JOE ROYLE continues to have the Indian sign over Liverpool. Gary Speed's equalising header, ten minutes from time, extended Everton's unbeaten run against their great rivals to five games at Anfield last night.
In the closing moments Everton could even have won it as Duncan Ferguson twice went close, but even so Everton ended by taking the greater satisfaction after dominating much of the second half. To make the blue half of Merseyside even happier, the draw prevented Liverpool from going top of the FA Carling Premiership.
Liverpool carried into the game the belief that their failures against Everton since Royle took over as manager at Goodison Park had been caused by them being physically overpowered. They made sure that that did not happen this time. "We've got to be stronger and faster," Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager had said before the game, and they were.
The result was that for the first 20 minutes, if not longer, the game was like a throwback to those Merseyside derbies of the Seventies, all frantic pace and fierce challenges.
In that environment, Liverpool's passing game was hardly seen. In fact, with Ferguson on the substitutes' bench, Everton were apparently intent on passing the ball along the ground. If that was the idea, it was doomed to failure. They hardly created a chance in the first period, although Kanchelskis saw one speculative effort go wide and Wright got in a block tackle to deny Stuart.
Liverpool also made little initial progress, and their cause was not helped by the loss of McManaman after only 16 minutes. Collymore came on to a generous reception and moved alongside Fowler to give Liverpool a genuine forward pairing. Collymore's eagerness to take his chance was quickly apparent and he forced a couple of corners as Liverpool pressed forward.
Soon Southall was flying through the air to make a fine save from Redknapp, but he was powerless when Wright met one of Bjornebye's corners with a header, only for Speed to scrape the ball off the line. Finally, on the half-hour, another corner by Bjornebye produced the breakthrough. It was cleared back to him by Watson. Bjornebye played it in to Redknapp, whose curling cross found Fowler free, and in his present form he was never going to miss from close range. A firm header left Southall helpless, giving Liverpool the lead and Fowler his ninth goal in the last eight games.
Everton's response, when it came, was exhilarating. It needed the introduction of Ferguson after the interval to provide them with an aggressive leader, and his presence immediately unsettled the Liverpool defence. They did more than rely on Ferguson's physical strength, however. They at last began to play some telling football, with the intelligence of Barmby prominent as they probed for spaces between and behind the Liverpool defence. Some flowing passing movements involving Speed and Grant began to open up the rearguard. When Speed was tripped just outside the area, Hinchcliffe's free kick flew just over, and just before the hour they could easily have claimed the equaliser. A fine passing move involving Grant and Hinchcliffe reached Speed just inside the area. He stepped inside a defender and took careful aim, but his shot flew straight at James.
With Everton pressing forward, Liverpool at last found some space to play, but they were forced to rely mainly on breaks by Collymore and Fowler, and although Collymore made one penetrating run, and gave Southall his first piece of action of the half just after the hour, James was the goalkeeper under pressure. Speed, though, was to have the final word, meeting Hinchcliffe's free kick with a glancing header to leave James helpless.
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Press' Liverpool man of the match awards
The Liverpool Echo : Jamie Redknapp.
90 Minutes : Michael Thomas (8/10).