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Martyn's heroics defy Liverpool

Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier turned his Gallic nose up at Merseyside derbies before the game, dismissing them as too often producing sub-standard fare. And he will absolutely have loathed this one because it was full of everything that coaches work so hard on the training ground to eradicate - sloppy defending, misplaced passes and woeful finishing.

Supporters, of course, absolutely love such games, the lack of goals notwithstanding, leaving both sets of fans with enough talking points to keep them arguing in the city's pubs well past last night's closing time. Both could also argue that they might have won by three clear goals, though 5-5 would have been a truer reflection of a game that never stopped to draw a reserve of attacking breath.

The two teams, now littered with so many foreign players that they normally look for a more measured approach, even against one another, simply battered each other from first whistle to last and it defies belief that it ended as a goalless draw.

Both goalkeepers played magnificent roles in keeping the scoreline blank but the gold medal goes to Everton's 37-year-old Nigel Martyn, who defied age and logic with two outstanding saves from Steven Gerrard and another from Dietmar Hamann. When he was finally beaten by Anthony Le Tallec's bullet header midway through the second half, Tony Hibbert headed off the line.

The restriction on away fans these days may have stripped these occasions of some of their passion since Everton supporters' attempts to bait their neighbours were mostly drowned out. But their team were determined to have their say on the pitch and could easily have gone in at half-time with the sort of lead they could only have dreamed of beforehand.

This, despite the fact, that Liverpool, normally accused of excessive caution, started like a cavalry unit, with Michael Owen turning Alan Stubbs inside out before rolling his cross just wide and Hamann abandoning his defensive post a stride ahead of the back four to thump a swirling, left-footed shot that Martyn saved acrobatically.

Everton were without several injured players, while Yobo is playing for Nigeria in the African Cup of Nations. But in central characters Wayne Rooney and Duncan Ferguson they still possessed men capable of writing their own heroic lines.

It was Tomasz Radzinski, however, who found himself bearing down on goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek when Stephane Henchoz let Hibbert's long ball sail over his head. Radzinski's brain and feet were in such a spin of surprise that he all but tripped himself up before delivering a feeble back heel.

Thomas Gravesen provided more humiliation for Henchoz when he slid past him and then eluded the challenge of Jamie Carragher, surely only sheer excitement causing him to ruin it all with a shot at Dudek.

Rooney and Ferguson finally decided to do their Butch and Sundance bit, the former crossing from the right and Big Dunc, never afraid to go in with his head, nodding it just wide. Rooney had just finished scratching his head in disbelief when he was required to put it back as Dudek flew across goal to push Stubbs's header over the top.

Like everyone else, referee Steve Bennett found himself struggling to keep up with the action, somehow missing Carragher's handball in the area which should have been a penalty. It added to the despair of Everton players, who had also been denied a free-kick on the edge of the box when Radzinski was brought down by Sami Hyypia, who might easily have been sent off.

It was breathless stuff and the half-time team talks did nothing to calm it down, Rooney missing an outstanding chance in the second period, Martyn pulling out another great save from Harry Kewell and Dudek from Stubbs. Phew.

Match details

Liverpool: Dudek, Finnan, Henchoz, Hyypia, Carragher, Hamann, Gerrard, Le Tallec, Cheyrou, Kewell, Owen.
Subs Not Used: Luzi Bernardi, Murphy, Riise, Traore, Biscan.

Everton: Martyn, Hibbert, Stubbs, Pistone, Naysmith, Rooney (Watson 77), Gravesen, Nyarko (Carsley 58), Kilbane, Ferguson, Radzinski (Jeffers 73).
Subs Not Used: Simonsen, Clarke.
Booked: Gravesen.
Att: 44,056
Ref: S Bennett (Kent).

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