By David Lynch
Merseyside derbies often serve as a reminder that it cannot have been easy to be an Everton supporter over recent years.
During these fixtures, the Toffees’ bitter rivals, Liverpool, often take great pleasure in reminding their neighbours of their 17-year trophy drought through the medium of song. The heartache of that long wait for silverware is perhaps made even worse by the fact that those who derive the most pleasure from it have seen their team lift the FA Cup twice, the League Cup three times, the Uefa Cup, the Super Cup and the Champions League during that period.
Of course, the Reds’ success over that era has been tainted by a failure to clinch the league title once, but that doubtless provides little consolation for the blue half of Merseyside. Even rare opportunities to get one over on their foes have been contaminated by the caveat of greater victories across Stanley Park.
In 2005 the Blues put together a remarkable league campaign which saw them leapfrog Liverpool and seal Champions League qualification for the first time in their history. But the story did not end there, as a Rafael Benitez-concocted miracle in Istanbul ensured that the Reds would have the opportunity to take their place in the competition again whilst basking in the glory of winning Europe’s biggest accolade.
Everton were rather unfortunate to come up against Villarreal, a side who went on to reach the semi-finals that year, in a play-off to reach the group stages, a task which was ultimately beyond them. Yet again this disappointment was multiplied, as Liverpool sauntered into the groups having easily dispatched the somewhat lesser threats of TNS, FBK Kaunas and CSKA Sofia.
David Moyes’ men repeated the feat of getting ahead of their more expensively assembled neighbours last year but their customary inability to truly one-up the Anfield outfit reared its head again. The Reds won both league fixtures between the sides before also going on to clinch a come-from-behind victory in the semi-final of the FA Cup at Wembley – the one which doubtless mattered most to the fans.
But, much like the days in which Merseyside’s biggest clubs dominated English football, those disappointments can now be consigned to the past. Everton have an opportunity at Goodison Park on Sunday, the chance to cement a shift in power.
Victory for the Toffees would hand them a nine-point lead over their adversaries in the Premier League which, despite being far from insurmountable at this early stage, would provide a steady foundation for a higher finish. To do so for the second year running, and this time having led Liverpool all the way, would be further proof that a swing has occurred.
Moyes would undoubtedly take great pride in such a transformation in fortunes being confirmed, having overseen many of the highs and lows in his 10-year spell at Goodison Park. Though his experience of these games may not all be good – having won just four of his 24 derbies in charge – the Scot’s superior knowledge against a fifth different managerial opponent in this fixture should help make his side favourites.
His opposite number, Brendan Rodgers, should also be mindful of the fact that only one Liverpool boss has ever posted victory in their first away derby match: A certain Mr Kenny Dalglish – who incidentally did it twice.
So it is time for Moyes to discard the fear which has overshadowed his approach to derbies in the past and which was most evident in last year’s FA Cup clash. Everton need not show any deference to their opponents, having surpassed them on the evidence of last year’s league campaign and the start to this one.
But it almost feels as though Everton must first believe that they are not inferior to Liverpool if they are to ever make it so. And that is a process which starts with the manager.
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