Friday, 7 December 2012

Derby Day Drama

Originally from
As is so often the case, the long, anxious week that foreshadows the usual typhoon of the Merseyside derby brought the gradual construction of tensity which climaxed just as, this time around, controversial referee Andre Marriner blew his whistle to ignite the 219th time the two halves of Liverpool clashed in a high-profile, eagerly anticipated war over football.
My thoughts had been dominated by the build up to Sunday’s match: the ritual of confidence, implicit fear, anticipation and avoidance buzzed as David Moyes aimed to assert his authority over derby debutant and his newest rival, Brendan Rodgers. Under Rodgers, Liverpool’s start to the season has, overall, been far from perfect – and yet, to be fair, the performances have suggested that some admirable football is not a million miles away from Anfield.
However, as this is a website about Everton and I can get away with being freely and openly biased toward the Blues, I will continue with the tale of our team who, apparently, play long-ball football like “Stoke”, according to a certain Steven Gerrard. Now, if you just so happen to be reading this Mr. Gerrard (I can imagine that to be rather unlikely), I am afraid that your hyperbole of a theory is rather out-dated and furthermore, I suggest that you do some research before criticising the team – and, in turn, fans – who will forever remember your hugely entertaining (albeit ultimately pointless) knee-slide across the neat green grass of Goodison Park.
The statistics speak for themselves in this case, and will hopefully have left the man that collectively, we love to hate feeling rather embarrassed. Over the course of the 90 minutes, Everton enjoyed more possession, created more chances and, significantly, played fewer through balls than their opposition on Sunday.
In response to Gerrard’s opinion, Phil Jagielka thoughtfully described how Liverpool may become a team which rely on style rather than and genuine threat. Additionally, he added that Everton have a genuine reason to play long ball at the present moment if they wish to do so: Marouane Fellaini’s excellence. “Why wouldn’t you?” was the centre-back’s rhetorical question about the Toffees’ option of direct play.
Let’s not forget, David Moyes has crafted an almost completely balanced starting eleven; Baines, Pienaar and Mirallas are further options who are similarly relied upon. Plus, Leon Osman’s (and even Phil Neville’s) master-class on how to run a midfield was, I hope, instilled into Joe Allen’s mind as the little home-grown hero passionately inspired a wonderful comeback that brings me nicely onto reviewing the match as a whole.
With Steven Pienaar and Darron Gibson unavailable through suspension and injury respectively, the return to the team sheet of the notoriously outstanding Maroune Fellaini helped Evertonians breathe ever so slightly easier as his dominating prowess was greatly and widely welcomed, as half past one became an unavoidable moment in time which was about to spring upon us with fierce momentum.
The minutes agonisingly ticked by.
Goodison Park was ecstatic.
Andre Marriner’s whistle blasted.
The violently intense explosion of kick off subsequently brought with it valuable evidence that suggested this was going to be a veryopen Merseyside derby.
Positive pressure from the Blues brought the game into life, resulting in a few corners which suggested that Liverpool may well have been in for a long 90 minutes; the Reds were slowly finding their feet, however, and on 14 minutes, with Luis Suarez’s off-target strike deflected awkwardly into Tim Howard’s goal after Leighton Baines found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Uruguayan’s celebration will most likely generate your own opinions as you read this (were Moyes’ comments imperative? Or were they, on the other hand, slightly naïve?). This was a far from ideal occurrence, yet the Toffees pressed ambitiously on, only to then concede minutes later as Suarez, once again, penetrated the blue netting in-between the Park End goalposts with a glancing header.
2-0 down after 20 minutes and a nightmare seemed to be integrating itself into reality. And then, almost immediately and as deserved, Brad Jones’ unconvincing punch fell perfectly for Leon Osman to beat the ball into the far regions of the visitors’ netting, igniting a determined push for an all-Blue comeback and rewarding the local talent with his first Merseyside derby goal. The in-form Kevin Mirallas became the catalyst for a creditable first-half performance from his colleagues as Steven Naismith’s 35th minute leveller brought about an air of slight relief. Marouane Fellaini and Kevin Mirallas’ combined work rate paid off to present the Scot with an unmissable opportunity and his first competitive Everton goal in front of the Gwladys Street spectators.
To say the second half was eventful would be an understatement; there were no goals, but there was a bucket-load of action which I could simply not take my eyes off. Liverpool were becoming less of a force come half-time, and so Rodgers confidently adapted his structure, fielding only three at the back allowing the extra man in midfield with the aim of overrunning Leon Osman and Phil Neville who were possessively draining the life from their counterparts.
Suarez’s outstanding footballing ability and the added movement and pace of Raheem Sterling in a new, central role created a force that drove the Everton defence to extremities on some occasions, and it was not for his inexperienced finishing, the 17 year-old would have dealt the Toffees a rather large blow. However, the score remained 2-2 and set up a finale which became a hot topic for a long time to come.
After Jelavic uncharacteristically fluffed a few chances, it was time for a certain Uruguayan to become the centre of attention once again. It has to be said that Suarez was lucky to even be on the pitch by the time that his header was ruled out for offside – his stamp on the back of Sylvain Distin’s ankle was worthy of more than a yellow card. However, remaining on the war-torn field of play, he headed what he thought was a winner in the dieing moments of the battle, only for the Blues to restart play moments later and leave a what-would-be hero in the midst of disbelief. The Evertonian warriors had been let off; Suarez was most definitely onside.
That is not to say, although, that the controversy-causer was deserved of the goal. Coates’ clambering header over Jagielka left the England international with no chance to compete for the ball. Both the majority of Evertonians and I will share the same belief that, in fact, albeit unjust for offside, the accumulation of Coates’ foul, Suarez’s tread on Distin and his dive last year which had Jack Rodwell sent off was enough for eventual justice to be done in the form of a raised, fluorescent flag belonging to an ill-sighted linesman.
Once the eye of the storm had passed, it was time to sit down and reflect on a heart-stopping match of football. The first chapter of this season’s Merseyside derbies has concluded, setting up a reverse fixture in which, in more ways than one, the winner may well take all.

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