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Barmby delivers the perfect reply - player ratings

Barmby delivers the perfect reply . . . unless you're an Evertonian that is

Ex-Blue emerges from derby cauldron as a winner in Red

OPINIONS on Nick Barmby were unlikely to have been reserved before yesterday's Anfield derby.

At least now they are set in granite.

Liverpudlians, already overjoyed at getting one over the old enemy in the summer when the one-time Goodison favourite declared he had always been a Red at heart, were in ecstasy after only 11 minutes as the £6m midfielder showed he had not only read the script for this occasion but memorised it.

His soaring header to break the deadlock and unbridled celebrations afterwards not only took the sting out of an assured start by his former club, but the visiting fans desperate to bait his every move.

No chance of forgive and forget now.

Then there was the small matter of playing a pivotal role in Emile Heskey's second half strike, a goal both managers conceded turned the game.

Barmby, as Blues had refused to contemplate and Reds had hoped beyond hope, picked the perfect moment to deliver.

And yet there appeared every possibility that Merseyside's other controversial midfield signing in the close season would steal the show.

Paul Gascoigne.

The man for the big occasion showed he still is during a first half performance that eclipsed anything else on the pitch.

For someone of his eventful years, who has been written off for at least the last three of them, to arrogantly strut through the centre of midfield in the heat of a derby battle like this underlines the genius that still lies within.

But that was the first half.

The second was a different story entirely.

Gascoigne's influence and touch remained strong, but around him the midfield picture underwent a stunning transformation.

Initially, it was the Everton five who controlled proceedings.

Recent years have seen the Blues accused of over-aggression against their rivals.

Here they were disciplined, skilful and controlling the play with passing that graphically illustrates they are under-achieving this season.

Five minutes had gone when the visitors almost produced a carbon copy of the goal that settled the corresponding fixture last season.

Same time, same place, same incisive move, wrong player on the end of it.

Kevin Campbell was involved on this occasion, but now it was Mark Pembridge clean through on the Kop goal with only Sander Westerveld to beat.

Beat him he did, but with a dainty chip that dropped the wrong side of the post.

Scoring first in away games is important, in away derby matches it is imperative and this was a costly miss.

Clearly the Welsh midfielder knew it and minutes later he clattered into Barmby - who had produced a similar foul on Michael Ball moments earlier - to pick up the game's first booking.

Liverpool had struggled to settle, with their poor passing out of defence at the root of their unease, but then Barmby's fairytale moment arrived as Christian Ziege's shot cannoned off Abel Xavier and flew across the penalty area.

Gerard Houllier had asked his England international to ignore the predictable Blue boos and stand tall, but surely he didn't expect the diminutive midfielder to reach this inadvertent cross with a soaring header that sailed into the far corner.

It was Barmby's first Premiership goal for Liverpool.

Against Everton, too.

Now there's a surprise.

Pembridge immediately had another clear opening to score but this time, from Idan Tal's headed knock-down, his left foot shot went wide with Westerveld rooted to his line.

Invigorated by the goal and that miss, the stage was set for the home side to finally take a hold of the game.

Instead, they allowed Campbell to level matters with his only opportunity of the game.

Westerveld watched a deep Tal corner drift to the far post, David Weir headed back across a packed goalmouth and the Blues centre forward stooped to convert from two yards out.

With Tal and Thomas Gravesen lively on either flank and Gascoigne growing in stature and tricks by the minute, Everton looked comfortable, only to see their good work nearly undone from two breaks down their right which ended with Ball taking the ball off Barmby's toes from an excellent Heskey cross, and Gravesen denying Gary McAllister as he broke free in the area.

This was a rare derby - full of good football - and the only fear for the purists was that the interval would interrupt the flow.

It did.

Liverpool emerged a different side and never looked back.

Either because of half time instruction or general displeasure at their defence's wastefulness with the ball, the Reds central midfield pairing of McAllister and Dietmar Hamann now dropped deeper to engineer the play themselves.

Now it was the Blues midfield who were chasing rather than controlling matters.

Hamann ran unchallenged half the length of the pitch from a cleared Everton corner to fire an angled shot straight at Paul Gerrard at his near post.

McAllister then saw a decent chance interrupted by a linesman's flag.

And then Heskey decided he couldn't allow Barmby to have the headlines all to himself.

Both sides may have been evenly matched for 56 minutes, but only one side had the player who could conjure something out of nothing.

A decade ago it would have been Gascoigne, now his role has changed and Heskey is that man.

Referee Paul Durkin, in an impressive performance, allowed play to continue as Barmby was fouled in the process of laying the ball into the £11m striker's path.

After five goals in his previous three games, confidence is one attribute no longer lacking in the powerful forward and one touch later, an explosive 25-yard shot found the bottom corner.

Make that six in four games.

While Gerrard in the Everton goal should have done better with Heskey's drive, his namesake in Red was producing a phenomenal performance at right back to constantly dent Blue hopes of a recovery.

Steven Gerrard, a central midfielder for argument's sake, was simply outstanding.

Never mind wrapping him in cotton wool for midweek UEFA Cup games, he should be cloned.

Westerveld was another Red in the spotlight, often for the wrong reasons in a nervy display, but it was from his mammoth throw that the home side sealed the contest.

Not for the first time in the game Everton were caught out by one of their own corners and when substitute Gary Naysmith missed the launched ball, Vladimir Smicer was through on goal.

Last man Gravesen brought the Czech's run to an abrupt halt with a desperate lunge on the penalty spot and began walking long before Durkin showed him the red card.

From the resulting spot kick, Berger ended the contest by sending Gerrard the wrong way.

It could have been much more painful for the visitors as both Smicer and Berger went close late on against the forlorn ten men.

But by then, the damage had been inflicted with one Nick Barmby the principal architect.

Now what were the chances of that happening?

How they rated

Liverpool

SANDER WESTERVELD: Still looks far from comfortable. Didn't dominate his area enough, especially on Everton's equaliser, but saved well from Pembridge in the second half and his quick thinking led to Liverpool's third. Score 6.

STEVEN GERRARD: Outstanding. Grew in stature as the match progressed and in the second half especially he looked the complete full back. Which he's not, he's a midfielder of course. Man of the match. Score 9.

MARKUS BABBEL: Steady and assured at the back. Held the defence together well during a rocky opening half hour. Score 7.

SAMI HYYPIA: Uncharacteristically shaky at the start, when his passing letting him down. Second half was more like his accomplished self, however, as he stifled the threat of Campbell. Score 7.

CHRISTIAN ZIEGE: Distribution very sloppy in the first half but remained dangerous when he found himself with the ball in advanced positions. Given a hard time by Gravesen for the first hour. Score 6.

NICK BARMBY: Scored one, made one - talk about letting the occasion get to him! Industrious as ever, was a key link in the opening 45 minutes when his team-mates struggled to impose themselves. Score 8.

DIETMAR HAMANN: Failed to impose himself on proceedings, but helped shackle Gascoigne more effectively as the match wore on. Score 6.

GARY McALLISTER: Never allowed the time and space to control play as in recent weeks as the packed Everton midfield deliberately closed him down. Escaped their attentions after the break and was instrumental in his side's second half dominance. Score 7.

PATRIK BERGER: So often a potent weapon against Everton but not this time. Started sluggishly but recovered late on, linking up well with substitute Smicer. A fine penalty to seal the victory as well. Score 7.

EMILE HESKEY: Once the passes started to find him, the big man was a constant menace to Everton, pulling their defence everywhere at times. Scored an exceptional goal which helped turn the tide the Reds way. Score 8.

ROBBIE FOWLER: Cannot be faulted for effort at the moment, but still a long way off match pace. Substituted with 20 minutes remaining. Score 6.

EVERTON

PAUL GERRARD: The wet surface and bounce may have been mitigating factors, but he should have done better with Heskey's strike. Otherwise, he produced a number of excellent stops and could not be faulted for the other two Liverpool goals. Score 7.

STEVE WATSON: Not able to get forward as much as he would have liked. Made a few important tackles and stifled Berger's threat early on, without ever imposing himself on the game. Score 6.

ABEL XAVIER: Continuing signs that his partnership with Weir is a productive one and kept Fowler quiet before coming unstuck by Smicer's trickery when he arrived on the scene. Score 7.

DAVID WEIR: A difficult task marking the resurgent force of Heskey but handled the job well for the most part. Good in the air, tidy on the ball, though occasionally caught out. Score 7.

MICHAEL BALL: Devastated to go off injured just after the restart and with some justification. He was enjoying an excellent battle with Barmby and his distribution was good and the Blues looked comfortable until his departure. Score 7.

THOMAS GRAVESEN: Can have no complaints about the sending off which marred an otherwise productive afternoon. Especially prominent in the first half and revelled in the derby atmosphere. Score 7.

ALEX NYARKO: Good when things were going his side's way, disappointing when they did not. Quick and confident in the first half but failed to continue that form after the interval when he was caught in possession too often. Score 6.

PAUL GASCOIGNE: A wonderful midfield performance for 45 minutes, vintage stuff. Battled gamely in the second half but without the same end product. Everton's man of the match. Score 8.

MARK PEMBRIDGE: Left to rue two fine first half chances which could have changed the course of the game. Deservedly booked but as industrious as ever. Score 7.

IDAN TAL: Bright and inventive in the first half, when he gave the excellent Steven Gerrard a few difficult moments. Crossing is a welcome weapon for the Blues as he showed in their equaliser. Faded badly after the interval. Score 6.

KEVIN CAMPBELL: Livelier than in recent games as his match fitness returns. Scored at Anfield for the second successive year but too isolated in the second half when the Blues midfield were on the back foot. Score 6.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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