As Martin Atkinson struggled to prevent war from breaking out on the pitch and police officers patrolled both dug outs, one middle-aged man wearing a dark coat to protect him from the early afternoon mist rolling in from the Mersey was sat in the main stand with a grin on his face.
The more yellow and red cards that appeared from Atkinson’s pocket, the more fascinated the man looked. Tommy Smith was relishing every moment of the chaos that was unfolding before his eyes.
One of football’s original hard men, the ‘Anfield Iron’ as he was nicknamed by fans, wore the look of a man who wished he was involved as the mis-timed tackles flew and the foul count rose.
During his playing days, Smith liked nothing more than a good ‘battle’ but even he cannot have encountered too many derbies as ugly and bruising as this one.
Lately, this fixture has produced a long list of red cards.
For Liverpool, Sander Westerveld, Steven Gerrard (twice), Igor Biscan, Milan Baros and Lucas have been sent off against Everton in the last 11 years.
Everton have had even more dismissals with the red mist descending on Francis Jeffers, Thomas Gravesen, David Weir, Gary Naysmith, Mikel Arteta, Phil Neville (twice), Andy van der Meyde, Tony Hibbert and Tim Cahill.
Now Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Steven Pienaar are the latest names on the Merseyside derby hall of shame, a fixture which has seen 18 dismissals in the last 24 meetings between Liverpool and Everton.
Liverpool’s Greek defender Kyrgiakos and Everton’s South African midfielder Pienaar can have few complaints, if any, about their treatment at the hands of Atkinson. Indeed, the West Yorkshire referee emerges from undoubtedly the toughest test of his refereeing career with some credit.
He would have won even more praise had he sent off Marouane Fellaini for the incident which saw Kyrgiakos dismissed for a two-footed challenge, television replays clearly showing the Everton player had stamped on his opponent’s ankle.
Pienaar should have gone long before his second yellow card deep into stoppage time, his X-rated challenge on Javier Mascherano raising temperatures on a freezing Merseyside afternoon.
By the time he eventually received his marching orders Liverpool had the points in the bag, Dirk Kuyt showing impeccable timing to notch his 50th goal for Rafa Benitez’s team.
It was nothing more than the home team deserved. While Kyrgiakos’s dismissal galvanised the hosts, Everton struggled to make the extra man advantage count, Liverpool notching a fourth success clean sheet without too much discomfort.
David Moyes claims there is little difference between Everton and Liverpool on the pitch, even though Benitez’s side now boast a 12-point lead over their neighbours in the table.
“You’d have to say there is very little between Liverpool and Everton at this present time on the field,” said the Everton manager. “There’s not much of a gap between the two now, and that says a lot for how far Everton have come over recent years.”
Yes, Everton battled and stood up to Liverpool but their long search for an Anfield victory goes on. And it is hard to imagine when they will get a better chance to end that run than the one presented to them at the weekend.
“We came off the pitch with a lot going for us,” added Moyes, in his attempt to put a positive spin on his side’s defeat.
“It’s a disappointing defeat. It’s amazing that we’re coming away from Anfield and thinking we shouldn’t have got beat and should have done more. It shows you the change in the times.
“We can’t deny it was a great opportunity for us. But there will be more opportunities because things are now much closer on the field between the two teams.”
As for Liverpool, a third Premier League double over Everton in five seasons goes some way to appeasing fans after a disappointing season. With his side now in fourth spot, Jamie Carragher is urging his team-mates to use the win as a platform for the remaining 13 league games.
Benitez’s team face Arsenal at the Emirates on Wednesday defending a seven-match unbeaten run.
“In one sense it is more than three points because everyone is buzzing in the dressing room,” said Carragher. “But that can quickly change if we don’t build on this result.
“It’s important that we keep the feel good factor that we’ve got until after the Arsenal game and if that is to happen we’ll have to make sure we get a good result. Arsenal have been at the Emirates for a couple of years and I don’t think we’ve had a win there yet. So it’s something we’re going to have to do sooner or later and hopefully Wednesday will be the time.
“We’re going into it in a great frame of mind but Arsenal is always a difficult game.”
MATCH RATING: **** – The Merseyside derby never fails to disappoint. Pure drama at Anfield as Liverpool went down to 10 men before producing a gritty second half performance which was rewarded with three points.
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire) 5 – Looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights as the game threatened to boil over. Was right to send off Kyrgiakos but Fellaini and Pienaar, long before his stoppage time dismissal, should have gone as well.