After what may be feared as the resumption of normal service
with depressing defeats against Manchester United and Crystal
Palace, can the Everton players and fans lift themselves for biggest game of the season, the
Many thought that the wonderful sight of Everton sitting atop
the Premiership after three games must presage the dawning of
a new era, the final turning of a corner that would confine
the dreadful sequence of recent seasons firmly into the past.
But the last two matches have served only to suggest that
Everton had flattered to deceive, thanks to a quirky fixture
list. In the cold light of day, has anything really
changed? Close results, few goals scored – and most
from set pieces, including three penalties – combined with
negative tactics and a host of other deficiencies signal yet
another long hard struggle as the depressing decline of this
once great club continues.
Not the best way to prepare for the derby...
But take heart: Liverpool are hardly flying high, wallowing
in 15th place in the League after loses to Bolton and Villa
that gave Evertonians plenty to laugh about, and put a welcome
dent in their much-hyped Championship aspirations. But
let no-one suggest that this is a good time to play them: that
sort of nonsense helped to undermine what was supposed to be
the rout of Old Trafford.
Everton must play with passion and pride – two
ingredients sadly lacking in the dismal defeats to Manchester
United and Crystal Palace. Injuries are mounting again,
with 9 players missing against Palace, but that well-worn
excuse cannot account for the lethargy and lack of spirit that
have slowed Everton's attack to walking pace.
Perhaps we can look on the bright side, and place our hope
in seeing Thomasz Radzinski make a dramatic debut to rescue the
day for Everton. Wouldn't that be great!
Woeful Blues abandon
by Lyndon Lloyd
On the back of a miserable week where, due to the events of Tuesday,
Everton's insipid - but not altogether unexpected - Worthington Cup exit caused
barely a flicker of emotion, it was hoped that the Blues could cause a welcome
distraction from events on America's East Coast and get their season back on
track with victory against Liverpool.
Sadly, the worst Everton performance in a derby match in recent memory
condemned Walter Smith's side to a second-successive heavy league defeat and
issued a stark reality check to any among the Goodison faithful who still felt
following the Manchester United and Crystal
Palace debacles that this season was going to see the Blues competing in the
top half of the table. Everton were, for the most part, out-classed,
out-muscled and out-spirited by a Liverpool side that almost always comes out
second-best in the commitment department from a Goodison derby.
Smith made changes from the side that lined up against United a week ago,
drafting in Abel Xavier and Gary Naysmith, while Thomas Gravesen made his early
comeback from the horrific flesh wound he sustained against Tottenham
three weeks previously. Paul Gascoigne and Tomasz Radzinski - neither of
whom had played in the Premiership so far this campaign - were on the bench.
This did not appear to be a typical derby game. The usual blood and
thunder seemed to be absent as was Everton's passion to take the game by the
scruff of the neck and not let up until the final whistle. In fact,
neither side got a grip on anything during the early exchanges; the ball pinged
about haphazardly in the air for the most part before good work by Niclas
Alexandersson set up Gravesen for the first shot of the game which fizzed wide
of Dudek's goal.
Two minutes later, though, Goodison roared to life. Finally, after
God-knows how many attempts this season, a David Unsworth diagonal depth-charge
was flicked on perfectly by Duncan Ferguson to Kevin Campbell who turned and
buried the ball past the 'keeper to give the Blues a 4th-minute lead.
Memories of Anfield two years ago came flooding back, as did apprehension that
the goal might have come too early for an Everton side patently unable to deal
with intense pressure on their back four.
The intense pressure wasn't needed as Everton's defensive frailties were all
to often laid bare by some unspectacular Liverpool attacking and, after 11
minutes, a bad defensive header by Unsworth went straight to Naysmith who could
only divert the ball to the feet of Steven Gerrard and the England international
set his sights and smashed an unstoppable effort past his namesake in the
Everton goal to level the game.
With the stuffing knocked out of their early advantage, the Blues struggled
to come up with a response. Atrocious distribution from the back and an
almost total lack of imagination and creativity in the midfield - both hallmarks
of Everton so far this season - left few options other than launched balls up to
Ferguson and Campbell which were easily dealt with the Reds' defence.
While Everton misplaced passes and posed little attacking threat, Liverpool
were sharper, keener and first to almost everything, creating openings simply by
running right through the home side's midfield, much like United did last
Emile Heskey was a constant thorn in the side of Alan Stubbs and David Weir
and although he broke free only to hit a tame shot at Gerrard after 22 minutes,
his next intervention seven minutes later was crucial. In the clear on the left
side of the area, he was barreled over by a reckless Unsworth challenge that was
part obstruction and part body check, leaving referee Durkin little option but
to point to the spot. Michael Owen, who had hitherto never looked like
scoring against Everton during his career, sent Gerrard the wrong way from the
2-1, and Everton's hopes rested on some sort of revelation of hidden
passion. But it was the visitors from the dark side who continued to pose
the greater threat, first when Gerrard tried to repeat his earlier goal from a
similar position but was thwarted by the other Gerrard's parry to safety, and,
secondly, when Dieter Hamman blasted well wide from a tight angle a couple of
minutes before the break.
Walter Smith rang welcome changes during the interval: Unsworth, who is
usually a vital component for Everton during Mersey derbies but whose
limitations were badly exposed today, made way for Gascoigne and the ineffective
Judder Man was replaced by debutant Radzinski.
Everton did improve at the beginning of the second half, but only just... and
it took Gascoigne, looking slow and cumbersome, a while to get into the
game. Radzinski was largely a spectator to the midfield's ineffectual
huffing and puffing, but showed pace and some nice touches on the rare occasions
he saw the ball.
Within 7 minutes of the restart, however, the game was up. Riise
stormed unimpeded through the static Everton defence, easily eluded Steve Watson
and thumped the ball past Gerrard to make it 3-1. Just as at Old Trafford,
it was just too damn easy.
Smith's side did respond, but continued to create few chances. Kevin
Campbell had the pick of the opportunities that were carved out, first seeing a
glancing header cleared of the line by Henchoz, then shooting straight at Dudek
in a one-on-one when he should have scored and finally seeing a powerful effort
parried by the Czech 'keeper late on. In between, Tony Hibbert, who had
come on for Alexandersson with 15 minutes left, also steered a header wide of
the far post.
Overall, Everton have the look of a team going nowhere in particular.
On the evidence of the first three games of the season, they look too good to go
down, but if they keep playing the way they have in their last three games
(including the League Cup defeat on Wednesday) they will be back at the wrong
end of the table by Christmas.
Smith needs to make some tough but necessary decisions if he wants to reverse
the familiar September slump, and he can start by scrapping the restrictive
five-man defence and reverting to 4-4-2. Either Gascoigne or Tal need to
start from the beginning and, perhaps most pressingly, Duncan Ferguson needs to
be relegated to the substitute's bench now that Radzinski - who looked today
like a cherry on a pile of turd - is fit.
As has always been the case when the Big Man is on the pitch, he stifles
creativity and leads the rest of the team into the temptation of launching high
balls to his head, the majority of which he fails to divert anywhere
useful. The reasons why few were sad to see him go to Newcastle in autumn
1998 and why many, including myself, were shaking their heads when he was
re-signed last summer still apply. He is not mobile enough, doesn't create
enough openings of his own and he – through no real fault of his own –
forces the team to play one-dimensional football just be his presence. If
Smith can't get his team to play to Ferguson's strengths (by getting to by-line
and cutting some crosses back for him to run on to, for example), then Dunc has
to be removed from the equation to allow Radzinksi to take centre stage
Whither passion, pride,
by Jenny Roberts
The American situation has served as a reminder that football IS just a
game. So, after living through one of the most traumatic weeks in memory,
nearly 40,000 blues and reds gathered at Goodison together to watch what was
only a football match, played out in spirit dampened by the past few days'
The pre-match atmosphere was so unlike a Derby - so dull and subdued - that
any onlooker could perhaps have been forgiven for thinking that a simple
Worthington cup tie was about to be played out, and not the 165th of these
famous meetings which so capture the imaginations of all Merseysiders.
As the first drum rolls of Z-Cars were heard, we remembered ourselves, and a
Goodison roar of old greeted the players. The ball boys carried out both
the British and American flags; the club captains laid memorial wreaths, and
that same uncomfortable feeling returned, as side by side, we observed the
Upon Paul Durkin's whistle, pandemonium ensued, as the fans readied
themselves for the afternoon's contest: Diving vs Honesty, Cheating vs Fairness,
Jammy vs Unlucky - Red vs Blue.
And that was how the afternoon continued. We began brightly enough, and
really attacked the Park End. A sudden opening left Campbell with the
space to turn and shoot. A collective inhalation of disbelief and the
fleeting thought "Can he? Will he?" were soon followed by that
beautiful vision of a rippling net. The crowd went delirious.
Only the absence of one Nick Barmby served to disappoint for the glorious
handful of minutes during which we led proudly. None of the songs which
the Street End had rehearsed in eager anticipation on Wednesday night could be
used against him - most of them far too derogatory to be mentioned here by title
- and many felt robbed of the opportunity to show him the resentment which still
Everything was going so well. Even during one dodgy defensive spell,
the ball was half-cleared, only to a group of red shirts outside the box, just
waiting to shoot. Steven Gerrard swung back to take the shot, completely
lost his balance, and was subjected to cheers of sarcasm and amusement from the
crowd. And, admittedly, the thought did occur: Can we win this?
But he soon scored to equalise and make us all regret our earlier
laughter. 1-1, and we were simply going to have to go for goal. If
only we hadn't sat back on our lead....
Instead of an encouraging surge forwards, we embarked on making a series of
embarrassing basic defensive errors. The midfield simply disappeared, and
any positive attacking effort involved the typically predictable long-ball to
Duncan's forehead. We screamed out in desperation for creativity, for
variety, for an injection of something new - some pace, some skill -
something. Yet Smith left us lingering on in frustration, apparently
unable to recognise the symptoms of ensuing defeat.
And then we were so severely failed by the referee's poor judgement. On
30 minutes, Emile Heskey was (clumsily, though not aggressively) tackled, but -
unsurprisingly - made quite as much of it as he could. Neither Durkin or
the linesman had the sense to see through the cheat, and, much to our anger,
pointed to the spot. Ridiculous.
The Street End did its best, booing and jeering, trying desperately to
distract Owen - but all in vain. The red mist descended, and we were truly
miserable. To make the situation utterly unbearable, the many Koppites who
had (again) infiltrated the Everton ticket-selling system and obtained tickets
in huge blocks for the Lower Bullens began to crawl out and chant.
Half-time came as a welcome break, with a penalty shoot-out raising hundreds
of pounds for EDSA and for the American rescue effort. Yet the crowd,
normally so supportive of charity events at half-time, was sluggish to respond
and was asked several times to provide applause for the participants.
Our luck had truly vanished, and although the optimists could, perhaps, have
been hoping for a revitalised Everton, buoyed by an inspirational half-time
team-talk from Walter Smith, despite a dual substitution and a much-needed
change of formation, that was certainly not what we saw. And, less than
ten minutes into the second half, another bizarre error led to Riise widening
the gap and putting the game completely beyond us.
The whole match descended into an angry squabble. Angry at Durkin for
every senseless error; angry at Liverpool for being so jammy, so dishonest and
for getting away with it; angry at the Koppites who dared to buy tickets, wear
colours and sing in our parts of the ground; and most angry at our own team for
not caring enough to go out and win it.
And that's what hurt the most. There were so many Reds in the Lower
Bullens that the entire Street End stood up, looked over, and began hurling
abuse in our direction. But the team's lack of commitment cut deeper and
smarted much more than those cocky Koppites.
As, for the first time in my life, I left an Everton match early, I pondered
that thought, and wondered why our players don't seem to care anymore.
Walter Smith may truly believe that the likes of Abel Xavier meet the standards
absolutely required of Merseyside Derby participants, but I and many more
Our greatest Derby threat has, in recent times been that we do have more
players who are aware of the magnitude of such occasions than Liverpool do:
Duncan Ferguson, Dave Unsworth, but especially Francis Jeffers and Michael
Ball. And although we did have two of those in our side on Saturday, we
need more of them to have the required effect.
And if Walter Smith was prepared to sacrifice two of them at the end of last
season, he should be prepared to find their replacements within our ranks -
young Evertonians, who value the shirt and will give the passion, pride, and
commitment which it richly deserves.
We sing about knowing our history - it's time the players and management