Liverpool and Everton cancelled each other out in a forgettable 220th Merseyside derby bereft of incident.
Jamie Carragher will remember his final Merseyside derby as one in which he kept a clean sheet and extended Liverpool’s run in these fixtures at Anfield to 14 years without defeat. Other than that, it will slip quickly even from the mind of someone with a prodigious capacity for memorising some of the club’s more obscure facts.
The match ended with the Kop chanting: “Attack, attack, attack”, which is something neither side did very much of.
The Merseyside derby is one of English football’s great set-piece occasions and, though there was much to admire in the displays of the two captains, Steven Gerrard and Phil Jagielka, in the absence of Luis Suarez neither side possessed an outstanding goalscorer. It was like watching two men duelling with salad tongs.
Suarez was present in the shape of a banner on the Kop from the self- proclaimed “Barra Charrua” or “Uruguayan Gang”. Liverpool had responded to his 10-match ban for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic by annihilating Newcastle United at St James’ Park but here the only explosions were the flares going off in the away end.
“A goal was the only thing missing,” said Gerrard, who rather fittingly was presented with his man-of-the-match award by Carragher – the two old sweats who were at the club when Everton last won here. “That was what we all wanted, especially for this fella playing in his last Merseyside derby.
“But Everton have improved a lot. They are a good team and difficult to beat.
“That sums up our season, in a way. We have played well but haven’t got the results against the sides who are above us. We will take the point but we are disappointed it wasn’t more.”
Jagielka might have said the same, particularly since Everton actually put the ball in the net when Sylvain Distin headed in Leighton Baines’s corner.At first it seemed Michael Oliver had disallowed it for a push on Carragher by the Frenchman. But Carragher had heard the whistle before he felt Distin in his back and Oliver said Pepe Reina had been impeded by Victor Anichebe, who he booked for complaining at the decision.
When he was reminded that many in the away dressing room thought it a very soft decision, Carragher spluttered with indignation, pointing out that at Goodison Park in October, Suarez had seen a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside. “Jesus Christ,” he said. “Nobody talks about that, do they?”
The way the match began said everything about the Merseyside derby. To express their gratitude for the support Everton have given throughout the Hillsborough inquiry, the Kop held up cards that spelled out the word “Thanks”. However, there were so many banners extolling the lives of Bob Paisley or Pepe Reina that it was hard to make the inscription out.
That done, they began a chorus of “Blue and White Shite”, normality restored. In the Anfield Road End, the Everton supporters set off blue flares, although it seemed some of them hadn’t checked the labelling thoroughly because clouds of fetching lilac smoke began pouring across the pitch.
Maybe it was because there was so little at stake, maybe it was the deep exhaustion, ingrained like soil in a ploughman’s fingernails, that comes to footballers in May, but the match could not raise itself to the occasion.
Gerrard tried with every sinew in his body. Kenny Dalglish’s son, Paul, tweeted that in this mood the Liverpool captain would either score or get himself sent off. In fact, despite this fixture boasting more red cards than any other in the Premier League, there were nothing more than yellows. The closest Gerrard came to a goal was when he rounded Tim Howard and saw Distin, muscled like a heavyweight but with the reactions of a flyweight, drive it clear.
There were other chances, particularly after the interval when Liverpool came to terms with the afternoon’s demands. Philippe Coutinho, revelling in his first Merseyside derby, sent Daniel Sturridge clear. From his vantage point on the touchline, his manager, Brendan Rodgers, thought Sturridge needed either to shoot first time or take it round the keeper. He did neither.
Suarez’s ban had given Sturridge the limelight he craved but had not been given at Chelsea. At St James’ Park he had revelled in it, here the chances came and went. Newcastle did not possess centre-halves like Jagielka and Distin.
The Everton pair had many moments yesterday; Jagielka’s finest was a block from Gerrard when Howard appeared beaten, he followed that up with a tackle on Coutinho when the goal gaped. Had the central defender made the slightest error, the result would have been a penalty or a goal. There could be no finer tribute to a man playing his 500th game that it was neither.
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