Everton’s long wait for a derby victory goes on, but they can take pride from a battling performance that restored the bond between players and supporters, with Goodison Park as rowdy and raucous as we have seen in a long time.
Merseyside derbies are always special occasions, but there was definitely an edge to this latest encounter. The chance to halt Liverpool’s title challenge is the obvious factor, but much was riding on this for Everton too, and Marco Silva in particular.
The Toffees boss has been under intense pressure since the turn of the year as performances slumped and he knew going into last week that two defeats would put his position in severe jeopardy.
As it is, four points from six games and two encouraging performances should give him some valuable breathing space between now and the end of the season.
The team, too, worked their way back into the affections of the supporters by giving their all. There has been an obvious disconnect between the players and fans in recent months which has contributed to the edgy atmosphere at Goodison. But all that was put aside on Sunday as the fans gave the players a rousing reception as they entered the field.
The dark, brooding sky caused by the passing of Storm Freya added to the febrile atmosphere as we edged closer to kick off. The introduction of an air-raid siren prior to Z-Cars – inspired by Tony Bellew’s ring walk – pushed things to a crescendo as the players entered the field.
It was a clear signal to the team that, despite all the disappointments this season, the fans were right behind them once more. They responded to that olive branch by going toe-to-toe with Liverpool, helping to sustain the atmosphere, the best I have witnessed at the Old Lady in a long, long time. It felt like we had finally got our Goodison back and a pertinent reminder of how much we will miss her when we leave and how crucial it is to take some of that L4 magic down to Bramley Moore.
It also threw down the gauntlet to the fans. Evertonians demonstrated how their support can boost the home side and intimidate the opposition. It is up to us now to sustain that in every home match going forward. To quote Silva after the game: “70 or 80 per cent of it, every match, then 30 or 40 per cent of our job is done.”
On the pitch, Jordan Pickford made up for his Anfield nightmare with a crucial stop to deny Mohamed Salah. The defence was excellent too, particularly Michael Keane, who made a brilliant last-ditch tackle to deny Salah late in the second half.
Seamus Coleman showed glimpses of his old self, linking up well with substitute Richarlison as Everton grew in confidence in the closing stages. On the opposite flank, Bernard arguably had his best performance in a blue shirt as he continues to adapt to the Premier League.
Idrissa Gueye was superb in midfield once more and even the much-maligned Morgan Schneiderlin followed up his display at Cardiff with another solid 90 minutes that suggests he may have a future at the club after all.
It wasn’t all perfect of course, with Everton’s blunt attack once again letting them down.
That’s not a slight on Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who I thought worked incredibly hard, but he did not get a tune out of Virgil van Dijk. There’s no disgrace in that either of course, even the most Blue-eyed Toffees fan cannot fail to acknowledge the excellent performance of the Dutchman, who is certainly a contender for Premier League Player of the Year.
But for all Everton’s effort and application, they failed to truly test Alisson in the Liverpool goal. I’m sure Marcel Brands doesn’t need telling that a striker needs to be high on his shopping list this summer.
The only major disappointment was Theo Walcott, who looked completely bereft of ideas and confidence. Richarlison was much more threatening when he came on and you’d expect him to start next weekend’s game at Newcastle as a result.
But that is a minor gripe when you look at the performance as a whole and compare it to what we have witnessed over the past three months, even if the wait for a derby victory extends into a ninth season.
The fact the draw kept Liverpool off the top of the table ensured the cheers at the final whistle were given added gusto, tinged of course with relief that we had not witnessed a repeat of the stoppage-time heartache endured at Anfield. But it was also recognition of a gutsy performance that suggests a corner may finally have been turned.