The Merseyside derby has thrown up its share of late drama over the years and it's almost always at Everton’s expense.
Gary McAllister’s 90th-minute free kick in 2001; Graham Poll’s gutless decision to disallow Don Hutchison a last-minute winner in 2000; Andy Carroll’s late winner in the 2012 FA Cup semi-final; Virgil van Dijk’s winner in the same competition earlier this year; Daniel Sturridge stealing two points away in Roberto Martinez’s first derby; Sadio Mané in the Goodison derby two years ago… the list goes on.
Only Phil Jagielka’s stoppage time bolt from the Blue at Anfield and the Dan Gosling winner in extra time at Goodison in that FA Cup replay have really favoured Everton in terms of at-the-death mayhem; generally, it’s been a tale of all-too-frequent misery for the Blues in the games we are increasingly desperate to win given how depressingly lop-sided this fixture has become in since 2010. Unfortunately, a combination of misjudgement and tragic-comic bad luck means that Jordan Pickford's name will go down in derby folklore for all the wrong reasons this afternoon in the most "Everton" way possible.
Is there some innate, resolute quality that reds sides are infused with that the Blues need to find or does it speak to the fact that, over time, the quality that our closest rivals are able to acquire because of their massively superior resources is bound to be reflected in the results? Or is it simply the pact with Satan that we Blues love to joke that Liverpool made some time in the 1970s? Whatever it is, Everton need to discover some of it or this derby torment is going to continue.
The good news is that while it wasn’t reflected in the result at Anfield today, the Toffees are making significant progress under Marco Silva and they were desperately unlucky to lose. In the last edition of his fixture in January, the visitors under Sam Allardyce mustered a pathetic 29% of the possession and scored with their only shot on target all game, a penalty converted by Wayne Rooney.
This time, Everton set their stall out early and really should have been 2-1 up at half-time. Yerry Mina showed the first evidence of his renowned threat from set-pieces when he got on the end of a third-minute free kick but bounced a free header wide when he really should have scored.
And André Gomes must have felt like he had opened his Blues account with 20 minutes gone but was foiled by a combination of goalkeeper Allison Becker and Joe Gomez. Theo Walcott had headed Bernard’s lofted cross back inside the six-yard box where Gomes stooped to head in from close range but Becker made himself big to make the block, the ball bounced back off Gomes towards the net but Gomez intervened as it was crossing the line to prod it to safety.
Richarlison had a couple of exciting bursts through the reds’ defence but overran the ball in one instance and was tackled as he shot in another while Walcott looked to be in later in the first half but Becker got a hand to the ball as the winger tried to take it round him and it bobbled behind for a goal kick.
The tragedy of the final result was that Klopps’s side were there for the taking if Everton had just been able to get their act together long enough going forward after the interval. In a pattern established on the trips to the Emirates, Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, though, they let themselves down with a poor second-half performance that failed to match the promise and enterprise of the first.
Seamus Coleman had one promising but rare run behind Andrew Robertson but elected to cut the ball back rather than fizz it across the face of goal and found only a red shirt. Bernard then engineered space for a shot from 20 yards out but failed to get any curl on the effort and it drifted wide.
That shortage of clear chances for Silva’s men in the second 45 minutes was indicative of a drop-off in their collective performance going forward even if they continued to look strong enough at the back. After an excellent performance when he was arguably the best player on the pitch in the first half, Gomes was a little disappointing after half-time. Bernard was often dangerous, tricky and incisive but slipped over and took the wrong decision in other moments and while there was a feeling that on balance he had done enough to warrant his initial selection, he probably should have made way for Dominic Calvert-Lewin 10 minutes earlier than he did and that is, perhaps, a knock on the manager. Idrissa Gueye, so imperious in his last two outings, was similarly profligate with the ball, while neither Gylfi Sigurdsson nor Walcott ever really got into the game.
On the other side of the ball, for all the acknowledgement from the Blue side of Merseyside before the game about this being Liverpool’s best team for a generation, for the most part Everton made them look pretty ordinary. Everton found another way to lose a derby rather than the reds winning it on their own merits.
Mohamed Salah had a sight of goal and whipped a shot just wide early in the second half but he was largely kept quiet until he was substituted in favour of Daniel Sturridge with about 20 minutes left. Roberto Firmino was pretty ineffective as well after he had had Liverpool’s first genuine effort on goal in the 19th minute when he curled off target having turned Idrissa Gueye in the box.
Apart from a couple of moments from Xherdan Shaqiri, the best of which was foiled by Pickford who came off his line to divert the Swiss forward’s shot past his post after Gueye had given the ball away in midfield, Sadio Mané was the home team’s most dangerous player after a quiet first half.
The Senegal international had a gilt-edged chance to break the deadlock following an error by Michael Keane in the 55th minute but side-footed wide and he had another “sighter” a few minutes later that also missed from around 20 minutes.
Those chances early in the second period signalled a more dominant Liverpool after half time but they failed to cause Pickford or the Blues’ defence many problems until the last few minutes when Divock Origi slammed a shot off the crossbar and then that last-gasp calamity gifted the Belgian the winner… as about as sickening a way to lose a game as there is.
There will be plenty of hand-wringing, analysis, condemnation and frustration over what was going through Pickford’s head in that incident six minutes into stoppage time with the match heading to a goalless conclusion. Virgil van Dijk had skied a clearance from a free kick back into Everton’s six-yard box and it looked to be dropping just over the crossbar. Rather than push it over to be safe, Pickford tried to catch it a foot above his bar, his arms hit the woodwork, the ball bounced off his gloves and, cruelly, onto the face of the bar before dropping to Origi, the only player following it up, to gratefully nod it over the line.
The reality is that the same psychology and eccentricity that makes Pickford as great as he is 95% of the time — so good at anticipating situations and making outrageous saves — is also what lies behind the 5% of what some will regard as ill-judgement that can cost him so dearly. While he learns — and he will — from these errors as he matures, Evertonians will have to accept the downs with the ups, the sublime with the ridiculous (unless or until his manager decides it’s not worth it) as a trade-off for having a goalkeeper who, on his day, is among the best in the world.
For supporters who have become so accustomed to heartache at the hands of our local rivals and who must endure the taunts and gloating from reds fans until the next derby, this was another agonising result… although in some ways it was the failure to win and end this interminable winless sequence at Anfield rather than the all-too-familiar taste of defeat that hurts the most.
In the context of Everton’s season, however, having failed to deliver on the promise of their first-half display, this merely represents a point lost, albeit in horrible circumstances. Successive home games against a struggling Newcastle and erratic Watford represent quick opportunities to pick up points to consolidate the Blues’ position in sixth place.
The need for more quality up front, where Richarlison appears wholly at home as a striker at Goodison Park but has struggled to consistently make an impact away from home, remains a priority in the January window on this evidence. This game also highlighted that while the expectation of being able to beat the so-called “big six” sides in their own back yard has been heightened, it is still too early in Silva’s reign for it to be a truly attainable.
There is no question that, having gone from coming to places like Anfield and surrendering possession like they did under Allardyce to coming looking to not only attack but to win, Everton have made great strides under their new manager in just a few short months. Our days in the derby will come; fingers crossed they start in March… God knows we’re due.