It is a well-worn script at Anfield: captain scores a wonder goal in front of the Kop on derby day. Yesterday, however, it came with a twist. Steven Gerrard did find the net with his 10th goal against the neighbours but it was Everton’s skipper, Phil Jagielka, who emerged as the unlikely hero as he nearly burst the Kop net with a 30-yard strike in injury-time.
The hosts looked to have earned what would have been a deserved victory through Steven Gerrard's 65th-minute free-kick - a record ninth Barclays Premier League goal in the fixture for the Reds captain.
But, with 91 minutes on the clock, Jagielka, who had not scored for Everton since April 2013, let fly with an effort that gave Simon Mignolet no chance.
It still leaves Everton without a victory at Anfield since 1999, but rarely will a point ever have felt so sweet.
There was a surprise in the Everton team, with veteran full-back Tony Hibbert making his first league start since December 2012 in place of the injured Seamus Coleman.
It was the best goal by an Evertonian at Anfield since Graeme Sharp’s famous volleyed winner 30 years ago next month and a relieved Roberto Martinez described it as the best he has seen. “I don’t think I’ve seen a better strike in live football,” he said. “It helps that it is in the last minute, it is at Anfield and it is my team.”
It arrived in the 91st minute when a Liverpool clearance landed at the feet of the central defender and he sent the ball thudding into the top corner of Simon Mignolet’s goal on the half-volley. It was, Martinez added, a moment of sweet vindication for Jagielka who had seemingly carried a World Cup hangover into this campaign. “Phil Jagielka has had a lot of unfair criticism from the outside,” said the Spaniard. “That is a real example of how to face adversity.”
It was, it should be noted, a goal that had not looked like coming and it left Brendan Rodgers a frustrated figure. After back-to-back League defeats against Aston Villa and West Ham, a derby victory could have provided an important catalyst, and it had looked almost assured after Gerrard beat Tim Howard with a 25-yard free-kick in the 65th minute.
“We didn’t get what we deserved,” said Rodgers. Liverpool would have had victory had Mario Balotelli buried a cross from Raheem Sterling shortly after Gerrard’s goal, but Howard diverted the shot on to the crossbar. Rodgers’ frustration was compounded by his belief that his team should have had a first-half penalty when Gareth Barry’s raised arm stopped the flight of a Jordan Henderson shot. “That was nearly a save,” said Rodgers.
It was a significant moment as referee Martin Atkinson would have had to dismiss Barry who picked up a first-minute booking for a trip on Adam Lallana. Atkinson also showed lenience to Liverpool when ignoring Alberto Moreno’s penalty-box tug on Romelu Lukaku.
Everton arrived at Anfield with their worst defensive record at this stage of the season since 1994. They were haunted by memories of their 4-0 drubbing here in January, too, and Martinez’s response was a surprise recall for Tony Hibbert, making his first League start since December 2012 in the absence of Seamus Coleman. The Scouser showed his relish for the occasion with one fierce challenge on Balotelli that drew a scream that could be heard in the Main Stand. Not quite the way Steve McMahon or Graeme Souness would have responded.
In the early storm, Howard turned behind a 20-yard Balotelli effort and made a flying save from Lallana’s header from the ensuing corner. When opportunity knocked again for Balotelli, he failed to connect with Moreno’s ball across goal.
Everton’s attacking game was not helped by the early departure of Kevin Mirallas who pulled up with a “bad hamstring” injury but Martinez was pleased with their defensive work. Yet with Henderson, Lallana and Sterling shining in front of the watching England manager, Roy Hodgson, Liverpool looked to have won the game when Gerrard struck. Balotelli went down under a Leighton Baines challenge and Gerrard did the rest, lifting the ball over the wall and beyond Howard, who got a hand to it in vain.
Gerrard reflected that it was the perfect response to recent criticism of his performances, serving to “remind people that although I am 34 I can still run, I can still play and can still compete with the best players around.” It looked like his afternoon once more, especially when the disappointing Lukaku missed a free header, but then up stepped Jagielka to rip up the script.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Mignolet; Manquillo, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno; Henderson, Gerrrard; Markovic (Coutinho, 60), Lallana, Sterling; Balotelli (Lambert, 88).
Everton (4-3-3): Howard; Hibbert (Browning, 73), Stones, Jagielka, Baines; McCarthy, Barry, Besic (Eto’o, 80); Lukaku, Naismith, Mirallas (McGeady, 31).
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content