Liverpool 0 Everton 1
To a huge cheer from those of blue persuasion gathered in the Anfield Road stand, Everton won a Mersey derby at Anfield. While their mens side have failed to secure a draw at the home of their local rivals this millennium, the womens’ team won at the stadium for the first time of asking thanks to Lucy Graham’s speculative shot (assisted by the hapless intervention of the Liverpool goalkeeper Anke Preuss).
The setting added significance to the occasion. It was a great initiative, bringing the women’s team to play at Anfield. The last Mersey derby in the WSL had drawn 1,800 diehards to Prenton Park. But playing in the home of the club, there were 25,000 here to watch, filling the place with high-pitched excitement. It was an unusual crowd at Anfield, the normal droves of Norwegian tourists replaced by scores of local families. With admission prices set at £5 for adults and free for children, many were clearly taking advantage of the chance to enjoy a game at a place from which they are normally priced out.
The pity for them was that, unlike the thousands who normally head here to watch their team eviscerate all comers, there was not much to cheer. The Liverpool Women’s side are experiencing a season that can be best described as indifferent. While their male counterparts fly unobstructed at the top of the Premier League, they sit bottom of the WSL, having accrued just one point.
In truth it was not hard to see why. While the home fans could enjoy an ironic cheer as Everton’s Abbey-Leigh Stringer allowed an easy pass to spin under her foot and out for touch, there as little else to warm them on a chilly November afternoon.
It was not for want of trying. Liverpool dominated the ball in the first half. But this is a side that, heading into the derby, had so far this season scored just once. And that from the penalty spot against Bristol City. It became quickly clear why; this is not a side blessed with the finishing zest of the side that normally plays in this ground. For all of Niamh Charles’s pacey running and Mel Lawley’s intelligent passing, they had barely come close to encroaching on the Everton area. Their best effort was when Kirsty Linnett’s header appeared to be destined for the corner of the visitors’ goal. But the keeper Tinja Korfela brilliantly dived to scoop the ball round the post. 20 minutes later, Linnett drove wide from outside the box. In between her two efforts, Liverpool had created nothing beyond some neat passing.
Not that Everton were any more threatening. Their manager Willie Kirk had claimed before the game that he was in possession of a more talented squad than his rival. There was little evidence of that in the early exchanges, when clearing the ball as far as possible out of defence seemed the limit of the visitors’ ambition.
For almost the entire first half, except for the occasional clearing hoof, they barely managed to get the ball out of their own half. Almost, though, was the critical word. Just after the fourth official had held up the board indicating there was a minute’s added time, Graham had Everton’s first shot. Struck from well outside the Liverpool area, it didn’t look anything beyond a token effort, a speculative strike apparently drifting into the hands of the goalkeeper Preuss.
But as it travelled it appeared to have adopted the qualities of a bar of soap and squirmed out of Preuss’s hands to plop over the line. Not since Loris Karius in the 2018 Champions League final had a Liverpool goalkeeping blunder undermined the team effort as significantly. It meant – after just one shot on target - Everton went into the halftime break leading. It also meant Preuss headed for the dressing room in tears, consoled by the Liverpool goalkeeping coach.
In response, Vicky Jepson, the Liverpool manager, attempted to inject some heft into her forward line, bringing on the substantial Rinsola Babjide for the diminutive centre forward Courtney Sweetman-Kirk, who had been gifted absolutely no room to exploit against the excellent Everton centre back, Gabby George. Babjide’s first involvement was a surging run down the wing, beating two defenders before swinging in a cross that found Charles on the edge of the Everton box. But Danielle Turner slid in with a fine tackle to prevent her from hitting a shot goalwards.
Babijde added real urgency to the Liverpool effort, constantly surging down the flanks. But her crosses rarely found a player in red. And when they did, Charles shot over. So it is that the most unlikely of outcomes took place at Anfield: Liverpool lost and remain rooted to the bottom of the table.