Wednesday 21 March 2018

James McCarthy puts the shackles on Steven Gerrard in bore draw

Everton 0 Liverpool 0

Everton midfielder James McCarthy gets his pass away despite the attentions of Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho during their Premier League clash at Goodison Park. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Everton midfielder James McCarthy gets his pass away despite the attentions of Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho during their Premier League clash at Goodison Park. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Liverpool's Raheem Sterling shields the ball from Everton winger Aaron Lennon during their Premier League clash at Goodison Park. Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Liverpool winger Jordon Ibe turns away from Everton's Romelu Lukaku during their Premier League clash at Goodison Park. Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard attempts an overhead-kick during his side's Premier League clash with Everton at Goodison Park. Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Liverpool and Everton players clash during their Premier League encounter at Goodison Park. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Jim White

According to the Everton match day programme, such is the allure of the Merseyside derby, "journalists pour up from London" to watch. After this, the traffic up the M6 may not be as frenetic.

Cagey rather than inspired, with the principle aim not to lose at all costs, this was a derby which rarely threatened to explode.

Indeed, the biggest cheer of a static first half was when Steven Gerrard misdirected a pass five yards behind a team-mate into touch. How they enjoyed that in the Gwladys Street end.

This was Gerrard's 33rd and last Merseyside derby, during which time he has relished the role as Everton's nemesis.

However, on his final appearance at a Goodison ground where he has enjoyed rich pickings, he found it difficult to get much meaningful control of the ball.

In part, that was because Roberto Martinez was able to instruct James McCarthy to snap at his heels.

If the blue team were going to close the gap of derby victories which currently stands at Liverpool 89, Everton 66, how they needed the Irishman's bustling urgency. His return gave the home side's midfield an early injection of dynamism.

On 21 minutes he set Seamus Coleman free with a delightfully-weighted pass. The full-back bundled down the right and crossed the ball to Steven Naismith who couldn't make proper contact with his header.

That was as close as it came for Everton in the first half. With Romelu Lukaku seemingly carrying handicapper's weights in his shorts, looking as slow as he did bulky, there was little threat to convert the industry of McCarthy and Kevin Miralles.

For Liverpool, meanwhile, as Gerrard made his farewells, it was a case of out with the old, in with the new.

Jordon Ibe, recalled from a successful loan spell at Derby, was the closest Brendan Rodgers had made to a January signing.

Described by Gerrard as being like Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling rolled into one, the 19-year-old was given a derby start ahead of Sturridge, Rickie Lambert and the ever diminishing yarn that is Mario Balotelli.


Patrolling the right wing, the Wycombe born teenager's first two contributions were not auspicious. He let a pass from Jordan Henderson under his foot, then put Emre Can into trouble with an ill directed ball along the touchline.

Ibe should have scored within a quarter of an hour, when Sterling's shot across Joel Robles arrived at his feet on the far post, but the Everton goalkeeper scrambled it clear.

Ten minutes later, he gave a hint of his potential.

After a lovely quick run, with Everton's defenders backing off, he unleashed a fearsome strike which thumped against Robles's post. The travelling Kop was in full voice again when Sturridge replaced the injured Philippe Coutinho.

That meant Liverpool now had a front line of rare technical accomplishment, a trio of dazzling ball players, all of them English and all apparently frequenting the same Merseyside barbers.

But they barely had a touch in tandem.

Everton's January loan signing Aaron Lennon arrived on the hour. By now frustrations began to surface among the home supporters as forward momentum was frequently checked by a sideways pass.

Rodgers decided muscle might be the answer and sent on Rickie Lambert for Ibe with 10 minutes remaining. By now the ball was ping ponging around.

Neither side, though, could find the killer pass to turn endeavour into three points. With five minutes to go, Martinez brought on - way too late for home tastes - Ross Barkley and Antolin Alvaraz.

And the move almost paid off when Barkley's delicious through ball found Lennon, who darted into the area only for his pull-back to be easily smothered by Mignolet.

For the Everton fans all that was left was to jeer Gerrard's late shot wide of the post and boo roundly as he left the pitch for the last time. How they will miss him.

In a phrase as old as the Merseyside derby, Everton and Liverpool finished with honours even.

But as the two coaches pulled away from Goodison Park, the men they carried were heading in opposite directions.

Tomorrow, in a match that will be a full-blown test of their credentials to make next season's Champions League, Liverpool face Tottenham.

Everton also have another significant midweek fixture - at Chelsea.

It was Roberto Martinez's ability to win at Old Trafford and take a point from the Emirates - grounds where Everton had never looked comfortable under David Moyes - which helped cement his hold on the club.


Very few of those who left Goodison on Saturday night expected anything similar to occur at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.

Age is also a factor at Everton but Martinez has to decide whether Gareth Barry's loss of form is a blip or something longer term in a midfielder who will be 34 this month.

Mirallas is seven years younger but his birthday is in October and you can get long odds that the cake will be presented at Everton's Finch Farm training complex.

With an abject sense of timing, Mirallas had given an interview to a Belgian newspaper, which ran just before the derby, that quoted him as saying: "I have never said I absolutely want to leave Everton but I feel ready for a new challenge."

He added he was aware Tottenham and Atletico Madrid were interested in him and he "dreamed of playing in the Champions League".

Martinez is growing tired of Mirallas and his monologues about the future.

"I have nothing to say. I have never had a conversation with Kevin where he has told me he is not happy," he said.

This story could end up much like Gerrard's future - with the player leaving Merseyside for pastures new in the summer.

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