An improved Liverpool showing is cruelly undone by a stunning stoppage time equaliser from Phil Jagielka as the 223rd Merseyside Derby ends in a 1-1 draw.
Reds boss Brendan Rodgers reverted back to a team reminiscent of the one that lost to West Ham United last weekend after a much-changed midweek selection had snuck into the fourth round of the Capital One Cup on Tuesday night.
The hosts started brightly and a bad foul by Gareth Barry on Adam Lallana gifted the Reds a dangerous early free-kick but Mario Balotelli disappointingly struck it straight into the wall.
At the other end, Romelu Lukaku might have been awarded a penalty after getting the wrong side of Alberto Moreno but referee Martin Atkinson decided to ignore the incident.
There certainly had been contact between the pair but whether or not the original coming together was inside or outside of the box was hard to tell, and with Atkinson unmoved it became immaterial anyway.
It had been a rare foray forward by the visitors and they were quickly back on the defensive as a cracking through-ball by Jordan Henderson gave Balotelli a decent sight of goal before the linesman wrongly flagged for offside.
Liverpool were then denied a stonewall penalty when Raheem Sterling‘s volley was clearly handled by Barry right under the nose of Atkinson.
Presumably the West Yorkshire based whistle blower had Lukaku’s earlier shout in the back of his mind but this was a much more blatant incident for which he was perfectly placed to award the spot kick.
Another Barry foul – how he hadn’t been booked at least once already was another mystifying element of Atkinson’s early performance – lead to Balotelli testing Tim Howard with a free-kick. Lallana did likewise with a header from the resulting corner.
It had been an encouraging opening 15 minutes by the hosts who have so far struggled badly this season to recreate the fluid, attacking play of last term.
A more subdued period followed with goalmouth action briefly at a premium, although Balotelli and Lukaku did exchange efforts from distance that were comfortably dealt with.
Leighton Baines should have done better at picking out a colleague after beating Manquillo down the Liverpool right but his pull-back was instead cleared from under his own crossbar by Dejan Lovren.
Henderson tested Howard with a powerful strike on the half hour mark before the visitors were dealt a blow when Kevin Mirallas suffered a hamstring injury and had to be replaced by Aiden McGeady.
Lallana, who was easily having his best game in a Liverpool shirt, was millimetres away from finding Balotelli with a cross as the hosts ended the half strongly.
A great move involving Lallana and Sterling almost finally delivered a deserved opener but Howard stood tall to beat away the diminutive winger’s drive.
Another penalty shout came and went at the start of the second half as Phil Jagielka appeared to strike Balotelli rather than the ball with an attempted clearance.
The same player did a lot better soon afterwards to get the better of the speedy Lazar Markovic as the Serbian international looked to get on the end of a long pass forward.
As in the first half, Liverpool were carrying by far the greater threat; Balotelli inadvertently impeding his own man as Lovren rose to head a corner goalwards.
Steven Naismith did sting the palms of Simon Mignolet with a swerving drive on the hour mark but overall the second half had so far been a lot less eventful than the first.
That was until the 65th minute when a Steven Gerrard free kick, awarded for a foul by Baines, found the back of the net despite Howard getting a strong hand to the ball.
The Liverpool captain understandably enjoyed his strike and the celebrations were probably enhanced by recent criticism of his performances, including by many of his own side’s fans.
The scoreline should have become two-nil moments later but Balotelli inexplicably could only find the crossbar from close-range after a great run and cross from Sterling.
In fairness, subsequent slow-motion replays showed that Howard had somehow managed to get something on the point-blank volley, not that he knew much about it.
Lukaku should have done better with a header but for the most part a second for Liverpool continued to look much more likely than an equaliser; Henderson testing Howard with another shot from distance.
As time drifted by, the effort and commitment of the Liverpool players to record a morale-boosting win remained impressively high as the likes of Lallana and Balotelli worked back and hustled the opposition effectively.
Everton became more and more desperate with substitute Samuel Eto’o summing up proceedings with a speculative effort that sailed well over.
The visitors, who had notched 11 goals in their opening five Premier League fixtures, were lacking invention but much of that was down to Liverpool, who were producing by far their most complete 90 minute performance at Anfield this season.
Just as it looked to be a case of job well done, out of nowhere the hosts were robbed of victory in stoppage time when Jagielka thumped an unstoppable volley from 30 yards into the roof of the net.
It was as harsh as it was unexpected.
This was a much better performance by Liverpool and while the late equaliser was cruel, we only have our own profligacy in front of goal to blame. The fact that 99 times out of 100 Jagielka sends his late effort out of the ground just adds to the frustration. On a positive note, much of the pace and dynamism of old was back but an inability to find the net with regularity remains and ultimately proved costly. Balotelli actually had more shots than the entire Everton team combined (10 to the Toffee’s seven)! The return of Daniel Sturridge therefore cannot come soon enough.
Adam Lallana – Lively throughout and allied his dangerous attacking thrusts and neat footwork with commitment and work rate.
Mignolet, Manquillo, Lovren, Skrtel, Moreno, Gerrard (c), Henderson, Lallana, Sterling, Markovic (Coutinho 60′), Balotelli (Lambert 88′).
Unused subs: Jones, Toure, Enrique, Lucas, Suso.
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