Everton and Liverpool shared the spoils in the second Premier League Merseyside derby of the season as they played out a largely uninspiring goalless draw at Goodison Park.
Both goalkeepers were called to make vital interventions to keep seemingly goalbound efforts out at either end but it was the Blues who almost won it with a late push but were let down by wayward finishing.
With Idrissa Gueye perhaps not deemed 100% fit, Sam Allardyce retained Morgan Schneiderlin in defensive midfield, recalled Tom Davies and pushed Wayne Rooney slightly more forward, with Yannick Bolasie recalled on the left flank and Cenk Tosun toiling as the lone striker.
It made for a mostly defensive posture for much the game, particularly after Everton's early momentum had dissipated after the first half hour had elapsed.
In that time, Bolasie had come closest to breaking the deadlock for Everton when he knocked the ball wide of his marker and whipped a curling shot towards the far post but Loris Karius managed to get his fingertips to the effort and help it wide.
At the other end, Jordan Pickford had earlier denied Dominick Solanke from close range after the ball had broken to the Liverpool striker in a central position. And the England international 'keeper had to be alert to palm away a bending shot from James Milner.
The game remained tight after the half-time interval with precious little happening for either side in the final third, until reds' substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drifted past Schneiderlin and blasted over from 20 yards out.
Seamus Coleman then blocked twice to foil Solanke while back down the other end, Leighton Baines found himself free in space on the left for the first time but his cross was just too far ahead of Tosun.
Having already withdrawn Wayne Rooney for Idrissa Gueye and then the increasingly ineffective Bolasie for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Allardyce replaced Davies with Beni Baningime with 11 minutes to go of the regulation 90, allowing Calvert-Lewin to push further forward in support of Tosun.
With time running out, Theo Walcott jinked past his man and crossed invitingly for Tosun but he miscued his header back across Karius and Coleman couldn't connect with the loose ball in front of goal.
Then, Coleman picked out Calvert-Lewin with a centre from a similar position but the young striker sliced his shot high and wide from a hugely promising position.
The result prolongs Everton's winless run against Liverpool that stretches back to 2010 but it meant that they avoided a derby loss in the league where in this fixture last season they suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat.
Everton were hoping to register their first derby win in eight years, with a team that featured Tom Davies but also Rooney and Schneiderlin looking to reprise their ineffective roles in midfield.
No place for Mo Saleh in the Liverpool side that featured five changes from their Champions League squad that humbled Manchester City in midweek.
Things kicked off in monsoon conditions after applause for Ray Wilkins, Everton defending the Gwladys Street end, with the obligatory hoof upfield and they kept it in the Liverpool half for the first 90 seconds.
Schneiderlin forced a turnover and Rooney, playing forward in support of Tosun, fired off a shot that was blocked. Better possession saw Baines swing in a cross, with Walcott and Bolasie switching sides. Liverpool's first attack saw Wijnaldum fire well over from distance.
Everton sat off the Reds, letting Milner set up Solanke for a header that went wide. At the other end, Tosun also fired one high and wide. Solanke was gifted an easy chance to score after the ball came to him off Coleman but Pickford saved from close range as Liverpool ramped up the intensity and Everton just backed off.
Klavan miscued a Walcott header and that gave Everton their first corner, swung in well enough by Rooney. Everton pressed but the moves ended with giveaway balls from Davies and then Rooney. Bolasie did well to create space and really test Karius with a superb curling shot that he saw all the way and finger-tipped around the post.
Baines, for the third time, demonstrated his new lofted clearance that goes high in the air but only a few yards forward, in classic up-and-under style. Milner got in a good shot from wide that Pickford had to parry.
At times, the pressing from Everton was half-hearted at best, allowing Liverpool to pass the ball around. When they did win the ball, they gave it back far too soon or gave away daft free-kicks. From one, Van Dijk tested Pickford.
Rooney had lots of space for a good ball forward but it bounced harmlessly through to Karius. At the other end, some shocking possession play by Everton out of defence ended with an awful giveaway by Bolasie, who then backed out of a 50/50 challenge for a lose ball, much to the crowd's annoyance.
Everton had not conceded but the performance in the first half had not been anything to write home about, a performance littered with mistakes, clumsy tackles not punished with any cards, and far too much terribly scrappy unstructured play.
After a slow start to the second half, Liverpool circled the Everton penalty area menacingly without being challenged until they passed it behind for a goal-kick. Bolasie dwelt on the ball, was easily dispossessed, and was screamed at by the furious Everton crowd, but the change by Allardyce was Gueye for Rooney, who was very pissed-off by this; he has not scored now in 13 games.
Coleman got fired up after Ings called him a diver, and that at least roused the crowd. It was Calvert-Lewin who would replace the hapless Bolasie and bring a little more energy to Everton's left side.
After a maddening Davies giveaway in attack, Liverpool advanced and Oxlade-Chamberlain lashed a shot just over the Everton bar.
Everton finally approached the Liverpool goal, Calvert-Lewin's shot deflected. Baines then got smartly behind the Liverpool defence and lashed in a cross but it was just inches ahead of Tosun's outstretched boot. At least they were finally playing something approaching football. That was when Baningime replaced Davies, hopefully not deflating the fleetingly rare injection of passion and desire from the Blues.
Tosun worked his way forward and passed behind Walcott who slipped over in comic style trying to halt his forward momentum on the saturated turf. A promising corner ended when Walcott was flagged offside.
Walcott took the initiative to advance late on, and then crossed superbly for Tosun, who headed wide when it seemed easier to score, and Colemnan almost connect with his misdirected header. Another fine move saw Coleman drive into the area and the ball came to Calvert-Lewin who had a fantastic opportunity to win the game for Everton but hopelessly sidefooted this glorious chance for victory across the goal.
Everton had a final chance from a Clyne foul but the Everton players were offside from the free-kick and the 231st derby fizzled out as a poor goalless and largely passionless affair to be erased immediately from memory.
Everton: Pickford; Coleman, Jagielka, Keane, Baines; Rooney (57' Gueye), Schneiderlin, Davies (79' Baningime); Walcott, Tosun, Bolasie (61' Calvert-Lewin).
Subs not Used: Robles, Martina, Niasse, Funes Mori.
Liverpool: Karius; Clyne, Lovren, Van Dijk, Klavan; Milner (68' Oxlade-Chamberlain), Henderson, Wijnaldum; Ings (89' Alexander-Arnold), Solanke, Mane (74' Firmino).
Subs not Used: Mignolet, Moreno, Masterson, Jones.
Referee: Michael Oliver
Why can't we ever just do it?
My brother Dave and his friend Sunil made the trip across the Atlantic to catch the game and though short of time before the match, it was good for us all to catch up pre and post-game.
After a fitful performance against Manchester City I was surprised to see Yannick Bolasie start the game. I had a feeling that Sam Allardyce would go with three central defenders, but he did instead go for something of a 4-5-1 with Tom Davies drafted back into the midfield at the expense of Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Liverpool, after a terrific result in midweek and being in touching distance of the Champions League semi-final, understandably made changes for the game and were a little blunt in attack with Danny Ings, Dominic Solanke and Sadio Mane making up their forward line.
We began pretty well and got at them in first few minute but Liverpool soon settled and had a good handle on the game for most of the first half. Georginio Wijnaldum and Cenk Tosun both tried their luck from distance, but the big chance of the half came when Seamus Coleman failed to clear his lines and the ball fell for Solanke with a golden chance but he could only hit a powder puff effort straight at Jordan Pickford who saved. You felt that had Roberto Firmino been playing they would have found the back of the net.
Everton hit back though when the otherwise ineffective Bolasie let fly from distance and forced Loris Karius into a terrific stretching save. I thought he’d scored for a moment, as did I when James Milner hit a similar effort, albeit from a lot closer to the goal, which also produced a brilliant save from Pickford. We went into the break level but pretty dissatisfied. We didn’t feel we were getting into them enough and it was too easy for Liverpool to play around us.
For long periods of the second half it was more of the same, but our defensive line did restrict Liverpool to very few opportunities and it was probably substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who had their best opportunity when he ran at us and flashed an effort comfortably over the crossbar. It was frustrating to watch. Every time we had any chance of forming something we always seemed to make the wrong decision, the game was lifeless, Liverpool probably pretty content.
I don’t know if it was always Sam’s tactic to keep it tight and push for the winner late on as they tired, but if it was, it very nearly came off. With time ticking away in the game, he did make a couple of proactive substitutions and the introduction of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Idrissa Gana Gueye certainly helped up the tempo, get the crowd pumping and give us an attacking verve.
We really should have won. We had two killer chances to win the game late on but failed to hit the target with either. I don’t quite know how Cenk Tosun managed to nod wide of the far post with the goal gaping, or how Dominic Calvert-Lewin miskicked badly with a clean opportunity, but they did, and the wait to finally beat Liverpool goes on. With a bit more fortune the ball’s across the box from Leighton Baines or Dominic Calvert-Lewin would have fallen for Cenk or Theo also.
We had the chances but couldn’t capitalise, and why can we never do it when it comes to beating Liverpool? We always seem to fluff our lines. Whether that’s Jordan Pickford with an uncharacteristic clanger in the last minute in the cup; or Ramiro Funes Mori heading a free header wide last season; or with the game at 0-0, Seamus Coleman being denied by a wonder save by Simon Mignolet in the last few minutes a few seasons back. Whatever the circumstance, something seems to prevent us getting over the line. Players nerves? A mental block against them? Plain old bottlers?
Whatever the reason, I wish that for once we’d just do it. Missing sitters in the last few minutes of a derby against under-strength Liverpool – we won’t get many better opportunities than that!
Pickford: Very good. Made saves when he had to and was calm on the ball. Is probably in the driving seat for England No 1 at the World Cup. 8
Baines: Spot on defensively and stepped it up offensively as we made the late push for the winner. I get the impression he doesn’t like working with Yannick. He seems much happier with Dominick Calvert-Lewin ahead of him. 7
Jagielka: Brilliant. With his career now in its twilight he’ll be disappointed not to have won the game. You never know, he might not get another opportunity. 8Keane: Excellent. He dominated Solanke and won probably every aerial duel. My Man of the Match. 8
Coleman: Did well and really pushed on late on to help us find the winner, and was unlucky not to help us achieve this. 7
Schneiderlin: Did well. I know that’s not a popular thing to write but I’ve got to say it as I see it, and I thought he made his fair share of interceptions and tackles and used the ball fairly well. 7
Davies: Popped around and just as he was really impacting on the game he was removed for a more defensive-minded player. Go figure! 7
Rooney: I’d rather get 30 minutes of good work from Wayne off the bench than an hour or trudging around on a sodden pitch. It wasn’t the conditions for him. Wayne at times this season has done a sterling job in the midfield, but usually against teams in the bottom half of the league. It’s a bit irrelevant now with the season almost over and only teams below below us to face, but maybe Wayne’s role is better as an impact substitute in the bigger games. It’ll be interesting to see what role he plays next season, presumably under a new manager. 5
Bolasie: Similarly to Wayne, when you need discipline from the flanks, as so in the last two fixtures, I’d much rather get an hour or so out of Calvert-Lewin and then 20-30 minutes of Yannick Bolasie as an impact substitute. That said, Dominic did have a great impact on the game, but we could have done with more of that throughout. Dave’s first words when he met us after the game on the island were “Bolasie is shit”. He nearly scored a screamer I know, but it was a very ill-disciplined performance and you know you’ve done badly when the crowd ironically cheer you off the pitch. 4
Walcott: Very disciplined, the opposite of Yannick pretty much, and then nearly impacted the game late on. A good shift. 7
Tosun: Hopelessly isolated for a lot of the game but the boy has heart and can make something out of nothing. He got the better of Dejan Lovren on a number of occasions and as we pushed late on and he had some support, his impact on the game naturally improved. He should have then won the game for us and he knows it. He’ll be ruing that missed chance. What an opportunity to put the hoodoo to bed. 7
Gueye (for Rooney): Added –some much needed zeal into the midfield which helped get us onto the front foot finally. 7
Calvert-Lewin (for Bolasie): Got straight into the game and brought Baines into the match. He got stuck in and like Cenk, will be gutted not to have scored the winner. 7
Baningime (for Davies): Beni didn’t do anything particularly wrong, but I thought Tom was impacting the game pretty well at that point. The ball he put in to release Baines was delicious. And just as he was ticking, he was substituted. To rate Beni - I assume he was brought on for fresh legs and energy but he didn’t quite impact on the game. That said, his time on the pitch coincided with our big chances in the game so maybe it was a good tactical change. 6
Everton face another unwanted clash with neighbours Liverpool, hoping to register their first derby win in eight years.
Without a victory over a top-six side at all this season — indeed, with just three draws and only two goals so far, the Blues' record against those clubs is really poor — Everton must deal with a reds side in ominous form, albeit probably without top scorer, Muhamed Salah.
Fresh off their 3-0 win over Manchester City in the Champions League and having won five of the last six in the Premier League, Jürgen Klopp's side are not the kind of opposition Sam Allardyce's men will be looking forward to facing after being schooled by City on their own turf last weekend.
Salah, who can't stop scoring it seems as he vies with Harry Kane for the Golden Boot, will undergo a late fitness test after injuring his groin in midweek, a problem that looked at the time to have certainly ruled him out of the derby but Klopp remains hopeful he can still make it.
Everton, meanwhile, will be looking to Idrissa Gueye to shake off a hamstring injury. The Senegalese international was sorely missed last Saturday as Wayne Rooney and Morgan Schneiderlin were overrun by City's irrepressible midfield.
Gueye is expected to be fit and will surely start if deemed as such. Ashley Williams returns from suspension but is unlikely to be included in the starting XI. Gylfi Sigurdsson is ruled out as he continues his rehabilitation from a knee injury.
In his pre-match press conference, Allardyce was pinning his hopes of Liverpool not having had enough time to recover from their exertions in midweek. The manager said he would be looking for his side to contain the reds' attacking threat and hopefully "get a chance to put the ball in the back of the net."
Kick-off: 12:30pm, Saturday 7 April, 2018
Referee: Michael Oliver
Last Time: Everton 0 - 1 Liverpool
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Jagielka, Keane, Baines, Gueye, Rooney, Davies, Walcott, Bolasie, Tosun