28 January 2014. Liverpool v Everton under the Tuesday night lights at Anfield. Even by Merseyside derby standards, there is a heightened air of expectancy about this meeting, with both clubs enjoying seasons that would have exceeded the expectations of most neutrals. The Reds were very much in the title race, even though Arsenal and Manchester City looked in more advantageous positions to go the distance, while the Blues were in with a genuine chance of finishing in the top four, taking advantage of the struggles of Tottenham and Manchester United.
The previous derby just over two months earlier had been a thriller, the teams evenly sharing six goals in a slightly chaotic affair at Goodison Park. The reverse fixture at Anfield was expected to be tight and Evertonians had real hope of a first win at the home of their fiercest rivals in 15 years. Kopites would likely have settled for a hard-fought, fortunate one-goal victory.
Everton had the first attempt of the game in the opening minute, Ross Barkley’s effort sailing narrowly over the crossbar at the Kop end, but soon all the action was taking place in front of those perched in the Anfield Road stand, with Tim Howard a busy man. There was nothing the American goalkeeper could do on 21 minutes when Steven Gerrard buried a powerful header into the net and sprinted away in a celebration that displayed evidently his unbridled glee at scoring against the Toffees. They say a person’s eyes don’t lie and, if you watch that celebration in slow motion, there’s no escaping the sheer jubilation in Gerrard’s peepers as he took off towards the exultant masses in the Main Stand.
Everton’s night got worse when Romelu Lukaku went off injured a few minutes later, but the misery was only beginning for those of a blue persuasion. At 35 minutes, the scoreboard read 1-0. By the 38th minute, it had been altered to 3-0. Daniel Sturridge was the reason for that, the in-form England striker netting from a deft Philippe Coutinho pass before soon adding one of the great Mersey derby goals. With the Everton defence all over the place, Kolo Toure found Sturridge in space and, with Howard racing from his goal, he sent a delightful lob high into the night sky and watched as the ball looped downward into the net. Sturridge decided to forego his usual surfer celebration, instead standing with arms aloft as team-mates mobbed him in appreciation of the sweet strike he had just pulled out of the bag.
Then, as now, Liverpool had notable defensive deficiencies, so despite the heavenly half-time position, there was still a sense amongst Kopites that we had to keep it tight and not allow Everton an easy way back into a derby that seemed sewn up. We need not have feared. Five minutes into the second half, Phil Jagielka gifted possession to Luis Suarez, who had the entire Everton half open in front of him. Off the Uruguayan went, bearing down on goal before drilling the ball past Howard and killing off whatever modicum of a chance the Toffees had of mounting a comeback. It was turning into a glorious night for Reds supporters.
The only blot on the Liverpool copybook was a penalty miss from Sturridge, the striker firing the ball high into the Kop when given what seemed a straightforward chance to complete a hat-trick that would have gone down in Anfield folklore. It mattered little in the overall context of the night, though. This truly was a demolition derby, the most one-sided between the teams since the famous 1982 match when Ian Rush helped himself to four against the neighbours.
Merseyside derbies are usually tight, tense games, even in years when one club was distinctly outperforming the other in terms of the league table. With Everton only two places and four points behind the Reds before kick-off, an even contest was definitely to be expected. Nobody, though, could have foreseen just how outstanding Liverpool would perform on the night. Brendan Rodgers regularly applied that adjective to his team’s performances during his time in charge at Anfield, often unjustifiably, but he was spot on in this instance.
There have been more significant derby victories for Liverpool, but in my experience of the fixture, I cannot recall a more enjoyable version than the night when we stuffed Everton for four and it could easily have been more. In a memorable season, this was one of our most memorable performances.