A last gasp rasping effort from Jim Jagielka robbed Liverpool of a thoroughly deserved three points in a hotly contested Merseyside derby yesterday as the game finished all square with a goal a-piece.
Against the advice from LFC File match preview, Brendan Rodgers opted for Martin Skrtel to partner Dejan Lovren in the centre of defence with Javi Manquillo and Alberto Moreno becoming customary in the right and left back positions respectively. Steven Gerrard was accompanied by his vice-captain Jordan Henderson in front of the back four. Lone striker Mario Balotelli was supported by Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and the so far ineffective Lazar Marković.
This time the real Liverpool team turned up to play and kept a high tempo for their visitors to contend with, moving the ball crisply and showing good movement. A definite improvement on previous showings it has to be said. The usual early, tasty derby day challenges came with Gareth Barry challenging Lallana robustly in the first minute to earn himself a yellow card, and Moreno craftily holding onto Romelu Lukaku as the Everton forward made a bustling run into the home area. Unpunished.
Marković spent most of the first half getting caught in possession, whilst Henderson made some good interceptions and runs from deep. Sterling and Lallana making good use of the space and kept the blue defence on the back foot. Lallana it has to be said was particularly bright. Balotelli went close with a free kick after being fouled by Barry who in all fairness, should have received a second yellow having escaped a handball shout in the Everton penalty area moments earlier. Tim Howard went well to parry away striker’s shot. From the resulting corner, Lallana forced another fine save from Howard from his close-range header.
The second half saw the introduction of Philippe Coutinho in place of the hopeless Marković on 60 minutes. Five minutes later, Liverpool were in front. Balotelli done well to dispossess the pantomime villain (Gareth Barry), and found Sterling on the edge of the visitors’ box. The return pass to the former Man City striker was unfairly intercepted by Leighton Baines to concede a free kick 25 yards from the Everton goal. Up stepped Gerrard to show the Italian international just how a free kick is converted, sending a dipping, curling effort to Howard’s left.The ball , despite Howard’s outstretched hand, hit the back of the net sending Gerrard, the team and 44,000 fans into raptures. 1-0 and Liverpool in the driving seat.
As with all things Liverpool this season, drama comes included, not to mention a huge drop of crunching disappointment. Having seemingly secured the three points and playing the game out, the unimaginable, up until now impossible occurred. With no huge threat to the Liverpool goal, the ball fell to Jagielka who, 25 yards from goal, unleashed a shot that on 364 days of the year would have ended up in the Mersey. However, this typically being the 365th day, it flew past a helpless Simon Mignolet and into the goal. 1-1. The visiting fans in heaven, as you’d expect from them. The hosts utterly deflated. Another win in hand, cast aside. This time, though in the cruelest of ways.
To be fair, Liverpool deserved to win this match. They showed real hunger from the first whistle to the last. Lallana and Balotelli were particularly impressive. In the latter we’re beginning to see a new Mario Balotelli. Miles better than the old one. This one works for the team as well as himself. This one chases apparent lost causes and refuses to quit having lost possession. This one knows what playing for Liverpool is all about. If he continues in this vain, he will be an undoubted success for the team. Lallana also, is showing why Rodgers shelled out – what amounts to more than a lifetime’s earnings for most people – on the 26 year-old.
A few more performances like this with the new Mario, Lallana and the return of Daniel Sturridge. The continued efforts of Henderson, Gerrard and the defence will see Liverpool’s season come alive. Hopefully, the early season lapses can be put behind them, but already, the side has it all to do. There’s a hell of a lot of football to be played between now and May. Yesterday we saw that anything can happen in that time. Get strapped in. Tight!
Follow me on Twitter: @Mrbengreen