Liverpool’s first Premier League win of the year – and January signing Cody Gakpo’s maiden goal for the club – brought new Everton manager Sean Dyche’s honeymoon period to an abrupt end in the 242nd Merseyside derby.
Having beaten leaders Arsenal in his first match in charge, the former Burnley boss and his side made the short trip across Stanley Park arguably with more confidence and momentum considering their hosts’ much-publicised problems.
But they left with chants of “going down” and “it’s your last trip to Anfield” ringing in their ears after goals from Mohamed Salah and Gapko in a 14-minute period bridging half-time secured a 2-0 win for the home side.
Fans have still not seen an Everton victory at the ground since 1999 as the Toffees’ win here in 2021 was behind closed doors due to Covid restrictions.
The form of the two teams – victory still left Liverpool nine points adrift of fourth with a match in hand while Everton remain in the bottom three – meant no-one was expecting a classic but the visitors’ first win since October last time out had raised the stakes.
Not that Dyche would ordinarily have been expected to win both of his first two matches considering the opposition but how his chances would have been helped with a January signing, specifically a striker.
With Dominic Calvert-Lewin nursing a hamstring problem it left 22-year-old Ellis Simms, recalled from a loan spell with Sunderland last month, leading the line and it was an unenviable task.
Meanwhile Liverpool’s one winter transfer window signing finally got off the mark in his seventh appearance since joining from PSV Eindhoven for £37million, with the easiest of chances to end a club goalscoring drought dating back to early October.
The goal will be a huge weight off the 23-year-old’s shoulders but with the return from injury of Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino, the Holland international will have to become more clinical as he may find his opportunities limited.
It was the man he will be looking to assume the long-term mantle from, Salah, who made the crucial breakthrough in the 36th minute in a real ‘Sliding Doors’ moment.
Everton defender James Tarkowski, an annoyance to Liverpool all night for other reasons, saw his far-post header from Alex Iwobi’s corner hit the upright and Liverpool broke at pace.
Darwin Nunez collected the ball inside his own area, exchanged passed with Salah and raced 50 yards downfield to cross for his team-mate to hit first time, with England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford inexplicably having left the goal open after opting to close down Gakpo to Salah’s right instead.
It was the Egypt international’s 100th Premier League goal involvement at Anfield (71 goals and 29 assists in 104 appearances).
Everton finished the half having failed to have a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes for the seventh time in the league this season.
Less than four minutes after the break Gakpo doubled the lead.
Iwobi lost possession and Andy Robertson countered, aided and abetted by Jordan Henderson and Salah, with Trent Alexander-Arnold’s low cross inch-perfect for the Holland man to tap home unmarked at the far post and even a VAR check for offside could not save the visitors.
Gakpo had flashed a header wide in the first half from Nunez’s cross but he could not fail to miss from right-back Alexander-Arnold’s low delivery.
With so few options to change – and having scored twice in the league on just two occasions this season – you could almost sense the game was up for Everton as Henderson and Fabinho, both recalled to the starting line-up having been benched for four games after being seen as part of the team’s problems, did a good job of shutting down midfield.
Everton chairman Bill Kenwright and chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale, at their first game in the city in almost a month after being told to stay away from home matches due to security threats, watched on from the directors’ box as substitute Tom Davies headed over their best chance nine minutes from time.
No derby is complete without a melee and Pickford duly provided one when he raced out of his goal to barge into Robertson late on.
But just as results at Anfield will not determine the outcome of Everton’s fate, one win against their near-neighbours has not eradicated all the issues Jurgen Klopp has been dealing with, but with players returning from injury, centre-back Virgil van Dijk was also on the bench, things are at least looking up after a miserable six weeks.