Nobody leaves happy after Merseyside stalemate

Distin goal disallowed at Anfield but Liverpool remain five points behind Everton

Seamus Coleman of Everton battles for the ball with Jordan Henderson of Liverpool at Anfield. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Seamus Coleman of Everton battles for the ball with Jordan Henderson of Liverpool at Anfield. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Sun, May 5, 2013, 15:54

Liverpool 0 Everton 0: These are the days when Liverpool rue the absence of Luis Suárez. If only for something to talk about. A tame Merseyside derby ended with honours even but with Everton remaining five points above their wealthier neighbours with two matches to play.

A home win against West Ham United next Sunday will ensure David Moyes’s team hold the Merseyside ascendancy for the second successive season for the first time in the same division since 1936-37.

Chances and controversy were largely absent from the 220th Merseyside derby – Jamie Carragher’s 30th and last – as Liverpool struggled for ingenuity in the absence of their banned leading goalscorer. There was little evidence of the understanding and menace that destroyed Newcastle away last weekend as the visitors absorbed pressure easily and struck through Sylvain Distin, only for the referee, Michael Oliver, to disallow the effort for pushing by Victor Anichebe.

Everton enjoyed a fair degree of midfield control in the first half though chances for both teams were at a premium. The best arrived for the visitors from a Leighton Baines’s free kick that picked out the towering figure of Marouane Fellaini at the far post, but his volley trickled millimetres wide of the opposite corner with José Reina stranded. Otherwise, despite Séamus Coleman prospering down the right flank, the Liverpool goalkeeper was rarely troubled.

Tim Howard also had an initially lazy Sunday afternoon in the opposite goal, thanks largely to the immense performances of Phil Jagielka and Distin in front of him. Everton’s captain for the day, and for the future once Phil Neville departs in the summer, produced several superb challenges to deny Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho inside his area plus a vital block from Steven Gerrard’s close range shot. Gerrard went close with a free-kick from 25 yards but too often Liverpool’s distribution, though dangerous when driven cross-field by their captain and the impressive Jordan Henderson, lacked accuracy and invention.

The first half was incident-free in terms of a Merseyside derby and the intelligent refereeing of Oliver was largely responsible. The official displayed welcome restraint in keeping yellow cards in his pocket when others might well have booked Lucas Leiva, Gerrard and Gibson for their first offences, and the occasion profited.

It took 56 minutes for Oliver to issue the first booking, for dissent by Victor Anichebe after Distin had produced the game’s first talking point with a disallowed goal. Anichebe and José Enrique had already been spoken to about grappling before a Baines’s corner, that Distin headed in at the back post having risen above Carragher, but they continued during its flight. The Everton striker also appeared to block Reina’s path as Distin converted. Anichebe could have collected a second yellow card for a ridiculous dive over Lucas’s nonexistent challenge 14 minutes later

Liverpool displayed far more urgency and attacking intent after the interval and went close to breaking the deadlock when Coutinho delivered his first piercing pass of the day through to Sturridge. The €15 million striker’s attempt to round Howard was thwarted by the Everton keeper twice, however, before, from another Coutinho ball, Sturridge shot high and wide. The trick almost succeeded when Sturridge released Gerrard inside the Everton area but, though the midfielder evaded Howard, Distin made a crucial interception.