Saturday, March 25, 2006

Liverpool 3-1 Everton

Well, Merseyside derbies are better known for flaring tempers than football, but I think today’s referee was particularly keen to become the centre of attention. For the first fifteen minutes, the radio commentators were on about nothing but how Everton’s players were fouling ours all over the pitch, with only a single yellow card produced – and then a kick of the ball and possibly mistimed tackle and Gerrard’s off!

The commentators at the time reckon the second was a dive not even worthy of a free kick, but even if it was a foul I don’t think it was a good move to be sending someone off so soon, and for just two offences. I was amazed some of the Everton players – Stubbs, Weir or Kilbane – didn’t see a second yellow, certainly in the first half, but the referee was terribly inconsistent. The eight bookings the blues did receive may reflect their ‘physical’ (read dirty) game, but the truth is the ref just wasn’t really in control.

Anyway, leaving that aside, the Liverpool players did well today. I was surprised to see Garcia in particular start, and no place for Hamann in the squad. I also thought Warnock and Fowler might start for some more scouse grit, but it wasn’t to be.

Sissoko’s return has been so important for us, as he gives so much energy in midfield, and doesn’t allow opponents time on the ball. With Gerrard off, he became a really important player in the centre, while Alonso stood up to run the show. The three of them together really complement each other, but Alonso tends to have his best games without Gerrard – their styles don’t really go together – so it was no coincidence he became central today.

Phil Neville – being an ex-Manc, playing for Everton and brother of the widely detested Gary – isn’t a popular figure round Anfield, but his own goal brightened my day. Slack defending allowed Garcia to stun Everton, doubling our lead despite their extra man, and from then on I was hoping we could shut up shop. Despite numerical advantage, I didn’t really think Everton could score three against us.

When Cahill pulled one back, I did start to get nervous, but thankfully it wasn’t too long before van der Meyde levelled the match in a numerical sense – ten against ten – by leading with his arm on Alonso. Maybe it was a harsh red, but I was surprised we hadn’t already seen someone from Everton go, so I think it was only harsh on him as an individual, not them as a team.

Kewell wrapped up the points, for a thoroughly satisfactory team performance – and Stevie even got a rest (missing West Brom next week too). It was hardly a beautiful game, but in derbies it’s the score that matters.

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