Dominic Fifield at Anfield
It takes time for the dust to settle after a derby as combustible as this, though for Liverpool and England, if not Everton, the repercussions could already be positive. Steven Gerrard had buried his head in his shirt as he trudged from the turf on Saturday, his livid manager refusing to make eye contact as the captain skulked across the technical area. By the end the Kop, appeased by victory, were bellowing the midfielder's name again with Rafael Benítez hopeful that lessons had been learned.
This was the sixth dismissal of Gerrard's professional career, the lunacy of a booking for kicking the ball away compounded by a typically launched and marginally mistimed challenge seconds later which flattened Kevin Kilbane. The flash of red even had the true blue Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Alan Dean, upstanding in celebration in the directors' box with a fractious tone well and truly set. Gerrard watched the next 72 minutes on a television monitor outside the home dressing room as his team-mates' endeavour and Everton's failings spared his blushes. "It's not very often I'm the villain," he said, "but the lads were all heroic, every one of them."
The 25-year-old was playing his 54th competitive game of the season and is hardly saddled with a disciplinary problem. This, after all, is an aggressive midfielder who has accrued only nine bookings since he was sent off for dissent in the pre-season Amsterdam Tournament in 2003 and who acknowledged that the first yellow card was "stupid". Yet the worry remains that the red mist could descend in a key fixture and cost club or country so much more. Having let his side down, Gerrard was so gripped by a numbing sense of failure as his team-mates laboured in his absence that it should serve to deflect a repeat.
"Perhaps Stevie can learn from this experience so that it does not happen in a big game, like a one-off FA Cup match or a World Cup game," said Benítez, his mood mellowed in victory. "We can now show the players why they have to be careful. These mistakes can hurt you, so you have to be in control, stay calm and use your brain. The first [booking] was a mistake and he can learn from that. He knows what he's done. He understands. The second was a technical mistake because the team was under pressure but this experience can be good for Stevie in the future."
So, too, will the weekend off while he sits out his ban against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday with Liverpool encouraged that they can thrive in his absence in the most ferocious of circumstances, even if Gerrard's dismissal appeared to affect the visitors more than the hosts. Everton had enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, Tim Cahill twice threatening a breakthrough, only to panic when the onus was thrust on them to take the upper hand.
"We got a little bit giddy, a bit excitable, lost our shape and weren't really composed enough to keep the ball and play," said David Moyes. "We actually lost a wee bit of momentum." He might have restored composure had his side retained parity up to the interval but Phil Neville's inadvertent flick on Xabi Alonso's corner swung the contest.
The own-goal pepped Liverpool, with Alonso outstanding amid the din, and the wingers Luis García and Harry Kewell duly conjured outstanding second-half goals. García's owed much to hesitancy between Alan Stubbs, Gary Naysmith and Richard Wright but was still gloriously plundered, the lobbed finish a delight. Kewell's third, swerved in from distance, capped a furiously intense contest played to an accompanying flurry of yellow cards.
Andy van der Meyde, with 12 minutes of first-team action behind him since early December, earned red after his flailing arm thumped into Alonso in aerial challenge. There seemed little malicious intent - García was arguably more guilty of a spiteful elbow on Kilbane during the first half - though, aside from a pair of dubious yellows for Kewell and Stubbs, the referee Phil Dowd rather excelled. Moyes denounced him as "over-fussy", Stubbs as "petty", "pathetic" and desperate to try "to even it up as soon as possible" but the 11 yellow cards and two reds largely reflected the letter of stricter laws.
The real frustration was that Everton are better than this. The lumbering presence of Duncan Ferguson, restored as a substitute after a seven-match suspension, was a flashback to more direct days, and they failed throughout to revive the incisive, free-flowing attacking football which had hoisted them from the brink of the relegation zone into European contention since the turn of the year.
The absence of Mikel Arteta through injury was decisive and, though Cahill converted the excellent Leon Osman's corner to offer hope, this was too frantic a performance when the situation demanded focus. Moyes bemoaned this as "an opportunity missed". If Gerrard was guilty of allowing the occasion to get to him, then so were the visitors.
Premiership match-ups with most red cards
Liverpool v Everton 14
Aston Villa v Newcastle Utd 10
Middlesbrough v Southampton 9
Chelsea v Everton 9
Leeds Utd v West Ham Utd 9
Newcastle Utd v Everton 9
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