Sunday, February 07, 2010

Match Report: Liverpool 1 - 0 Everton

Striker Dirk Kuyt's 50th Liverpool goal gave his side a 1-0 victory in a fiery 213th Merseyside derby at Anfield which saw both teams reduced to 10 men.

The Dutchman scored for the fourth time in as many games with a close-range header 10 minutes after half-time.

Liverpool played the last 55 minutes at a numerical disadvantage after Sotirios Kyrgiakos was dismissed for a two-footed challenge on Marouane Fellaini, while Steven Pienaar was shown a second yellow in second-half injury time.

The red cards took the tally to 19 in the last 13 years but referee Martin Atkinson somehow missed Marouane Fellaini's stamp on the Greek defender's right shin in the same incident which led to his red card.

It threatened to overshadow a fiercely-contested encounter until Kuyt struck early in the second half to ensure Everton's winless run at Anfield since 1999 continued.

Liverpool have now gone seven Barclays Premier League matches without defeat, keeping six clean sheets in the process.

By contrast, Everton's nine-match unbeaten run came to an end. The last team to beat them before today had been Liverpool at Goodison in late November and they have now won just two of the last 21 league derbies.

The tone for the match was set in the opening 15 seconds with Jamie Carragher's strong but fair challenge on Pienaar which left the South Africa midfielder rolling on the ground holding his shoulder.

Unfortunately, it was only to get worse in the first half as Atkinson's leniency saw a number of over-the-top tackles escape the required action.

Fellaini, competing for the ball, kicked Kuyt in the face as the Dutchman lay on the ground without censure, while Pienaar was only cautioned for a challenge which started at Javier Mascherano's right knee and worked its way down.

Carragher went into the book for going through the back of Pienaar in retaliation while the other booking of the first half went to Kuyt for tripping Landon Donovan.

In between all the flying tackles there was very little football played in the opening 45 minutes.

Steven Gerrard's inswinging fourth-minute free-kick forced Tim Howard to punch out from under his own crossbar while Daniel Agger, on his first appearance for nearly a month, fired a right-foot shot a couple of yards over from a corner.

David Ngog fired a shot well wide after Maxi Rodriguez and Gerrard had combined while late in the half the Liverpool captain rattled Howard's crossbar with a 25-yard free-kick.

For Everton, Leighton Baines' left-footed free-kick was tipped over by Jose Reina while Tim Cahill directed a free header over from seven yards in added time.

Liverpool began the second half well and Ngog saw an early left-foot shot deflected wide by Sylvain Distin.

And they were rewarded in the 55th minute when Kuyt, despite being clung onto by Phil Neville, nodded in Gerrard's inswinging corner from three yards with Howard left flapping.

Johnny Heitinga's foul on Rodriguez earned him a booking but Gerrard hit the free-kick straight at Howard.

In the 63rd minute Ngog was replaced by Ryan Babel, who was given a rare outing in his preferred position up front.

Everton manager David Moyes sent on Aiyegbeni Yakubu and Victor Anichebe for Saha and Leon Osman in an attempt to find the equaliser.

A scuffle broke out seven minutes from time when Gerrard caught Pienaar after clearing the ball and bizarrely Atkinson, having not blown for a foul, booked the Liverpool captain and then Anichebe for his part in the retaliation.

Liverpool were content to defend their lead and counter-attack when possible but Reina had to be alert to tip behind Yakubu's shot on the turn.

In the fifth minute of added time Pienaar was sent off after jumping into Gerrard as the hosts hung on to maintain their momentum going into an equally-important match at Arsenal on Wednesday.

Liverpool Sense A Brighter Future After Their Steely Derby Win Over Everton

The Merseyside derby continues to bring out the worst in people, but for Liverpool this was ultimately a joyous encounter. The hosts had to play the majority of this tetchy and at times violent game a man down after defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos was sent off for a two-footed lunge on Marouane Fellaini, but that made victory over their local rivals even sweeter, and even more significant.

First, there is the obvious positive; Rafael Benítez's men are now fourth in the table, which after a season littered with disappointments has become the priority for a club that initially had their eyes on the title. They will be shunted out of that place should Tottenham beat Aston Villa later today, but even then it is hard to imagine how anyone who played in red today will go to bed disappointed tonight.

How can they after a victory secured in most unlikely circumstances. Liverpool have struggled to beat sides at Anfield this season when they have had 11 players on the pitch, let alone 10. There has been too many capitulations to remember, although for all Kopites that were there, last month's 2-1 defeat to Reading will live long in the memory for all the wrong reasons. But here, things were so different and a side that has often played with all the backbone of jellyfish suddenly looked like lions.

They did not see the loss of Kyrgiakos for his 34th minute lunge as a handicap but rather as a challenge and rose to it admirably. Liverpool came out for the second half displaying none of the nerves that have characterised most of their displays this campaign and instead pushed Everton further and further back. A goal seemed increasingly likely and arrived on 55 minutes when Dirk Kuyt glanced in Steven Gerrard's in-swinging corner for his 50th goal since arriving on Merseyside in August 2006.

From there the hosts battled resolutely to hold onto the lead, albeit assisted by a particularly lacklustre Everton side who, despite going into his fixture on the back of nine undefeated games, seemed shorn of confidence. Their best effort was a diving header from Tim Cahill just before half-time, which sailed over the bar. The Australian, unmarked in the six yard area, should have scored.

Despite all the howls of fury that emanated from Kop, it should be said that referee Martin Atkinson made the right decision in sending off Kyrgiakos. The Greece international charged into Fellaini recklessly and although he did make contact with the ball, he also took out the Belgian. Fellaini subsequently stamped on Kyrgiakos's leg, but the fact he left the field in agony and had to be replaced by Mikel Arteta was proof enough that he was not the one in the wrong.

This fixture had before today produced 17 red cards since the formation of the Premier League – more than any other – but this was arguably the filthiest of the lot, with crude tackles flying in from almost the first minute. The worst from Everton came from a Steven Pienaar lunge that could easily have broken Javier Mascherano's leg. The South African was booked for the tackle and justice of sorts was done in the closing stages when he received a second yellow card for barging Gerrard.

That was the moment Liverpool supporters knew they had won the 213th Merseyside derby and perhaps the most significant for years. Fourth place is theirs once again – mainly on the back of five wins and two draws from their past seven games – but as importantly, their side is now playing with the passion and resolution that indicates the worst of this truly miserable season may be over.

Liverpool Manager Rafael Benitez: I 'Cannot Ask For More' From My Players

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has showered his team with praise saying he "cannot ask for more" from his charges following the 1-0 victory at Anfield over their cross-town rivals Everton.

Sotirios Kyrgiakos was sent off for a horrific challenge on Marouane Fellaini in the first-half, with the Belgian lucky not to have seen a red himself for his part in the crunching two-way tackle.

Despite being a man short, the hosts went on the score through a set-play in the second period, when skipper Steven Gerrard sent a precise cross to striker Dirk Kuyt, whose glancing header ensured that the Kopites went home happy.

Now, probably with renewed optimism, the Spanish gaffer has Wednesday's trip to the Emirates on his mind.

"Hopefully we'll have more confidence for the next game against Arsenal, we are doing much better and we won today with 10 players so we cannot ask for more," he said.

"It was an amazing performance from the team.

"It's a massive result for us. I felt the fans were behind the team working so hard and we were defending well and dangerous on the counter-attack.

"The commitment of our players was fantastic so everything was positive."

The former Valencia boss reserved special praise for Kuyt, who has a reputation for scoring in big games and whose header against the Toffees was his 50th goal for the club.

Benitez added: "He is an amazing player who works hard, scores goals, especially against Everton."

Following the victory over Everton, Liverpool have moved into fourth place for the moment. But they could be displaced by Tottenham Hotspur depending on the result at White Hart Lane against Aston Villa.

Liverpool Deserved Victory Over Everton - Dirk Kuyt

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt insists that the Reds deserved the 1-0 victory over their arch-rivals Everton in the 213th Merseyside derby.

The hosts were down to ten men in the first-half after the sending off of Sotirios Kyrgiakos, but a goal from the Dutchman - who has a history of scoring in important games - ensured that the three points went to Rafael Benitez's charges.

"It was a very tough game, especially after the red card," said Kuyt.

"But I think we defended really well today. Great set piece and great corner from Stevie.

"That's what we had to do. When you're down to ten men you don't get many chances so we have to take everything from the set pieces.

"He [Toffees' goalkeeper Tim Howard] pushed me all the time with [Phil] Neville, but when the delivery came I thought I had a small chance and I hit it, so was very happy with it."

The 29-year-old maintained that the team will savour the victory tonight, and start preparations in the morning for the blockbuster encounter against Arsenal on Wednesday.

He added: "We will enjoy today, but from tomorrow we have to focus on Arsenal and hopefully we can have the same result and keep getting the points but I think we had a great effort today and a well-deserved win."

Steven Gerrard: I've Pushed Myself Through Pain Barrier For Liverpool FC

Derby protocol dictates form books should be hitting the pavement throughout Merseyside this morning. Liverpool FC skipper Steven Gerrard, though, would be forgiven for wanting to jettison a record of the entire season so far.

A campaign that started with hopes of another championship challenge has degenerated amid all-too-familiar problems both on and off the field.

For Gerrard, there has been the added frustration of a clutch of niggling injuries that have prevented him from producing his consistent best as Liverpool have stumbled from one setback to another.

However, the fortunes of both player and team may now be on the turn.

Rafael Benitez’s side are enjoying a six-game unbeaten Premier League run, while Gerrard posted a performance in the 2-0 win over Bolton last Saturday that was enough to prompt Trotters midfielder Fabrice Muamba to declare him the toughest opponent in the top flight.

The Anfield skipper has only recently returned from a hamstring problem having been hampered for much of the previous two months by a groin complaint aggravated while on international duty with England in October.

And while confident his fitness problems are now firmly behind him, Gerrard admits his own desperation to help Liverpool through their difficult autumn perhaps clouded his judgement.

“My fitness is very good now,” he says. “I’ve trained well since I came back from the last injury. I was really happy with my performance against Bolton. I feel as though I can still get better, but going into the derby I’m feeling much better.

“It hasn’t been a case of holding back. I’ve never held back. My problem has been that sometimes I’ve been pushed back too early. I’ve sometimes played games where the manager has wanted me to play, or I’ve wanted to come back.

“I’ve played games this season when I’ve not been fit and carrying niggles. All I want to do is get out there. Maybe that’s a fault of my own, not to be strong enough to say I’ve not been ready.

“But it’s been frustrating. If everyone had been flying and all in top form, maybe I wouldn’t have pushed myself so much. But we’ve suffered.

“Sometimes I’ve been asked to go through the pain barrier and maybe have no training. It’s happened to a lot of players, we’ve been unfortunate this season. But it’s meant a lot have had to push themselves, and it’s good to see.”

It’s that attitude that has given Liverpool renewed hope since Christmas despite an injury list that continues to deprive Benitez of the creative flair of Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun and Glen Johnson.

Albert Riera and Daniel Agger, along with Gerrard, have also spent spells on the sidelines while £20m Alberto Aquilani has had to contend with his own fitness concerns while acclimatising to the English game in an underachieving team.

And Gerrard says: “As a football player, the very least you can show is spirit, character and effort. Form can be temporary, you aren’t always on top form and when you aren’t it is still important to show those qualities. It can help your form come around.

“We’ve been doing that, we’ve all rolled our sleeves up and fought for each other, and in the last six games things have turned around.”

Despite the improvement in results, Liverpool continue to be heavily censured for their style of play, particularly in comparison to their cavalier approach towards the end of last season.

Gerrard, though, has no complaints. “I don’t think the criticism we’ve had has been too harsh,” he says. “We can’t look for excuses. When the team was flying last season, we revelled in the plaudits. But when you are not performing you have to take the criticism on board.

“The good thing is that the players aren’t feeling sorry for themselves. We’ve reacted and are now turning the corner.

“I’ve been very pleased with how the team has responded over the last six games. The least we can do is show good attitude character and spirit.”

While goals have proven hard to come by for Liverpool – just 27 in their last 25 games – at least the defence has rediscovered its mean streak, with five clean sheets in the last six Premier League games.

“For a team to start playing well, the first thing that needs to be sorted is the defence,” says Gerrard. “You can be a bit more adventurous going forward after that.

“The team has been a lot more solid. It’s stopped us being a little bit more ambitious, but I understand where the manager is coming from.

“Those clean sheets can help us get results and build more confidence.”

“We’ve got to try and treat this as just another game,” he says. “But we know that the confidence you can get from winning a Merseyside derby is massive. It can be another sign we are on the right path.

“When we beat Everton at Goodison earlier this season it hurt them very much, and it’s helped them to turn their season around. They’ve gone on a fantastic run and have done really well.

“We know it will be a close game but we believe that our fans can give us an advantage. Our confidence is improving and we’re ready.”

And Gerrard says: “Fourth place is the realistic target given what has happened this season. We have to keep fighting for the top four, it’s important financially and every player wants to be involved in the Champions League.

“We’ll try and bring the Europa League back, it’s the only trophy we can win now. We won’t give up on a higher place in the Premier League but we’ve got to be realistic – we’re aiming for a Champions League place.

“It’ll take more than simple character but the performances of late have shown we have a base in place now. What you’ll hopefully see in the coming weeks in the team playing better football and getting more results.”

Rafa Confident On Jovanovic

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is confident of securing Serbia international striker Milan Jovanovic for next season.

The 28-year-old marksman is out of contract in the summer and early reports suggested The Reds had already secured him on a pre-contract.

However, Benitez has stated Liverpool are yet to agree terms with the Standard Liege ace, although he is hopeful a deal can be reached.

"Nothing is sorted yet, but I'm confident it will be," confirmed Benitez.

Liverpool face stiff competition for his signature after Standard confirmed Juventus and AC Milan are also in the hunt for his signature.

"I wish Jovanovic all the best," confirmed Standard's vice-president Luciano D'Onorfio. "He always did his best for the club.

"AC Milan, Juventus and Liverpool want him. The choice is up to him. I play no role in his decision."

Liverpool FC Museum Is Now Poetry In Motion

The Anfield stadium and museum tours are now poetry in motion.

Thanks to input from Liverpool fan and award winning poet and writer Dave Kirby, the tours have just got better.

Kirby has worked closely with the club to write new scripts that now capture the Reds’ rich history and heritage better than ever.

Kirby said: “We wanted to bring the stadium tours to life. They’re now more like a performance, a little bit of live theatre with mini-monologues running through them.”

With new areas including the Legends Lounge, director's box and media room, supporters can now take a true behind the scenes look.

John Aldridge: We Want Liverpool FC Out Of The Red

There has been a real concern about Liverpool’s finances for a long time but it has got to the stage now where the vast majority of supporters have discovered how bad our finances are.

People can see how deep the debt is and we are not interested in smokescreens; it doesn’t take a genius to work out that Liverpool are on the verge of real trouble.

You could see that in the last transfer window; the pursuit of Kenwyne Jones was a smokescreen; we didn’t have the money to buy him outright and there was never any chance of him coming on loan.

We sold two players in Andriy Voronin and Andrea Dossena for good money but it wasn’t reinvested and everyone knows where the cash from those deals will have gone.

There was talk of Milan Jovanovic signing his pre-contract earlier this week but don’t for a moment think that is going to be a significant outlay; he’d be a free transfer, not the type that balances the books.

Though it is encouraging to hear that moves are afoot to shrink the debt, it is still not an ideal situation even though it could eventually lead to the club being sold.

And the sooner that happens, the better for everyone. Tom Hicks and George Gillett have to go and that feeling is shared by a lot of the former players who I talk to.

I obviously can’t speak for all of them but my own view is that something desperately needs to change, as we can’t continue like this.

All the former players want is what is best for the club and in this instance, it is for Liverpool to be free of debt and able to challenge for the best trophies on a sound financial footing.

I have no preference for the identity of a prospective buyer, all I want is for the Reds to be out of this – as does everyone else.