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Alarm bells sounding for Everton

Everton
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Everton edge Liverpool in Merseyside derby

It may have been Merseyside's version of Star Wars, but it was determined by two men rarely described in such glowing terms. The third part of the 17-day trilogy was determined in improbable fashion by a combination of Andy van der Meyde, often a subject of scorn, and Dan Gosling, rarely the subject of attention.

The triple bill across Stanley Park qualified as an epic on grounds of endurance and attrition rather than out-and-out entertainment, yet the length of the drawn-out drama added to Everton's satisfaction when it was decided after 118 minutes.

Late as it was, the celebrations were prolonged and raucous. A 14-year wait for a trophy has not been ended yet, but eliminating Liverpool from the FA Cup brings it nearer and the manner of victory makes it sweeter. Lacking a forward or an experienced and appreciated midfielder on the bench, desperate times, it appeared, had called for the most desperate of measures.

Two teenagers - Jack Rodwell and Gosling - were the first substitutes David Moyes used. Finally, the marginalised and mocked van der Meyde emerged. Yet it was his cross that Gosling met at the back post. His shot looped up off Alvaro Arbeloa to defeat Jose Reina.

''The result ranks very highly,'' said Moyes. ''We've done well because they are a good team. It shows what level the players are at. I thought we deserved the victory.''

Deflecting praise for his replacements, he regarded them as logical. ''I just thought they [Rodwell and Gosling] were the right ones for the job. Both of them have got energy.'' As for van der Meyde, he explained: ''With 15-20 minutes to go, I thought he might be able to help us out and he did.''

Even with a motley crew, Everton showed a spirit and a cohesiveness to enable them to prevail. Liverpool's potential is greater, but they did not reach it. For that, their obdurate opponents deserve considerable credit. Moyes may have appeared guilty of hyperbole when he described Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott as ''world class'' in the build-up.

Yet the evidence of the three derbies is that Jagielka, in particular, is a centre-back in exceptional form. ''You could trust them with your life, they're playing so well,'' Moyes added.

For much of the match, dependable defending and unimaginative attacking had equated to stalemate. The scarcity of chances meant the few created assumed huge importance.

Everton's clearest fell to Leon Osman. Smooth passing between Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill resulted in the Australian laying the ball off into Osman's path. Eight yards from goal, he drilled his shot against the near post.

At the other end, Everton's excellent rearguard again restricted the opportunities. Xabi Alonso's cleanly-struck effort flew past Tim Howard's far post in the opening minutes but it proved an isolated threat. Almost an hour elapsed before Alonso picked out his compatriot Albert Riera and Howard came out to smother the winger's shot.

Liverpool ventured forward still less when Lucas Leiva reduced them to 10 men. Already cautioned for a foul on Arteta, the Brazilian's clumsy tackle on the marauding Lescott brought his expulsion. Given Lucas' unpopularity with some Liverpool fans, the thought occurred that the 16th derby dismissal in the last decade was a rare refereeing decision to please both sets of supporters.

Thereafter, Everton were the more ambitious. Cahill almost reinforced his reputation as the scourge of Liverpool by heading Leighton Baines' corner narrowly wide while Arteta, with a deflected free kick, was equally close to a breakthrough before Gosling eventually obliged.

Rafa Benitez, however, regarded the red card as the turning point. ''Ask the referee,'' was his response to questions if it was justified. The other issue was Steven Gerrard's departure with a hamstring injury.

''He asked for the substitution,'' said his manager. ''He was tired against Wigan and you can now see the consequences.'' Gerrard may miss England's game in Spain though, his manager said sarcastically, ''maybe he has to go to London for the scans.''

Benitez's faith in facts may be too great for him to believe in fortune, but Napoleon's old adage about lucky generals came to mind. A quarter of an hour of football after sanctioning Robbie Keane's sale, a vacancy emerged that the Irishman could have filled. Instead, his desired role was then occupied by first Dirk Kuyt - all perspiration and no inspiration - and then Yossi Benayoun.

The Liverpool captain's exit was met with undisguised glee at Goodison Park, along with several predictions about the consequences of his impending court case. It was an immediate test to Benitez's theory that Liverpool have sufficient cover for Gerrard and Fernando Torres. On this evidence, he wasn't vindicated.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Phil Jagielka
Few police Torres better and this was another outstanding display from Everton's assured centre-back. If Fabio Capello isn't distracted by the delights of Italian television, Jagielka surely must be in the England squad to face Spain.

EVERTON VERDICT: Quite how long such a threadbare squad can continue to defy the odds remains to be seen, but their recent form is a testament to both the players and Moyes. With Jo available on Saturday, it may seem strange to play with a striker again.

LIVERPOOL VERDICT: Torres' tiredness when he was withdrawn and Gerrard's hamstring problem are real worries for a team whose priorities lie elsewhere. Only Alonso looked like fashioning a chance for an uninspired side.

LOOKING FORWARD: The only specialist striker to take the field for Everton was Jo, who was introduced to the crowd at half-time. A brief appearance for Manchester City against Nottingham Forest meant he was cup-tied. And he had not signed in time to play in this round in any case.

ARE YOU SURE? When Tony Hibbert collected the ball near the touchline and in his own half, one voice of optimism emerged among the Everton support. ''Go on, Tony lad, have a shot,'' yelled one fan. Hibbert, who has never scored for Everton, was sensible enough not to listen.

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