Merry Christmas, Everton (v. Liverpool)

Sadio Mane made this game much harder to write about.

I tend to look for the hidden absurdities within these match response pieces, but when the match is settled within an act of such late, late beautiful absurdity, then where are you left to turn when you sit down in front of a keyboard?

Pyro smoke rising and joyous lunacy in the Bullens. The Park End apoplectic and the scene has been set across Merseyside and beyond for some tetchy family Christmas comings together.

All we need now is for Jürgen Klopp to be given the alternative Christmas Speech on Channel 4, and then, with such simplicity, an uproarious festive season surely is won.

Ross Barkley should have been red-carded. Twice. You could say he should have been ‘Barkley Carded’. PPI connotations all over the shop.
Everton fans, have you been mis-sold a midfield hero? The blues are in need of a competent ombudsman to deal with such occurrences.
All sorts of questions were thrown forward about the state of the Merseyside Derby beforehand.

Have Liverpool outgrown the fixture? This was put forward as a serious aside on the morning of the game. Fair question really from the outside looking in, but one which was never going to provoke an affirmative answer from the inside looking out. Can any football club truly outgrow their traditional derby? I don’t think so. A gap can widen between two cross-city rivals, but competitive siblings will forever dig each other in the ribs, even if one becomes a brain surgeon and the other a shelf-stacker.

Seeing Liverpool win at Goodison Park is still as good as it gets. Seeing those wild and unrestrained celebrations of players and coaching staff alike in front of the Bullens is as close to mid-season nectar as you can buy. Images of Jamie Carragher riding high on the shoulders of Steven Gerrard in front of the Bullens, after a derby day victory over the other side of Stanley Park can warm the soul in a way other footballing memories just don’t match.

I was pretty taken aback pre-match when I saw the head-to-head number-crunching. This is our 90th derby day win. Everton are way back on 66. It used to be closer than that. We didn’t surpass Everton’s total number of derby-day wins until the early 1980s and despite our 70s and 80s domination over them, we’d been significantly enough behind them at one stage that it was still very close when we beat them in the 1986 FA Cup final.

It’s that inner-child on derby-day which is surprised at those current day head-to-head numbers. There is a part of me which will always view the derby through the same red-misted eyes as I did during those epic seasons of the mid-1980s, when we stood toe-to-toe with them for league titles and other various domestic pots and pans.

Last night wasn’t pretty. These games tend to pan out one of two ways for us. We either roll them over like we did at Anfield in April, or we get drawn into a battle which is more akin to those shin-kicking contests out in the Cotswolds flat-lands, or those insane cheese-rolling events in the hills of Gloucester, which are played out at figurative and near literal break-neck speed.

Either the two warring factions Chinese-burn each other into the submission of a goal-less draw, or we manage to find that one moment of genius when we can raise above the maelstrom and plunder the winning goal.

Plunder that winning goal we did of course.

There’s something special about the 4th minute of injury time at Goodison on derby-day. 15 years ago it wasGary McAllister and in 2016 it was Mane.

Feasibly, in 2031 it could be Ben Woodburn? Woodburn wasn’t even born the last time that Everton won at Anfield.

I mentioned clusters of games the other day and I stand by the sentiment. There is another element however to a successful league campaign, and that is the concept of the springboard.

As we ticked our way through the 93rd minute of the game, heading it seemed toward that Chinese-burn of a goal-less draw, we were about to make it just 9 points gleaned from our last possible 18 available. We were about to find ourselves sat a distant looking 8 points behind Chelsea. This win might have simply maintained the status-quo of the 6-point deficit we went into the weekend with, but in reality that 6-point deficit is basking in a different shade of mood-lighting now, to what it was on Saturday morning.

This can be a springboard to attack the increasingly confident Chelsea from, as long as we ‘validate’ this win with two more at Anfield before the ludicrous year of 2016 finally makes a very welcome exit from the stage. Chelsea will encounter their own plateau of performances, they will not continue to win, win and win again. We need to make sure we’re still within touching distance when that spell does arrive. Because it will arrive.

We need to ensure that we are leaving our own winter plateau of performances behind now. This springboard can be followed by a bounce. It needs to be followed by a bounce.

We are one-third of our way through a very important three game cluster. Let’s make it one of the key clusters of the season.
There’s no point overly dissecting how we played last night. Derby day is all about striving to be the hero and ensuring you aren’t the villain. I can excuse the derby passing some players by, just as long as they do the basics right and they don’t make the error which leads to defeat. If those who were passed-by somewhat can position themselves within a cracking photo, striking a potentially iconic pose, then all the better. Step forward Dejan Lovren.

Mane was the ultimate hero, netting the injury time winner, but Daniel Sturridge made it happen. Jordan Henderson was intelligent and magnanimous in receipt of a reckless challenge, a challenge which could easily have caused significant injury. Big men with big derby games. James Milner was arguably as big as it gets. Most of our positivity stemmed from him. A clean-sheet for Simon Mignolet. There were many plus points to go with the 3 points.

Enjoy the derby-day win, enjoy your Christmas, and make sure you’re up for it when Stoke City roll into Anfield a week from now.

“Mane scoring. Mane scoring
All around us. All around us
Koppites singing. Having fun
It’s the season
Love and understanding
Merry Christmas, Everton


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