Usually, controversy only adds to these derbies. You look back and it only heightened the excitement or the passion or your memory of it. Steven Gerrard's sending off a couple years ago only makes that 3-0 win better. Kyrgiakos and Fellaini duking it out two seasons ago. I'm sure Gerrard's sending off only sweetens Everton fans' memory of a win at Anfield in '99. But this time, the controversy kind of ruined the occasion.
You can't address this game without talking about the sending off, because everything pretty much revolves around it. Liverpool had space after it, Everton content to merely defend as well. And it's one of those red cards where everyone feels terrible. Because it was barely a foul, but I don't think Luis Suarez made the most of it either. We know that El Pistolero can do that on occasion, but this wasn't one of them. He was genuinely caught but only after Jack Rodwell had won the ball in what seemed a pretty fair tackle. You can't decline the sending off, so everyone's left feeling pretty sour, or at least helpless. I think both sets of fans could sit over a pint and agree that Martin Atkinson is a blithering nincompoop, and we probably didn't even need this decision to get to that conclusion.
We all hoped that would spark Liverpool into life, but it didn't really. Adam and Lucas did have space to work with, but Adam only used it to go satellite hunting with his passes. It seemed Liverpool were content to play for aimless crosses that were cut out by the pretty stout Jagielka and Distin. The Reds only tried on a couple of occasions, at least until late, to find a more creative route. One of the few times they did, it led to the penalty. Sadly, that didn't work out.
But as frequently happens, and leaves you asking why it didn't happen earlier, subs made the difference. In came Gerrard, out went Adam's waywardness and impatience. Out went Downing's ineffectual display, and some real lethal sharpness from Bellamy came in.
-I guess if were anyone else, the hacks of the football world would write something about the mark of a true striker is that he can be unnoticeable for long stretches and then pop up for the goal. Because it's Andy Carroll, I'm guessing all we'll hear is despite the goal, he wasn't a threat today. So it goes. Carroll suffered from his teammates lack of urgency and wasn't given a lot to work with. He was still right where he needed to be with the ice in his veins at the moment that mattered most. I choose to think about that combined with his encouraging performance from last week, and hope this means that things are picking up for him.
-Hey look, Liverpool won a game where Suarez wasn't clearly the best player on the pitch and didn't create any moment of magic that resulted in a goal. They can do it!
-Isn't it funny that a few years ago, with Everton down to 10 men, Rafa Benitez brought off Steven Gerrard because he thought Liverpool needed more composure in midfield, and today he was brought on to provide it? Strange game.
-I've seen some call Dirk Kuyt's penalty poor, but that doesn't give enough credit to Tim Howard for a great save. He barely got fingers to it, and three inches more to the right and all that would be written is another expertly taken spot-kick from Kuyt. Such margins and all that.
-Remember when we thought Lucas was tired a couple weeks ago?
-When United come calling in a couple weeks, Gerrard pretty much has to start ahead of Adam, doesn't he? And doesn't Bellamy have to have a starting place too? Or maybe he can only make an impact for the last 20-25 minutes against tiring legs at this point in his career but I'd be willing to find out.
-Seven games in, and Liverpool have only put together two, maybe three really good performances together (one of which they lost) and find themselves in fifth. They're also on about a 71-point pace, which I have to believe is going to threaten 4th place pretty hard core at the end of the season. There have been worse times to sing You'll Never Walk Alone.