LIVERPOOL and Everton cancelled each other out in a forgettable 220th Merseyside derby bereft of incident – although Everton manager Davie Moyes was unhappy Sylvain Distin’s second-half header was ruled out for a foul on goalkeeper Jose Reina.
The draw may have come close to confirming Everton will finish above their near-neighbours for the second successive season – something which has not happened since 1937 – but they rarely came close to ending a 14-year winless run at Anfield.
Midfielder Marouane Fellaini had the visitors’ best chance, volleying wide from close range in the first half, while Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard saw Distin clear off the line after the break. However, just three bookings in a game which has seen 20 red cards in the previous 41 meetings indicated a lack of bite.
Sixth-placed Everton, a comfortable five points ahead of Liverpool, did not have enough in their locker to end their drought on enemy territory and Jamie Carragher, on his 30th and final Merseyside derby before retirement, had one of his quieter afternoons.
Similarly, without Luis Suare, the Reds struggled to break down a defence which was brilliantly marshalled by Phil Jagielka and Distin.
Liverpool looked to utilise Daniel Sturridge’s pace early on with Jordan Henderson’s superb 60-yard crossfield ball into his path surpassed only by Gerrard’s from the opposite diagonal which resulted in Distin clearing the striker’s cross.
Gerrard was making his 36th consecutive league start, equalling his previous longest run set between April 2006 and April 2007, in spite of a long-term shoulder injury. His further participation became a concern when he crashed to the floor in tangling with Leon Osman but, although he moved gingerly for the next few minutes, there was little chance of the Huyton-born midfielder dropping out of this one.
The visitors took their superiority in the table onto the pitch as they had the better of the opening 25 minutes in which they should have taken the lead. Fellaini had the best chance of the half when he got on the end of Leighton Baines’ 17th-minute free-kick but somehow shot across goal and just wide of the far post from about four yards.
By the half-hour Liverpool had regained their composure and only the excellence of Jagielka prevented a goal. First he blocked Gerrard’s shot from Henderson’s cut-back, with the Liverpool captain then curling a free-kick just wide, before an even better effort denied Philippe Coutinho just as he was about to pull the trigger.
Fellaini’s afternoon began to get more frustrating, however, highlighted by him marching towards referee Michael Oliver to demand a free-kick – which was subsequently awarded. The official was lenient again with the Belgium midfielder by taking no action when he appeared to thrust an arm towards Gerrard’s face as the two tangled.
Coutinho had initially struggled in the frenetic derby atmosphere. But, early in the second half, he played a fine through ball but Sturridge could not get round Tim Howard in a one-on-one situation and eventually fired into the side-netting.
Distin had the ball in the net just before the hour from a Baines’ corner only for Oliver to disallow it after the usual pushing and holding in the penalty area and book Victor Anichebe for dissent, although the goal looked legitimate to a number of observers, including Moyes.
“It was a legitimate goal. The goalkeeper runs into Victor Anichebe and it is a goal,” he said. “The referee said Victor impeded the goalkeeper but the goalkeeper ran into him so it can’t possibly be a free-kick. It is not a foul.”
Reds boss Brendan Rodgers had a different view of the incident, insisting referee Michael Oliver was right in his assessment.
“I think when you see it again the referee has good sight of it early,” he said.
Distin was lucky not to be punished further after an apparent – and pointless – dive midway in Liverpool’s half but, as he had done all game, the official showed leniency.
Coutinho opted for delicacy as opposed to power and lifted a shot well over before Gerrard was denied only by Distin’s goalline clearance after the midfielder had gone around Howard.
Anichebe’s deflected shot ballooned up off Lucas Leiva and Reina had to make a late decision to push it away as it threatened to creep inside the post.
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Jose Enrique,Lucas, Gerrard, Downing (Skrtel 79), Henderson (Borini 66), Coutinho, Sturridge. Subs not used: Jones, Assaidi, Coates, Suso, Shelvey.
Everton: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Mirallas (Jelavic 75), Osman, Gibson, Pienaar, Fellaini, Anichebe. Subs not used: Mucha, Hibbert, Heitinga, Oviedo, Naismith, Duffy.