Everton 0, Liverpool 2: Dominic King's derby analysis

By Dominic King on Sep 29, 08 11:30 AM in Journalists

TAKE the positives - there was no own goal and Joe Kinnear is not waiting in the wings to become manager.

But, then again, that's the footballing equivalent of losing a crisp £50 note and finding five pence. No defeat hurts an Evertonian more than one inflicted by the side from across Stanley Park and this latest reverse is especially hard to stomach.

Unable to pin the blame on an erratic referee or point to a contentious, damaging decision, the sight of thousands of empty blue seats long before Mike Riley blew the final whistle was a damning indictment about the way the 208th Merseyside derby had gone.

It was, unfortunately, the latest in a long line of crushing blows that have been suffered during what has been a calamitous start and those who traipsed disillusioned out of the old stadium on Saturday believe Everton have 90 minutes this week to save the season.

On present form, there won't be too many predicting an away win and they can't be blamed. Devoid of confidence, lacking shape and unable to keep a clean sheet, watching Everton stutter and stumble now is breaking the hearts of those of the Royal Blue faith.

Yes, there is also anger - that is only natural after losing to Liverpool - but the reaction in the final 30 minutes of this contest was almost an apathetic indifference, an acceptance in some quarters that once Fernando Torres had opened the scoring, the game was up.

Where was the fight and the belligerence? Where was the bloody-minded defiance that usually ensures anything moving in a Red shirt is tackled, harried and hustled to the point of distraction? As much as it pains to say, Liverpool never, ever looked in trouble here.

Sure, the effort early on was evident and Phil Neville's return to midfield, coupled with the welcome inclusion of Tony Hibbert for the first since May, ensured that Liverpool were not presented with any gifts during the first half.

But the worrying aspect was the ability of Rafa Benitez's midfielders to pass the ball in triangles, Steven Gerrard conducting affairs and playing at the pace he wanted - it meant that Everton always looked as if they were at full stretch.

To have any chance of repeating those wildly celebrated victories of December 2004 and September 2006, Moyes needed to see his side score first but Tim Cahill fluffed the one clear chance that came his way. Then along came Torres.

Whereas the most expensive striker in Everton's history - Ayegbeni Yakubu - rustled up a performance that was epitomised by a booking received for a theatrical dive, Torres reacted to the yellow card he received from Riley with two clinical finishes.

No wonder David Moyes felt inclined to say afterwards "you could see the difference £100m makes" as the opener was made by four players who cost 60% of that total. You get what you pay for and Torres was obviously a sound investment.

We must, though, ask a question. Why was one of the most prolific centre forwards playing the game at present afforded 10 yards of clear space to dispatch his first? Any suggestions that Everton's defensive woes had been cured were banished in that flash.

"We had possession of the ball in our half and gave it away," Moyes lamented. "One or two players were then out of position and they didn't get back to concentrate and defend. It was disappointing and giving the ball away was the first mistake."

Yet, inexplicably, these mistakes keep on happening. How many times on these pages this season have we referred to ruinous errors? Individually and collectively, Everton are all over the place and it threatens to undermine all the good work of the past two years.

Joleon Lescott's woes continue, Tim Howard's confidence has been dented by the chaos unfolding in front of him, Joseph Yobo is not reaching the levels required and only Phil Jagielka emerged with his reputation intact.

The midfield is screaming out for Lee Carsley's calming presence, Cahill is not yet match fit, Leon Osman is clearly playing with an injury, while Mikel Arteta never had the chance to torment Liverpool's woefully limited left-back Andrea Dossena.

Marouane Fellaini, meanwhile, improved on his first three appearances for the club but he still looks bemused by what he has come in to; he is going to need many more months before he adjusts.

To make things worse, Cahill will miss the next three Premier League games for the red card he received after lunging in on Xabi Alonso and there is little point Everton asking Riley to look at his decision again, as Moyes suggested would be the case.

As bad as the tackle was, Cahill would not have been banished had he stayed where the incident took place - walking away from Riley was asking for trouble, particularly as he was the official made to look weak and foolish when Ashley Cole did the same last year.

Moyes obviously knew that Cahill was taking a huge risk as he would not have rushed into his technical area and ordered the Australian to go back to Riley; so rather than waste energy on something futile, isn't it best to concentrate on the biggest issue of all?

If this wretched run of form is carried into the UEFA Cup tie against Standard Liege, Everton's interest in Europe will be over and, even at this early stage, it is looking unlikely that they will be involved in the competition next year.

Around this time 12 months ago, Everton were just starting to show signs of clicking into gear - a win at Sheffield Wednesday in the Carling Cup was followed by victory over Middlesbrough and completed by the nail-biting success against Metalist Kharkiv.

The start to that campaign, you will remember, had been up and down but that winning treble set the wheels in motion and Everton got into the habit of getting the right results; now they are stuck in a worrying rut that could see losing become habit.

"I've got to find solutions to get us winning again and get us to the level that we were at last year," Moyes, whose new contract remains unsigned, conceded. "Our start does worry me."

So it should. There are too many alarming parallels with the season that followed the fourth placed finish of 2004/05. We all know what had happened by the middle of October three years ago - Everton, then, dare not fail in Belgium.

Brace yourselves for a rollercoaster ride.

Man of the match: Phil Jagielka

The record books will show Fernando Torres scored twice but Jagielka actually dealt terrifically with the Spaniard; he and the returning Tony Hibbert were the only players to do themselves justice.

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