Four points from our first three games should put us in pretty
confident mood as we play host to our near neighbours. With only a
narrow defeat to Highbury blotting our 2003-04 copybook at this early
stage, we will enter the game far more confident than a stuttering
Liverpool who were actually booed off the Anfield pitch against Spurs —
music to our ears!
But, warning to all Blues — please don't get too carried away. I
would love to wax lyrically that the speed and movement of Radzinski and
Rooney will totally flummox the slow moving monuments that are Hyppia and
Henchoz; that the drive and workrate of Watson and Naysmith will keep
Riise and Finnan pegged back. I'd love to suggest that (the
returning) Gravesen and Linderoth's commitment, and no mean amount of
skill, will dominate the want-away Gerrard and Murphy, leaving the
undeniably pacey (but ultimately headless) Diouf and Baros starved of
quality ball. I'd be delighted to exclaim that the emperor's clothes
of Houlliers French intellect have at last been revealed and that Moyes's
more British style and nous will suffocate and flummox the confused red
hordes. I'd happily do all this if it weren't for 3 reasons:
- Gerrard — he'll be the best midfielder on display. Denied the
injured Sean Davis and the costly Barry Ferguson, we will have no-one to
match his strength, even if his passing when put under pressure can be
particularly wayward — in fact, when not focussed, his passing in an
empty field runs the threat of being intercepted;
- Kewell; and
Despite Houllier's best efforts, he still has three wonderful talents
at his disposal. My greatest hope is that he will continue to
completely misuse them. Pushing Kewell in to no-man's land;
encouraging Gerrard to launch the ball 50/60 yards and leaving Owen
isolated, living off scraps and slowly growing more frustrated. If
this does happen, then the game is there for the taking, Blues — there for
the taking; but if he gets his head in order and realizes that genius is
not necessarily doing something that no-one else agrees with but is rather
simply doing the right thing, well then: Do we have a game on!
Three match-ups should give us a pretty solid idea of where the points
are going to go:
- Yobo v Owen
Stop Owen and you stop Liverpool... a simplification?
Undoubtedly but still with elements of truth. Owen is,
unfortunately, world class — but then so is Joey! One slip and St
Michael can pounce but if Joey is on top form then there won't be a
slip, Owen won't get a sniff, and long-range efforts will be the order
of the day.
- Gravesen v Gerrard
We need Gravesen back. Linderoth and Pembridge have their
strengths but simply not enough of them. I was amazed at Highbury
how well Tommy competed against Vieira; he'll need that form to push
Gerrard back. With Hamann missing, Gerrard must help protect his
backline — if we can keep him occupied with that role, we can cut back
his punishing surges, hence enabling us to carry the fight to them.
- Radzinski v Hyppia
Not Rooney? Nope! Radz actually causes just as many problems
in his own way. His electrifying pace constantly keeps defenders
pinned back and nervous. Hyppia is dominant in the air but very
questionable on the ground; if we can let Radz run at him early on
anything could happen — and I fancy our Canadian wonder to notch in this
Obviously allied to all those above are the two potential match-winners
— Kewell and Rooney. Both have stunning ability. Rooney,
however, has displayed it a few times this season whereas Kewell is yet to
shine for his new employers — maybe his mind is on his new bank balance or
he's feeling guilty at being the ultimate football rat. If Rooney
can go one better than the crossbar rattler of last season's Anfield
derby, then we can definitely keep the 3 points at Goodison; if Kewell
shines, then Pistone down our right flank will have a massive role.
Latest transfer and injury gossip suggests that Wright may be injured
but we wont be seeing Nelson, the Portugese keeper. Talks appear to
be ongoing concerning McManaman and now Jon Crew but both deals seem some
way off and the very best we could hope for is that they are in the ground
to watch us batter the Reds!
Even without these possible additions we know we carry a very real goal
threat: five goalscorers already this season — all from open play — is
testament to the all-around threat that Moyes is keen to develop.
Even though Sky have tried to ruin it with a ridiculous kick-off time,
this should still be a belter.
We can win this and really we should win this; Moyes has yet to win a
Derby — that will be another stat blasted away by young Wayne come 2
2-1 To the Blues; Radz and Rooney.
Owen’s Sharpness sinks wasteful Blues
I finished my last match report by saying that, were we to sign
Ferguson and McManaman, we could look forward to the season with
real expectation. With neither player choosing to join Everton, a
disappointing week off the field was fittingly rounded off by a
disappointment on it in the shape of an appalling 3 – 0 scoreline in
favour of the horrible reds. The story of the game really was that
Michael Owen gave a finishing masterclass, while our strikers gave
what I could cornily term a "miss–terclass". This, combined with some
calamitous defending and a little bit of bad luck, meant that the
result confounded the optimism that was almost universally felt by
Evertonians prior to the fixture.
The strange kick-off time meant that the stadium was late to fill
up, as supporters struggled to down their usual pre-match alcohol
quota in about a quarter of the usual time. Once the stadium was
full, however, there was the usual rumbustuous atmosphere and I’m
not sure Z-Cars was even played, such was the noise (and the poor
quality of the PA in the Lower Bullens).
Two minutes after the start, Naysmith, presumably still smarting
from Gerrard’s tackle last season, mistook the target of his
retribution and flew into a ‘tackle’ on Kewell which rightly earned
him an early card. Other than this, the game was relatively free of serious foul
play, but this did not stop the referee incurring the increasing
wrath of Evertonians by falling for every little bit of cheating and
transparent gamesmanship on behalf of the reds. Not that they gained
any advantage from the numerous free kicks around the edge of our
box; ignoring their obvious aerial supremacy, they instead preferred
to try out their poncey training ground routines, to absolutely no
The decent chances of the half fell mostly to us, notably when
Radzinski was released brilliantly by Rooney and sprinted goalwards
with defenders trailing in his wake. The shot, well enough hit,
flashed across goal. His second chance was more difficult, the ball
hit over the top and refusing to sit down for him to get in a decent
strike. In between, Naysmith had a really good sight of goal but
with the ball on his ‘wrong’ foot, hit a tame shot which was easily
We’d had the better of the half but, just as we were wondering
whether the missed chances would cost us, up stepped Owen with the
answer. Released by Kewell, he just instinctively stabbed the ball
goalwards and it bobbled agonisingly in off the post. Cue an
irritating hands behind the ears celebration. It’s a pity he wasn’t
nearer to me – he might have heard what I had to say to him!
Almost immediately we should have equalised with arguably our
best chance of the game after possibly the best move of the game. A
great move down the right, with the ball being exchanged at speed,
ended with Wayne with the goal apparently at his mercy just yards
out. However, fatally, he seemed to hesitate, possibly trying to
make sure, and allowed Dudek to make a smothering save.
Gravesen came on for Unsworth. The hapless Unsie had had a
stinker. Diouff had looked dangerous on the right for them, but
then, faced with a defender of Unsie’s capabilities, my maiden aunt
would look dangerous. However, why we didn’t move Tommy to the
middle where he is more effective, and move Pembo to the left, is a
mystery to me.
Anyway, whatever Moyes said at half time was undone after sloppy
defending by Yobo allowed Baros to beat him easily and drag a cross
back for a comfortable second from Owen. Yobo looked insecure all
game and this gift of a goal, following a stinker against Charlton,
must put Davey Weir in the frame for a recall in an attempt to
revert to last year’s habit of clean sheets.
At 2 – 0, the game was up; though substitute Duncan Ferguson
struck the bar with an astonishingly well hit free kick (I guess
he’s had all the time in the world to practice them) and Dudek made
one or two decent saves, we never really threatened a revival. Instead, there was time for another defensive calamity, Simonsen
haring out wide for a ball Owen was always going to reach first,
leaving the net unguarded when the ball finally dropped to Kewell.
In the dying minutes, we had a corner in front of a now half
empty stadium. It was cleared to Owen, mid-way inside their half,
with only Naysmith between him and Simonsen. I wouldn’t have swapped
places with Naysmith at that moment for quids. Owen ran on, Naysmith
backed and backed to the edge of our area; just when you thought a
humiliating fourth was on the cards, Naysmith flew in with a
perfectly timed and executed tackle to save us further
A goal for us when we were marginally on top in the first half,
could have dented their fragile confidence and led to a different
outcome. However, as Moyes has said, mistakes at both ends, together
with the excellent finishing of Owen, cost us dear.
In goal, I thought Simmo did all right other than for the third
goal, but this just illustrates that being a good shot-stopper is
not sufficient to make you a decent keeper at this level. In
defence, Pistone was in my view excellent, though I think he slowed
a bit after almost being chopped in half by a scandalous Kewell
challenge. Stubbs is slow but solid; Yobo is a mile away from the
player we hoped he would be while Unsie is just Unsie – a limited
player whose best days are behind him. As I said after the Charlton
game, if Hibbert is fit, I can’t see why he isn’t playing right
back, with Pistone or Naysmith on the left.
In midfield we did all right – their expensive quartet certainly
never dominated – while up front, we just need to hit the target
Ultimately, this result kept Houllier in a job. I certainly
believe he’ll be out by Christmas, but hopefully any chance they
have of winning anything will be long gone by then.
Even as I type, at last we have a new face. Make that an old
face. The prodigal Ears returns, and it will be interesting to see
what will be the pecking order among the strikers. I was always a
fan of Jeffers, I don’t blame him for moving, and I’m prepared to
bet that he’d have converted some of the chances we missed on
Saturday. Personally I’d play both him and the Rad, with Wayne ‘in
the hole’. However, much as I like Radzinski, his ratio of goals to
chances is poor, and I fear he may find himself warming the bench. Presumably, this spells the effective end for Big Dunc, the overpaid
underplayed ‘Club Captain’.
The other new face is also an old one, the arrival of Nigel
Martyn signalling the effective end of the Everton careers of Paul
Gerrard and Steve Simonsen, though how we get them off the payroll
now the transfer window is closing, is beyond me.
Next Up – the Under Performing Bar Codes
Jeffers's return should herald a few goals being scored. With
Newcastle struggling, and ourselves likewise lower in the embryonic
league table than we would like, this is a big game for both sides. A home win, Jeffers to score on his return.
Owen strikes to lift Liverpool
Paul Wilson in The Observer
'The reds are not dead yet,' a relieved Gérard Houllier said with
a grin. Hard to say on this evidence. A safer conclusion
might be that the Blues are slipping into a coma. The
Liverpool manager is entitled to enjoy his moment of respite after a
fourth win in a row away to the old enemy. Houllier said all
along that more goals would follow once his team finally managed
their first from open play and he must be hoping that the same
principle will apply to victories now the immediate pressure has
Liverpool have still not lost a derby match this century and by
the end of the 169th they were queueing up to score. Michael
Owen could have had a hat-trick had Emile Heskey spotted him in
injury time. It should not have been that difficult. Owen had
just about the whole of the Everton half to himself.
The only problem for Liverpool is that they will not be allowed
to play Everton every week. The travelling fans made it plain that
they would like to, taunting the Everton crowd with a confidence
that belied the apprehension with which they started the match.
Goodison Park suffered in silence. Everton's anaemic display
was way below the standards David Moyes sets for his team and
inexcusable in a Merseyside derby.
Home fans could scarcely contain their glee before kick-off, when
they discovered the gauche Igor Biscan was to accompany Sami Hyypia
at the centre of Liverpool's defence, yet Everton failed to put the
emergency pairing under any sustained pressure. Perhaps more
surprisingly still, Liverpool were allowed all the time and space
they needed to settle their nerves. There was no snap or snarl
to the underdogs, none of the usual raucous atmosphere whipped up by
the crowd. Everton did not seem to believe that they could win
the match, began like an away team looking for a draw and ended up
meekly accepting their usual punishment. Liverpool would not
have been flattered by one or two more goals, but they will not play
many more accommodating teams this season.
It is not difficult to see why Everton are so desperate to sign a
midfielder. Their starting line-up featured four full-backs
and there is no linking player to bring Tomasz Radzinski and Wayne
Rooney into the game. Consequently, most of Everton's long
passes forward kept coming back and they were on the defensive
almost from the outset.
Certainly, when the first goal arrived shortly before half-time
Everton had spent 15 or 20 minutes barely able to break out of their
half. That is a dangerous game to play when opponents have
finishers as clinical as Owen. All it took was one pass from
Harry Kewell, who perhaps should have been more decisively dealt
with by Alan Stubbs, and the England striker was bearing down on
Steve Simonsen with a wholly predictable result.
Everton only had themselves to blame. Apart from defending
too deep, they had missed the few chances that came their way.
As Moyes acknowledged, they cannot afford to do that. 'We gave goals
away at one end and failed to take chances at the other,' the
Everton manager said. 'That's a recipe for disaster if ever I
There was room for argument over Moyes's assertion that his team
had created more chances than Liverpool, although the outcome could
have been altered had not Radzinski pulled a presentable chance wide
in the first half and Rooney done the same in the second. Jerzy
Dudek was on top form, too, making two important stops from Rooney
seconds after each of Owen's goals.
That makes the match sound evenly contested, but it was nothing
of the sort. Simonsen also made excellent saves from Kewell and
Owen, Steven Gerrard effortlessly bossed Everton's non-existent
midfield to keep Liverpool going forward looking for more and El
Hadji Diouf had a field day against first David Unsworth and then
Gary Naysmith. Oh, and from half a dozen or so clear chances,
the visiting team managed to put away three.
The otherwise impressive Joseph Yobo was far too casual in
letting Milan Baros get goal side to set up Owen's second after 52
minutes, then when Stubbs and Simonsen missed Owen's run down the
right 10 minutes from the end, Kewell kept his head and kept his
shot low to score his first league goal for the club at the far
Everton threw on Duncan Ferguson for the last 20 minutes in what
looked like desperation. The tall Scot made no difference in attack
and little impression on Hyypia, although he was unlucky with a
free-kick that crashed back from the underside of the bar.
While Liverpool did the professional thing and played out time,
Rooney spent the last 10 minutes trying to get sent off, first
getting booked for arguing about an offside decision, then
attempting to pick a fight with the blameless Kewell. Someone
needs to tell England's teenage tearaway that this is not big and it
is not clever. 'In a derby you need emotional maturity,'
Houllier said. Most of the time he is right. This
particular derby was strangely low on emotion.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Steven Gerrard This was not one of his barnstorming
performances by any means, but an intelligent and effective display
by a player who was sent off on this ground last season. With his
well-timed tackling and intelligent distribution, he is just the
sort of midfield presence Everton could have done with.