Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard marked his 400th league appearance with a hat-trick to settle the 217th Merseyside derby at Anfield last night.
The England midfielder has proved time and time again he is the man for the big occasion and he put an end to his side’s recent struggles and also Everton’s nine-match unbeaten run.
In doing so Gerrard became the first player to register a treble in a league derby since Ian Rush scored four in a 5-0 win at Goodison in November 1982 and only the fifth Liverpool player to do so at Anfield — the last coming from Fred Howe in Sep 1935.
Gerrard said: “To beat Everton is always special, so to get three goals is a little bit extra, but I have to give my team-mates a special mention, especially Luis Suarez, who put two goals on a plate for me.
“It was a great team performance, a clean sheet. Everything we wanted from the game we got it.”
Gerrard has been pained by recent results, saying: “It’s been frustrating, the inconsistency we’ve been showing in the league, very frustrating.
“We played very well at Arsenal and got nothing, then we never turned up at Sunderland. We’re going from one extreme to another at the moment.
“We need to find a level of consistency where we go on a winning streak, rather than win one and lose one, because otherwise we find ourselves in a position in the league that we don’t want.”
His performance was maybe not in the classic all-action mould of years gone by but with his 32nd birthday approaching in May, Gerrard has shown experience brings out various qualities and he was able to do just as much damage in a more controlled role.
He ensured Kenny Dalglish’s side avoided a fourth successive league defeat — something which happened to the Reds only four times in 60 years.
The result may have come too late to rescue Liverpool’s chances of a top-four finish as they are still 10 points behind Arsenal but it provided an important confidence boost ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final at home to Stoke.
Gerrard’s goals spoiled David Moyes’ 10th anniversary with the Toffees — which he marks today.
Moyes may not have won any silverware in a decade but has enjoyed relative success at Goodison Park, although winning at Anfield is not among his achievements, with 1999 the last time Everton were victorious on the other side of Stanley Park.
And had it not been for Tim Howard, another defeat may have been confirmed much sooner than it was. Good interplay between Jose Enrique and Luis Suarez put Gerrard through but the US keeper was equal to the low shot with Jack Rodwell blocking Jordan Henderson’s follow-up.
The breakthrough came in the 34th minute when Kelly’s shot was half-stopped by Howard and Sylvain Distin could only clear as far as Gerrard, who curled an inch-perfect first-time left-footed shot over the heads of defenders and goalkeeper and into the net.
Everton’s brighter start to the second half was extinguished just six minutes after the restart when Gerrard struck again with a typical goal.
Suarez chased Henderson’s pass into the corner, cut past Distin along the right byline and shepherded the ball towards the onrushing captain, who blasted home.
Carroll should have made it 3-0 but fired wide after Suarez ran along the opposite byline while Suarez also missed an ambitious effort with the outside of his right foot.
The closest Everton came to scoring was when a Jack Rodwell shot was cleared by Enrique a few yards out.
On the hour Moyes made the triple substitution of Nikica Jelavic, Royston Drenthe and Leon Osman.
Everton’s play became more scrappy and Pienaar, Baines and Drenthe were all booked — but this was a far cry from the fiery derbies of the recent past, which had produced 20 red cards in 39 matches.
In added time, Gerrard put the seal on another impressive personal display by starting and finishing the move, exchanging passes with Suarez, to knock in his third.
Manager Kenny Dalglish acknowledged it was the England midfielder’s brilliance which won the match.
“I think it’s a great reward for the players,” Dalglish said.
“I think all the local boys were fantastic for us: Steven with a hat-trick, Jay Spearing was fantastic, Carra [Jamie Carragher], and Kells [Martin Kelly] at right-back.
“Obviously Steven getting three goals was great reward for him. He’s had one or two bumps with injuries this year. To come back and get three in a local derby — I’m sure he’ll have a wee smile on his face later.”
LIVERPOOL: Reina, Kelly, Skrtel, Carragher, Jose Enrique, Henderson (Kuyt 72), Gerrard, Spearing, Downing, Carroll, Suarez.
EVERTON: Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Coleman (Drenthe 61), Rodwell, Fellaini, Pienaar, Stracqualursi (Osman 61), Anichebe (Jelavic 61).
Referee: Phil Dowd.
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