Do you remember the 28th night of September? Nothing like some Everton magic to chase the clouds away.
Monday night was a strange beast. And by that I’m thinking something like a unicorn or a Tory Cabinet member with morals because we just don’t see that sort of thing round these parts. It was the sort of performance we haven’t been treated to in a long time. The last time we fell 2-0 down and won in normal time was in 1994. THAT game against Wimbledon. THAT Barry Horne stunner. The fact we celebrated it like winning the league even though we were only avoiding a humiliating relegation like a bunch of small-timers but never mind that. It may surprise you but I wasn’t even born then. I’m sure you had me pictured as some grizzled, embittered veteran of all things Everton…well I am. Just a young one.
685 away games without any win away from home following falling to a two goal deficit ended with the extra-time win (they count apparently) at Oakwell, and we repeated the trick at the Hawthorns. Incredible. Dare we tack this onto the hallmark of Martinez’s Everton? It’s frustrating, it’s heart-wrenching, but with it comes great lashings of hope. One goal down, even two? Playing poorly? Everton can still win it. Teams that do that tend to get things won.
What stands out most is the fact we weren’t even very good on Monday, even during the comeback, but still the players got the job done. That truly turgid first half was capped off by Funes Mori and Barry playing their game of hot potato and putting Berahino in on goal. Astonishingly, Howard lying down and flapping one arm nonchalantly didn’t prevent it. When Dawson put them 2-0 up most of us decided that was that, and maybe with some divine intervention we could sneak a point. What we got was divine, alright. And most of it came off the right ballet slipper of Gerard Deulofeu. That pass to Barkley in the first half was mesmeric, and if Barkley hadn’t have shanked it that’s 1-0 nailed on.
When Deulofeu whipped in those two crosses to Romelu Lukaku, the striker made no mistake. Lukaku sums up Everton right now – veers frustratingly between magic and hear-tearingly awful, while doing the business even when not at his best. Evertonians who can’t appreciate the fact they’re seeing one of the best strikers this club has seen in well over a decade, possibly even a couple more (sorry Ibrahima Bakayoko), are wasting their time with the “lazy” shouts. Meanwhile there’s a strong foundation of youthful talent upon which the club can build for a long time. Lukaku, Deulofeu, Barkley, Browning, Stones, Galloway…the list goes on. The likes of Ledson and Dowell should make the step up sooner rather than later. Funes Mori, McCarthy and Coleman are veritable old geezers as 24 (twice) and 26 respectively. Of course, it’s better to focus on the much nearer future. Take it one game at a time, as they say.
Who’s up next? Well, do you walk past the pub on a Saturday afternoon at quarter past three and hear wild clapping? That means this weekend’s opponents have taken the lead against some scruff. Have you just been called a Welsh mongrel by someone from Sussex? That’s this weekend’s opponents. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the pocket pissers, the hypocrite tits, the overhype overlords, the shirt-burning, stomach-churning, big red barrel of fun. It’s only Liverpool isn’t it.
Our esteemed neighbours have to be commended, in a sense. They’re a bit like the Make a Wish Foundation, except instead of making sick kids’ dreams come true they’ve given balding middle-aged Ellesmere Port wools a superiority complex vastly greater than their meagre existence when down the pub, or made young lads from Somerset feel like big men on the playground when other kids do something mad like support their local team. But all of a sudden the well is dry. There’s no endless trophy parade, except a couple of years back when they won the league. They did, right? The Kopites bought the scarves and did the welcome parade for the team bus and that while we fled to Outer Mongolia to escape it all, so I’m guessing they didn’t let it fucking slip or anything. To think they genuinely thought they were the people’s champions as well. For some of them, delusion is all they have left. The masters of cringe outdid themselves during that fateful title chase, and thanks to the new age of social media they’re still paying for it today.
Brendan Rodgers was all too happy to ride that wave when Luis Suarez and the continued fitness of Messrs Sturridge, Coutinho and Sterling propelled them into second. But when Suarez and Sterling jibbed them off for better clubs it all went to pot and the #RodgersOut campaign is in full swing. There’s even reports of Liverpool fans actively wanting us to win so he’s sacked, the bad hanks. Not the first time either. But it was dead small time of us when we were beaten narrowly by Man City while scoring two screamers and we weren’t devvo’d that City went on to win the title. Most of them though are desperate to “pipe down the bitters”, but it’s deffo our cup final this isn’t it. Anyway they’ve spent more money than a royal on a stag weekend and most of it was on utter mince too. Again Liverpool should be commended for giving more jobs to absent-minded layabouts than the Tories ever will. All the new signings get a go through the Anfield ringer too, starting with “Do us proud lad YNWA, you’re #LFCFamily now” and the proud assertion that he’s definitely the next-next Jari Litmanen. After a couple of games comes the opinion-forming, and there’s no middle ground. He’s either, in terms you’ll understand better, a Stones or a McGeady. Weirdly it’s the ones they love that get threats and have replica shirts with their name on burned when another club catches their eyes. It’s all a bit Fatal Attraction. But then they’re gone and the next-next Alberto Aquilani rolls in. The big wheel keeps spinning around.
There are of course sound Kopites, don’t pretend there aren’t – the ones who had the choice of red and blue and went that way because it felt right, not because they’re after all the glory that has since faded into the memory. They won’t associate themselves with anything I’ve said here or get mad at it, and good on them. It’s the derby, and insults are traded freely. It’s the ones that can’t take a jibe without the “HAHAHA BITTERS 20 YEARS” rebuttal that you need to look out for. The Liverpool fanbase, as it has mutated in recent years, is now dominated by utter, utter melts. They’re the antithesis of all we feel to be good about the game and supporting your team. And the rise of the #LFCFamily is eroding away all the goodwill the ‘friendly derby’ used to have. If you’ve never been accosted by some tit in a 2001 Liverpool top who reckons he’s a better human being than you because he picked Liverpool, you haven’t lived. We tend to take things very personally as a fanbase and that sort of reaction led to us picking up the ‘bitters’ tag, which has soured the relationship between the city’s two clubs somewhat.
It’s good when fans of the two sides come together to pipe down Tories, tell the Sun they’re lying bastards or fight for justice as each Hillsborough anniversary comes around and those responsible still haven’t been punished, but that’s about it now. It’s the same on the pitch, with less thunderous ‘real derby’ tackles but more red cards, mostly due to play-acting and dead snide refereeing. This isn’t truly our cup final, but it still means that bit more than the average league game. A few more from across the park might remember that as they watch Manchester United canter clear of them once more, and maybe some of the derby magic may then return.
Magic in a Scouse derby requires a Scouse hero, and their one is gone now. Steven Gerrard has galloped off into the Los Angeles sunset, and with him goes Liverpool’s ability to take derby games by the scruff of the neck without even deserving it purely through willpower. Gerrard’s camera-snogging, knee-sliding, referee-bullying slippy antics have been consigned to the past, and so Liverpool are without a pure Scouse engine. Yes, Coutinho and Sturridge are excellent players, but can they ever be as arsed about the derby as a local? Their source of good old England passion is now Jordan Henderson, who looks like he has a very lonely fly buzzing about inside his skull. So there’s only one local protagonist that is going to bring that Scouse fire, and he’ll be in blue, not red. Go ed Ross.
So it’s Mignolet in goal, useless most of the time so he’ll have a rare stormer for sure. Clyne’s hype has died down and he’s at right back, with Moreno on the left. Skrtel and Sakho in the middle of defence, with Lovren’s injury already a boost for them. Lovren’s fantastic entertainment, looking like a figure skater with polio, and even Sakho looks scared of the ball sometimes. Skrtel is so hard he can kick people and then run away. Can in the midfield with Lucas, who was meant to be out the door in August, and Milner, Coutinho and Ings flanking Sturridge. Lallana, Ibe and Origi are the main alternatives. Any questions? Yeah, I know they’re really not all that. Coutinho and Sturridge are clearly the danger men. Pipe them down and life gets much easier.
But that’s enough talking about them. Back to the Everton. Get yourself in the right frame of mind by picturing Phil Jagielka lashing one in the Kop End net from 30 yards and wandering away as if he’s in the office lashing screwed up sheets of paper into the bin. There you go. Everton’s the team that plays beautiful football. Roberto Martinez says this is the strongest team he has taken into a derby, and that’s mostly because second choice players have established themselves as viable alternatives – not just emergency deputies. No Baines? It’s sound. Galloway has it covered. No Coleman? Browning will keep things tight. No Stones? Funes Mori isn’t arsed who he’s dribbling past. No Howard? Joel can make a meal of an easy save just as well. Looks like they’ll all be needed too. Not you Joel, sit back down. We’ll get you back at the end of the month when they need an extra in some Halloween movie. It might well be the same defence as the one that shipped two against West Brom, which is a bit concerning. However, it’s no bad thing to have three players hungry to make themselves heroes led ably by Phil Jagielka.
Barry and McCarthy to provide the cover, sorted. Deulofeu was top drawer at the Hawthorns, and he starts. Probably Kone on the other wing with Barkley behind Lukaku. These men are tasked with breaking, at least to a degree, the derby hoodoo that has plagued us for years. Of all the clubs to have as our bogey team, Liverpool are the one we’d least like to have. Even losing to Sunderland every year would be better than this. (Oh…) The ramifications of a derby defeat are tough to stomach, when we’re getting verbal beatings off people who think hashtagging entire sentences on Twitter – or if they’re truly deranged, Facebook – is acceptable procedure. Previous incarnations of Everton have let us down horribly, so much so that the last Liverpool boss to taste derby defeat was Roy Hodgson in 2010. Our last 17 fixtures have seen us draw eight and lose eight, winning just once. And it’s when we’re most confident of breaking the curse that we bottle it so badly. The longer the poor streak goes on, the longer it plays on your mind. And the derby nerves just grow and grow. The tension is unbearable, and even though a draw provides relief from the butterflies (more like hawks) as the dust settles we come to realise we’ve fallen short yet again.
Enough. Enough, I say.
This Everton side showed not just swagger but steel on Monday, and if they really want to get one over on our neighbours at last it needs to be replicated. I don’t know about you but I’ve had enough of that lot taking the high ground. It’s time for Everton to take back the bragging rights, to put this lot in their place. Monday’s performance showed shades of an Everton we have not seen in a long time – or ever, for some. But it’s no renaissance until the old enemy is taken down a peg or five. If you value our happiness Everton, you’ll hold on to that bottle. Time for the blue half to feel like kings of the city again.
Come on then Everton. All together now. We don’t care what the red shite say…