Everton salvaged a point with a last-gasp equaliser in Saturday’s Merseyside Derby at Anfield and the draw against our arch rivals was a much-needed boost after two successive defeats in League and Cup.
The Toffees went behind to a Steven Gerrard free kick (he always seems to do it against us doesn’t he?) in the second half but fought back late on when Phil ‘The Missile’ Jagielka fired an impressive strike at the Kop End in the 91st minute which left the home crowd disgruntled to say the least.
Overall it wasn’t a vintage performance by any stretch of the imagination but Everton do deserve praise for their character to earn themselves something from the game. After going behind it appeared that there would only be one winner and the home side would take maximum points – and this was largely down to the fact that we failed to really get going in the second half and couldn’t string two passes together – but thankfully Jags popped up with a memorable thunderbolt and our fans were left doing what they do best – celebrating wildly.
Over the weekend I looked back on the result and below I’ve picked out my five things to discuss following the dramatic draw at Anfield….
1- At The Back
I think many of us already thought this but if we learned one thing from the game at Anfield it is that John Stones needs to remain at centre half and now keep his place in this Everton side. Distin and Jags have been great servants and still have a lot to offer but having someone as talented as Stones at our disposal is brilliant, you just cannot ignore it and although he is still very young he should now cement his name at the centre of our defence and it is up to Martinez whether he deploys Distin or Jagielka next to him in his starting XI. Stones was Man of the Match, and his composure and confidence was a breath of fresh air in a defence that has come in for big criticism in recent weeks. To see such a young lad from this country play with the assurance that he did in such a crucial, quick tempo fixture, and the way in which he applies himself each and every time he puts on that Everton shirt, is a sight that we all should embrace. In Stones I think we have unearthed someone who could well go on to eventually be captain at our Club and at international level too, and I suppose we should thank our former manager for bringing him to Goodison Park in the first place.
Jagielka was also impressive, and the England man had one of his better games in Royal Blue this season after a frustrating and jittery few weeks. Jags has looked out of sorts but at Anfield on Saturday he was back to his best; defending well and displaying an efficiency and reliability in his distribution. As for his goal, he couldn’t have hit it any sweeter and the sight of him celebrating with his manager and team mates, and those hands on heads in the Kop, will live long in the memory.
Leighton Baines and Tony Hibbert were the other two defenders to start the game and the latter made his first EPL start since 2012. Hibbert doesn’t possess an attacking bone in his body and looked a bit off the pace at times but overall he managed to keep Sterling relatively quiet down that side. When you don’t play in the Premier League for such a long time it is always going to be tough, and admittedly Hibbert isn’t going to play a huge amount of games this season, but Tony will always give you 100% and the sight of him going through Balotelli and then fronting the Italian did have me laughing on Saturday afternoon. Baines did well and got forward when possible, and he carved out our best chance of the game in the first half only for him to chose the wrong option when crossing, which is very unlike Baines to be fair. The Blues left back was more subdued in the second period just as the rest of the team was too.
2- New Faces
Muhammed Besic was thrown in at the deep end on Saturday and there was a few people believing he would be sent off at Anfield once they had heard the team news. However I think the Bosnian did well in the Everton midfield and although he still looks a bit rusty, I believe that once he gets up to the pace of the Premier League we could have a real player on our hands. In the first half he wanted the ball and never ducked the opportunity to take possession, which obviously shows he has the confidence in his ability. He likes a tackle and although we didn’t see anything spectacular from Besic I think his display at Anfield is something to build on and over the course of the season he will become more influential and more useful in this Everton side as time goes by.
Tyias Browning also made his first Merseyside Derby appearance and his introduction in the second half somewhat surprised our fans who wanted to see attacking changes. However Browning offered more going forward and eventually had a hand in the build up to our goal, and Martinez’ substitution turned out to be a smart move in the end. Browning, like Stones, looks a real prospect and he is full of energy and confidence and the Blues defender did well when he came on against Liverpool. The youngster’s emergence will make it even harder for Hibbert to get a game and Seamus Coleman will be looking over his shoulder too, but if Browning does work his way into the side would it be a possibility that we see Coleman deployed in a more advanced role down the right with Browning playing behind him at full back down that side? It wouldn’t surprise me and it is another alternative for Martinez who will again be forced to make changes to his side after yet another injury to one of his star players, which brings me to my next point.
3- Kevin Mirallas
What rotten luck. Kevin Mirallas has been our Player of Season so far and been the star man for the Toffees, so to see him pull up clutching his hamstring in front of our supporters on Saturday was a terrible sight indeed. If you asked any Evertonian going into the game with Liverpool to pick one player who they wouldn’t want to get injured after the start we have had then nine times out of ten they would have said Kevin Mirallas. The Belgian has looked a different player this term and has been playing with a swagger and enthusiasm that has got us Blues excited when we go forward. To lose him at any time would be bad, but at this moment was awful. It had echoes of the Lukaku injury at the same end and in the same game last season, and the sound of their supporters actually cheering his injury just made us Blues even more angry and frustrated.
Mirallas is set for further scans and tests this week and as yet the extent of his injury is yet to be ascertained, but the Belgian is expected to be ruled out for a number of weeks and us Evertonians can only hope that he will be back sooner rather than later.
On a more positive note on the injury front, both Steven Pienaar and Ross Barkley are expected to be back and involved by the time Everton host Aston Villa at Goodison Park in mid-October.
4- Lukaku the wide man
It just didn’t work did it? Big Rom started the game at Anfield out on the right hand side but he had a disappointing afternoon. Lukaku has previously played in that position (most notably against Arsenal) and he has had some joy cutting in and getting the better of opposing defenders. However on Saturday he frustrated and although he came in for a fair bit of criticism I don’t think the service to him was up to much as things didn’t go to plan against Liverpool’s left back Moreno.
Rom had a couple of efforts on goal and should have had a penalty early in the first half but overall he cut a frustrated figure out on that right hand side and his link up play with Naismith wasn’t exactly easy on the eye. Lukaku’s brother actually Tweeted ‘Striker not winger’ at the weekend, hinting that his brother might not be happy playing in that particular role for the Blues. Ideally we would see him up top against United next Sunday but obviously Martinez is looking to chop and change formations and personnel as he attempts to utilise his squad to the best of their ability.
Although he wasn’t at his best on Saturday I’m prepared to let Lukaku off after seeing his celebration following Jags’ wonder striker, just brilliant!
5- Liverpool Whining
If it wasn’t Henderson it was Lallana, if it wasn’t Lallana it was Skrtel. What a gang of moaners they have within their side. I thought they might have lost a bit of that whining when Suarez left, but it appears to still remain at LFC and don’t get me started on Balotelli. That lad is a joke the way he throws himself around, proper embarrassing. I was glad Hibbert when through him and stood up to him, and I’d expect many more players in the Premier League to do the same if he carries on acting like that this season. All over the place he was – and his team mates have the audacity to chase the referee waving imaginary cards trying to get our lot booked!
“Handball, foul, penalty, free kick” it’s almost like Anfield have got referee Tourette’s or something. Gang of jokers the lot of them, especially that Henderson who cried and appealed for every single decision.
As for the two penalty decisions I think both probably should have been given, so when Rodgers claims his side should have had a clear penalty then Everton certainly should have had one themselves, but obviously he isn’t going to mention that is he? Barry was daft having his hands up that high blocking Sterling’s effort and that could have easily been given, but so could the one on Lukaku when Moreno pulled him back inside their box. Both happened very quickly and Atkinson waved both away and whilst I am surprised Liverpool weren’t awarded a spot kick at Anfield, for once, I’m not as surprised that Everton didn’t get a penalty after reading the statistic that since the Premier League began we haven’t had one there at all.
As I say, we were far from at our best at Anfield but the point is a boost and the way in which we achieved it was very sweet indeed. The raw passion from our players, our manager and of course our brilliant supporters was excellent and after a frustrating few weeks at Everton FC it was great to see us with reason to smile again.
Onwards we go now to Krasnodar on Thursday ahead of Sunday’s trip to United and both will offer different tests in different environments. I’d expect to see changes in Russia with the likes of Eto’o and Atsu starting, whilst getting Coleman back fit for the trip to Old Trafford is essential in my opinion. With Mirallas set for a spell on the sidelines Martinez will again be forced to shuffle his pack for two more tough fixtures away from home.
Let’s embrace the challenge, Up the Toffees.