Engaging Merseyside derby ends evens as Dalglish returns to Anfield
Liverpool were barely unrecognisable in the first half, displaying attacking impetus that firmly contrasted to their lacklustre style of late. An enterprising display saw them go in at the break one up after Raul Meireles smashed home.
However, seemingly-inspired words from David Moyes at half time saw Everton take the lead after just six minutes through Sylvain Distin's header and Jermaine Beckford's close range finish.
Kuyt's penalty again levelled matters as the teams played out a draw that sees them still both on the same amount of points in the Premier League, with Everton just ahead on goal difference.Liverpool made an aggressive start, no doubt wanting to put a good show on for a typically riled Anfield crowd. However, a few nice passing moves came to no fruition and when youngster Jay Spearing gave the ball away in the midfield, Beckford optimistically tried to lob Pepe Reina from way out, but got it all wrong.
Martin Kelly won a corner for the hosts after a marauding run down the right flank saw his dangerous cross deflected behind. From the resulting play, Torres was allowed to bring the ball down on his chest and given an acre to fire the ball, rather spectacularly, high and wide.
The game began to see the typical zest you would associate with a Merseyside derby as Everton’s calls for a free-kick in what would have been a dangerous position just outside the box were ignored by Phil Dowd. Spearing’s barge into Victor Anichebe incurred the wrath of Phil Neville who retaliated with a petulant foul on Fernando Torres, causing the ref to step in and settle frayed tempers.
Great play from Torres saw the Spaniard outmuscle Distan, cutting inside John Heitinga and guiding a composed finish beyond Tim Howard. Though when the ball bounced back off the post, Kuyt blazed his effort over the bar when he perhaps should have done a lot better.
The game remained pretty open with both teams displaying encouraging signs of wanting to push forward, yet struggling to create too many clear-cut chances with niggling fouls a-plenty. Liverpool looked chiefly towards Torres’ darting runs in behind the centre-halves as their main outlet, whereas the visitors continued to get joy playing long balls off the head of Marouane Fellaini, with one knock-down ending up only inches from Beckford’s run.
A tangible feeling of relief became abundantly clear when Liverpool stuck it in the net just before the half-hour mark. Tim Howard completed a brilliant double save, from the head, then the right boot of Dirk Kuyt but when the ball broke to Meireles, his smashed, near-post shot left Howard utterly helpless.
With Liverpool firmly in the ascendancy, Howard was forced into another smart save from an angled Torres drive, the American berating his defenders afterwards for seeming to capitulate to the host’s pressure.
With five minutes before the break, the hosts continued to crank up the pressure, and with Howard again making saves from troublesome duo Torres and Meireles, Everton would have consider themselves lucky to only be one down at half time.
However, it only took Everton thirty seconds to draw level after the interval. With the visitors looking dangerous from set pieces all game, Distin crept in unmarked at the back post and after Reina flailed at the ball, the centre-half slipped a header in underneath him.
Liverpool looked shell-shocked after conceding, especially given the vibrant nature with which they finished the first half firmly on top. Whatever David Moyes said to his charges at half time seemed to have worked, with the turnaround complete minutes later.
Leon Osman’s burst into the box saw him slip the ball through to Beckford and, having time to steady himself, the striker fired the ball past Reina with the goal absolutely gaping. The Reds were furious that Phil Dowd did not stop the game after a head injury to Martin Kelly but their protestations fell upon deaf ears.
The sting was taken out of the game by Everton’s remarkable comeback, with the game sinking into a lull that was indicative of the visitor’s desire to nullify their cross-city rivals. The slow, bitty tempo suited Everton’s purposes much more than Liverpool’s, with the Reds struggling to get out of their own half.
Yet, when they did advance, the hosts instantly earned themselves a spot-kick. Tim Howard wiped out Maxi Rodriguez after the attacker got to the ball first, resulting in an absolute stone-waller being given in the 66th minute. With Gerrard suspended, Kuyt stepped up and comfortably tucked the ball to the right-side of the goal, to bring the game level once more.
The game entered the last twenty minutes balanced on a knife-edge. With Torres continuing to exploit the space in behind the Everton back four, the Spaniard attempted a delicate, chipped finish from the edge of the box when a driven strike would have maybe been more apt, with the ball floating aimlessly over the bar.
Chances were few and far between in the closing stages and both teams seemed happy with the prospect of escaping with a point after an engaging encounter.