two they blew their lines completely. Only an optimistic with rose-tinted glasses will expect them to overhaul Manchester United and Chelsea now.

To their chagrin, their run of five Premiership wins was brought to an end by the old enemy, Everton, which to Liverpool supporter is akin to a blue hedgehog halting a red juggernaut. Yesterday, the spikes proved impenetrable, and the sharpest of them all was Alan Stubbs.

The 35-year-old centre-back was the embodiment of obduracy, winning countless headers, and effortlessly cutting out attacks with his anticipation. He read Liverpool like he had written the novel. With Joseph Yobo also outstanding, the home team simply ran out of options.

Which was a huge anti-climax for Benitez, who may have been playing down talk of championships, but who looked very disappointed by a result that means Everton have taken four points off his team this season. So disappointed, in fact, he made the cardinal sin on Merseyside of describing the near neighbours as a "small club". You can bet that is the talk of Liverpool's pubs today.

"One team wanted to win, the other wanted not to lose," the Liverpool manager said. "They put nine men behind the ball and played narrow and compact. That's what small clubs do when they come here."

David Moyes, his Everton counterpart, retorted: "I would have liked to play a different way and have a go but there is £100m difference between the teams. We are doing our best but there is a big gap between Liverpool and Everton. We tried to do a job and we've taken four points from our matches with them this season so we must be doing something right."

It was apparent from the start that Everton were not going to prove mere mileposts on Liverpool's journey to greater things. The talk beforehand was of Liverpool avenging September's 3-0 defeat at Goodison, but with Stubbs and Yobo dominant and Phil Neville and Lee Carsley providing protective screen in front of them, the visitors oozed resilience.

Within 50 seconds a below- par Steven Gerrard came close to conceding an own goal when he lunged at Neville's throw-in and Everton could also have taken the lead after 23 minutes when Leon Osman was first to Andy Johnson's flick but his header was too close to Jose Reina. Liverpool's best effort in the first half came after nine minutes when Xabi Alonso's shot was partially blocked but sat up for Peter Crouch, whose volley was denied only by a sharp save from Tim Howard.

Honours even at half-time, but regular visitors to Anfield have become accustomed to lacklustre Liverpool before the break and lionine Liverpool after it. The goals would come surely? This time the claws came out but the prey got away unscathed.

Liverpool dominated possession, Jermaine Pennant began to make his presence felt on the right but even though Benitez fielded Crouch, Craig Bellamy, and Dirk Kuyt, the chances were few and the attempts tentative.

Indeed, it was Everton who had the best chance, after 60 minutes. Alonso, who had an afternoon mixing the sublime with the error strewn, put Steve Finnan under pressure with an ill-considered pass and the Liverpool full-back compounded that error by lofting the ball to Johnson. The England striker turned supremely, had one shot blocked by Jamie Carragher and then was denied by Reina. "Andy did great to sit his marker down and on another day the goalkeeper might not have saved it," Moyes said. "Maybe you have to give Reina the credit."

Benitez introduced Robbie Fowler with five minutes to go and the trick almost worked when the scourge of Everton cleverly chested down a cross in the 87th minute, Kuyt prodded the ball forward to Crouch, who completed a miserable day with a mis-hit.

Liverpool had blown it and it was Everton who made the final statement of the 205th Merseyside derby, John Arne Riise having to clear off the line after Pennant had inadvertently headed a corner towards his own goal.

"Some times we were a little bit nervous and gave the ball away, but after Johnson's chance we controlled everything," Benitez said, before repeating his belittling adjective by describing Everton as a small team. "I cannot criticise them, but when you a play a big team, a top side, a draw is sometimes good."

The delight of the Everton supporters at the final whistle suggested Benitez was correct in his assessment in terms of which set of supporters was the happier, although he is unlikely to be allowed to forget describing Everton as "small". Lost in translation; baffled on the pitch. Yesterday small was beautiful.