A goalless draw in the Merseyside derby might sound like a tense and cramped affair, but the fact that the 170th in this long series remained that way was due almost entirely to the outstanding work of two busy goalkeepers.
Jerzy Dudek and Nigel Martyn both made a string of excellent saves to deny an open, enterprising game the goals it deserved. Everton's Martyn was the busier of the two, but Dudek, who has had such ups and downs in the Liverpool goal, made his own share of spectacular interventions.
"It was a really good derby", said the Everton manager David Moyes. "It was wonderful goalkeeping by both keepers, it was the art of goalkeeping out there today and that made for a really good game." Moyes called Martyn's "a ten out of ten performance" but Liverpool's Gérard Houllier did not believe that Dudek was far behind.
"Nigel Martyn always plays extremely well here - he always did for Leeds - but our goalkeeper also had to make two or three great saves," Houllier said. "It was the best derby I have seen since I have been here, because it was a game of football."
Nobody was more frustrated by the way that the game developed than Steven Gerrard. Right from the start he and Dietmar Hamann put tremendous drive into the Liverpool midfield. Martyn's first notable save was a full-length dive to deny Hamann, but Gerrard was the man who really suffered, as he had nothing to show for three fine attempts in quick succession. The first of them was driven past the post, but the next two required saves of the highest class from Martyn. The Liverpool captain could hardly have done more to try to break down Martyn's and Everton's stubborn resistance.
And yet Moyes's side, who came into this match without a derby victory to their credit since 1999, had their own opportunities. One of the best of them was a gift from Sami Hyypia, when he unaccountably allowed Tony Hibbert's long ball to go past him and leave Tomas Radzinski clear, but the Canadian striker was too surprised to make anything of it.
Immediately before half-time, Dudek had to make an acrobatic save from Alan Stubbs' header. Liverpool's other shaky moment came when the out of sorts Hyypia appeared to pull down Radzinski, Moyes arguing later that the player should have been sent off and that Everton could also have had a penalty for hand ball. Houllier described that as typical post-match complaining from a British manager. "If it was a boxing match we would have won on points," Houllier said and there was no arguing with that, even though Everton had the first chance of the second half when Wayne Rooney wriggled his way through in a manner reminiscent of his most eye-catching moments of last season only to fire past the angle of the woodwork.
Gerrard's personal frustration continued when he worked himself into yet another shooting position and just missed the target again, while Bruno Cheyrou's header from Anthony Le Tallec's cross floated just past the far post.
Dudek made another wonderful save to keep out a Stubbs pile-driver from a free-kick, and shortly after a Gerrard free-kick from the left skimmed heads and was on its way in, but for Martyn's reflexes. If anyone thought that Martyn was at Everton merely to keep the jersey warm for the considerably younger Richard Wright, this was the performance to disprove that theory. He needed some backup, however, and he was finally beaten, by Le Tallec's header from a Gerrard corner, with Hibbert well positioned on the line to head clear. It was the sort of extra help that Martyn richly deserved.
He still had to save at the foot of his post from Jamie Carragher's wickedly accurate shot from the left, but that was the last genuine threat to Everton's goal and it left Liverpool with little to show for one of their more fluent displays of the season. If there was a disappointment, it was more that their chances did not fall to Michael Owen, who was still some way short of his old predatory best.
"He's been away from the game for a long time and I thought his sharpness was coming back," insisted Houllier. Had he been a little closer to his old self, even Martyn might have been presented with a situation or two he could not have controlled. He would also have had to get past Stubbs, described by Moyes afterwards as "a colossus". He and Houllier might disagree on specific incidents in this match, but it was truly one from which they could both draw considerable satisfaction.
Liverpool 0 Everton 0
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