Derby joy wipes away memory of sending-off
Report by IAN DOYLE
STEVEN GERRARD turned from derby villain to derby hero yesterday to help Liverpool to a 3-1 victory over Mersey neighbours Everton.
The last time the two sides met at Anfield in September 1999, Gerrard was sent off in the dying moments for an X-rated lunge on Kevin Campbell in a 1-0 defeat.
But yesterday the Reds starlet put in a man-of-the-match performance as goals from Nick Barmby, Emile Heskey and Patrik Berger ensured Liverpool have now lost just one of their last six derby encounters.
Gerrard was outstanding at right-back, nullifying the threat of Everton's tricky Israeli winger Idan Tal with some meaty challenges and earning fulsome praise from boss Gerard Houllier.
However, the England international was typically modest about his starring role.
"I haven't been playing at right-back all my life," admitted the 20-year-old.
"But I have played there for the last few games and have enjoyed it.
"I've done quite well and hopefully I can remain in the starting XI.
"I prefer to play in central midfield, but if I keep playing like I have today at right-back and keep my place in the team, then I will be happy."
Hailing from Huyton, Gerrard is well aware of the significance a derby victory means to the fans and revealed that this will to win had been transmitted to the rest of the Liverpool dressing room.
"We were buzzing after the game," he added.
"Everyone was delighted, particularly as we'd beaten our local rivals.
The players were up for this one.
"I enjoyed myself, but I wouldn't be saying I had enjoyed myself if we had been beaten, no matter how well I would have played.
"The first half was fast and furious and we were expecting that, but we knew things would settle down in the second half and we dominated possession.
"Everton matched us in those early stages, both physically and playing-wise.
But I thought they tired the more the game went on and that is when we began to dominate."
Gerrard praised team-mates Nick Barmby and Emile Heskey for their goalscoring exploits.
"Nick was in dreamland when he scored - but so was I as well," he beamed.
"I helped him celebrate the goal, and he deserved it because he worked hard and played very well on the day.
"And Emile is on fire at the moment.
He just can't stop scoring goals.
People had written him enough before the season saying he wouldn't score enough, but he has proven them wrong - and he's playing well too."
The youngster also moved to allay fears of a fresh injury blow after being forced off the field seven minutes from time.
"It's definitely not my groin," he insisted.
"It is just a touch of cramp and hopefully I will be okay for Wednesday."
Liverpool entertain Chelsea that night in the Worthington Cup, and with the Reds lying third in the Premiership and taking a one-goal lead to the Czech Republic for their UEFA Cup clash with Slovan Liberec next week, things are beginning to gel for Houllier's side.
"We have won four games on the run now and kept three clean sheets and only conceded the one goal against Everton, so things are looking good," enthused Gerrard.
"We are defending well as a team and we have important games coming up and it is our aim to stay in the top three between now and the end of the season."
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