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Brendan Rodgers Hit By Derby Defender Drama Both On And Off The Pitch

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ROBERTO Martínez spun on his brown shoes and screamed at the only section of Anfield in bedlam. Brendan Rodgers’ shoulders slumped in his club suit as a potential turning point flipped from Liverpool to Everton with one sensational swing of a central defender’s boot. The football gods shined on Everton, according to their manager’s description of Phil Jagielka’s 92nd-minute equaliser, but the truth is both Merseyside clubs remain in need of divine intervention to fulfil pre-season aspirations on current form.

Liverpool are considering taking disciplinary action against Mamadou Sakho after their £19m defender stormed out of Anfield at 11.20am when told he did not feature in the matchday squad. A TV with the 223rd Merseyside derby on repeat should suffice.

The France international, who apologised to anyone offended by “a bad choice on my part”, missed a day of redemption for two club captains dogged by criticism since the World Cup and confirmation that the teams led by Jagielka and Steven Gerrard are pale imitations of last season’s finely balanced, threatening forces. A combined total of 13 points from 12 Premier League outings by the Merseyside rivals this season seemed an accurate gauge on Saturday.

Thanks to the football gods then for the contributions of Gerrard and Jagielka. Not only did they aid and abet standout performances from those alongside them, the aggressive Jordan Henderson and nerveless John Stones, but the pair gave timely evidence of their continued importance to drag the derby out of the mundane. Liverpool’s captain took it to within touching distance of an invaluable three points for Rodgers’ team with his 10th goal in 32 appearances against Everton, a powerfully struck free-kick beyond the badly positioned Tim Howard. Jagielka elevated the contest further, further perhaps than he thought possible, with one of the great derby goals.

In body-shape, execution with the outside of the right foot, trajectory, timing and significance, the England international’s 58mph drive into the top corner of Simon Mignolet’s goal in front of the Kop was straight from the pages of Roy of the Rovers. The only thing missing was a cartoon trail behind the ball.

“It is such an incredible moment in our season because we got something and it brings the confidence back into the group which is vitally important,” said Martínez. “After their goal goes in, and having come here for 15 years without a win, the players had a choice to make. Do we accept it or do we use the little energy that we had left to go forward? I feel that over the course of the season the football gods give you something back if you carry on working and I think the players were magnificent in their psychological strength. I saw a winning mentality in our team.

“We were very poor on the ball. We were not expansive in the way we normally are but I don’t think Liverpool were either. They never hurt us, everything was dead balls and corners. We could have done better on the counterattack but overall I didn’t think it was as good a game as we saw in both derbies last season.”

Rodgers, not surprisingly on an afternoon when Liverpool’s suspect defence was rarely tested by their local rivals and who flatly denied his team had invited late pressure with a collective retreat, saw things differently.

“It was just that final ball, we couldn’t quite get that second goal,” said the Liverpool manager. “If you take away the last 90 seconds of the game we are talking about an excellent performance of intensity, pressure and passing with counter-attacking football. I’m not going to let one absolute once-in-a-lifetime strike cloud that – but we will be judged on that because it is one all.”

Both managers were searching for positives more in hope than on the evidence of Saturday’s game. True, the tireless Adam Lallana, the tiring Raheem Sterling and an industrious Mario Balotelli failed to take presentable chances for Liverpool. Everton should have been down to 10 men after only eight minutes when Gareth Barry, booked inside the opening minute, somehow escaped a penalty and a second yellow card for handling Sterling’s shot inside the area. The referee, Martin Atkinson, also failed to award a legitimate penalty to the visitors when Alberto Moreno pulled the badly out-of-sorts Romelu Lukaku to the floor in the fifth minute.

For all of Liverpool’s possession, however, the inspiration, menace and penetration of last season remained elusive. Daniel Sturridge’s return from a thigh injury cannot come quickly enough but the forward, Rodgers confirmed afterwards, is a doubt for Wednesday’s Champions League tie at Basel.

Martínez summed up the difference between the Liverpool team that inflicted a 4-0 defeat on Everton in January and the present in cutting fashion. “It is easy to say – Luis Suárez was a player on form,” he said. “Now you have a very strong squad and it takes time and it needs to gel together. The difference back then was that everyone knew Liverpool were very dynamic and any time you left yourself two v one against Suárez you were in trouble. That is not there any more and that is a big difference.” – The Guardian

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