Mersey derby reaction: Liverpool got lucky, Everton didn't

By David Prentice on Nov 30, 09 09:14 AM in Journalists


GIVEN the afternoon he'd endured, David Moyes' reaction was understand- able. "Do you want this leaving on?" enquired an eager to please press officer, as the Blues boss trudged into the press room while Sir Steven Redgrave and Kelly Smith were still plucking balls from the FA's drum.

"No," he rapped, probably fearing a third round trip to Melchester Rovers with Roy Race on a hot scoring streak.

He needn't have worried. Carlisle at home was a good draw. But it was the only thing which went right for him all day.

David Moyes got all the running he demanded from his players, and a little bit more.

He got commitment and character. And he got the best performance his side has produced in a derby match under his tenure.

But he didn't get that other quality which wins football matches. Luck.

That was the bottom line at Goodison Park yesterday.

Liverpool got lucky, Everton didn't.

And as a result the huge injection of confidence that a derby win can bring was pumped into red veins, not blue.

Rafa Benitez's post-match suggestion that Everton played "a direct and set-pieces game" was perhaps designed to deflect from his own side's deficiencies.

True, Everton's best chance of the game came from three headed flick-ons, but the Blues mixed their game up impressively and it is still baffling to work out how they failed to win, let alone came away beaten.

But lose they did, leaving their fans with the hollow taste of defeat, and their manager scrabbling around for positives.

At least this time David Moyes didn't have to look far.

Marouane Fellaini's peerless performance showed that he should be left to grow into the holding midfield role, rather than lumped up front every time Everton lack a little physical presence.

He was the platform on which most of Everton's attacking moves, considerable in the first 45 minutes, were constructed.

He had willing accomplices in Steven Pienaar, comfortably the game's most outstanding individual until he tired late on, and Tim Cahill, who showed signs of returning to his role of spiky little penalty box nuisance once again.

But while they were the plusses, there were a couple of minuses - and both were predict- able. There were two players whose appearance on the teamsheet made the home fans nervous.

Sadly both were involved in pivotal moments of the match.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov's ability to cope with the intensity of a derby clash was queried ahead of the match, and he horribly scuffed Everton's best chance of the day just five minutes after Liverpool's fortuitous opener.

Incongruously compared to Pele after his right footed finish for Russia a fortnight ago, his right foot this time showed all the elan of a house brick.

Then there was the real Brazilian, real in birthplace at least.

David Moyes raised an eyebrow or two when he declared afterwards that "Brazilian Jo played really well" (is the prefix always used to differentiate him from Nigerian Joe? Or because so many find it difficult to believe he actually hails from the country of Kaka and Robinho?) Either way Jo led the line adeptly enough, but always seemed back on his heels when the half-chances came calling.

He didn't quite react quickly enough to Pienaar's defence-splitting pass, he didn't quite connect with a left-footed first half volley and he didn't quite keep himself onside when he finished impressively with the outside of his right foot.

It is to be hoped the youngster doesn't become a whipping boy of the home fans, but there were signs all around the ground of growing frustration at his display.

Those groans apart, the Blues fans gave their side admirable backing until Dirk Kuyt finally ripped their heart out 10 minutes from time.

That came after Joseph Yobo's second decisive miskick of the afternoon.

In echoes of Howard Kendall's decision to haul off Gary Stevens in the first derby FA Cup final, Yobo was replaced soon after.

Moyes' frustration was palpable, but the Blues boss is not exactly blessed with central defensive options at present, and in hindsight perhaps he could have chosen not to undermine the player's confidence any further.

One man who never sufferes from a lack of confidence is referee Alan Wiley. Happily this time his self-confidence was not misplaced.

There were widespread groans when it was revealed he was taking charge of the derby.

But he displayed an understanding of the occasion and a hitherto hidden sensitivity, managing to keep his cards in his pocket until Johnny Heitinga finally gave him no option seven minutes from time.

In a depressing postscript, Everton's defeat meant the noughties have officially gone down as the Blues' leanest decade for derby wins.

They have managed just two League victories against their neighbours since the millennium dawned, eclipsing even the sorry seventies for league derby celebrations.

At least their display gave them heart they can reverse that sorry statistic.

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