Be it refereeing injustice, poor fortune or simply a case of the players failing to "turn up" on the day, the Merseyside derby has for most of the 21st century thus far been a source of agony and despair for Evertonians.
Sure, there has been the odd moral victory at Anfield where the Blues ground out creditable draws and moments of ecstacy like the extra-time win at Goodison in the FA Cup replay a couple of seasons ago or the 3-0 hammering meted out five years ago. But the cold, hard fact remains that of the 24 League derbies since the 2000/01 season, Liverpool have won 15 of them. Everton have won just three.
The undeniable gulf in resources between the two clubs has been only part of the story — as Joe Royle proved, determination and spirit can often bridge that gulf, so it's supremely ironic that a team as renowned for those battling qualities as David Moyes's has been over his decade in charge should have such a poor record in the one fixture where the form book goes out the window and local pride trumps all.
On the eve of his 10-year anniversary in charge at Everton, with his team unbeaten in two months and breathing down the red horde's necks in the table, the stage was set for David Moyes to finally claim a first victory at Anfield and lay to rest the most enduring and painful hoodoo of his tenure. Instead, the manager, seemingly with not just one but both eyes on Saturday's FA Cup quarter final with Sunderland, fluffed his lines by breaking up a winning team and condemned the Blues' long-suffering supporters to yet more derby humiliation.
Some of the six changes Moyes made to the team that beat Tottenham were understandable: Leon Osman was the standout performer in the first half on Saturday but faded visibly with fatigue in the second half; Steven Pienaar was a natural choice to come back into the side after sitting out against Spurs; and, at 34, Phil Neville was an obvious candidate to be rested during a hectic spell of five games in two weeks.
The decision to throw the hitherto untried duo of Victor Anichebe and Denis Stracqualursi into arguably the most one-dimensional striking partnership at his disposal was mystifying, though. Perhaps, with Nikica Jelavic still coming back from injury, Moyes felt caution was the watchword where his match winner from the weekend was concerned; whatever the reason, it left the side with precious little guile up front and, without two of its most creative elements in Osman and Royston Drenthe, lacking craft and thrust in midfield.
It was in central defence, though, that the game was probably lost. Phil Jagielka was pitched back into a starting role, breaking up the rock solid partnership of Sylvain Distin and John Heitinga, and the combination of the Englishman's lack of match preparedness and an uncharacteristically awful display by the Frenchman allowed Liverpool to waltz through at will and Steven Gerrard to rub the Blues' noses in their own mess with the first derby hat-trick for 30 years.
Moyes's was a line-up clearly built on physique with another a slugfest in mind but was undone by speed, passing and — as painful as it is to admit — finesse in arguably the tamest derby in recent memory. It was either a horrible miscalculation, a deliberate sacrifice of local pride for the hope of a date at Wembley, or both.
The minutia of the game itself aren't worth poring over. Suffice to say that were it not for a couple of good saves by Tim Howard, one to deny Gerrard after the defence has been carved wide open, and terrific covering by Jagielka and Jack Rodwell, the Blues might have been a goal down inside the first 12 minutes.
The Reds were quicker in thought and hungrier in deed than Everton but, having weathered the early storm, Moyes's side started to settle a little and probe forward themselves. Great work by Leighton Baines, easily the best outfield player in Blue on the night, off Pienaar's rerverse pass ended with the South African receiving the return ball off the fullback before skying his effort from the angle.
In the main, though, nothing was sticking up front, with aimless balls missing their targets and the two big men up front mostly chasing shadows. When opportunities did present themselves, Everton often over-elaborated, as was the case after a quarter of an hour when Marouane Fellaini's determined tackling had set up an attack with Liverpool short on numbers but Pienaar eschewed the shot and was closed out.
They improved a little as the half wore on, though, forcing some corners and creating a half-chance for Anichebe with his back to goal but he took too long and his effort was charged down.
Then it all fell apart. Fellaini wasted a nice opportunity by being dispossessed deep in Liverpool's half with Stracqualursi in space ahead of him and Liverpool broke. Howard saved Martin Kelly's initial shot from the angle with his foot but the loose ball eventually fell to Gerrard and he lifted the ball over the crowd of players and into the empty net.
1-0 almost became 2-0 when Kelly took advantage of acres of space to flash a shot across goal before Straqualursi planted a shot into Pepe Reina's arms from Baines' cross five minutes before half-time.
Any hope of a quick comeback probably died with Moyes's refusal to bring on anyone from the comparative riches at his disposal on the substitute's bench and Liverpool doubled their lead easily five minutes into the second half. Luis Suarez easily battled his way past the strangely languid Distin along the byline before cutting it back and Gerrard was on hand to drill a shot off Jagielka's futile lunge to bulge the net behind the stranded Howard.
Suarez was allowed to saunter through the Everton box at will three minutes later and Andy Carroll lashed a left footer across the face of goal when he probably should have scored as Liverpool threatened to turn it into a rout.
Everton's response was weak and lacked conviction, epitomised by Rodwell's wayward left-foot shot on the hour when he'd be played in for an almost certain shot on target by Baines' cut-back that skidded a yard wide of the far post.
Moyes belatedly played all his cards at once after 61 minutes when he threw Drenthe, Jelavic and Osman on in place of Stracqualursi, Anichebe and Coleman and the difference was visible almost immediately, with more cohesive football being produced in the ensuing five to 10 minutes than had been the case for the preceding hour.
Almost immediately, a nice move down the left ended with Osman feeding Fellaini to cross low to Jelavic who fired just wide from close range, though the offside flag was raised in any case. But the improvement was short-lived and the fight gradually drained out of a team that knew it was staring defeat full in the face.
The inevitable handbags late on prompted a smattering of yellow cards from referee Phil Dowd — one each for Baines, Pienaar and Hibbert on Everton's side — and there was one more opportunity served up for Rodwell on a plate in injury time but he sliced well wide of the target before Gerrard rubbed more salt in the wounds with a third at the death as the Reds ripped the Everton defence open one last time.
In March 2002, David Moyes appeared to have captured the essence of the Evertonian experience with his calculated "People's Club" quip upon succeeding Walter Smith. 10 years on, by putting out a weakened starting XI in the name of pragmatism he appears to have badly misjudged just what the Merseyside derby means to an Everton fanbase fed up to the back teeth of being beaten by the hated enemy.
There were players who looked ill-prepared to start a game of this magnitude while others of whom so much is expected — Fellaini and Pienaar, to name two —let the team down with a clumsy touch and poor execution in the final third. In short, the Blues looked a shadow of the team that supposedly came into this game with their tails up from a nine-match unbeaten run; instead, they made a Liverpool side who had not scored a goal of their own at Anfield in 2012, look like the Champions League side they clearly aren't.
Man of the Match: Leighton Baines
Everton's hectic fortnight continues on Tuesday evening with a trip across Stanley Park for the second Merseyside derby of the season where the prize for a Blues victory will be seventh place at Liverpool's expense.
Despite just edging their way past Championship side Cardfiff on penalties in the Carling Cup Final two weeks ago, Kenny Dalglish's men are struggling through a slump in League form that has seen them win just once in eight League games; indeed, if the season had started on 1st January, the Reds would be in the bottom three.
Everton, by contrast, are in their best form of the campaign. The win over Tottenham on Saturday lifted David Moyes's side to a ninth game without defeat in all competitions and to within two points of their bitter local rivals in the Premier League.
All of which, of course, could be rendered moot in the heat of a local derby where the form book usually goes out the window. And though the incentives have always been there for Everton, they have found victory at Anfield elusive under Moyes's decade in charge. The Blues' last win over on the dark side was almost 13 years ago and there could be no better present to mark Moyes's 10-year anniversary this week than his first win on Liverpool's home turf.
The manager is aided by his squad's cleanest bill of health for many a week, with only Darron Gibson definitely ruled out with the knee injury that will likely keep him sidelined beyond Saturday's FA Cup quarter final tie with Sunderland.
Steven Pienaar is back in the side after being ineligible for the Spurs game and Victor Anichebe has overcome his latest niggly injury to offer a more physical option on the right flank than Royston Drenthe if Moyes opts for power over the pace of Seamus Coleman. Drenthe's unpredictability could move his manager to drop the him back to the bench for this one.
Having taken the plaudits for this efforts against Spurs, Leon Osman should keep his central midfield spot alongside Marouane Fellaini in what is expected to be a largely unchanged starting XI.
Up front, Nikica Jelavic should be fit to make what will be only his second start despite being withdrawn towards the end of Saturday's game after picking up an apparent knock. Should there by any doubt about his fitness, Denis Stracqualursi would get the nod to partner Tim Cahill.
For their part, Liverpool will be hoping that their linchpin Steven Gerrard will be sufficiently fit after recovering from a hamstring strain but Daniel Agger and Lucas Lieva are ruled out.
Evertonian minds will inevitably turn back to the reverse fixture in October when Martin Atkinson's disgraceful decision to send off Jack Rodwell for a perfectly legal challenge destroyed the match as a contest after just 22 minutes and condemned the Blues to defeat.
Though the thirst for revenge will be hard to sate, it is of paramount of importance that Everton keep their heads and rise above the blood and thunder that usually accompanies these local battles. With the weekend's FA Cup clash in mind and two tricky League games to follow, avoiding injuries and suspensions is going to be crucial.
With just one defeat in their last five games away from home and an impressive defensive record since the turn of the year, the Blues have the foundation on which to exploit any cracks in Liverpool morale — they just need to get things to come together in the opponent's area and perhaps nick an early goal to quickly get the Reds on the ropes.
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|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
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|4 the Game||Report|
|Henderson (72' Kuyt)|
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|Stracqualursi (61' Osman)|
|Anichebe (61' Jelavic)|
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|Premier League Scores|
|Tuesday 13 March|
|Saturday 17 March|
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|14||West Bromwich Albion||35|
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