Monday 11 December 2017

Rodwell red distorts derby

It was a classic derby tackle: aggressive, hard, taking the ball and then the man. Jack Rodwell stood up, Luis Suarez stayed down but the Goodison crowd's cheers turned swiftly to horror as Martin Atkinson produced the red card. There were just 23 minutes played. It had not even been a foul.

Too often managers exploit marginal refereeing decisions to try to protect the poor performance of their team, deflecting criticism of themselves onto the officials. And too often we fall for it. In this instance, however, Atkinson must stick out his chest and accept the criticism: his mistake irredeemably distorted this game.

He was perfectly positioned, so what went through his head? Perhaps the combination of the speed of Rodwell's challenge, the fact that some of his studs were exposed and Suarez's reaction deceived him.

"I just thought it ruined the game," Everton manager David Moyes said. "I'd have been disappointed with a free-kick -- if he'd given a yellow card I'd have wondered what for."

Everton will be able to appeal against the three-match suspension Rodwell's sending off would normally carry and, given the compelling nature of the video replays, will be optimistic of success.

However, from there, with an hour to play, it was going to be brutally hard for Everton to preserve even a point. They took themselves to the brink of exhaustion trying to maintain their point, with heroic performances from Marouane Fellaini and Tim Cahill in midfield, but Liverpool finally ground them down. Andy Carroll scored his first league goal of the season with just under 20 minutes to go and then Suarez made it safe 11 minutes later.

The game had really got started with a thumping Rodwell tackle. Within six minutes he won a 50-50 with Suarez that brought a roar of appreciation round Goodison. He would also execute another excellent tackle, on Carroll, before he was sent off.

Until then there had been some enthusiastic exchanges, not exactly high on quality but fully committed. Phil Jagielka's misjudged clearance allowed Dirk Kuyt to win the ball on the byline but Suarez could only head his cross straight at goalkeeper Tim Howard.

Everton responded immediately, rushing up the pitch with Seamus Coleman delivering a fine cross which Cahill met with a typically fine header. Pepe Reina tipped the ball over the bar.

Moyes was encouraged. Sylvain Distin got hold of the ball after Liverpool had failed fully to clear Leon Osman's cross, turned Jose Enrique brilliantly but could not keep his shot down. Louis Saha then shot wide after some neat build-up work. The way they had started made it the red card much harder for Moyes and his team to swallow.

After the sending off, Everton had to be careful not to lose their heads. Cahill was booked for going in with a high boot on Charlie Adam, and Fellaini went in late on Lucas on the edge of the Everton box. Fortunately they did nothing more rash.

Kenny Dalglish's side had to be patient. A couple of minutes before the break Adam played a ball to Suarez in the very corner of the Everton area and the Uruguayan spun cannily, drawing Jagielka into a reckless challenge. Kuyt stepped up to take the penalty but Howard anticipated the Dutchman's effort superbly, plunging low to his left to push it round the post.

Adam then connected perfectly with the ball from the left to send it hurtling onto the bar and away to safety. Everton needed to rally at half-time.

After the break the game settled into a pattern, Liverpool trying to create the openings and Everton looking to take an opportunistic chance. To Liverpool's credit, they did not hurry themselves. Carroll had played poorly in the first half but his confidence was lifted by a couple of headers that went close.

When Fellaini went down with cramp, Dalglish prepared to send on Steven Gerrard and Craig Bellamy. Whether or not that was the intention, it must have hit the Everton players' morale. It was, though, Everton's efforts to grab a winner that undid them, Liverpool catching them on the break to take the lead. Bellamy sped towards the Everton box and sent a weighted pass to the byline for Jose Enrique.

The Liverpool full-back's cross was heading straight for Kuyt but the Dutchman cleverly ducked as the ball came to him, allowing Carroll to finish.

The fatigue told with eight minutes to go. Leighton Baines got back to tackle Suarez in the box but Distin could only clear the ball straight to the Liverpool striker. Suarez beat Howard easily from close range.

A frustrated Baines went surging forward and hit a powerful shot from range but Everton were beaten. Kuyt hit the post from Suarez's stoppage-time corner with a clever flick. Depressingly, a minority of fans in the Gwladys Street end threw objects at some Liverpool players. You could understand the sense of raging injustice in the stands but not the actions of those irresponsible few.


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