Mikel Arteta returned from the illness that prevented him facing Blackburn in the ignominious Carling Cup surrender to hopefully provide some great set-piece deliveries, while Tony Hibbert plays for the first time since damaging his knee ligaments in the defeat to Arsenal last May.
Hibbert's return means Phil Neville will switch to a midfield role, joining Fellaini and Cahill with Osman and Arteta on the flanks. Yakubu started up front on his own, with Louis Saha dropped to the bench, with warm September sunshine bathing Goodison Park.
Bad decisions started in the 2nd minute with an obvious throw-in awarded wrongly to Liverpool. A strange block by Skrtel on Yakubu maddened the Gwladys Street. The first yellow card went to Fellaini for a rather poor trip on Arbeola, his first tackle, in just the 9th minute. A worse foul by Skrtel on Yakubu was of course not similarly punished.
In terms of football (!), Liverpool had started the stronger and were probing the Everton defence frequently, benefitting of course from Everton's lack of composure when in possession. Cahill won a second corner after 13 mins and might have scored but tripped on the ball and could only screw it wide.
At the other end, Jagielka blocked a certain goalbound shot close in from Torres. Reira kicked the ball away petulantly after a free-kick awarded to Everton, but no yellow card, of course, after intercession from Gerrard.
Reina dropped a high ball, Fellaini turned and slammed to goal but it was cleared off the line by Carragher, and Riley awarded a ridiculous free-kick against Fellaini for supposedly fouling Reina. Another shockingly bad decision. But one finally went Everton's way when Alonso went in the book for a light clip on Arteta after 38 minutes.
Cahill got the ball forward nicely to Yakubu whose snapshot was a little to rushed and it screwed wide. Cahill almost came close in the Liverpool area, winning a corner that came to nothing with a nothing free-kick to Liverpool, and that was it for the first half. Most of the possession to Liverpool: Most of the chance to Everton.
After the restart, Yakubu fell down too easily trying to win a penalty and was yellow-carded for his sack of spuds impression. Torres was booked for petulance after getting frustrated by Lescott. Liverpool were getting more and more space, and coming closer to the Everton goal, the Everton defence backpedalling frequently. The Blues were less structured in attack, but were still able to get Reina into action on occasions.
The goal Liverpool had threatened eventually came when a deep cross by Keane from the bye-line found Torres all alone and able to finish with ease. Everton defenders were nowhere. Torres profited again minutes later from more poor defending and finished easily for a second that stunned Goodison.
Kuyt and then Torres had the ball in the net but thankfully the whistle had gone beforehand. The Torres one was dubious as the foul on Lescott looked non-existent. A couple of corners for the Blues, and Saha almost got it in.
As Everton pushed forward, space increased behind, and Jagielka did well to deny Torres his hat-trick after a futile Everton attack met the inevitable brick wall defence in midfield and Liverpool broke with speed after the turnover. Arbeloa kicked Cahill, who reacted. From the free-kick, the ball was played forward to Lescott crossed sharply but just in front of three Everton players trying to score..
With 10 mins left, Cahill was red carded for a poor late over-the-top challenge on Alonso at crunched his ankle. Not too many complaints... A superb save from Howard off Gerrard saved an even more embarrassing scoreline. But a free-kick was given away in prime Gerrard territory but he put it weakly over the bar.
In the closing stages, Lescott pulled the trigger (blocked) and Saha delivered a tremendous shot just wide and that was it. Nothing to show but a three-match ban for Cahill.
This was supposed to be the game that was going to provide the springboard for Everton to finally launch their season, for David Moyes's team to show what they are all about in terms of spirit, commitment and ability. Instead, a disjointed and limp performance — one where the positive aspects of that spirit and commitment had fizzled out by two-thirds of the way in and given way to a channeling of frustration into aggressive tackles that ended with a red card for Tim Cahill — culminated in another derby defeat on home soil and deepened the sense of gloom at Goodison.
This time, while the officiating was abysmal, the Blues couldn't blame the referee; they were beaten by the better team (though Rafael Benitez's side were poor themselves) having posed disturbingly little attacking threat and undone by their own ineptitude in defence.
After last year's disgraceful refereeing performance by Mark Clattenburg in the Goodison derby, you'd have thought the FA would have gone out of their way to limit the controversy this time around and at least try to put the focus back on the football by selecting a safe choice. Instead, they opted for Mike Riley, at the centre of a storm of criticism for his handling of the Chelsea—Manchester United game a week ago, and already regarded by many supporters as one of the worst, most inconsistent officials on the Premier League roster.
Riley and his assistants did nothing to dispel that reputation, setting their stall out in Liverpool's camp very clearly on with a poor line call in the second minute and the denial of a penalty in the fourth when Yakubu was unceremoniously barged to the ground in the area by Martin Skrtel, who made no attempt to play the ball whatsoever as he knocked the big striker out the way so Clauido Reina could gather the loose ball.
After the giant Serb wasn't booked for a catching Yakubu and Albert Riera escaped a text-book yellow card for kicking the ball away while Fellaini was booked for an innocuous trip on Arbeloa, the hypocrisy of the decision to deny Everton a spot kick was underscored 25 minutes later when Cahill was pulled up for the same offence but this time in the safer environs of the middle of the park. A minute later, Riley blew for a non-existent aerial foul on Reina by Fellaini as the pair challenged for a deep cross, though the Belgian's shot was in any case blocked on the line. On such decisions, large and small, games can bedecided, particularly as they dovetailed with what was Everton's best spell of the game.
Away from the abysmal refereeing, chances were few and far between. Cahill went close after a quarter of an hour when an Arteta corner deflected through a crowd of bodies but the Australian couldn't react quickly enough to the ball as it flew by him at an awkward height and his contact only pushed it on out for a goal kick.
A minute before time, Yakubu effected a brilliant turn to get away from his marker but dragged his effort wide of the target before Cahill tried to guide the ball through a forest of red shirts and appeared to be chopped down by Jamie Carragher but, again, no penalty was given.
At the other end, Riera got away from Hibbert and down to the byline but Phil Jagielka was on hand to block Fernando Torres' shot at close range.
0-0 at half time and the game had the look of an encounter that could end goalless at the end of 90 minutes as well.
Frustratingly, on the few occasions that Moyes's side did fashion chances in forward areas, they failed to make them tell. The first chance of the second half was a prime example; Yakubu burst into the box with a shooting opportunity on his left foot but as Skrtel dangled a half-hearted foot near the ball, the striker dived for a penalty instead of driving on and shooting and was booked for diving.
At the back for the Blues, for the first hour it looked as though normal service had resumed. HIbbert was at his usual best when it came to jockeying opponents and not giving Riera the space he wanted to work down the left flank. Yobo and Jagielka in particular had shackled Torres superbly and Lescott was keeping things quiet down the Liverpool right. Phil Neville, preferred, as expected, to Segundo Castillo in defensive midfield, was largely anonymous — not a bad thing where he is concerned and it meant that there wasn't much threat from Benitez's team. Indeed, Torres was getting more and more frustrated and after evading a booking in the first half, he was finally yellow-carded for dissent. Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard's only real contribution in attack was a 30-yarder than squeezed past the post.
The Blues' problems were all in attacking midfield where there was just no real inspiration, little forward movement and virtually no width. While the Reds were able to turn defence into attack fairly fluidly by merely playing straight through the Blues mid-section, Everton struggled to move the ball around with any pace or incision... that is when Tim Howard was lofting aimless balls downfield and onto the heads of the Liverpool defence.
Fellaini, after a decent start, lapsed into his now-familiar pattern of sitting deep and not really looking to take the initiative, almost always taking the short or lateral pass over anything more inventive or daring. So, with Leon Osman barely involved and Phil Neville, playing in defensive midfield instead of Segundo Castillo, virtually anonymous it was left almost entirely to Arteta to play the provider for Yakubu up front and Cahill playing behind him.
But even he was limited in his ability to dictate things for the home side and the Yak often cut an isolated figure, spending most of the time challenging for long balls and chasing lost causes.
With 58 minutes on the clock, though, Everton's defensive disarray reared its ugly head again. With Hibbert out of position, Keane was allowed to chase a ball to the byline and loft the ball back across the box where Torres, given the freedom of Goodison with no defender within 8 yards of him, had the simple task of burying the ball in the net past the stranded Howard.
Three minutes later, as Moyes took his time over deciding when to introduce Louis Saha, it was game over. Hibbert attempted a throw-in to Cahill when he was double-marked, with the obvious result being possession switching to Liverpool whereupon Riera found Keane who in turn picked out Kuyt's drive into the box. Jagielka timed his sliding tacklke to perfection but the ball merely broke to Torres who, again, was criminally unmarked and he drove the ball into the roof of Howard's net.
Fellaini, lacking conviction and just not in the game, was one of the more obvious candidates to make way for Saha but it was Hibbert, playing his first game after returning from long-term injury, who was wisely withdrawn, but the introduction of another striker was almost useless while there was so little being created from midfield.
Neville took his frustrations out on an opposition player and was rightly booked before a rare chance arrived for Saha in a melee of players from a free kick but his snap-shot was deflected wide.
The final fifteen minutes brought the hope of another stirring fightback but by this stage, Liverpool had pullled men back and were content to sit on the advantage they had all to easily gained.
Fellaini belatedly started to put himself about again and struggled mightily in a 50-50 tug of war with Skrtel to get on the end of an Arteta free kick but Riera made the catch. Then, he was caught in two minds whether or not to get in the way of Lescott's dangerous cross and ended up deflecting it past the far post with his arm.
But with 10 minutes left, all hope of rescuing something from the game evaporated when Cahill, flying in for one tackle too many with barely disguised venom, followed through on Xabi Alonso with his trailing leg and earned a straight red — and, more importantly, a three game suspension — from referee Riley. A couple of years ago, it would have been the quintissential yellow card but in these days of Fifa oversight, granstanding by officials and Riley's own penchant for the headlines, a red was not all that surprising. It just capped off a horrible day.
There were final chances for both sides as the game petered out; Gerrard forced a diving, two-handed save from Howard and Saha, after tricking his way neatly past Skrtel, hammered a thunderbolt a foot wide from 20 yards in the last minute.
But Everton had given up by then, choosing to pass the ball meaninglessly around the centre circle in the last five minutes rather than try and force a goal up front. Having lumped the ball forward so often when trying to win the game, the irony of finally putting a string of passes together to run out the clock and get defeat over with as quickly as possible, was embarrassing. They got their wish after three minutes of stoppage time when the final whistle did blow.
What was supposed to be the season where Everton would take on the big boys is now 90 minutes' of Uefa Cup action in Liege away from being a disaster when viewed in the context of the aspirations held by fans and manager alike for this campaign. Liverpool may be looking less than convincing and Arsenal may have faltered at home to Hull today but there will be other more complete and, frankly, better managed teams poised to displace them from the top four than Everton.
The summer wasn't merely a missed opportunity, it was an unforgiveable failure of leadership from both Kenwright and Moyes that looked and felt at the time as though it would be a retrograde step and has been exposed as such by what has, by the standards set last season, been an awful start to the campaign.
Those chickens have now come home to roost and it's going to be a test of the characters of all concerned to get things back on track lest all hope claiming a spot in next season's Uefa Cup is lost.
In my post-derby defeat misery, I'm of the opinion that the contract that remains unsigned should be withdrawn from the table until both the results and the performances improve. In truth, the rumoured £17m looks far too generous for a man who appears singularly unable at present to get his team playing any semblance of passing football. For all he has achieved in his time at Everton, his abilties will be judged against his team's displays this season after six and a half years in charge... and so far, it's not good.
When Everton take the field for the 205th Merseyside derby this Saturday they will be in the midway point of an eight-day spell that will likely be a milestone in a season that is shaping up to be every bit as disappointing as was feared when the hotly-anticipated new summer signings failed to materialise by the time the campaign kicked off in mid-August.
The Blues' Carling Cup adventure is already over before it began, ended on Wednesday evening by a mediocre Blackburn side that began the season in a fair amount of disarray themselves but who have beaten David Moyes's side twice already. Now they face the prospect of a date with Liverpool at a time when they appear to be ill-prepared for the blood and thunder of a fixture that has, on balance, not been kind to Everton in recent years, followed by a do-or-die Uefa Cup second leg clash with Standard Liege next Thursday.
As we've seen in 2005 and again last season after the heartbreak against Fiorentina, this Everton team takes the ending of their European dream incredibly hard and the repercussions on Premier League form have in the past been significant and lasting. Coupled with a defeat to Liverpool, it's conceivable that elimination from the Uefa Cup in the second leg in Liege could send the team's form into a nosedive from which it might not recover... and that would rule out repeat qualification for Europe next year which, coming on the back of last season's relative success, would be a massive let-down.
So, while the derby may illustrate how the Blues currently measure up against the Sky Four and, depending on the result, is unlikely to prove a defining moment in the season, it could be vital in terms of its psychological effects on the club as it prepares to spring a surprise in Belgium five days later. As opportunities to stand up, be counted and deliver go, derby is as good as it gets.
Certainly, Everton will be meeting a Liverpool side that is hardly firing on all cylinders itself. Last weekend's 0-0 home draw with Stoke City left the Kop mightily frustrated and the Reds only just scraped past Crewe Alexandra in the Cup on Tuesday. Fernando Torres is still making his way back from injury and Steven Gerrard has yet to find his best form after making a surprisingly quick return from surgery earlier this month.
The Blues's own problems are no secret, though. In disarray in defence where they have failed to keep a clean sheet all season and shipped 11 goals in five games in the League and unsettled in midfield where Marouane Fellaini in particular has taken his time in settling in following his high-profile, deadline-day move, Moyes's team will have to find their feet quickly if they are to stop the rot and boost morale.
Joleon Lescott has struggled for form while the three other first-choice members of the back four have all scored own goals which seem to be representative of the uncertainty that pervades the Blues' rearguard at the moment. Up until now, Moyes has really only been able to turn to Leighton Baines to make changes in defence but Tony Hibbert's appearance on the substitute's bench at Blackburn in midweek may finally give him another option in the opposite full-back position.
And as unpalatable as the thought of Phil Neville in midfield is, it would not be a surprise to see the captain replace either Castillo and Fellaini in central midfield for the derby this weekend in an attempt to tighten up that area of the pitch... that is if Hibbert is even fit enough to start. Fellaini, who has looked unsure of his role thus far, at least has experience of playing against Liverpool — indeed, it was his performances against the dark side for Liege in the Champions League qualifier that persuaded Moyes to sign him before the transfer deadline — but Castillo has made by far the more assured start to life at Goodison than the Belgian.
Not an easy decision, and it could be that both are sacrificed if Moyes opts for Neville in a four-man midfield completed by Cahill, Arteta (expected to return after missing the cup tie with a virus) and Osman.
It's up front where the Blues finally have depth, though, thanks to the fitness of Louis Saha. The Frenchman is in line to make his Goodison bow this weekend and could start in a 4-4-2 formation alongside Yakubu. In that pairing, Everton have the makings of one of the deadliest strikeforces in the division but, as ever, the key will be in getting enough of the right kind of service to them, something they failed to do at Ewood Park on Wednesday night.
Arteta can provide that service, as can Osman on his day, but the physical nature of derby matches means that they will have to be on the top of their game. Thus far, the Blues have looked considerably less than the sum of their individual parts and a rousing performance against the arch enemy in front of a racous Goodison crowd could just be the catalyst they need to get their season going.
Liverpool will be the sternest test that Moyes's boys have faced so far this season and while they've looked less than convincing against inferior opposition, they have what it takes to claim local bragging rights if they can get their act together on the day — that is, of course, if they're not scuppered by referee Mike Riley...
I just hate it when referees are the talking point of a game like he always seems to be. He didnít let the game flow at all today. Blowing up for free-kicks which were soft (for both sides) where playing on would have been warranted...
Overall Liverpool were better on the day, but it could have been such a different story if Evertonís concentration at the back had lasted that bit longer...
As I mentioned, apart from the obvious non-marking of Torres, our defensive display today was a lot better than Iíve seen so far. Hibbert was very good. Not much got past him today.
Midfield, I would have had Castillo on instead of Neville. Neville dives in too quickly at times and then backs off at others. His decision making ability in that holding midfield role is pants...
Cahill, Arteta, Fellaini and Osman were ok today. Arteta was getting stuck in and played well. His delivery from a couple of free kicks and corners was poor. He needs to practise on that. Fellaini needs time to adjust to the pace of the premier league. At times he was very confident on the ball and made great passes. At other times he didnít look up at all. Fair play to him though, he was getting the tackles in and winning balls... Osman played ok. For me, he should have been tracking Torres for the first goal.
The Yak, couldnít really do much today with the service he was getting. He got into the game a lot more when Saha came on. Surely Moyes has to realise that a 4-4-2 with Yak and Saha is the way to go now..
Oh well... UEFA cup game to win on Thursday, then Newcastle at home! Hopefully that will be 2 wins! Onwards and upwards!
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|Hibbert (63' Saha)|
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|Alonso :38' (87' Lucas)|
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