It's clearly not enough that the playing field has been tilted so far in favour of the Premier League's richest clubs by the yawning and growing gap been the "haves and the "have nots" that the clubs contesting the title and Champions League places are virtually decided before a new season kicks.
No, in addition to the increasing inability to compete with the financially well-endowed, clubs like Everton have to contend with battling bias — sub-conscious or otherwise — and sheer incompetence from match officials, the supposed neutral influence guaranteeing fairness and a fair shake for both teams on any given match day. If any Evertonian had any doubts as to the odds stacked against us before, they will surely have been erased by what they witnessed from Martin Atkinson at Goodison today.
The 216th Merseyside derby, hotly anticipated by supporters and over-hyped by the media in the usual fashion... over as a contest as early as the 22nd minute and its inevitable conclusion confirmed in the 71st when Andy Carrol, a mystifying purchase at a staggering Ł35m, hit the proverbial cow's arse with the banjo when he couldn't miss after Liverpool finally managed to carve the 10-man Blues open.
Up to that point, Everton had tried manfully for almost 50 minutes to climb the mountain created by the referee when he showed Jack Rodwell a straight red card for a tackle that wasn't even a foul let alone a booking, assisted by a quite superb penalty save by Tim Howard two minutes before half time. But it was too big an ask for a side that has struggled for goals with a full complement let alone a man down.
And if Luis Suarez, the villain of the incident that led to an incredulous Rodwell receiving his marching orders, would get to rub salt into gaping wounds with a wholly undeserved second late on... well, that's just the Evertonian lot. Get shafted and take it with dignity because what else can you do?
After the failed bus-parking exercise at Manchester City last weekend, David Moyes went with a more attacking line-up, with Louis Saha replacing Phil Neville in the side and tasked with leading the line ahead of Tim Cahill in an otherwise unchanged starting XI. There was no place for Royston Drenthe which left the Blues predictably short on craft in midfield but they compensated with industry in the opening 20 minutes, creating a handful of chances and racking up five corners in the process.
Marouane Fellaini rapped a deflected left-footed volley narrowly wide after just two minutes and, after a dreadful Phil Jagielka clrarance led to Suarez planting a free header straight at Howard from close range, Tim Cahill prompted Pepe Reina into tipping his far-post header over from Seamus Coleman's deep cross.
A couple of minutes later, some lovely footwork by Sylvain Distin presented the Frenchman with a sight of goal but he swept a decent left-footed shot agonisingly over the bar before Saha saw a low drive fly a yard wide of Reina's right-hand post.
Liverpool had been playing the more composed, attractive football — as they should seeing as Kenny Dalglish has probably spent more on players in a year than Moyes has in a decade — but it was Everton who looked the more likely to force the breakthrough.
That was until Rodwell went in with an effective challenge that dispossessed Suarez with a clean contact on the ball but his momentum carried him into the Uruguayan's standing leg, to which Suarez reacted like a sniper had taken him out from the commentators' gantry. As he writhed in supposed pain, referee Atkinson, who could not have been more than a few yards away, couldn't wait to rummage in his left pocket and brandish a red card that no one could believe they were seeing.
Rodwell was apoplectic and after putting his head in his hands, he eventually made his way down the tunnel, kicking anything in his way. Arguably the least feisty and hotly-contested Mersey derby in recent memory was now ruined thanks to the actions of a man whose performance the last time he refereed at Goodison incurred such ire from Moyes and his assistant Steve Round that they were fined for by the FA for their comments.
To be brutally honest, the less said about the game from that point on the better because it had been destroyed as a contest and a spectacle. Atkinson compounded his incompetence by failing to book Fellaini and Tony Hibbert for challenges far worse than Rodwells but the best moment from an Evertonian perspective was Howard denying Dirk Kuyt a 43rd-minute goal from the penalty spot.
Jagielka suffered another moment of madness when clattered through Suarez's leg inside the Everton box and, getting something right for a change, the referee awarded a spot kick. Kuyt went to his right, Howard guessed correctly and palmed his shot wide at full stretch to keep matters goalless going into the break, though parity was almost broken when Charlie Adam rattled the bar with an unerring effort from 25 yards out.
For a team that doesn't normally get enough men forward at the best of times, the second half would prove to be an increasingly frustrating affair, particularly as the unseaosnably warm October weather sapped at the energy of players working overtime at a numerical disadvantage. Leon Osman, who'd looked knackered after one lung-busting run in the first half was a passenger after half time but didn't get withrawn until the 69th minute.
A nicely-worked move between Fellaini and Cahill, though, offered hope of an equaliser but Saha's shot on his weaker foot didn't do the passage of play that preceded it any justice while Kuyt wasted a gilt-edged chance at the other end to break the deadlock.
After an hour, Drenthe was introduced for the ineffectual Coleman and Saha drilled a superb effort just wode from 25 yards out with three defenders backing away but it was Liverpool who would eventually score when Hibbert and the supposedly fresh-legged substitute Neville afforded Luis Enrique too much space and he cut it back to Carrol who turned the ball past Leighton Baines and the stranded Howard.
After that, the Blues' body language betrayed a beaten and tiring side and though there some flashes of inspiration and purpose from Drenthe — two of those produced a chance for Saha that he sliced over and one for the Dutchman himself that he, unfortunately, powered straight at the 'keeper — it was the bastard offspring from across Stanley Park that claimed a second when Distin failed to clear after Baines had stopped Suarez in the area and the South American picked his spot beyond Howard to seal a miserable afternoon for the home side.
Moyes claimed after the match that the sending off, as unjustified as it was, did not cost his side the game but it very clearly did. While there is no guarantee that their early penetration would have eventually translated into goals, it was clear after they were reduced to 10 men that they were not going to win this contest.
And so Blues fans have no real recourse but to swallow another horrifying refereeing injustice — and this was injustice in its purest form — whole and prepare for the next game, another daunting fixture at Stamford Bridge. Sorry, but football is fucked...
Player Ratings: Howard 7, Hibbert 6, Jagielka 6, Distin 7, Baines 6, Rodwell 6, Osman 5 (Neville 5), Coleman 6 (Drenthe 7), Fellaini 6, Cahill 7 (Vellios 6), Saha 7
Despite the similar disparities to last week in terms of the gulf in financial and playing resources in relation to Liverpool, as with City, no-one imagined that David Moyes could possibly repeat the same negative bus-parking anti-football in front of a fervent Goodison Crowd. After all, a part of the rationale was that Everton weren't at the Etihad to provide entertainment for a partisan City crowd...
Well, the imperative could not be more different with hopefully the first full house of the season keen to see the nasty neighbours put to the sword. Thankfully he elected to tart with a recognized striker in Louis Saha upfront, with Hibbert preferred over captain Neville and Osman set to assist Baines with the set-pieces.
It started with a hoof upfield that was returned and Hibbert fouled Downing. ut The Blues won an early corner off a weak deflected Fellaini shot.
It was the usual high intensity game of attrition from there on, A dreadful messed up clearance by Jagielka that Kuyt rescued and gave Suarez a golden headed chance he could only bumble into Howard with the goal gapping. At the other end, a good deep cross produced a trademark header that Cahill tried to power over Reina but he tipped it over the bar and Everton threatened from the ensuing corner, Distin controlling the ball superbly but firing over.
Saha tried to curl one in with power that screwed just wide as Everton looked to a structure some attack when they had possession, Baines and Osman winning a succession of corners, Coleman's shot easily blocked.
The game through exploded with another astounding red card when Rodwell clipped the ball past Suraez who ran on to his foot and cartwheeled over, referee Atkinson incredibly showed him a straight red, and it was not even a foul!!! The Goodison crowd were rightly apoplectic but at least it injected a much needed fire into Everton bellies.
Cahill was then booked for going in hard on Carragher with his foot high, and the determination was evident in every blue touch, determined to seek retribution for a heinous piece of refereeing. But Liverpool started to dominate possession and craft their attacks, with Everton having to be more defensive.
Fellaini gave away a dangerous free-kick but Adam could only power it into the wall. Everton did get forward but Hibbert's cross was hopeless. A poor challenge by Adam on Osman was greeted by loud screams for a card which were of course ignored by Atkinson.
Incredibly, a ridiculous challenge by Jagielka on Suarez in the corner of the area gave a way a totally unnecessary penalty to Liverpool that Kyut powered toward the corner but Howard leapt across and pushed it brilliantly around the post for Liverpool's first corner, much to the delight of an elated Goodison crowd, and upping the intensity of the game and the incredible atmosphere yet another three notches as half-time approached.
A superb snapshot by Adam from nothing flashed past Howard and off the underside of the bar and out as Atkinson ended the fractious half to a huge crescendo of boos and catcalls.
No changes at the half as Tim Howard was given a massive reception by the Gwladys Street. Saha was having trouble getting into the game but a foul on him by Lucas was finally awarded with a yellow card for Liverpool.
A great piece of play by Fellaini created a great chace for Saha but his shot was shockingly weak, off-target and dribbled past the post. But Saha redeemed himself with an excellent clearance of a Caroll header off the line. A succession of corners saw Liverpool almost score but for a simple but crucial save by Howard.
A quick free-kick went to Kuyt wide open but he powered it wide. Lucas then lashed one wide as Moyes decided to bring Drenthe on at the hour mark for Coleman, who was close to getting a card, the Dutchman immediately winning a good free-kick off Kyut that went to the back post where Fellaini was offside.
Saha was allowed to turn and fired a tremendous shot just wide of Reina's post. Fellaini went down with cramp and Dalglish brought on Gerrard and Bellamy in place of Adam and Downing with 25 mins left, which encouraged Moyes to switch the increasingly ineffective Osman with Captain Neville.
Some good work resulted in a cross to Saha that Carrahgher defended and from that, a sweeping move involving Bellamy's pace down the Everton right forced the Blues defence to backpedal alarmingly and Enrique beat Hibbert to set up Carroll for an easy goal. Cahill had a shot at the other end that was straight at Reina with Everton once again forced to change their approach to get anything from the game.
But Liverpool could now relax and Everton started to struggle, despite having possession, as they were unable to penetrate effectively. Moyes reacted by bringing Vellios on for the last 12 mins in place of Hibbert.
A dreadful mix-up between Distin and Baines getting in each others way after denying Suarez then gifted the Uruguayan with a simple shot for the second Liverpool goal as the spirits of Blue hearts visibly sagged. Baines resorted to shooting from distance.
Liverpool almost got a third with some silly defending from Everton, as Bellamy was pelted with objects while taking a corner that Gerrard almost scored from, but for a crucial deflection off Jagielka.
Drenthe had a pop from distance, right at Reina as the minutes ticked painfully away and Kuyt hit the post from a corner. A horrible end to a horrible, horrible game.
The first Merseyside derby of the season is upon us and as intra-City rivalry heats up as the game approaches, so do the nerves for what is one of the most hotly-anticipated fixtures on Everton's ca lendar.
Having won last season's Goodison derby and drawn 2-2 at Anfield but failed to win any of the previous seven league meetings between the two before that, the Blues will be hoping to put a run of results together against Liverpool to tip the scales back in their favour and, in the immediate context of this season, move back level with the reds on points in the Premier League table.
As has become the norm, Everton enter this fixture as the underdogs on paper but with priceless home advantage. While Kenny Dalglish has splashed out £100m this year on new players, David Moyes hasn't spent any money on his first team in over two years and is likely to opt for a line-up long on industry and bite and short on craft.
Long-term absentee, Victor Anichebe aside, Tim Cahill is the only real injury concern for Moyes. The manager is hoping that heavy bruising the Australian suffered in a challenge with Vincent Kompany last Saturday will have subsided suifficiently to enable him to start the game, although whether he leads the line as the lone striker or whether Louis Saha gets the nod remains to be seen.
Elsewhere, one of Phil Neville or John Heitinga could come into central midfield to add some muscle and terrier-like qualities for a game that is always feisty and hotly contested, although Jack Rodwell's laudible efforts in shackling David Silva at the Etihad Stadium last week demonstrated that he could yet fulfil the "disruptor" role if asked to.
Perhaps the biggest question will the approach that Moyes takes after taking criticism for his ultra-defensive stance against City. He and some of the players have intimated this week that the Blues will be a lot more adventurous against Liverpool and there will be a greater emphasis on attack but the team selection will provide the biggest clues.
If Cahill is fit, will he lead the line on his own of will a natural striker play ahead of him? Will the unpredictable but pacey Royston Drenthe be handed his full Premier League debut in the cauldron of a local derby (and will he thrive in the atmosphere or get drawn into the more unsavoury side of such contests?).
Liverpool's line-up has changed sufficiently in recent times that half their likely starting XI won't have experienced a Mersey derby before while Moyes could start an entire team of players who have gone through the occasion before.
For Everton, the key will be shutting down Luis Suarez, a player who appears to so crucial to the Reds' ability to win games as to be a serious Achilles heel should he be snuffed out as a threat.
Whatever happens, it's unlikely to be a pretty affair and with more red cards than any other Premier League fixture, there's almost always controversy and disciplinary drama involved.
A scrappy goal, no sendings off and a 1-0 win for Everton would be ideal ahead of the next task against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, thank you very much!
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|2011-12 Reports Index|
|Subs not used|
|Downing (67' Bellamy)|
|Lucas:50' (88' Henderson)|
|Adam (67' Gerrard)|
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|11||Queens Park Rangers||8|
|17||West Bromwich Albion||5|