A finely disciplined Liverpool side, down to 10 men for almost 60 minutes of this truculent match, easily held at bay a guileless Everton attack to win 1-0 in the 213th Merseyside derby. The goal came courtesy of an inch-perfect corner from Steven Gerrard right onto the head of the battling Kuyt who easily out-muscled Howard and Neville to glance a header into the net.
Everton should have been ahead just before the break when Tim Cahill, unmarked, sent a diving header just over the bar that a struggling Reina would never have saved if on target. After the break, Liverpool sat back with two banks of four that closed the space, not allowing Everton any room to get behind, and easily dealing with any crosses or long balls that were Everton's only hope of breaking through. The only real weakness in the Liverpool rearguard was the left-back, Insua, who was unable to stop Donovan making a decent run into the box and Anichebe which, on both occasions were stopped by either a resolute Daniel Agger and Liverpool rearguard or poor decision-making from the Blue forwards.
Now let's talk about the tackles that forced Atkinson into making a decision. There can be no doubt about it; Fellaini should have been sent off. His was an over-the-ball challenge which in any other game and with any other referee, would not have been tolerated, a challenge which has been the cause of serious injuries for many players; precisely the type of challenge that referees are supposed to be punishing. The challenge by Pienaar on Mascherano beggars belief: why did the referee not send him off? Okay he got a booking, but again, this is an over-the-ball tackle that could have been damaging for Mascherano who, coincidentally, was sent off against Portsmouth for a similar tackle. What was going through Mr Atkinson’s mind when he saw this challenge? Because everyone in Anfield knew it was a red-card. Also, why was Phil Neville’s deliberate scything on Gerrard as he went through on the wing, not given a yellow card just as Kuyt’s challenge on Donovan was mid-way through the first half?
Noticeably absent was the opinionated trill of Sky’s bulldog-in-chief, Andy Gray, who failed to make a single comment on any of Neville’s finely crafted attempts to stop a player’s momentum, especially after he cynically scythed down Maxi in the second half with a trailing leg three feet in the air. Complete silence greeted viewers upon showing of the replay.
Interviewed after the game, Steven Gerrard was surprisingly diplomatic in his assessment of the "committment" shown on both sides proclaiming, "that's what the supporters want to see: passion." Of that he is correct, but what they do not want to see is poor refereeing in an atmosphere that required a greater sense of character and judgement.
The game itself lacked quality and finesse, even when Arteta came on for the "injured" Fellaini whose leg, remarkably, showed no sign of a break after being X-rayed.
So, Liverpool, another clean sheet to back up their claims of "turning the corner" head to The Emirates midweek after only conceding a single goal in seven matches to face an Arsenal team that were easily brushed aside by a far-from-impressive United. can the run continue? If it does, will fourth spot be the limit to Liverpool's ambition or will that third spot be up for grabs?