Is this our Cup Final, as the old refrain used to be? Well, quite
frankly, it is both teams' Cup Final this year.
Entering the second Merseyside derby of the season as we entered and
exited the last, above Liverpool, you'd
have thought that the bookies may look at our home form (one defeat all
season, including victories over two top three teams in Newcastle and
Arsenal) and give us the edge. Not so. Straight 6/4 odds for
both teams seem the order of the day.
This pretty much sums up people's views of Liverpool. Whilst
still under-performing, the potential is there for them to put together
the sort of run that would see them pinch a Champions League place.
With players such as Owen, Riise and Gerrard, they have the ability to put
any team to the sword. With a defence of Carragher, Riise, Hyppia,
Henchoz and Dudek in commanding form, they are as impregnable as any team
in the Premiership.
Ah! but there, again, is the rub! That defence has not been in
commanding form. In fact, at Goodison, it won't even be
together. With their colossal centre-backs both missing (Hyppia –
suspension; Henchoz – injury) the heart of their defence is dodgy Traore
and simply awful Biscan.
Biscan — once again Houllier's ability to pay over the odds for an
average player and then convert him into a more defensive role shines
through. Though I am reliably (!) informed that he has played very
well for the reserves at centre-back and Barcelona want to sign him —
honest, in a double swoop on Merseyside with Unsworth going as well...
Attack that breach, Moyes — it is gaping!
David Moyes has built a simple philosophy into the club: Get into the
team; play well; keep the jersey.
Time to throw that out of the window and throw Ferguson straight at the
two no-marks. He will murder them. Realistically, Moyes is
unlikely to do that and will start with Rooney (more later) and Campbell,
bringing Dunc on later. I wish he wouldn't. Dunc has built his
"legend" on these games; Rooney and Dunc starting together will
petrify the new look back-line. Get at 'em, Moyesy!
The saving grace for Liverpool is the defensive strength of their
midfield. Gerrard on his day is one of the best midfielders in
Europe. Hamann is THE best defensive midfielder — does nothing at
all going forward but completely shields his back four. How Hamann
copes with Rooney dropping into the space in front of the back four that
he patrols could decide this game. If Hamann stops Rooney, then our
play could break down. If Rooney can free those shackles, then we
have him and Campbell running at the light-startled rabbits.
Another midfield match-up is Gravesen v Gerrard. Gerrard is
better but, with Carsley alongside him, Gravesen has the better
support. With Gravesen at his best, it could be a cruncher.
Gravesen has not disgraced himself against Keane or Viera this season
(though slightly lost to both); another proper performance and we'll be in
with a chance.
Unfortunately, I now come to my biggest area of concern: Unsworth v
Diouf. Diouf may miss the game due to a shin infection; personally,
I really hope so. Unsworth gives you everything he has got every
time he crosses that white line. The problem is, he simply hasn't
got enough. He was woeful against Arsenal — to blame for the
second goal, in my opinion — and awful again against
I try not to criticise players, I don't believe in negativity, but
Unsworth has to learn to play the easy 20-yard balls. Recently, he
has done one of two things: Hump it up front or try a 20-yard pass and
give the ball away. In our attempts to improve the playing standard,
Unsworth has got found out. Compare him to Yobo in this game or even
Hibbert on his return. The fitness of Pistone cannot come soon
enough for me.
Diouf's pace and degree of trickery could cause Unsworth lots of
problems; it will give me nightmares just thinking about it as this week
Finally, the rest of our back line against their front two.
Owen and Heskey/Baros. None of those are full of
confidence. Even though Owen has scored in his last 5 Premiership
games, he has missed more chances than usual. Weir and Stubbs will
not grant him too many chances but his sheer pace will give him one or
two... Will he take them? I dunno!
Yobo needs another belter but I am certain that he will give it.
His pace gives both coverage to the two centre-backs if they are caught
out and a potent outlet down the left. Yobo v Riise is another
The pace of the game will be extreme. Individual battles will be
fought out: Owen v Weir; Gerrard v Gravesen; Hamann v Rooney; Yobo v Riise;
Unsworth v Diouf. They are the key ones to me. If Dunc plays,
then add Ferguson v Traore. Whichever teams wins the most individual
battles will probably win the game.
I see goals in this one — possibly as many as four but the game is so
close that I don't know what score line. Looking at the benches may
suggest, amazingly, that we have the stronger squad: Ferguson, Radzinski
and Hibbert on ours against Cheyrou, Smicer and Baros on theirs. I
Battles will be fought and some will be won but I can't possibly end
without mentioning him....
ROONEY! His ability to improve with every big game is
quite astonishing. Bursting onto the scene with a cameo but no goal
against United. Setting the Premiership alight against
Arsenal. Awaking the world to his talents against Turkey. Now
he comes up against every Evertonian's most hated 11. A big game is
needed, and who would deny him? In 10 minutes at Anfield, he
flattened Kirkland, spun Hyppia and nearly shattered the crossbar.
This time, he is set to simply flatten the whole lot of 'em.
Release Big Dunc, Moyes. Free up Rooney. Destroy the little
3-1 to US!
It's time to try and rationalise yet another Goodison derby day
defeat. This is becoming a habit I could do without.
This was supposed to be our day. Rooney against a makeshift
central defensive pairing. It looked even easier when one of
the makeshift pair went off injured and the 'keeper did himself an
injury by kicking the ground instead of the ball. Whatever
odds are stacked in your favour, though, count for nought when your
midfield fails to turn up.
We had the better of most of the first half. There was even
a measure to some of our early play. We forced a number of
corners, we even forced a good save from Dudek, from a Naysmith free
kick. We failed, fatally, to cash in on a period of relative
As so often seems to be the way, especially in derby games, we
paid a heavy price. Liverpool had barely threatened before we
gave Owen a little too much leeway. Cutting in from the left
on his favoured (only?) right foot, we backed off, and his slightly
miscued shot beat Wright at his near post. Poor defending and
From this point on we lost our shape quite alarmingly. How
often have we seen this? An Everton team behind in the first
half and hanging on desperately for half time. We made it and
it was up to Moyes to weave his half time magic.
The second half brought no changes, despite Watson struggling
from a knock he picked up from Diao. He even limped back on
after half time. We were better in the second half, but still
not troubling the Liverpool backline enough. In all honesty we
didn't really look like scoring, and I suppose it wasn't a surprise
that our lifeline came through a penalty. Gary Naysmith did
Carragher down the edge of the box and he body checked him out of
it. A clear penalty, so clear they didn't even complain.
Despite the pressure, Unsworth produced the perfect penalty, high
and powerful into the top corner.
We were back in it, and suddenly going for the victory.
Alas it wasn't with any great conviction. Endeavour was there,
but precious little wit or guile. It appeared to be heading
for a draw. Neither side seemed to have the necessary to push
on for victory. That was until we gave them an inch too much
Murphy, limited player though he is, is well capable of the
spectacular long range strike. They were mounting an attack,
we had already passed up one chance to stem it, when the ball fell
to Murphy. We were slow to close him down, he saw an opening
and took it with some aplomb, finding the top corner with the aid of
the underside of the bar.
We tried to change things around. Dunc came on for the
labouring Watson, Rooney went into the hole behind the front
two. Later still Gemmill came on for Gravesen (rendered
impotent by another booking). Once again, there was fuss and
bluster but no real conviction that we would score.
It seems, though, that we can't just lose to Liverpool. It
seems that insult also has to be added to injury. This time it
came in the shape of two sendings off. There had been a flurry
of bookings in the first half (seven). Two of these were to
Weir and Naysmith. Weir was the first to walk, a desperate
saving tackle on Gerrard saw Gerrard hit the turf. He had to
walk really. Then, in the ninetieth minute, Naysmith checked a
Liverpool runner with his body and he too walked. A little
harsh, I thought. In the context of the game I thought Durkin
could, perhaps, have turned a blind eye to this one.
This was a bitter pill to swallow. Made worse by news of
Chelsea's defeat (yes Liverpool are going to sneak into the
Champions League) and Phil Thompson's on-pitch antics after the
final whistle (my hatred for this man is reaching unhealthy
levels). Suddenly we're looking like a tired team who has gone
as far as they can.
- Wright 7 Can't, in all honesty recall, a
save. When he was called into action he should have done
- Yobo 7 Some excellent stuff, but sometimes he
looks like an accident waiting to happen.
- Unsworth 7 Did OK till he totally lost his
distribution in the second half. Exceptional penalty.
- Stubbs 7 A good man for derby's. Did all he
- Weir 6 Played very well with some excellent
interceptions and tackles. But, got himself booked twice
and, couldn't complain about either.
- Watson 6 Clearly hampered by his injury (looked
like a bad tackle by Diao); surprised he stayed on as long as he
- Gravesen 6 Typically Tommy — need I say more.
- Carsley 6 Struggled.
- Naysmith 6 Thought he had his best game for a
while. Still not good enough for the left midfield slot
- Campbell 6 Struggled. Wasn't helped by a
lack of service but still feel he should have done better.
- Rooney 6 It's days like this that you're reminded
he's only 17. It's not that he did anything particularly
wrong, it's just that, without the service, he doesn't have the
maturity to shape the game. Today he would have been
better coming off the bench. All part of the learning
- Ferguson 6 Looked lively and put himself
about. However, as he came on we dispensed with any form
of width whatsoever. He linked the play well, and showed
good leadership, but again it comes down to the lack of service.
- Gemmill 6 Did alright, but not enough to really
Team 6 Ultimately found wanting. We can't
grumble — we weren't good enough.
Man of the match — Alan Stubbs.