Liverpool respond to Gerrard's red alert

Paul Wilson at Anfield
The Observer

Two dismissals and nine other bookings preserved the Merseyside derby's reputation as the Premiership's most volatile fixture, although when the smoke cleared Liverpool comfortably overcame the loss of Steven Gerrard after a mere 18 minutes to record one of their most convincing victories over their neighbours.

Andy van der Meyde's unnecessary red card evened up the numbers for the last 17 minutes, the substitute disappearing after just five minutes on the field for flailing an arm into Xabi Alonso's face, but Everton had an extra man for most of the game and still shipped two goals.

Considering the first of them was an own goal by a former Manchester United player, Liverpool have rarely had such a good time at their rivals' expense, and although Everton did make a game of it with Tim Cahill's goal just after an hour, they were finally undone by a piece of skill from an assured Harry Kewell. Luis Garcia and Peter Crouch both missed straightforward opportunities at the end, so even without their captain Liverpool could easily have racked up another big score following the midweek demolition of Birmingham. Everton contributed enormously to a raucous afternoon's entertainment, but were left with just bruised egos and bookings. With seven yellow cards in addition to Van der Meyde's straight red, they have not heard the last of the game and can expect a fine.

This season's two Merseyside derbies have yielded 17 yellow cards and four reds, yet intensity rather than savagery has usually been to blame. That was certainly the case when Gerrard left the scene. Less than a minute after picking up a booking for booting the ball into the Kop after a foul, he took it upon himself to scythe down Kevin Kilbane, leaving the referee with little choice. 'He's a player with a lot of passion, he always wants to play at 100 per cent,' Rafa Benitez explained. 'He needs to learn for the future, he is very disappointed at letting the team down.'

It is debatable whether that actually happened. Everton had been bright in the first quarter, with Cahill missing a good chance and James Beattie being denied a goal by the offside flag, only to lose momentum and direction when faced with 10 men. 'The period between the dismissal and the interval was our worst period,' David Moyes, the Everton manager, admitted. 'We didn't play well against 10 men, and just when we were trying to hang on for half-time we conceded a goal.'

This is an accurate summary, in that Everton responded to Gerrard's departure by going into their shell, as if they fancied their chances of a draw more than going for a win. You could see why they might have thought that way, with Liverpool forced to leave Crouch on his own up front, yet the tall striker ended up causing Everton all sorts of problems.

Alan Stubbs and David Weir were each spoken to for using their arms to restrain Crouch, before the former was cautioned for doing the same thing to Kewell. Liverpool sensibly kept lobbing high balls in Crouch's direction, partly because it was an easy outlet and partly because Everton could not cope with them. He was not directly involved when Liverpool took the lead at the end of the first half, although the sense of panic in the Everton defence was illustrated when Phil Neville headed Alonso's corner past his own goalkeeper as he attempted to clear at the near post.

Everton's half-time reorganisation lasted less than two minutes. Stubbs kept his hands down and was beaten in the air by Crouch, for Garcia to run on to the flick and lift a shot over Richard Wright's reckless advance. Moyes was about to abandon caution with a triple substitution when Cahill clawed a goal back, timing his run well to meet Leon Osman's corner, although when Van der Meyde and Duncan Ferguson arrived seven minutes later, the first was sent off and the second predictably booked for a barge on Alonso.

Liverpool were well on top even before Everton lost a man. A Stubbs block prevented Garcia scoring a second, Wright saved at full length from Kewell, and a Sami Hyypia goal was ruled out because Crouch had strayed offside.

Crouch missed a glorious chance to seal victory by heading weakly wide with the goal at his mercy from Kewell's cross, yet still played a part in the clincher. Expecting a cross from Steve Finnan on the right, Stubbs and Weir lost position looking for Crouch, leaving Kewell to calmly accept the full-back's rolled pass, stop the ball and shoot accurately past Wright through a Mersey-tunnel sized gap in the Everton rearguard.

Not pretty but undeniably effective, on this showing Crouch towered over his England rival Beattie. 'He's a very difficult player to counter,' Moyes admitted. 'Crouch is a good player and we had trouble dealing with him.'

Man of the Match

Xabi Alonso - Tim Cahill, Momo Sissoko, Harry Kewell and Phil Neville were in with a shout for the midfield honours, but you could only admire the way Alonso soaked up all the punishment a Merseyside derby could hand out - and in his case that plenty - without losing composure or concentration.

Copyright - The Observer

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