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Liverpool vs Everton                                                     3rd February 2007


An early start for the Toronto Toffees this week; that early kick off in the Premiership can really knock you on your arse when you live in a city that’s five hours behind… 

Regardless, a good number of us turned out at Scally’s, along with our red brethren to see the 205th Merseyside Derby (note “Merseyside”, Pleat, not “Liverpool”). 

The formation was no surprise.  At least to Everton fans who have watched their beloved team play for the last couple of years; it was an away game, against a very good attacking side sitting third in the Premiership, and who had scored in every home game this term.  Apparently, as is common knowledge now though, Mr Benitez believed that we should have gone across the park, and played our free-flowing football (Good God man, when the hell did Everton last play free-flowing football?  How long have you been a manager in the Premiership now?), which would have certainly led to us getting hammered.  Bollocks to that.  A formation of 4-1-4-1 for me, thank you very much. 

Defensively, Hibbo returned to the right-back berth, while Lescott was shunted out to left, leaving Joey and Stubbsy in the middle, to face the mighty offensive onslaught of a giraffe suffering from Disequilibrium, a mercenary thug from South Wales, and Sloth from the Goonies.  Carsley provided protection from his usual position in front of the back four, while Nev was promoted to the midfield to add a little bit of bite there.  Arteta and Osman filled in the wide positions, while Tiny sat behind lone striker AJ, whose powers of recovery are nothing if not miraculous.

The first half was a pretty even affair, with both sides pushing for a win.  Liverpool spent their time trying to get Pennant in onto Lescott, which they often did, bypassing Osman.  Pennant, however, despite his obvious talent, got no change from Lescott, and was generally restricted to hitting long balls from left-hand touchline; food and drink for Joey and Stubbs.

The first serious chance fell to Hibbo (after six minutes), obviously determined to make an impact, who smashed a shot from the edge of the box straight at Reina.  At the other end, three minutes later, Crouch – in his infinite wisdom – tried one of flashy overhead kicks, but Howard saved the point-blank shot with his feet. 

Then just before 10 minutes were up, Liverpool had the ball in the back of the net; Bellamy stole in from the right, played a one-two, and put the ball beyond Howard, with a nice finish.  Admittedly, it was very pretty, and very annoying from Everton’s point of view.  It was also very much offside, and was called as such: “Good officialling!” claimed David Pleat.  Er, put the dictionary down Davey la’, it’s not going too well for you…

After 20 minutes, good work by AJ set up Ossie for a header; unfortunately he was caught between Carragher and Finnan, and headed the ball straight at Reina.  The Red Sh*te, in their villainy, once again demonstrated their sportsmanship, and counter-attacked; thanks gents, thanks a bunch.  In fact, the ball had managed to work its way back up to AJ before Ossie was back on his feet. 

Everton's organisation and continuous huffing and puffing kept Liverpool at arm's length for much of the first half, but first Sloth was allowed time and space from 18 yards to shape and shoot, as was Agger; then Alonso nearly broke the deadlock on the half-hour with a dipping 25-yard shot that was only inches over the cross-bar. 

The second half was all Liverpool; Everton seemed to have felt that they’d weathered the early storm, that they’d got nothing for their endeavours in the first half, and effectively shut up shop.

Referee Alan’s Willy rejected loud and vociferous penalty appeals from the Red Sh*te after 50 minutes when Phil Neville blocked Jamie Carragher's goal-bound shot, following a corner, given after about Everton’s 78th stray pass (in this case, a back pass to Howard).  Replays, however, clearly showed that the ball had struck the Everton captain just above the left tit, right on the badge.  Insufferable b*stards; always taking aim at our beloved club…

58 minutes in, and Liverpool resorted to long ball tactics, with Reina sending a goal-kick over the middle of the park for Bellamy to chase; Joey, however, who – to his credit - had the legs on Bellamy all day, simply shrugged him off the ball, and sent the ball into the Everton midfield.

After 59 minutes it could have been very different, and Everton had the clearest chance of the game.  The ever-excellent Lescott broke up a Liverpool attack, guided AJ into the clear and into the Liverpool area.  Brilliantly avoiding two tackles, he set himself up, but he effectively shot straight at the keeper.  Reina, perhaps still a bit naive positionally, made a crucial stop with his legs from 12 yards.  A goal looked certain, and on any other day, one would expect AJ to put such chances away with aplomb; yet it was not to be, and the suspicion was that his lack of match fitness, given the ankle injury at Wigan, was the main cause of the rather glaring miss.

Then, after 65 minutes, Gerrard was inches away with a free-kick, awarded after two consecutive fouls by Arteta, just outside the Everton box; hardly the best place to kick a player for the Red Sh*te, but he should be commended nonetheless.  He did it again two minutes later, and earned himself a stern rebuke from Alan’s willy. 

On 72 minutes a fabulous tackle by Nev, clearing out both Bellamy and AJ led to a yellow card, and then 80 minutes in, Arteta and Alonso took to each other with their handbags, and Arteta earned himself a yellow card.

Moyesy replaced AJ with Anichebe with eight minutes to go, but there was no fairy-tale finish for the boy wonder this time.  He got kicked by Alonso, and was pushed around a bit by Carragher off the ball.  He did give the Liverpool defence something else to think about though, but in truth the change was made so late he little time to make any impact.

With six minutes left, the Spanish waiter hauled Bellamy off, and sent on Robbie Fowler.  The veteran striker made very little impact on the resolute Everton defence, and aside from being involved in a nice build-up, and a rather wayward shot in the 92nd minute, contributed little.

Crouch managed to fashion a glorious chance when the ball fell to him only eight yards out, but he could only half-hit a shot at Howard.  Gerrard’s face was a right picture.

Aside from that, the game was certainly not pretty.  But in all seriousness, what did Liverpool, their ineffectual management, and their corporate whores expect?  The Red Sh*te’s home record speaks for itself, so there is no way that any manager worth his salt is going to take his team there and expect to play an easy, free-flowing game.  Except, of course, in the cases of Chelsea, Man United, and Arsenal.  And even then your victory is hardly guaranteed.  But at the end of the day, who really cares?  We went there to get something out of the game.  Anything besides a battering, and we did.  We came away with a point.  Job done.

The Everton defence was outstanding; Stubbs was incredible and delivered a performance that belied his years.  To be honest, I don’t think I was the only one to have murmured disapproval at his inclusion at the start of the game, particularly when faced with Bellamy and Kuyt, both of whom are supremely ugly in a variety of ways, but are endowed with incredible pace.  Stubbs thoroughly deserved his “Man of the Match” award.  Joey, Jo-Jo, and Hibbo too performed admirably, as did Carsley and Neville, in midfield; the latter, in particular, never let Gerrard away with an inch. 

Amongst all of this self-congratulatory praise, back-patting, and that annoyingly American high-five, hand-slapping nonsense, a few things should be considered though: Firstly, much of the pressure that we were put under was self-induced.  A stupid pass here, a generally useless punt there, farcical back-passes leading to corners or throw-ins, not closing players down and allowing them time and space to line up shots from 25 yards (even those who regularly score from that distance).  Sort it out, for Christ’s sake.  Stupid mistakes will ultimately cost us games; they already have on several occasions earlier in the season.  Secondly, our midfield was largely anonymous again, at least in keeping hold of the ball.  Except for Arteta kicking people, with Cars and Nev doing the same, I’m not too sure what they were up to.  Osman, recently, just seems to look knackered all of the time, and Tiny probably had one of his quietest games in blue, perhaps due to the fact that he, like AJ, is nowhere near full fitness following his comeback from injury.  Maybe this new loan signing will do the business, and perhaps push the midfielders to fight harder for their places; he certainly looks the business in that flashy video on YouTube.

Finally, of course, we come to the comments made by Rafa Benitez after the game, and those comments made by such Liverpool luminaries who disguise themselves as “fans” in the mailbags on such fan-sites, such as Football365 (http://www.football365.com/mailbox/story/0,17033,8744_1895994,00.html). 

Most Everton fans, I think, would have been rather irritated by Benitez’s comments after the game.  But then, upon reflection, would have realised that we expect nothing else from that bunch across the way, correctly believing that Liverpool’s inherent inferiority, perhaps due to the fact that they were literally born from our shadow many years ago, has clearly festered long enough and informs such opinion.  It now dribbles out in rather ill-placed tirades that smack of bad sportsmanship, and tellingly, a rather obvious aptitude for being bad losers, or “drawers” for that matter. 

However, I am not one of those individuals. 

I tell myself that I’m no longer irritated, and that I should be a better fan, and indeed a bigger man, than many of those “fans” who believe that Everton’s response to Benitez’s jibe is simply a publicity stunt, and that we are, in fact, 'small' in one specific department,” our “bitter, desperate, inferiority-aware minds.”  But the fact is I’m not a better man; I’m incredibly bitter when ill-conceived comments such as this are directed at me and my beloved team.  No water off a duck’s back here, I can assure you.

In fact, I’m f**king apoplectic with rage at such idiotic comments; they smack of hypocrisy.

So what?  We parked our bus in front of the goal.  Big deal.  We’re not the first to do it, and in fact, several teams have come to Goodison and done the same to us, even during this season when we couldn’t hit a barn door with a sodding banjo.  Liverpool did exactly the same thing to Juventus, in the Stadio delle Alpi, on their march to “European glory” (I quote: “Liverpool, with Czech striker Milan Baros alone in attack, seemed content sitting back with a well-organised defence and showed little ambition to push forward”; “Liverpool's outstanding defending ensured they eliminated the joint leaders of Serie A in a game that reversed traditional stereotypes of English and Italian approaches to the game.“), and supposed “fans” that can’t acknowledge that many teams, including their own, have to play like this in certain circumstances should take a good look at their knowledge of the modern game.  Furthermore, claiming that Rafa’s slur was simply a result of his “pigeon English” is not good enough.  Rafa’s English has served him well over the last two or so years; and the fact that he used the slur on three separate occasions (in the post-match interview, the press conference, and in the official interview) shows that he knew exactly what he was saying.  Moreover, his official “apology” is piece of comedic genius for precisely the same reason; you weren’t talking about Everton?  Then who the hell were you talking about in an interview specifically about your match with Everton?  Fool. 

As for the various complaints I’ve seen on the ‘net about Everton taking the high ground in this particular case, while their fans’ behaviour at Anfield has been criticised for singing offensive songs?  Give me a break.  It’s certainly not pleasant at times, but all football fans sing offensive chants and songs; it even happens in more “polite” sports like Rugby.  Grow up; take a look at your club’s recent history, and see what a minority of your fans have been responsible for around the world, you pompous w*nkers.

Finally, as a rejoinder for those Evertonians who are still unhappy with the current situation after the debacle during the transfer period, I suggest that you take a look at previous seasons for the last time that we returned four points from the two Merseyside derbies.  And then I suggest that you ask yourself what’s more important to you at the moment: relegation or mid-table mediocrity. 

As for me?  The truth is that I’ll take mid-table mediocrity every time; at least for the next few years.  Some stability would be nice for a change as opposed to living at the foot of the Premiership table.

Plus, if I get mid-table mediocrity as well as not losing to that bunch of over-rated, over-hyped, over-paid useless w*nkers from across the park in either derby during a season, shutting up gobsh*te commentators and pundits like Lawrenson, Hansen, Green, and that ineffectual f**kwit Pleat, and wiping the smile off of the face of that ignorant, ineffectual, fat, glorified, insulting, morally-debased, repugnant, inept, ham-fisted, unpleasant, ghastly, distasteful, offensive, incompetent, irritating, horrible, obnoxious, abhorrent Spanish tw*t of a Red Sh*te manager, then I’m all for it. 

“Small team”?  You can beat your life on it, mate.  This “small team” have gone out and shown you and your lot for what you really are.  Oh, and Rafa?  I’d suggest that you go and do a bit of reading up on the history of Liverpool FC; given the club’s incredibly effective merchandising machinery, I’m sure that you’ll be able to pick it up in Spanish from the club shop.  Then you can learn where exactly your “top side” came from.

Matt Gibbs 2007