Everton 0 - 0 Liverpool
What a day! My first time at Goodison Park. Maybe the result wasn't quite what I had dreamed of. But the experience certainly was.
A little bit of background first at the request of Dave Abrahams. I'm not from Liverpool. I grew up in a pretty well-to-do family that moved around London and the home counties. My Dad moved out when I was fairly young and my Mum had no interest in football so there was no obvious allegiance for me. I was getting into football and the national team around the time that my mum started going out with a policeman from Liverpool.
Before too long, they got married and my earliest memory of Everton was watching the 1995 FA Cup Final on TV aged 13. I don't remember that I was necessarily cheering us on but he was and that was good enough. It looked like fun being an Everton fan (how wrong I was!).
It probably wasn't until I reached 19 or so that the obsession became more serious, reading every article I could find on newsnow.co.uk (which I still do) and watching us on TV at every opportunity. The obsession continued and took root with my discover of Toffeeweb around 2001 or so and I continued to follow all things Everton.
And yet for some reason, I never made it to Goodison. My stepdad didn't go anymore and I knew no other Everton fans. I watch us live in London 2-4 times a season but I'd never made it to the mother ship. My wife had a kid 6 years ago and that made it even more difficult and so this itch remained long unscratched. Till now.
I was in good favour with the wife. I'd acquired a few more Everton supporting pals. And it looked increasingly likely that we would not be at Goodison for ever. I managed to get 4 tickets. It was time.
I was woken up at 5 am by my toddler but for once I wasn't angry. I'd not been sleeping much anyway. Too excited. I took him downstairs to watch the old MOTD highlights of us beating Cardiff. Perfect. I got the kids up and made everyone breakfast. More brownie points. And then I set off to Euston to catch the 10:14.
I met my friends Padraic (Everton fan), Dave (Everton fan) and Joe (Man Utd fan who obviously hates the RS). Joe was hungover as usual while Dave and Padraic had the same mixture of excitement and terror that I did. The train up was fun, there were quite a few Everton shirts and we had a table full of beers, crisps and some chocolate rice snacks that Padraic fancied. We all reckoned that if the RS played to their best that it could be a rough day but that you never quite know. Padraic had been to one derby before and that was the last time we beat them so that was a good omen. And I had been having a very good week;) so that gave me cause for optimism.
We got to Lime Street and met up with a friend of Padraic's who was a local kopite who took us to a restaurant for some beers and lunch. I'm meant to be vegetarian this month and so was compelled to have goat's cheese tart. I love meat. But the beer was good. Padraic's mate said he never went to the derby because Liverpool always played crap when he did. I offered to buy him a ticket but no chance.
We got a taxi to the ground around 3 and got out to walk because of the traffic. The rain was pouring down but the moment I saw the Goodison letters my heart just exploded. How had I been an Everton fan so long without coming here?! Every step closer was a bit like a fairytale, like I was going to an adult Disneyland or something. My wife was looking at the pictures of me this morning and said "I've never seen you look so happy, not even on our wedding day!"
We popped our heads into Everton One, we took some photos with Dixie Dean and I collected our tickets. We went to The Winslow which was absolutely heaving but great fun. We had a few pints there and I bumped into Kevin Campbell on my way out and shook his hand. When we left, I walked straight into Speedo Mick and shook his hand too! It was like someone upstairs was laying on the whole Everton experience!
We headed into the Main stand and grabbed some fizzy Carling. Having spent most of my time watching Everton live at Stamford Bridge and the Emirates Goodison certainly felt like a step back in time but I loved it.
We were sitting pretty far back around the halfway line. Not the best seats perhaps but I was very happy. And very nervous. The atmosphere was superb and it warmed my heart to sing with my Toffee brothers and sisters (I've totally lost my voice today).
The match itself is something of a blur due to the excitement (and beer). My general feeling was that in the first half we competed well without really laying a finger on them. Two moments stood out. One when Schneiderlin gave the ball away and suddenly Salah was impossibly open, he steamed towards goal and time seemed to slow down as I waited for the net to inevitably bulge. Pickford came to the rescue with a great, vital save.
The second moment was a ball swung in (by Digne?) that went over Calvert-Lewin and found Walcott totally unmarked, except he wasn't expecting it and it bounced off him. This lack of anticipation and optimism seemed a hallmark of our play.
In the second half the match was more open and as it went on I felt more and more like we looked most likely to score. But it's no coincidence they have only conceded 15 goals in 30 matches, they have a seriously good defence. The moment that excited me most was when Coleman found Richarlison who stormed down the wing and played inside for Bernard, again I expected the net to bulge but whether he missed it or Alexander-Arnold got a foot in I don't know but it wasn't to be.
As we walked back to Lime Street the feeling was one of gentle satisfaction; we'd given them a good game, we'd made sure they were no longer top of the table but we could have had a long-awaited victory if only for better execution and decision making in the final third. Padraic and Dave and I agreed that we'd have probably taken a draw before the match, even if it was a touch anti-climactic.
The train back was a less raucous affair as I had another cheese-based meal (grrr) and enjoyed watching the ballboy and Klopp videos whilst fuming at the BBC coverage which made it sound like it had been a one-sided affair. To me it looked like we gave as good as we got, at least in the second half.
Got home at midnight with a fuzzy head, a hoarse voice, a cheese-filled belly and mile-wide smile! What a day!! What a club!!!
Summed up where he is as a goalkeeper currently. One fantastic, crucial save. A mixed bag in the air and very erratic distribution.
Did pretty well for the most part. Got up and down a lot and seemed effective with Richarlison. A few crucial tackles and a few needless giveaways.
Keane - 9
Best match yet? Hardly put a foot wrong from what I saw and made one superb last-ditch tackle. I've been a detractor of his but more performances like this will have me eating my words.
Zouma - 8
Almost as solid as Keane. His pace is vital and his distribution was decent.
Digne - 8
Player of the season? Consistent going forward and in defense with one or two crucial interceptions and worked hard to nullify Salah for the most part.
Schneiderlin - 6
Part of a defensive unit that got a clean sheet. That's about the best I can say. My biggest issue with him is that he doesn't show for the ball even when there is space and his teammates are in trouble. And he's very slow. Pickford saved his blushes with the Salah save.
Gueye - 8
I've always liked Gueye but he's stepped up a notch this season. Quick around the park and always seems to be there to get a foot in. Distribution is not his strong point but is not as bad as some say.
Worked hard but did not seem to influence the game creatively. Hard to do, I guess when we seemed unwilling to commit men forwards. Part of an attack that lacks cohesion.
Walcott - 5
Why does he keep playing? Maybe because chances keep coming to him? His pace/movement seems to bring opportunities his way but his shot in the first half are indicative of someone unlikely to take them.
Bernard - 7
I thought early doors that he might become one of my favourite players. He's got a long way to go but i remain hopeful. Great feet, great mind, sublime touch but he needs to shoot more and better. There's a top player in there, hoping we'll see him next season.
Calvert-Lewin - 7
Pretty thankless task against the best CB in the world. He battled manfully and held up the ball very well on occasion. I'd love him to prove the real deal for us and if he can add more goals to his game he will save us a fortune.
Richarlison - 7
Looked dangerous. Might him and Coleman be the solution to the right-hand side? Like Walcott his pace sometimes seems to make things happen even if by accident more than by design.
Gomes - 7
Had some nice touches. Obviously offers more going forwards than Schneiderlin. think most of us are a lot less keen on buying him now than we were two months ago. Needs to finish the season strongly.
Tosun - 6
Seemed inferior to Calvert-Lewin to my eyes but did not have a huge amount to work with. One chance that he couldn't strike cleanly. I thought he might score 15 goals this season. How wrong I was!