THOUGH the lessons of history foretold that Liverpool’s latest meeting with Everton would end in deadlock, it was the failure of Rafa Benitez’s side to learn from previous mistakes that cost them victory.
With all three previous all-Merseyside FA Cup ties having ended in draws, the pattern was maintained as a spirited but limited Everton denied their neighbours an easy passage into round five.
Had Liverpool not committed the cardinal sin of allowing Tim Cahill the freedom of the penalty box for the second time in just six days they would surely today be in possession of those all important bragging rights.
After Cahill equalised with just minutes remaining in last Monday’s league clash the word coming out of Anfield was that Liverpool could and would correct the faults which had allowed the abrasive Aussie to pounce.
Actions speak louder than words of course and shortly before the half hour mark Cahill was again allowed to wander uninhibited into the kind of area where space should never be offered never mind found and his free header was flicked past Pepe Reina by a similarly unmarked Joleon Lescott.
That was pretty much the sum total of Everton’s attacking efforts on a day when they didn’t just park the bus in front of their goal, they actually left the handbrake on and removed the engine, but it was ultimately enough to secure David Moyes’ team a replay.
Liverpool can have no complaints about the result either because despite dominating possession – at times to an extent bordering on the ridiculous – they all too rarely threatened to turn their supremacy into goals.
The manner of Everton’s performance brought back memories of Gerard Houllier’s infamous quip about allowing the opposition to keep the ball as long as his own team kept the result.
There is nothing in the rules of football which compels teams to play attacking football and given the injuries which left David Moyes with precious few forward options no-one could really blame the Blues boss for his safety first policy.
It was up to Liverpool, as the home side and with an almost totally fully fit squad to choose from, to break them down and the fact that they only did so on a single occasion meant that for the second time in less than a week a draw was a fair result.
Yes, Liverpool had all of the ball and yes, they were the only team regularly committing players forward and actively trying to win the game, but stubbornness and defensive resilience also brings results and in these departments the visitors excelled.
The contest between Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres and Phil Jagielka and Lescott was as compelling as has been seen in a derby match for many a year.
Liverpool’s captain was again in peak form and the goal he scored after being teed up by a wonderful Torres flick was the least he deserved for a second half display which was full of verve and determination.
The fact that it did not yield even more was down to the combination of the failure of some of his team mates to respond to the example Gerrard was setting and the solidity of Everton’s central defensive pairing.
Torres and Dirk Kuyt could both have taken advantage of their skipper’s inspiration but failed to find the finishing touches when provided with the kind of opportunities they would usually take.
At times, Liverpool are guilty of trying to score the perfect goal, particularly when opponents set up with a tactical shape designed to deny them space and in the first half in particular this was certainly the case.
It is when they lift the tempo, have the courage of their convictions and take the odd chance that they are at their best.
Take Gerrard’s equalising strike as an example. In the first half Torres would have been more likely to play percentages and try to shield the ball if it was fired at him at such a difficult height.
But chasing the game from a goal down and with desire having been sharpened by the prospect of being dumped out of the cup by their local rivals, Liverpool’s attitude changed and Torres symbolised this with an audacious piece of skill which signalled the end of 52 minutes of risk free football.
It wasn’t just yesterday either. In the 16 games they have played at Anfield in all competitions so far this season, the Reds have led at the interval in just a quarter of them.
It is almost as if they’re weighing up how to get past their opponents before upping the tempo and allowing their undoubted quality to shine through.
Had they started their latest meeting with Everton in the same powerful and adventurous way that they finished it then in all probability they would have booked their place in the next round.
Honours were again even although the celebrations in the packed away end at the final whistle suggested those in the blue half of the city believe the advantage now lies with them.
Liverpool’s record at Goodison is good though with only two defeats at the home of their Mersey rivals in the last decade and by the time the replay takes place Moyes should have the personnel available to perhaps leave the keys to the bus at home.
This one will again be far too close to call and as ever it will be the team that wants it most which secures victory. After a recent hiatus, the competitive derby is back with a vengeance with no quarter being asked and none being given.
By means of postscript, it is worth noting that the atmosphere at the two most recent clashes between red and blue has been a vast improvement on previous seasons. Much of the poison has dissipated but the passion remains undiluted.
Perhaps it was the warnings from Merseyside Police that have stopped some of the more sinister songs from being aired but in all likelihood it is probably down to the fact that the players who have been the main victims of said vile chanting have offered the perfect riposte on the pitch.
Gerrard was first to ram the taunts back down his tormentors’ throats last Monday night and yesterday Lescott did the same.
Maybe those goals will help everyone learn the lesson that has hitherto gone unheeded for far too long.
Now it’s time for Liverpool to do the same and to make sure they really do correct the mistakes that have cost them victory in consecutive derby matches in time for the next instalment of this thrilling trilogy.
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