Wayne Rooney’s first Merseyside derby goal earned Everton a 1-1 draw at Anfield as Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s selection gamble backfired.
It was a moment the 32-year-old had dreamed about ever since making his Toffees debut way back in August 2002 but, having had to wait after more than a decade at Manchester United, when it came it was something of a gift.
The pent-up frustration was evident in the way he smashed home a 77th-minute penalty – awarded after Dejan Lovren needlessly fouled Dominic Calvert-Lewin – to cancel out Mohamed Salah’s brilliant first-half strike and his celebration in front of the visiting fans was equally as exhuberant.
New Everton manager Sam Allardyce’s game plan had been an unambitious one but he would argue the ends justified the means as his tactics nullified a Liverpool attack – missing the rested Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino – which has scored 32 goals in the previous nine matches.
The Toffees may still be searching for their first win at Anfield since 1999 but this felt like a victory considering how much territory they conceded.
Salah’s 19th goal of the campaign in his 24th appearance seemed like it would open the floodgates.
The consistency of excellence which the Egypt international has delivered this season has been remarkable and it was another piece of individual brilliance which finally broke the deadlock.
Cuco Martina, a right-footer playing at left-back in the absence of the injured Leighton Baines, never looked comfortable and having got himself in tangle Salah checked back onto his stronger left foot to curl a now trademark shot over Jordan Pickford and into the far top corner of the goal.
That it was the hosts’ first shot on target, in the 43rd minute, after enjoying 80 per cent possession said everything about the way Everton were set up.
Although the tactic of getting men behind the ball and hitting it long early, a tried and tested move from the Allardyce playbook, was no surprise the Everton manager would have been furious at how his players executed it.
For most of the first half the first 10 rows of Anfield’s Main Stand were in more danger than goalkeeper Simon Mignolet as the Toffees aimlessly hacked the ball anywhere.
Aside from James Milner’s far-post volley blocked by Jonjoe Kenny, Everton’s most inexperienced but best defender, Klopp’s 4-4-2 with Salah alongside England Under-20 World Cup winner Dominic Solanke struggled to pick holes in Everton’s massed ranks.
After Salah’s strike there was still time before the break for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to volley just over and Sadio Mane to drag a shot wide with Solanke, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Salah all in better positions.
If ever a statistic adequately summed up the first half it was Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson’s 60 completed passes compared to Everton’s combined tally of 54.
Allardyce switched to 4-2-3-1 with Morgan Schneiderlin and Aarron Lennon replacing Tom Davies and Oumar Niasse at half-time, with Rooney pushed into a number 10 role having spent the opening 45 minutes doubling up on Mane with Kenny.
The change did little to alter the pattern of play with Salah heading wide soon after the restart before, with Klopp wary of his heavy workload, he was replaced by Firmino.
With Everton still offering little threat a long ball forward pitted Calvert-Lewin against Lovren and the Croatian defender’s incomprehensible decision to tangle with the youngster as he ran away from goal provided Rooney with the goal he so craved.