Bright and early this Saturday morning was the 223rd edition of the Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool. Today's half of the season series would be played at Anfield, where Everton suffered a 4-0 lambasting from the Reds last January. Both teams have struggled thus far in 2014 and could use a boost from a win over their inter-city rivals.
The game kicked off and controversy ensued within the first ten minutes. 45 seconds in, Garth Barry was the first name into referee Martin Atkinson's book after he hacked down Adam Lallana in a good position. In the first of many disappointments from him this match, Mario Balotelli hit the free kick directly into the wall.
Then the penalty shouts came. Romelu Lukaku was grounded by Alberto Moreno in the fifth minute on the edge of the penalty area. It should have been at least a free kick, if not a penalty, but Atkinson did not even see the infraction as a foul and waved play on. Liverpool would have their own proclomation less than five minutes later. Gareth Barry continued his fire juggling as he somehow avoided a sending off for a handball in the box and then escaped a second yellow AGAIN after upending Balotelli with a tackle.
The most positive sequence from the Reds came from the subsequent free kick as Balotelli's effort forced Everton keeper Tim Howard into a good save. The American backstop put the ball behind for a corner. That corner provided Liverpool's second chance at the Everton net as Adam Lallana got a flush header on target only to have Howard equal to the task again.
Over the next fifteen minutes, Liverpool's corner count would continue to rise but to no avail. Everton were able to counter on a good amount of the set piece efforts from Liverpool resulting in some entertaining end to end play from the two sides.
Romelu Lukaku was able to break free of his marker in the 22nd minute but his curling try was directly at Simon Mignolet. The Toffees broke through the Liverpool back line again four minutes later as Leighton Baines capitalized on some chaos in the box to roll a very tantalizing ball across the face of goal. A last gasp clearance done to perfection by Dejan Lovren saved an easy tap in for Everton and it remained scoreless.
The next bit of menace came from the home side. Jordan Henderson got enough space to unload a rocket shot on Tim Howard in the 29th minute but it was pawed away. From that save, Everton was back on the counter yet again. It came to a screeching halt however when Kevin Mirallas crumbled on the sideline with an apparent hamstring injury. The Belgian midfielder would have to be stretchered off the edge of the pitch and was replaced by Aiden McGeady.
Liverpool were much luckier with their own first half knock. Martin Skrtel looked to roll his ankle pretty bad in the 38th minute but he didn't leave the Reds at ten men for very long. After three minutes, the Slovakian center half was back in the action.
The only two chances in the remainder of the first interval came from Liverpool. Raheem Sterling got a good shot off in the 44th but it was saved. Jordan Henderson dispossessed Gareth Barry and put the speedy youngster in a great position to put the Reds ahead. It wasn't a shot, but Liverpool had their cries once again unheard for a penalty as Balotelli was taken to ground by Muhamed Besic.
The second half started with little gusto as all both sides could muster were a couple of tame efforts with minuscule chances of scoring. The Captain put an end to that in the 65th minute. After Balotelli drew a foul on the right edge of the Everton penalty area, Steven Gerrard curled in a beautiful signature free kick into the right upper 90 quadrant of TIm Howard's goal. He got a hand to it but it wasn't enough to keep the strike from Stevie G out of the back of the net.
The game should have been done a dusted two minutes later as Sterling's ingenuity plagued the Everton back line again. Tony Hibbert, making his first Everton Premier League start in nearly two years, fell victim many a time to Sterling. Tim Howard nevertheless bailed Hibbert out when Sterling's cross got to Mario Balotelli. The Italian striker took it on a volley but Howard put it off the crossbar with the faintest of fingertip touches.
That miss didn't look like it was going to keep three points off of Liverpool's ledger until stoppage time when Phil Jagielka uncoiled a volley that is not only a lock to be our goal of the week but may very well be goal of the year. I had to pull over to the side of the road to hang my head. Hearing it described didn't do it justice Everton snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat, and they did it with style. Go look on Youtube for the goal now before they take it down. NOW!
With the result, Liverpool are 10th in the table while Everton sit 12th.
Image Credit: Liverpool v. Everton (kopsource.com)