Every football club has a ‘bogey team’. There is (at least) one side who cause a sense of impending dread when the time to play them rolls around again. A couple of years ago, the Telegraph crunched the numbers and worked out each of the Premier League clubs’ most feared opposition. Arsenal’s was Chelsea. Chelsea’s was, weirdly, Sunderland.
Needless to say, Liverpool were named Everton’s bogey team. Of all the clubs to have an unusually poor record against, there isn’t one worse than your closest rivals. And yet Everton struggle, perhaps thanks to the ever-increasing pressure of ending such dire historical form, against the red menace across the park. Continued angst means that every victory is not so much enjoyed as cherished, for a much longer period than is necessary for a stand-alone match. Giving Liverpool a thrashing is a rare and most satisfying treat.
While a 2-0 triumph over Roy Hodgson’s Reds in 2010 (still the most recent derby win) was convincing, we have to go back to September 9, 2006 for a not-too-distant memory of Everton putting their bogey team to the sword. Andy Johnson enjoyed one of the best derby debuts by a player from either side of Stanley Park, and a Liverpool side who would reach that season’s Champions League final were taught a lesson by a side featuring Tony Hibbert, Gary Naysmith and Phil Neville.
Everton didn’t do too much business in the summer of 2006. Cult heroes Duncan Ferguson and Nigel Martyn drifted off into retirement and David Weir headed north to Rangers, while the exits of Li Tie, Kevin Kilbane and Simon Davies were met with widespread shrugging. In came three acquisitions that would reinforce David Moyes’ reputation as a shrewd buyer: Tim Howard, on loan from Manchester United; Wolves defender Joleon Lescott, for an outlay of £5m; and Crystal Palace’s prolific frontman Andy Johnson, a club-record signing at a cool £8.6m. Johnson would score 22 goals in 74 appearances, some of them pivotal, before being moved on for a small profit.
The England forward wasted no time endearing himself to the Goodison support, netting the opener on his debut against promoted Watford. Victory over the Hornets was followed by a draw away to Blackburn Rovers, and a 2-0 win at White Hart Lane in which Johnson scored again after terrorising the Spurs defence. Their next opponents were FA Cup holders Liverpool, who had spent the summer offloading deadwood, and replacing it with world-class talents like Jermaine Pennant, Nabil El Zhar and Craig Bellamy. Expected to compete for major honours, the Reds had made an inauspicious start to the season. Maccabi Haifa gave Rafael Benitez’s side a scare in the Champions League play-offs, while a Robbie Fowler penalty converted after Steven Gerrard was knocked down by the weight of Chris Morgan’s breath on his neck to rescue a 1-1 draw with Premier League new boys Sheffield United. Victories at Anfield over Haifa and West Ham meant Liverpool could begin to forge some momentum with success at the home of their oldest rivals.
It was the visiting side that had the first opportunity at a sun-drenched Goodison, just seconds from the kick-off, but Fowler’s effort was saved by Howard. Everton opted for the long ball more often than not in the early stages, but it was some neat passing that brought about the opener. Johnson, whose determination to win every second ball was causing Liverpool serious problems, fed Mikel Arteta on the right. The Spaniard spotted Lee Carsley in space and dinked a clever ball in for the midfielder, who flicked it on. Leon Osman won a tussle with Steve Finnan, but didn’t win the ball. He didn’t need to. Incredibly, Johnson was in acres of space in the penalty area, with just one player in the near vicinity. That player was Tim Cahill, who reached the ball first, and planted it under Pepe Reina and into the net.
Goodison was bouncing, and full of the usual derby day aggression, mixed with the adrenaline-soaked zeal of holding the lead. Everton were full of hefty tackles, not least one from Joseph Yobo which almost neutered Steven Gerrard. The constant thorn in Everton’s side did come close to levelling matters on a couple of occasions soon afterwards, while Luis Garcia was denied by Howard.
The American’s long goal-kick had set in motion the events leading to the opening goal, and the same route would result in the second. The crowd were busy directing their ire at Graham Poll for not giving Everton a free-kick for Xabi Alonso hauling Cahill down to notice the attacking move die out. Johnson also managed to go unnoticed, refusing to give up on the ball despite Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher closing in on it. Hyypia hesitated, Carragher fluffed his lines, and thanks to his fortitude, Johnson was in on goal. He made no mistake, slotting the ball past Reina to double Everton’s advantage before half-time.
With Liverpool reeling, Everton were able to pass the ball around with more confidence. A low Osman cross was almost met by Johnson, but his diving header met with nothing more than the space the ball had occupied just half a second before. Merseyside derbies are never simple, though – if you’re wearing blue, at least. Finnan fizzed a shot just wide, before Gerrard struck the inside of the post. The visitors were denied a penalty after Tony Hibbert appeared to handle the ball, a sure sign if any that it was to be Everton’s day.
Calamitous defending from Liverpool had resulted in Reina cutting a frustrated figure as Cahill, and then Johnson, were provided with the simplest of finishes past him. But it was the Spaniard who would gift Everton the third goal that topped the early afternoon game off in style. Carsley struck a wickedly swerving effort from range which surprised Reina, causing the goalkeeper to spoon the ball up in the air. Reina scrambled back to his goalline and grabbed the ball but, realising his momentum would take him over the line, pirouetted in mid-air and popped the ball out in front of him. His hands closed around a smooth, rounded object, and all was well.
Except all wasn’t well, because the ball had ended up in the net and Reina had grabbed the object responsible for it, namely the shiny bald head of Andy Johnson.
The Everton striker wheeled away in delight, his goal sealing Everton’s second derby win of the 21st Century. It was the first time Everton had put three past Liverpool in a league fixture at Goodison in 102 years.
All the signs were good. Everton’s biggest derby win since 1966 put them top of the league. Going forward, the speedy and predatory Johnson, Arteta’s slick sophistication and Cahill’s aerial prowess, backed up by the combative brilliance of Carsley, made the Toffees a formidable foe. Could Moyes lead the Blues back to the top four?
No. But, of the many highlights of 2006/07, beating the old enemy in the most resounding of manners is surely the best. How long until the next cherished derby victory?