Kenny Dalglish’s Merseyside derby return

THE script had been written and the expectant Anfield faithful were just waiting for their players to act it out.

In the end, however, stage fright got the better of them.

It would have been hugely fitting if Liverpool had recorded a first win for new manager Kenny Dalglish on this, his home return.

The Scot last led the Reds against Everton 20 years ago when a thrilling 4-4 FA Cup draw at Goodison Park ultimately led to a resignation that stunned the football world.

So, it was suitably apt that his return to the Reds dugout yesterday afternoon would be once more against his rivals from across Stanley Park.

But with the headlines already prepared, Dalglish and Liverpool didn’t quite get the fairytale ending they had hoped for.

A 2-2 draw was a fair result, but with the Reds still just four points from the relegation zone, it was not nearly enough.

Liverpool were the better side in a keenly-contested first half, with Raul Meireles’s blockbuster on 28 minutes sending King Kenny in at the break with a grin on his face.

But the Reds’ calamitous defending once more came back to haunt them in a disastrous six-minute spell straight after half-time.

Credit goes to David Moyes’ men for a spirited response to going a goal behind, but Dalglish will be thinking long and hard about how he band aids a rearguard which is now leaking preventable goals with alarming regularity.

Serious questions must be asked how Sylvain Distin was given the freedom of Anfield to tower above Martin Skrtel to head home for Everton’s first.

And Liverpool were ultimately well and truly bullied into conceding a second just minutes later as the Reds came off second best in a series of challenges which led to Jermaine Beckford’s opportunistic strike.

Dalglish will have been heartened by a re-energised Fernando Torres, a rugged display from Lucas in midfield and a marauding Glen Johnson in an unfamiliar left-back role.

But despite a Dirk Kuyt penalty levelling matters, Dalglish will be under no illusions he has much to do to turn Liverpool’s season around.

Before the fixture, Everton boss David Moyes spoke about his admiration for his fellow Scot, the two of them starting their playing careers at Celtic.

But there is no love lost in these Merseyside fixtures – 19 red cards in recent derby history tells its own story – and the tackles were soon flying with Jay Spearing, a surprise call-up after his broken ankle, at the heart of the blood and thunder.

Dalglish had made two changes from the side which lost to Blackpool on Wednesday, with Maxi Rodriguez and Spearing coming in for Christian Poulsen and Milan Jovanovic, who both failed to make the squad.

With Carragher and Gerrard missing, Torres was deployed as a lone striker on his 100th Premiership Reds appearance in front of a five-man midfield.

There was an electric atmosphere at Anfield with a passionate rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone and banners on the Kop proclaiming King Kenny’s return.

‘Kenny Dalglish is cooler than the Fonz’, claimed one Red wag as the old stadium almost creaked with expectation of Dalglish’s first win as caretaker boss.

Liverpool were quickest out the blocks with Torres testing Howard with just 15 seconds on the clock.

Seamus Coleman dribbled an effort past Pepe Reina’s post before Martin Kelly’s surging right-wing run raised the volume inside Anfield.

Torres, like at Blackpool, looked up for the fight and he was in the action again, firing high over the bar after being found by Johnson.

The pumped up El Nino got even closer minutes later when a great run ended in the Spaniard cutting inside and thumping a left foot shot against Howard’s post before Kuyt blazed the rebound over the bar.

Liverpool were the better side, Lucas getting the better of Marouane Fellani and Mikel Arteta, and Johnson warming to his task as an attacking left-back.

So it was little surprise when the Reds made the most of their superiority with a fierce strike from Raul Meireles.

The ball fell to the Portuguese international after the persistent Johnson had crossed for Kuyt, and although the Dutchman was brilliantly denied twice by Howard, Meireles lashed home from 16 yards in thrilling fashion.

Everton may have thought they had taken the sting out of their rivals’ early momentum, but the Reds were flying now and they almost scored a second when Howard beat away another Torres effort as Meireles and Maxi tried to bundle home the scraps. This was a markedly improved Liverpool from last Wednesday’s defeat at Blackpool with local lad Spearing’s pressing and harrying hugely well received in the stands.

But an impressive first half soon lurched to disaster as Everton grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck immediately after half-time.

Once again poor defending was to blame when, 40 seconds after the interval, a Arteta corner found Distin loitering at the far post with far too much room to power a header home. Six minutes later it got even worse for Liverpool when Jermaine Beckford swept home after yet more dismal Reds defending.

Kelly, Skrtel, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and finally Meireles were all beaten as an Victor Anichebe header dropped to Leon Osman, and quick footwork from the Blues midfielder led to Beckford, firing home.

It was Everton’s turn to enjoy the ascendancy now as Arteta and Felliani dictated midfield and a Torres kick out at Phil Neville was indicative of Liverpool’s frustrations.

But there is still character in this Reds side which showed itself when they grabbed a much-needed lifeline.

Meireles’ free kick dropped to Skrtel in the penalty box and his skewed effort squirted to Maxi who was felled by Howard’s attempted sprawling save. A spotkick was the right decision and Kuyt finished calmly.

Game on.

Liverpool now had the scent of victory and, buoyed by one committed Spearing tackle, they went hunting for the win.

But aside from a tame effort from Torres, 15 minutes from the end, when the Spaniard chipped tamely at Howard while expecting a linesman’s flag, it never looked like coming.

This wasn’t the romantic ending that Dalglish and all his revering Liverpool fans had been praying for before kick-off.

But then, the course of true love never did run smooth.

“There is a lot we still have to analyse but really there has been a lot of positive things from the players,” KENNY DALGLISH upbeat after the 2-2 draw at Anfield.

“Liverpool won all the duels so it needed a word to correct it at half-time and in the second half we were terrific. I thought we had a chance when it went to 2-1 because we were on top but we were missing three or four big players,” David Moyes felt Everton could have snatched a victory having taken the lead.

LIVERPOOL (4-5-1): Reina (capt), Johnson, Meireles (Shelvey, 80) Agger (Kyrgkiakos, 45), Torres, Rodriguez, Kuyt, Spearing, Kelly, Skrtel

CARDS: Reina, Torres, Kuyt.

EVERTON (4-4-2): Howard, Baines, Heitinga, Arteta, Distin, Beckford (Vaughan, 72) Neville(capt), Osman (Rodwell, 77) Coleman, Fellani, Anichebe ( Bilyaletdinov 81) Subs: Mucha, Hibbert, Bilyaletdinov, Vaughan, Gueye, Rodwell, Baxter

GOALS: Meirles, 28, Kuyt, 67, Distin, 45, Beckford, 51

CARDS: Howard

REFEREE: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).


Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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