Liverpool 1-0 Everton
Saturday, 6th February 2010
Liverpool secured a famous win in a fiercely contested Merseyside derby to reclaim 4th position in the Premier League. Steven Gerrard’s excellent delivery allowed Dirk Kuyt to score the only goal of a game, which the Reds were forced to play for the best part of an hour with a one man disadvantage.
It may have been a Derby to forget for both sides in terms of creativity and goal scoring chances. But what this performance and result did provide was more evidence that the Reds may well have the resilience and fight in their armoury to end a distinctly disappointing season on a high. Liverpool seem to have rediscovered some of the hard work and team spirit, which they so often demonstrated in the previous campaign, during recent weeks. And it certainly served them well against their near neighbours.
So many have, as ever, been particularly quick to deride Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool whenever things have been going badly and results have been poor. However, those critics have seemed far less willing to point out that following this win it is now 17 points gained from the last 21 available for the Reds. During what has been a commendable and resilient, if unglamorous, resurgence in form.
This improved run of form has also coincided with an impressive record of just one solitary goal conceded in the last seven matches. It is true that any top side must first be built on a solid defensive basis and must be hard to beat. And Liverpool seem now to be finding that knack again.
A solid defensive display was key to this victory, particularly once the home side were reduced to 10 men. Despite losing Sotirios Kyrgiakos in the first half the Reds were hard working and resolute in defence. Javier Mascherano was colossal, firstly in a holding midfield role and later once asked to fill in at right back. Further forward Lucas, Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard grafted tirelessly. Whilst the back four and Pepe Reina repelled anything that a limited Everton attack asked of them.
Chances were at a premium throughout in a typically fiery affair. Up until Kyrgiakos’s dismissal from the field in the 33rd minute there were very few footballing talking points of note. Passion and intensity prevailed in a full blooded match – the 213th encounter between these two sides. Jamie Carragher’s strong challenge in the opening minute set the tone. And the Merseyside Derby red card count could well have been added to even before the Greek cent back received his marching orders.
The decision to dismiss Kyrgiakos seemed harsh, particularly when Maroune Fellaini could well have received similar treatment for his role in the same challenge. The red card was shown because the centre back went into the tackle with both feet. Yet there were far worse offences during the game which received less severe punishment, particularly a high challenge from Steven Pienaar earlier in the half.
In hindsight, the decision to reduce the hosts to 10 men was probably the turning point of a tempestuous match. Prior to that incident neither side had really shown the sort of composure and ingenuity in the final third of the pitch to test either Reina or Tim Howard.
Gerrard’s near post free kick brought Howard into action early in the half, whilst on a few occasions lone striker David N’Gog seemed to show a lack of composure when in good positions. N’Gog often did a decent job of winning and controlling the ball up front and occasionally looked capable of causing Sylvain Distin and co problems. Yet he was often guilty of failing to capitalise on an opportunity or lacking awareness of team mates in better positions.
Once reduced to 10 men though, Liverpool seemed to rise to the challenge. They were able to demonstrate an excellent level of commitment and will to win once their backs were against the wall. In contrast, the Blues almost seemed more disadvantaged by the loss of Fellaini through an injury inflicted during the Kyrgiakos challenge, despite their numerical advantage.
Having said that chances remained few and far between for the remainder of the match. Liverpool seemed largely content to take few risks and allowed the away side to dictate much of the play. However Everton did not seem to possess the sort of guile and creativity in the final third to overcome the desire and hard work of the men in red. Tim Cahill should have at least tested Reina with a diving header which flashed over the crossbar, when a header found the Australian in space. But the Blues were able to create little. And it was Gerrard who perhaps came closest to opening the scoring in the first half, when his free kick cannon off the top of Howard’s crossbar.
The crucial intervention in the game arrived on 55 minutes. Once reduced to 10 men Liverpool were always likely to find goal scoring opportunities hard to come by. Yet, Gerrard’s excellent delivery from a corner kick on the left allowed Kuyt to steal in under Howard’s nose and head the Reds into a well received lead.
From that point on Everton rarely suggested an equaliser was likely. Once in front Liverpool were happy to defend and the Toffees dominated possession. But Everton did not test Reina enough. Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher had generally dealt comfortably with the threat of Louis Saha. And, although the introduction of Yakubu and Victor Anichebe up front for the final 20 minutes briefly caused some concern – Yakubu tested Reina with a powerful shot from the edge of the box – Liverpool were able to see out the victory.
Pienaar was finally sent off for Everton to level up the numbers in the closing minutes. And moments later the final whistle was greeted with ecstasy by the majority inside Anfield, as the Reds secured the bragging rights and a vital and meaningful victory.
Man of the Match
The Dutchman’s hard working and industrious display typified that of the Liverpool team and his efforts were rewarded with the winning goal. Kuyt has been carrying much of the Reds attacking threat in recent games and now has 4 goals in as many games.