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By ESPN Staff

Police to investigate troubled Merseyside derby

Police will speak to Liverpool and Everton about alleged incidents in Sunday's acrimonious Merseyside derby.

Officers are investigating claims Toffees captain Phil Neville was spat on and punched by Liverpool fans as he prepared to take a throw-in.

They are also looking at reports Anfield skipper and England international Steven Gerrard was subjected to hate-filled chants about his daughter.

Cameras clearly captured Neville, who was targeted for being a former Manchester United player, being abused by several fans in the second half of Liverpool's 1-0 victory.

As Neville, whose brother Gary still plays for United, prepared to take a throw supporters could be seen just inches away screaming down his neck.

And Gerrard faced a torrent of abuse as he walked to take a corner in front of visiting fans in the second half.

``Police will be speaking to the clubs involved today,' said a spokesman for Merseyside Police said.

Dave Lewis, the force's football liaison officer, who travels abroad with the teams when they play in Europe, will conduct the discussions.

Everton spokesman Ian Ross said: ``We felt it necessary to try to involve the safety officers and police because we cannot have a situation where supporters are having physical contact with professional footballers during the game.

``We want to make sure that doesn't happen again at the Merseyside derby or any other game.'

Responding to Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez's comments that he was ``very disappointed' by the abuse aimed at Gerrard, he added: ``Whilst we would never condone the singling out of individual players for vitriolic insults, it is a shame that Mr Benitez chose to ignore the actions of his own club's supporters.

``Not only was Joleon Lescott subjected to an afternoon-long barrage of quite disgusting and quite audible abuse, Phil Neville was seemingly spat at several times and was also punched in the back by a supporter as he took a throw-in.

``We have asked Merseyside Police and our safety officer to look into the matter.

``In calling for Everton supporters to respect his players, Mr Benitez should, perhaps, remember his comments of 12 months ago when he sought to belittle one of world sport's oldest and most respected institutions by describing us as a `small club'.

``Respect is a two-way street.'