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Mar 13, 2012

Gerrard proves the inspiration again

Loyalty and longevity have always been valued in Liverpool life, but rarely more so. They have been the themes of a week, traits cherished and celebrated in the tributes to one of Merseyside football's great servants. Yet as David Moyes' 10th anniversary party, in the manner of many a suburban gathering, was rather ruined by the insensitive neighbours, another of the city's constants deserved to be showered in superlatives.

• Report: Liverpool 3-0 Everton

Steven Gerrard's Merseyside derby history is sufficiently lengthy that it predates even Moyes'. Sent off the last time Everton won at Anfield - not just a different era, but a different millennium - he ended Liverpool's losing run while bringing up landmarks of his own. While the Everton manager has reached a decade in charge, Gerrard clocked up 400 league games for Liverpool in style, delivering the first derby hat-trick since Ian Rush's quadruple in 1982.

Permanence is still accompanied by potency; durability still allied with drive. Even as Gerrard settles into the role of elder statesman, his dynamism is not completely confined to the past. Timing has not deserted him either; with Liverpool having suffered three successive league defeats and the first rumblings of discontent about Kenny Dalglish's management, one of the club's icons came to the assistance of another.

Having been forthright in his view that their league position is unacceptable for Liverpool, Gerrard ensured they were not overtaken by Everton. Crisis management is a skill the captain has long demonstrated, often dramatically.

"I'm not educated enough to add to what everyone else has said about Steven," said Dalglish, with false modesty. "For a guy who left school at 15, my vocabulary is not so great so I can't do him justice." It is a sign of his skipper's achievement that the 61-year-old was a team-mate when Rush struck four times at Goodison Park 30 years ago.

Comparisons with the past, however, are inevitable. Pushing 32, the Anfield anachronism is an action-book hero in a PlayStation age. The script, of Gerrard delivering when it matters most, is hackneyed, but there was a normality and a rarity to it at the same time. Even as he reprised his well-honed rescue act, he became the first Liverpool player to score a league goal at Anfield in 2012. It was, too, the first time Gerrard had both started and won a league game since Manchester United's visit 12 months ago.

A year-long wait was ended wonderfully. Gerrard supplying elevation and accuracy to a 20-yard shot that defeated Tim Howard and the backtracking Phil Jagielka after the American had left his net to block Martin Kelly's drive. It was a goal that only he of the 22 participants could have scored. "A great finish," said Dalglish. "His quality is there for everybody to see."

His second was an exocet of shot, flying past Howard after Luis Suarez had wriggled and wheeled away from Sylvain Distin. The Uruguayan was again the provider for the third, the Englishman starting the break and bursting forward to place his shot in the unguarded net. "He has been a fantastic player for this football club all his career and always will be," his manager said. Moyes concurred, but added: "We gave away three terrible goals. We led to our own downfall."

Whatever Everton's errors, Gerrard's clinical touch was required. The difficulty in turning opportunities into goals - this is the season the phrase "chance conversion rate" has become a staple of the Anfield vocabulary - is a recurring problem at Anfield. At least, after their insipid efforts at Sunderland, Liverpool were livelier; urgency resulting in a host of openings. Gerrard was alone in capitalising, Suarez and Andy Carroll the main offenders, even if the prominence of both was encouraging.

In the process, Everton's nine-game unbeaten run came to an abrupt end. It appeared likely the moment the teamsheets were submitted. It is heresy to some, but the derby proved a secondary priority for Moyes; Saturday's clash with Sunderland in the FA Cup offers the opportunity to close in on the silverware that has eluded the Scot. Steven Pienaar aside, his starting XI lacked creativity and while Marouane Fellaini was a man-mountain in midfield, Everton were on the back foot from the start. The Scouser to shine initially started Moyes' debut league game for Everton and returned for the 379th; Tony Hibbert executed an outstanding recovery tackle on Suarez, though it only delayed the breakthrough by four minutes.

But then Gerrard has been a regular scourge of Moyes and a reason why a difficulty in defeating Liverpool has been a feature of his long reign. It is now only three victories in 20 attempts, prompting the Kop to get cocky.

"Ten more years," they chanted to the three-time Manager of the Year who, with an average annual net spend of £2.4 million, is responsible for seven top-eight finishes.

They should be careful what they wish for.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Steven Gerrard. Outstanding. At his best, Gerrard remains a remarkable sight and, together with a cameo against Newcastle, this was his finest display of the season. His understanding with Suarez is promising, quality players forming a natural alliance, while he lent presence to an otherwise undistinguished midfield.

LIVERPOOL VERDICT: In the broader scheme of things, they remain well off the pace, 10 points adrift of fourth place and 25 behind Manchester United. Yet they claimed a clean sheet, with Jamie Carragher proving steady on his return to the side and Kelly excellent. Cautious early on, the right-back started to advance and exploit Victor Anichebe's lack of defensive diligence and twice came close to scoring. Less auspiciously, neither Stewart Downing nor Jordan Henderson excelled. Charlie Adam, shocking at Sunderland, was deservedly dropped.

EVERTON VERDICT: In picking his team, Moyes gambled and lost but judgment on such selections always has to be delayed. Defeat Sunderland and he will be vindicated. With Nikica Jelavic, Leon Osman, Royston Drenthe and the derby talisman Tim Cahill among six men demoted to the bench, Everton were blunt in attack. Denis Stracqualursi could not repeat his heroics against Manchester City and Chelsea, while Anichebe, stationed on the left, was ineffective.

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