Everton FC 0, Liverpool FC 2: Fortune deserts the brave
DON'T tell anyone at Everton that fortune favours the brave. Fortune shamelessly abandoned the brave - and then cruelly sucker-punched them for good measure during the 212th Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.
For large parts of this game Everton were the only side moving the ball with any purpose and creating chances with slick, vibrant football.
They were transformed from the side which capitulated in Hull last week, and proved they have been listening to the harsh words their manager has been forced to dish out during a disappointing campaign so far.
In the run-up to the game David Moyes had reminded his side that the absolute minimum required of them was to "run about", and consequently the Blues started the brighter and more energetic of the two teams.
In fact Everton soon established a swagger to their play that would have even won them a thumbs up from the watching Henry Winkler, better known as Happy Days' The Fonz.
Steven Pienaar set out his stall early with some typically eye-catching skill to beat Insua and then hit a wonderful cross which was just beyond lone front-man Jo.
Then Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, restored to the side after serving a ban, almost slipped Tim Cahill in before Tony Hibbert joined the attack, sending in another dangerous cross.
Nobody should have been surprised to have seen Hibbert brought back into the first team, a smart move in recognition of his years of derby experience. He was never going to let anyone down, and helped establish the early pressure Everton cranked up.
Tim Cahill, another derby veteran, was firing on all cylinders looking to take the fight to a subdued Liverpool who were missing their Spanish talisman and carrying a clearly half-fit Steven Gerrard.
But Evertonians of a pessimistic hue might have known things were going too smoothly. Calamity loomed out of nowhere when Javier Mascherano, going nowhere in front of goal, decided to try a speculative effort anyway. The Argentinian's strike was going handsomely wide only for a delfection from Joseph Yobo to cruelly carry it past a stranded Tim Howard. The Gwladys Street winced collectively, and they were entitled to feel hard done by as they struggled to come to terms with Liverpool's undeserved lead.
Undeterred, Everton continued to press with Heitinga and Marouane Fellaini thankfully playing further up the field instead of sitting too deeply as they have recently. The Belgian in particular was a revelation, at the heart of everything that was good about Everton.
But while the Blues can blame bad luck for conceding early, they were given a golden chance to equalise near the half hour mark.
Fellaini, who was dominant in the air, flicked on a throw and Jamie Carrgher could only nudge it to waiting right foot of Bilyaletdinov who conspired to fluff it. It was a gilt-edged chance, the sort of opening that teams can rarely afford to miss in derbies.
Still the Blues came forward. Liverpool for their part seemed to have surrendered the central midfield, leting Everton have all the play and minutes later Bily went close again, this time siezing on a Cahill knock-down and testing Reina with a volley as he fell.
Pienaar's twinkling feet were making Everton tick - drifting into the centre, linking up play splendidly and looking dangerous whenever the ball was stuck to his lime green boots, but he wasted another chance for the Toffees, blasting over from 15 yards.
Next it was Jo's turn, only wafting his big toe at a flick-on from Fellaini which was crying out for a purposeful finish.
The Brazilian did better minutes later, cooly finishing past Reina but was judged fractionally off-side.
Liverpool took a chance to remind Everton they were in a derby, with Tim Howard making a fantastic reflex save from an Insua header. But the half belonged to the side with the zero next to their name on the scoreboard.
Jo had the ball in the back of the Liverpool net again soon after, but this time there was no debating the off-side decision as he flicked his header home from directly in front of Reina.
Half time saw no personnel changes for the and Pienaar's decision to swap boots did little to interrup hid mercurial flow. More skill from him again fed Jo whose anticipation was poor allowing Reina to slide in and gather.
Fellaini too was in no mood to relent and caused the first blood to be spilled, catching Lucas with an errant but not malicious elbow. Liverpool were giving the ball away with surprising regularity but as Everton continued to let chances go begging, the outcome seemed increasingly ominous.
Saha, sill carrying a thigh injury, replaced Jo with the score still 0-1 and was on the pitch to witness the ultimate turning point. Pepe Reina, a keeper at the height of his powers, pulled off a magnificent double save to deny a barn-storming Cahill header and the follow-up from Fellaini. David Moyes was probably still wondering how his side weren't leading comfortably when Liverpool, with grim familiarity, put the game to bed.
Joseph Yobo failed to deal with a clearance convincingly, Hibbert was hustled by Gerrard and it allowed sub Albert Riera to shoot. Tim Howard could only palm the effort into the path of Dirk Kuyt and the Dutchman finished, continued his streak of scoring against Everton.
Yakubu entered the fray for Tim Cahill who had bravely expanded every last ounce of perspiration in him, and Neill replaced Yobo but it mattered little. The only talking point of the dying embers of the game was that it took 84 minutes for the first card to be shown, a yellow for the combative Heitinga.
Benitez introduced Benayoun late on and the Israeli made Liverpool actually play some football, but they were already guaranteed the least deserved points they have taken from Goodison in a long time.
Ultimately it was a severly galling defeat for the Blues, who arguably played their best football this season. Certainly harder to accept than many recent derby reverses. They sit three points away from the relegation zone today, with another stern test in the Europa league at Athens beckoning.
But if there is anything David Moyes' Everton have proved, it is that they react well to adversity.
Like when they nobly bowed out of the Uefa cup despite outplaying Fiorentina two years ago, or after they were robbed by Aston Villa last season, unjust defeats can spur them onto season defining runs of form. We can only hope this was one such watershed, because if not, all Everton's positivity will have counted for nothing.
EVERTON: Howard, Hibbert, Baines, Yobo, Heitinga, Bilyaletdinov, Jo, Distin, Cahill, Pienaar, Fellaini.
LIVERPOOL: Reina, Johnson, Agger, Gerrard, Aurelio, Kuyt, Mascherano, Lucas, Insua, Carragher, Ngog.
REFEREE: Alan Wiley