Baines OG 14'
Aren't Merseyside Derbies fun?
After 94 minutes, I was surprisingly accepting of the draw. Which is strange, because Liverpool had a two-goal lead within 20 minutes and the better chances in the second half. But Everton fought furiously, impressively back into the game within 15 minutes, deserving of both goals even if the second came from what should have been a Liverpool throw-in. And both goals were arguably down to Liverpool mistakes, something we've seen far too often even if the problem had seemingly been remedied in the last three matches. But the home side completely see-sawed the balance of play; Mirallas, Osman, and Fellaini were outstanding, and Everton fans will lament that the former had to go off at half-time with injury.
After 95 minutes, I was so livid I couldn't even see straight. One of these days, Liverpool will actually benefit from a referee's incorrect decision; the last time it happened was probably in this fixture last season with Rodwell's red card, and Liverpool still had to work to break down the home side twice. The list of stunningly incorrect and/or harsh decisions since then is approximately two miles long. I don't know if I'll live to see it, but it seemingly has to happen sometime.
There's absolutely no reason why Suarez's winner should have been disallowed. David Moyes, credit to him, admitted as much in the post match interview. Coates, onside, fairly won the header from Gerrard's free kick. Suarez, played onside by not one but two Everton defenders, rammed the knockdown home from five yards out. Only the linesman knows what he saw to make him raise his flag. I'd love to know, but the FA doesn't make referees available for interviews after the match. Which they should. I'd also love to know whether an English player, or non-Liverpool player, or just anyone other than Suarez, would have been ruled offside. I'm obviously biased, but I suspect I wouldn't like the answer. You're not paranoid if they are really out to get you.
It was a dream start with two goals before the game was a quarter gone. Everton began brightly, with three early corners and a slalom run from Mirallas past Allen, Wisdom, and Skrtel, requiring a last ditch block clearance from Agger. But just like that, Liverpool were ahead: beginning an attack after Suso intercepted Jelavic's wayward cross-field pass, switching field twice before Suso found Enrique – a surprise starter with Johnson still suffering from an injury on Tuesday. The left-back burst into the box before delivering an accurate crossed cut-back, missing Sterling because of what looked to be a push by Baines. But the ball fell kindly to the perfectly-placed Suarez, who blasted a shot into the six-yard box, deflecting off of Everton's left-back. Six minutes later, with Everton reeling, Gerrard's spectacular free kick found the Uruguayan drifting behind a negligent Jelavic, deftly directing a header just out of reach of Tim Howard.
But it was a dream deferred fairly quickly. Osman pulled one back just two minutes after Suarez's strike, Brad Jones punching a corner into the worst possible area, back into the middle and to a wide-open Everton midfielder at the top of the box. The shot took an unlucky deflection off Allen, but Liverpool should have never been into that position. That punch was utterly criminal.
And after that, Everton's second looked a matter of time. Skrtel had to head Mirallas' cross behind with two players lurking. Jones was fortunate to have gotten a foul when dropping the ball on the subsequent corner. Fellaini's heavy touch prevented a goal-scoring opportunity when Jelavic's through-ball split Liverpool's backline, then another Mirallas cross was just too high Fellaini, despite the size of that glorious afro.
The wait ended in the 35th. As said above, it should have been Liverpool's throw-in prior to the move, but the move should never have been allowed to progress. Fellaini drifted into acres of space in the box after the throw – Allen didn't track him, Skrtel didn't come out to stop him. This gave him the time to turn into more space after receiving the pass, a fierce low pass across the top of the six-yard-box. Enrique had tracked Naismith inside, taking up a central position, but then failed to stay with the winger when he went for the cross, caught unforgivably flat-footed as the Scot snuck in for the tap-in. And only one side looked likely to take the lead before half-time. Thankfully, Liverpool did just enough in defense to prevent them from doing so.
Credit to Rodgers for completely changing tactics and formation during the interval, having the audacity to switch to a never-before-used formation, playing both Sterling and Wisdom in unfamiliar positions. And it worked a treat, nullifying all the momentum Everton had going into halftime.
Sterling, now playing as the furthest forward striker, which also helped him avoid trouble when on a yellow card, should have retaken the lead. Within four minutes, Enrique's long through-ball put Sterling one-on-one with Howard. With just the keeper to beat, and time to beat him, as well as Suarez wide open and screaming for the ball at the top of the box, the 17-year-old attempted an unlucky chip which didn't come close to hitting that target. It's hard to criticize someone so young, so raw, but that was a moment Liverpool will desperately rue.
From there, it was finely balanced. Everton had more of the ball and more shots on goal, but Liverpool had the better chances, cluttering the middle with the added bodies but continuing to prevent crosses due to Enrique and Wisdom – and then Henderson, coming on at right-back in the 70th minute – willingness to bomb up and down the length of the flanks. Liverpool used Sterling and Suarez's pace to counter-attack effectively, while Gerrard was more involved as Shelvey and Allen did all of the dirty work.
Liverpool looked the most likely and most willing to grab a late winner. Jagielka made two desperate, crucial blocks: first on Gerrard's shot from Agger's layoff after good work from Henderson, then on Suarez's close range near-post effort after a trademark run across the byline. Henderson didn't quite connect with a volley, on-target but too close to Howard; Sterling fired high and wide after jinking into space at the top of the box.
Then, in the dying, dying, almost dead seconds, the free kick happened, Suarez happened, and the linesman happened. And life is not fair. I'm struggling to remember a more costly decision; the beach ball against Sunderland might have been more egregious, but Liverpool dire performance that day ensured they weren't winning anyway. This result costs Liverpool two necessary points, ensuring Everton stay six points ahead of their rivals rather than three, and prevent Liverpool from moving into the top half of the table. I am not liable for what might happen if those two points end up costing Liverpool a European place – if, god willing, they can get that far up the table, because I'm fairly certain that what goes around will not come back around.
In the cold light of day – maybe tomorrow, maybe a week from now – I'll be prouder of the performance. Everton were and are a very good side, far better in years past, demonstrated by their early season form. Liverpool showed resilience after the set-backs and the manager showed some unexpected tactical nous. Rodgers made the right changes in both personnel and tactics when required, early and often.
I've said it before, and I rather hope I'll be able to stop saying it soon. The signs are there. It has to start getting better.