It was such a fine day on Merseyside that the crisis decided to take a stroll, crossing Stanley Park from Anfield to Goodison, bringing relief to Gerard Houllier and turning the pressure of anguished inquisition on to Bill Kenwright and his fellow Everton directors.
For the next few days, at least, those iniquitous phone-ins are likely to be concentrating more on why the Everton manager, David Moyes, has been unable to secure one or two of his transfer targets than the perceived shortcomings of Houllier's Liverpool, who obtained their first win of the season due to Michael Owen's capacity for scoring goals and, to a lesser but nonetheless significant extent, Jerzy Dudek's knack of preventing them.
Until the match swung conclusively towards the end, an impressive Harry Kewell finding the net for the first time since his arrival from Leeds, there was always hope for Everton. But in the post-match analysis it came down to the fact that Owen had been successful with his finishing on two occasions while Wayne Rooney, the victim of breathtaking saves immediately after each, had not. Even the most positive thing Moyes could think of to say - "we probably had more chances than Liverpool" - was tendered in a spirit of observation rather than consolation.
There is plenty of time for Rooney to win derbies but in the here and now few can dictate the course of these and other events with the facility of Owen. As half-time approached we were marvelling at how a world-class striker could look an ordinary footballer; we have done it before and, being slow learners, may do it again. Then Kewell stroked the ball through and Owen, having deftly touched the ball past Steve Simonsen, rolled it in off a post. His second, prompted by Milan Baros, came not long after the interval. "I don't recall him having any other chances up to that point," Moyes said, teeth grinding in admiration.
Houllier described Owen's contribution thus: "In big games, big players show big." The Liverpool manager had conceded in advance that this was an even bigger match for his team than the hosts, presumably because Liverpool were the ones falling below expectation. Afterwards, he was first into the press room to declare: "The Reds are not dead yet." A headline, bang on deadline, for the boys and girls who, with the assistance of many supporters and quite a few ex-players, had begun to write his regime off. It was always a shade early for that and, on a day of firsts, Houllier was entitled to remark, with as much nonchalance as he could summon in such satisfying circumstances: "I'm told I am the first Liverpool manager to have won here four times in a row."
Another of Houllier's big players, Steven Gerrard, stood his full height. Twice suspended after defacing derbies with ugly challenges, the England midfielder gave an outstanding display in front of the back four, acting as a platform from which El Hadji Diouf, Vladimir Smicer and Kewell could spring attacks. "In a derby," Houllier said, "you need emotional maturity, which I think the team are getting, probably through European experience." There was no better example than Gerrard, and none more pleasantly surprising; Sven-Goran Eriksson would have been almost as heartened as Houllier.
But some of Houllier's medium-sized players appeared to have grown, too. Diouf, in particular; I cannot understand why the Senegal attacker is still on lists of dubious Liverpool signings. He finished last season pretty well and has begun this one brightly. Here, having seen off poor David Unsworth in the first half, he continued to flourish in a flexible attacking system that may in time silence some of Liverpool's critics. Meanwhile, Igor Biscan did well in defence, even though his often hard-pressed side had to wait for Kewell to bring them comfort.
We had been told that Rooney, despite the brilliance of his goal at Charlton, remained some way off full match fitness. An early turn and flick through for Tomasz Radzinski, who cut inside and shot wide, indicated that the boy was still capable of doing damage. The next gasp of admiration, however, was induced by Biscan, who muscled Rooney off the ball: already quite a distiction. Then Biscan reacted to the sight of Radzinski flying into Liverpool's penalty with a marvellous tackle.
Rooney's frustration was to culminate in a caution, his third in four matches. It was caused by, among other things, Dudek's advance to parry minutes after Owen had opened the scoring. Then, minutes after Owen had taken advantage of Baros's outmanoeuvring of Joseph Yobo to drill home his second, Rooney rose to a corner, twisted and headed too close to the Polish goalkeeper, whose firm hands completed the job.
Rooney failed with another excellent aerial opportunity; the substitute Duncan Ferguson curled a superb free-kick against the underside of the crossbar. But it was Simonsen, deputising for the injured Richard Wright, who let the next and final goal in, leaving his charge in a vain attempt to stop Owen, whose cross found its way to Kewell, who drove past a desperately stretching Gary Naysmith on the line.
Everton: Simonsen, Pistone, Yobo, Stubbs, Unsworth (Gravesen 45), Watson, Linderoth (Ferguson 71), Pembridge, Naysmith, Radzinski, Rooney.
Subs Not Used: Weir, Chadwick, Turner.
Booked: Naysmith, Watson, Rooney.
Liverpool: Dudek, Finnan, Biscan, Hyypia, Carragher, Gerrard, Diouf (Riise 89), Smicer (Murphy 72), Kewell, Baros (Heskey 73), Owen.
Subs Not Used: Diao, Kirkland.
Booked: Kewell, Finnan, Baros.
Goals: Owen 39, 52, Kewell 80.
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