Quite what David Moyes learned about his Everton side during the Merseyside derby defeat to Liverpool remains unclear, with Jack Rodwell’s erroneous red card, shown by Martin Atkinson, reducing the meaning of both the pattern of the game and the result.
Indeed, the most telling tales from the aftermath of the attritional tie are the emphasis of old truisms – success in the Merseyside derby is best served by keeping 11 players on the pitch, and it is a game that requires a strong, competent referee. The former failed to happen because of the absence of the latter.
Before Rodwell departed the combat early the game was relatively even and promising an enjoyable, attacking encounter. Liverpool had the best chance of the game, when Luis Suarez headed tamely at Tim Howard, but Everton just shaded the overall action without creating a similarly-gilt-edged chance, Tim Cahill’s stunning far post header the closest the Toffees came to scoring. Once Everton were a man down it was a matter of time before they were a goal down too, and simply holding out for 50 minutes is something of an achievement.
Despite the intervention of Atkinson – and it must be said, some shambolic defending to gift Suarez the decisive goal – the fact remains that Everton have now lost two games in succession, both 2-0, with now the international break to ruminate over their failings before a visit to Chelsea once the domestic programme resumes. Stamford Bridge was an unlikely source of success for Everton last season, drawing there in the Premier League and winning – on penalties – in the FA Cup, but predicting a similar outcome this season would be the preserve of the brave or foolhardy.
There really is no telling which Everton – the side that capitulated against Manchester City this season or beat them twice last season – will turn up, not to mention the travails of the Andre Villas-Boas’ side, as equally capable of hammering Bolton Wanderers 5-1 at the Reebok Stadium as they are drawing at home with Fulham.
Moyes has rarely evinced any doubt that his bargain-basement buys can compete with the more luxurious purchases of City, Chelsea or Liverpool. Everton under the Scot have made a habit of upturning the odds and grinding out points when they are least expected. After a series of defeats and goalless games a result against Chelsea would seldom be less expected, but for 50 minutes on Saturday it appeared Everton were capable of getting a result almost as unlikely.
With time to regroup over the international break – and possibly with Rodwell returned to the fold after the club confirmed they would lodge an appeal against the midfielder’s suspension – Everton can put some distance between themselves and the furore over Atkinson’s error, one incidentally that it appears no one, regardless of their loyalty on Merseyside, agreed with. More importantly, Everton can consign the two prior results to the history books, with the lure of a morale-boosting result against Chelsea in their sights.
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