IF Liverpool supporters were looking for a sign; that 30 years of hurt might end in 2019 with a successful bid to to regain the league title they last won a football lifetime ago, then here it surely was, five minutes into injury-time, as their substitute Divock Origi headed in an astonishing winning goal.
As the seconds ticked down on a thoroughly absorbing derby, Virgil van Dijk swung his boot lazily, hopefully at a ball, punting it high into the Anfield night sky and instantly turning his back in disgust at apparently wasting his team’s last chance to close the gap on leaders Manchester City.
But as the ball descended from a great height, Everton’s goalkeeper Jordan Pickford suddenly lost his bearings and composure, uncertain whether the ball was about to hit his crossbar and bounce into play.
Eventually the England man, so impressive in everything he has done since being promoted to Gareth Southgate’s starting XI, opted to push the ball up and away from goal, succeeding only in teeing it up, volleyball-style, for Origi to head into an open net.
Nor was it just the manner of the goal that will have the red half of Merseyside wondering this morning whether a title triumph is written in the stars.
After all, their match winner was a player who spent last season on loan in Germany and had not scored a league goal since May 2017 or even played a league game for 16 months.
“It’s a special moment for the club and the city and the fans and I’m so happy,” said the Belgian.
“It hasn’t been easy for me here but I just believed in myself and football makes you stronger. I just thought if I came in, I would try and help the team and I just managed to do that today.”
And how. Liverpool still trail Pep Guardiola’s peerless team by two points but, in this season of all seasons, given City’s dominance that is far preferable to gifting City a four-point cushion on the first weekend in December.
On a personal note, the goal also allowed Origi, who suffered a career-threatening ankle injury on a derby appearance in April 2016, to finally lay that ghost to rest.
“I said to him on the pitch, I had that in my mind,” said manager Jurgen Klopp. “At that time of the injury, he was outstanding, but it was obviously a break in his development. It all changed, he lost his confidence, he didn’t play here any more. But that night was always in my mind and coming on today, now he can finish that book! From now on, everything will be fine.”
Origi’s goal was also vindication for the striker who might have won the game three minutes earlier after he turned a difficult chance from a van Dijk header onto the Everton crossbar.
When Daniel Sturridge connected with the loose ball, which seemed to strike Gylfi Sigurdsson’s arm, and Liverpool failed with their penalty appeal, it looked as though their final chance for victory had gone.
Indeed, with slightly more luck and composure, Everton might have been in the lead themselves by that point, wasting two glorious openings in an entertaining first half.
A set-piece presented them with their, and the game’s, first chance with just four minutes gone as Lucas Digne swung in a well-worked free-kick and defender Yerry Mina rose from a group of players but saw his attempt fly well wide.
Everton’s other great first half chance owed more to spirited defending that poor finishing as Theo Walcott headed across goal and Andre Gomes looked certain to nod into the Liverpool net from close range.
Somehow, goalkeeper Alisson made an extraordinary reflex block and, after the ball rebounded against Gomes’s head and looked destined to trickle over the goalline, it was Liverpool defender Joe Gomez who made a brilliant last-ditch clearance to hack the ball to safety.
Yet Liverpool, as is true to their current form, were hardly slow to pour forward themselves. A series of intelligent through balls caught Everton’s back line square and presented Liverpool’s forwards with chances, the best of which saw Xherdan Shaqiri take an extra touch from Mo Salah’s 33rd-minute pass, allowing Pickford to block.
Sadio Mane had been just as guilty earlier, blazing over from 10 yards after another intelligent Salah pass and it was hard to believe the game would reach half-time, let alone the 95th minute, before the opening goal was scored.
In quick succession after the interval, Salah and Mane, twice, failed to hit the target with shots from relative distance which failed to worry Pickford and, while Salah shook his head in disapproval after he made way for Sturridge after 74 minutes, it was the later introduction of Origi that proved crucial.
In a foretaste of what was to come, Origi was soon involved, taking on Naby Keita’s pass and crossing for Mane who was denied only by Seamus Coleman’s stunningly well-timed tackle.
“I’m proud of my players, proud of how they performed this evening,” said Silva. “It was a lucky, lucky, lucky day for Liverpool.”
Alisson 7; Alexander-Arnold 7, Gomez 6, van Dijk 9, Robertson 8; Wijnaldum 6, Fabinho 6, Shaqiri 6 (Keita 71, 6); Salah 7 (Sturridge 74, 6), Firmino 5 (Origi 84), Mane 6.
Subs not used:
Mignolet, Milner, Moreno, Matip.
Pickford 5; Coleman 6, Keane 7, Mina 7, Digne 7; Gomes 9, Gueye 6; Walcott 5 (Lookman 63, 6), Sigurdsson 6 (Zouma 90), Bernard 7 (Calvert-Lewin 88); Richarlison 6.
Subs not used:
Stekelenburg, Baines, Tosun, Davies.
C Kavanagh 7.