Families can fall out over Christmas and Steven Gerrard almost divided Merseyside last night with a challenge on Everton's Gary Naysmith that was so late he almost finished it on Boxing Day. Towards the end of this dire derby, Gerrard went in two-footed on Naysmith, who was lucky to escape with little more damage than a gash and a splash of blood staining his long white shorts.
Gerrard will not escape. He will be charged by the Football Association as the referee, Graham Poll, will highlight the ugly incident in the report he sends to Soho Square today. As Poll failed to caution Gerrard, the FA can take substantial retrospective action, including suspension.
It was unpleasant to behold. As Naysmith lay writhing on the cold Anfield turf, Gerrard was confronted by Everton's incensed senior players, Alan Stubbs and Kevin Campbell, but he shrugged them aside.
Gerrard's moment of malice was borne as much out of frustration at Liverpool's inability to break down Everton legitimately and he sounded contrite afterwards. "I want to apologise for the tackle," said the England midfielder.
"I've gone in with two feet and my studs showing but I did try and pull back. I would never go out deliberately to hurt an opponent. I apologised to Gary Naysmith on the pitch and also when we shook hands afterwards. He has accepted the apology."
Gerrard also apologised to David Moyes. "It was a bad tackle," said the Everton manager. "He caught him on the deck on both legs. Steven Gerrard is a fantastic player and I don't want to criticise him." Liverpool's manager, Gerard Houllier, conceded that the incident "doesn't look good", but stressed: "You have these things in derbies." The FA will view things differently.
Houllier was at least pleased with the point which put Liverpool fifth (a place behind Everton) and ended a run of four Premiership reverses on the spin. "To hear the celebrations in the Everton dressing-room," said Houllier, "they were very happy with the draw."
No wonder. The last time Everton celebrated Christmas ahead of their ancient rivals in the table was the year they last won the title, 1985.
Moyes, who would not even whisper the odds in an empty cellar let alone shout them from the rooftops, was typically coy about Everton's ambitions. "The top five teams are Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Newcastle United and Liverpool, and we're just trying to stay around them," he said.
Deservedly above Newcastle and Liverpool, Everton need only continue playing with this organisation and self-belief to qualify for the Champions League, a remarkable achievement given their limited resources. Moyes was missing nearly all his first-choice defenders but Stubbs, particularly, was excellent.
Tony Hibbert, brimming with balance and enterprise, continues to impress at right-back. "Hibbert got his thigh restitched by a plastic surgeon yesterday but he was determined to play," said Moyes. Alessandro Pistone was also an injury doubt but insisted on starting.
Once considered so brittle that his former Newcastle colleagues presented him with a sheep's heart at Christmas, Pistone was the model of defensive zeal. In goal, Richard Wright coped admirably with what little Liverpool directed at him, dealing well with long-range shots from John Arne Riise, twice, and Gerrard.
Liverpool may have the more technically accomplished individuals but Everton's work rate makes them a formidable force. With a wave of blue enveloping anyone in red attempting to control the ball, Liverpool struggled.
The most notable feature of the first half was Wayne Rooney warming up. Running towards the Kop, all boxer's swagger in a sprinter's body, Everton's fear-inducing teenager was greeted with a hail of abuse, the gist of which was "who ate all the mince pies?" But this heavyweight talent is stocky, not fat.
This sideshow was arguably more entertaining than the main event. Gerrard, commendably, rallied to prevent Thomas Gravesen controlling midfield. Gravesen mixed relentless graft with real touches of craft, executing a drag-back to deceive Michael Owen and then juggling the ball over Gerrard's head. These were brief shafts of light amid the general gloom.
As the players jogged off at half-time, Everton fans had a message for Liverpool: "Rooney's going to get you." Emile Heskey arrived first and almost scored with a header. But then came Rooney, sent into the fray as a one-man rapid-response unit.
Gerrard dropped deep to cut off the supply to Rooney while Sami Hyypia twice robbed him. But this jewel of a prospect needs only a half-yard to conjure something special. Receiving Pistone's throw-in on the edge of the box, Rooney rolled Hyypia and shot goalwards, the ball deflecting off Stephane Henchoz, on to the bar and out for a corner.
Rooney then appealed for a penalty when he and Kevin Campbell were impeded but this was a time for a sharing of the points in the Merseyside family.
Liverpool: Kirkland, Carragher, Henchoz, Hyypia, Traore (Heskey 52), Murphy, Gerrard, Diao (Smicer 52), Riise, Baros, Owen.
Subs Not Used: Dudek, Diouf, Biscan.
Booked: Traore, Henchoz, Carragher.
Everton: Wright, Hibbert (Watson 60), Weir, Stubbs, Pistone, Carsley, Gravesen, Pembridge, Naysmith, Campbell, Radzinski (Rooney 55).
Subs Not Used: Simonsen, Tie Li, Gemmill.
Booked: Gravesen, Weir, Campbell, Naysmith.
Ref: G Poll (Hertfordshire).
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