Nervy Reds pay a price

IF you don’t take control of your own destiny, others will decide it for you – that is the lesson Liverpool must take from their disappointing draw with Everton if the flesh wound it caused is not to become anything more damaging.

After taking a hard earned lead against their neighbours, Rafa Benitez’s side were in touching distance of reclaiming their place at the Premier League summit.

Everton – deprived of all of their frontline strikers and without a game changing substitute for David Moyes to call on – were there for the taking, especially as their performance levels of the first half had dropped alarmingly in the second.

But then, inexplicably, Liverpool lost their collective nerve.

Instead of pressing home the slender advantage that Steven Gerrard’s 25 yard strike had given them, Liverpool instead decided to hold on to what they had.

It turned out to be a fatal error as with the clock running down Tim Cahill did what he does so well and found space in a six-yard box so crowded it made rush hour trains look sparse before turning a free header past Pepe Reina.

The defending was so criminal it should have attracted the attentions of Merseyside’s finest who had found precious little to get excited about after threatening dire consequences for anyone who offended them with their singing.

But it wasn’t the nature of Everton’s deserved equaliser which should displease Liverpool most.

As abject a goal as it was to concede from a defensive point of view, it was their attitude after taking the lead which really cost them.

Passes which had been going forward all of a sudden went backwards and sideways, opportunities to shoot were rejected in favour of safer options and incisiveness was replaced by indecision.

Having given themselves a potentially winning hand Liverpool had the option to stick or twist, in doing the former they gave opponents who must have feared the worst when going a goal behind the chance to get back into the game and they duly took it.

Maybe it was a shared belief that an Everton side without the likes of Yakubu, Saha and Fellaini could not hurt them, particularly as the Goodison Park outfit also seemed to be running on empty as the game entered its final stages.

Or perhaps it was the signals sent out by Benitez’s questionable replacement of Fernando Torres with Lucas, a change which smacked of conservatism and indicated to the Spaniard’s players that the time had come to hold on to what they had.

Whatever it was, Liverpool took their foot off the gas and paid a price so heavy that it could end up being a costly setback in their bid to contest the title.

There has been much talk of power struggles at Anfield in recent weeks but this was the one that mattered most to the Liverpool fans and the fact their team did not win it when they had such a glorious chance to do so will further irk those who believe the Reds are in danger of becoming victims of a lack of ambition and adventure.

Not that there was a surfeit of adventure in Benitez’s initial team selection with the defensive shield that is Javier Mascherano making way for Robbie Keane in an attack minded 4-4-2 line up.

This was the same midfield and attack the Reds boss had fielded to great effect at Goodison back in September but on this occasion the end product was to be very different.

Keane performed like a player who knows he does not have his manager’s confidence while Torres looked short of the match sharpness required for such a high octane occasion.

Had the fleet footed Spaniard been at his best he would have become the first player in Liverpool’s history to score four consecutive derby goals and the first half miss which stopped him from doing so will no doubt still be going through his mind.

If that was an if only moment, so was Howard Webb’s failure to award Torres a penalty when he was felled in the box by the otherwise excellent Phil Jagielka.

It was a clear foul and not a collision as some have suggested. Jagielka got himself the wrong side of Torres and brought him to the ground with a combination of left foot and left arm without the ball being played.

Referee Webb thought otherwise though and waved play on but by then Liverpool had built up enough momentum for such a setback to be rendered a temporary one and not turned into a potential excuse as others might have done.

Captaining Liverpool for the 250th time, Gerrard marked the occasion with a trademark goal as he took advantage of some rare midfield legroom to fire home a brilliant effort Tim Howard was unable to reach.

The emotion of his celebration told everyone in the ground just how much the strike meant to him. It was also a fitting riposte by a player who has had to put up with so much vile chanting in recent seasons.

That, though, was Liverpool’s high point. It should have been their springboard for success, instead it was the signal for their decline.

Everton deserve a lot of credit for a first half display which was their best in derby games for quite some time.

In the opening 45 minutes they had the only shots on target of any real note and dominated the corner count.

Their resilience and togetherness was there for all to see, as if anyone needed reminding of the qualities of a side which had previously gone six games without conceding a goal.

Having found a way to breach their defences victory was there for Liverpool’s taking but a failure to take the most of the opportunity they had created for themselves they were left to rue another one that got away.

And it is another one as well. Last night’s draw was the Reds fourth in their last five league games at Anfield as their home form threatens to undermine their Premier League hopes altogether.

It is choice not chance that determines destiny and unless Liverpool’s outlook becomes more positive in the weeks to come they could easily find themselves out of a title race they have hitherto worked so hard to be a part of.

LIVERPOOL: Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Hyypia, Aurelio, Kuyt, Gerrard, Alonso, Riera (Babel, 89), Keane (Benayoun, 66), Torres (Lucas, 84).

EVERTON: Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines, Osman, Neville, Arteta, Pienaar, Cahill, Anichebe.

REFEREE: Howard Webb. ATTENDANCE: 44,382. BOOKINGS: Pienaar, Arteta.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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