Sunday, 8 February 2015

Goalless at Goodison for Gerrard's final derby duel

The 224th Merseyside derby, Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard’s last one in a Red shirt, proved an underwhelming affair as it ended goalless at Goodison Park.

The skipper, so used to performing at the top of his game and scoring vital goals against the Toffees, was unable to produce a memorable moment during his final match against Liverpool’s local rivals, while his teammates also failed to do enough to secure three points that would have done Brendan Rodgers’ side a world of good in the race for Champions League qualification.

In a surprise move, the Liverpool manager handed youngster Jordon Ibe a rare start at right wing back in the main team news. The fearless 19-year old, who was recalled from a loan spell at Championship side Derby County in January, impressed throughout and went closest to grabbing a winner with a shot that hit the post midway through the first half.

His unexpected inclusion was a wise move from Rodgers, as Everton had clearly prepared to combat the threat posed by Coutinho and Sterling and had not accounted for the possibility of Ibe giving their left back Bryan Oviedo a torrid time.

Buoyed by their late comeback against Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup in midweek and on the back of an encouraging run of good form, the confident visitors began the better, Sterling striking into the side-netting after beating Robles to Coutinho’s through ball and Gerrard calling the keeper into action with a curled 25-yard free kick in the opening ten minutes.

With Liverpool dominating possession and Everton happy to sit back and absorb pressure, the away side never really looked like coming under any serious pressure. However, at the same time, they struggled to break down the Toffees’ stubborn and well organised defence.

If anyone was going to put an end to the goalless gridlock at Goodison, it was Ibe, who went close on two occasions in ten minutes midway through the first period. First, Robles did well to deny him from close range as he looked to tap home Sterling’s deflected effort. Then, he embarked on a remarkable mazy run from inside his own half that culminated in him rattling the frame of the goal with a thunderous effort from 20 yards that would have gone down in Merseyside derby history had it snuck in.

This shot would have gone down in derby history had it found the net
Coutinho then tried to replicate his goal against Bolton but saw Robles pluck his curled effort out of the air ten minutes before the break. For Everton, meanwhile, Steven Naismith squandered their only real goalscoring opportunity, his poor first touch preventing him troubling Mignolet after the out of sorts Can allowed a right wing cross to float over his head at the back post.

The German international was slightly off form yesterday, as was the nervous looking Sakho; only Martin Skrtel’s excellence and the Toffees’ impotent strike force ensured the Reds’ sheet remained clean.

Liverpool came out of the blocks quickly after half time, Coutinho assisting Sterling for two shots on target, while Steven Gerrard almost grabbed the headlines with a spectacular acrobatic effort from a corner kick that would have found the net but for a deflection off Naismith.

A great effort on goal from Gerrard
However, once Coutinho was replaced by Sturridge on 55 minutes, the Reds’ attack was less penetrating. Although it was probably right to introduce Sturridge, the wisdom of taking off Coutinho must surely be questioned. After all, the diminutive Brazilian has been at the heart of everything good about the team during its recent revival following a woeful start to the season.

In Coutinho’s absence, Ibe appeared to provide the necessary creative spark, beating Oviedo for the umpteenth time and delivering a good cross into the area with 20 minutes remaining. Sturridge’s resulting effort was blocked in the goalmouth area and, after the ball was cleared and then worked back into the danger area by the persistent Can, Moreno eventually blasted wastefully over the bar.

Despite the admittedly dull football on display, the derby retained its intensity, with the customary handbags resulting in bookings for Naismith and Henderson following Besic’s nasty challenge on Ibe. Lambert then came on for the ineffectual Sterling, seeing Robles save a relatively tame shot from a chance that he would have converted in a Southampton shirt two minutes after entering the fray.

Lambert isn't the same striker as he was at Southampton
Meanwhile, Ross Barkley finally came on for Everton with five minutes left after appearing set to replace Naismith towards the end of the first half. Martinez must regret not introducing the England international earlier, as he was the catalyst behind the Toffees’ improvement late on.

First, he picked out Coleman in space with a wonderful cross field pass. Only an excellent save from Mignolet prevented the Irishman netting the winner with the hosts’ first and only shot on target. Then, he sent Lennon in with an incisive reverse pass, but thankfully Mignolet caught his dangerous looking cross.

Gerrard also curled wide for Liverpool in the closing stages, but neither side really put the other under a sustained period of intense pressure at the end and, on balance, a draw was probably a fair result. If it was a boxing match the Reds would have won on points, but they never delivered the knockout blow that was required to take home all three points.

With Tottenham beating Arsenal in the other derby of the day, it’s becoming congested in the places surrounding fourth spot. Spurs and United are on 43 points, while the Gunners have 42 and Liverpool have three fewer than Wenger’s men.

It’s now crucial that Liverpool somehow find a way to stop the prolific Harry Kane and beat Tottenham at Anfield on Tuesday night; if they do, then a derby draw won’t seem so bad, but at the moment it’s certainly a case of two points dropped, not one point gained for Liverpool.


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