Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has declared he is frustrated by claims that he is “finished” and “can’t run any more” - declaring after his superb free-kick opened the scoring in the Merseyside derby that he believes he has proved the doubters wrong.
The Anfield club were punished for their failure to capitalise on a dismal Everton performance when Gerrard’s 65 minute opener was equalised out in the game’s last seconds by a superb Phil Jagielka strike. But 34-year-old Gerrard said he had been vindicated. “I can take constructive criticism,” he said. “But people go one step further and say you are finished and can’t run any more. That’s the frustrating thing. It’s nice to remind people that I can still play and am still around.” Gerrard animated gesture to the Everton fans when he scored was even more defiant than usual – suggested that he had a point to prove.
Gerrard deferred to Mario Balotelli – Liverpool’s Jekyll and Hyde acquisition – when a first half free kick was awarded after Gareth Barry fouled the Italian, but Balotelli’s kick was comfortably saved by Everton keeper Tim Howard. Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said that he was screaming at Gerrard to take the kick himself when the second half opportunity arrived – after Leighton Baines was questionable adjudged to have fouled Balotelli.
“I was shouting on [that] he should take the kick,” Rodgers said. “He is such a selfless guy. I was screaming on for him to take but he would rather let other people have the opportunity. It was a goal that should have won the game.” Rodgers admitted that Balotelli was “obviously disappointed” that he spurned Liverpool’s best opportunity from open play – heading Raheem Sterling’s first half cross wide.
The manager was also indignant that his side had not been awarded an obvious first half penalty when Barry – who was unexpectedly more affected by the derby day atmosphere than any other player - handled Raheem Sterling’s shot in the area. The penalty Liverpool had expected was “the one where it was shot into the box and Gareth Barry grabbed it with both hands,” Rodgers said. “That was nearly a save!” Barry was already booked when he handled and Rodgers agreed that might have referee Martin Atkinson’s decision
Liverpool’s two dropped points mean they still have only two wins in the Premier League, though Rodgers said that their performance was “at a better level” than others this season. The intensity “is getting back to where we had been for 18 months. We defended very well took the lead and should have at least two more as well as the penalty,” he said.
Everton, who have only one win to their name, lacked all of the flowing football and ambition they showed last season, with long cross-field balls to Romelu Lukaku and minimal use of wing backs. That suggested they are affected by a start in which they have shipped 16 goals in eight, as well as January’s 4-0 defeat here.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez admitted it had been a poor performance from his side. “At times we didn’t make the right decision into our counter attacks,” he said. But after conceding the goal to a free kick he claimed should have been awarded his own side’s way, they delivered “the most pleasing result of the season” by equalising so late.
Martinez said Jagielka’s ability to alter his body shape to score so late was extraordinary. “He has got a lot of unfair criticism from the outside,” he said. “There’s been talk of a World Cup hangover and I think that’s been really unfair. Today I was so proud of him. The equaliser was an example of his belief in himself. That’s the way to face adversity.”