Rolling back the clock eight years on Merseyside will deliver one of the most pulsating and typically tempestuous Merseyside derbies of all time. The Merseyside rivals found themselves at opposite ends of the table with Everton desperately seeking the three points that would aid their fight for Premier League survival. Liverpool on the other hand were seeking to close the gap on third place, nine points away from the illustrious Champions League spot, with an important UEFA Cup semi-final match against Spanish giants Barcelona only days away. The 2000/01 season proved to be hugely successful for the Reds as they went on to lift a unique treble winning the UEFA Cup, Carling Cup and FA Cup. It was manager Gerard Houllier’s most triumphant season in charge of the club. In terms of the Premier League, the top two finished the same for the third season in a row as Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils pipped Arsenal to the Premier League title.
The match itself presented Liverpool with their first victory at Goodison Park for over a decade and at times seemed more like a battleground rather than a football pitch. The 164th Merseyside Derby yielded 12 yellow cards, with Liverpool’s Igor Biscan collecting two of them leading to his early departure. The turbulent nature in which the game was played may not have come as a surprise to supporters and neutrals alike after a poorly observed minutes silence in memory of the Hillsborough disaster.
Liverpool took the lead early on in the match after only four minutes of play. Jamie Carragher escaped penalty claims for handball and subsequently cleared to Dietmar Hamman. The German midfielder delivered a clever pass to Emile Heskey, who shrugged off the attention of Steve Watson and smashed the ball past Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard. The frantic pace of the match continued with tackles flying in as the game looked destined to be decided by defensive errors rather than attacking brilliance. The space on the pitch appeared to be closing around the teams as players bustled for possession with the home team instigating the pandemonium with a typically hassling display. Everton got their reward a few minutes before half-time as their persistent bombardment of high balls allowed them to muscle back into the game. Full-back Michael Ball crossed into the opposition penalty area and Kevin Campbell gave chase only to be tackled by Carragher. However, in Carragher’s attempt to prod the ball away from Campbell, he inadvertently directed it into the path of Duncan Ferguson, who crashed in the equaliser.
After the break the game retained its high-tempo impetus, but the early promise that Liverpool showed had deserted them as Everton pushed for a second goal. It was against the run of play that Liverpool took the lead for the second time that afternoon. The Reds broke quickly from an Everton corner, with the highly influential Hamman releasing Robbie Fowler with a long ball. Fowler attempted to pick out team-mate Vladimir Smicer but deflected off Michael Ball, deceiving two Everton defenders in the process. The ball eventually fell to Markus Babbel who gratefully swept home the loose ball.
Within a few minutes the away side had a chance to make the game safe after Richard Gough was harshly judged to have felled Fowler in the box. However, the Liverpool hitman saw his penalty crash against the post. After this small passage of dominant play from the Reds came a highly controversial and frenetic finish to the game, which appeared to contain everything. Firstly, Igor Biscan was given his marching orders by the referee after an apparent lunge on Everton’s David Unsworth. The Croatian had earlier been booked by Jeff Winter for a stray elbow in Michael Ball’s face. Down to 10-men, Liverpool appeared to be architects of their own downfall after Sami Hyypia was adjudged to have held down Duncan Ferguson in the penalty area. David Unsworth stepped up to duly convert the spot-kick past Sander Westerveld, with Liverpool on the brink of suffering from their own wrecklessness.
The Everton players believed that they had salvaged a point, but the match then took its most decisive and final twist. When Niclas Alexandersson fouled Gregory Vignal over 40 yards from goal, there appeared to be no threat to the Everton goal. No-one could have expected Gary McAllister to place a dipping free-kick into the bottom right hand corner with Paul Gerrard off his line. The goal epitomised the ability of the Scot to stay calm amidst the mayhem of a hugely eventful football match. With the astonishing goal, which completely deceived the goalkeeper, coming four minutes into stoppage time, there was no chance of a comeback from the Toffees.
As fans headed for the exit, they must have reflected on such an epic Merseyside Derby, which contained 12 yellow cards, a sending off, two penalties and five goals. The result was Liverpool’s first success at Goodison Park in over a decade and visibly appeared to be worth the wait. Manager Gerard Houllier said after the game: “We never put our heads down and kept going until the end. In the end there was justice as we really deserved to win.”
Everton 2-3 Liverpool – Ferguson 42, Unsworth 83 (pen); Heskey 4, Babbel 57, McAllister 90+4
Everton: Gerrard, Weir, Gough (Alexandersson 73), Ball, Steve Watson (Pistone 61), Unsworth – Xavier, Nyarko, Gemmill – Campbell, Ferguson.
Subs not used: Pembridge, Simonsen, Gravesen.
Liverpool: Westerveld – Babbel, Henchoz, Hyypia, Carragher – Smicer, Hamann, McAllister, Biscan – Heskey, Fowler (Vignal 84).
Subs not used: Ziege, Owen, Arphexad, Wright.