In one of the more boring Merseyside derbies in recent history, Everton and Liverpool played to a 0-0 draw at Anfield.
The Toffees will argue they deserved better as referee Michael Oliver called back Sylvain Distin’s 58th minute goal for an unclear foul on Victor Anichebe. The Nigerian international was standing beside Pepe Reina and some contact ensued as Leighton Baines’ corner swerved in and Distin rose high to head it home. After multiple replays it was difficult to discern exactly what Oliver saw as the infringement but it was one of those moments that could have gone either way.
Despite the called-back goal, however, a draw was probably the right result. Liverpool enjoyed a slight edge in possession (Liverpool 54%, Everton 46%) and total shots (15 to 11), although neither side had many clear cut chances.
Perhaps the best compliment to the match is to say it was a brave defensive display from both sides.
Daniel Agger led the Liverpool back four and was hardly troubled by the movement and strength of Marouane Fellaini and Victor Anichebe. While Jamie Carragher looked out-matched at times, both Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson enjoyed strong matches, getting stuck in on multiple occasions and snuffing out Everton’s winged attacks.
The Toffees center-backs were very impressive as Distin put in a man-of-the-match performance with an array of backtracking runs, interceptions and stunning tackles. The Frenchman’s partner, Phil Jagielka, made some wonderful challenges as well, denying Liverpool twice with last-ditch tackles. Baines and Seamus Coleman did the job at full-back but didn’t have the impact one would have expected with Baines struggling in his link-up play with Steven Pienaar and Coleman looking heavy and out of sorts.
The pre-match festivities at Anfield exemplified the special bond that the city of Liverpool has between its two clubs as The Kop held up cards spelling out ‘Thanks’ in red and blue. The gesture was an expression of gratitude for the supporter Everton has given their neighbours in the past year in relation to the Hillsborough revelations.
The match started with both sides feeling each other out. The first good chance came in the 15th minute when a brilliant ball from Steven Gerrard found Daniel Sturridge, who only had eyes for goal but his attempt from 25 yards was well over the bar. Two minutes later, Everton nearly broke the dead-lock when Fellaini managed to wrap his leg around a manhandling Carragher to volley Baines’ corner an inch wide of the far post.
In the 29th minute, Liverpool got into the box and the ball found Gerrard wide open from 14 yards out. With the captain looking poised to score his effort, Jagielka slide in to deny him. Three minutes later it was Distin doing the sliding, making a vital tackle on Jordan Henderson, who was looking to play in a wide-open Sturridge at the top of the box. In the 41st minute, Stewart Downing’s ball fell for Sturridge who found Phillipe Coutinho on the edge of the box but the Brazilian’s strike was cancelled out by Jagielka’s sprawling dive.
Three minutes into the second half, Coutinho found Sturridge in on goal but Tim Howard came out, stayed on his feet, and smothered the opportunity. It was a terrific performance from the Everton net-minder. In the 58th minute, Distin powered home Baines’ corner only for Oliver to call it back, much to the ire of the Everton faithful.
In the 73rd minute Gerrard managed to round Howard and looked in on goal, but Distin’s back tracking denied the Liverpool captain’s slow rolling shot. Six minutes later Sturridge had a look but Distin was again there to snuff out the chance. One minute later the Reds came closest to scoring when Agger shoulder-flicked Gerrard’s cross inches wide of the far post.
From there the match petered out with few chances from either side. With five minutes remaining some fans had seen enough and began walking to the exits.
With the sides sharing the spoils Everton are now odds on to finish above their rivals, five points clear with two games left.