Derby stalls at starting gate


English football's fondness for self-congratulation is such that no one batted an eyelid last week when it was suggested that Ibrahim Bakayoko's move to the Premiership was connected with his desire to experience at first hand the beautiful game.

On Saturday, the country that gave the sport to the world gave Bakayoko an early reminder that slotted in between those moments of grace and enterprise which have served to inflate ridiculously our sense of self-importance are huge slabs of dross.

Bakayoko was fortunate in not having to endure the final 23 minutes of an unappealing spectacle when he was replaced - by Mitch Ward of all people.

A banner hanging from one of Goodison Park's upper decks announced that "Bakayoko sings the Blues". Good. It is always reassuring to learn that a footballer has something else to fall back on in hard times.

But, while looking totally out of his depth, the young Ivory Coast striker did almost score inside the opening seconds when his flicked header from a Michael Ball freekick flew just wide of Liverpool's far post.

That was to be the closest Everton went all afternoon to logging what would have been a first home league goal since Gareth Farrelly struck against Coventry City last May to preserve their place among the elite.

In a game which was quite often reduced to the level of farce by a biting gale, the better football always came from Liverpool feet, but even when the masterly Dave Watson at the heart of the Everton back line was beaten there was no joy for Michael Owen or Robbie Fowler.

Owen may be a prodigious talent but, at the moment, he is a tired prodigious talent, something which Liverpool's joint manager Gerard Houllier was swift to acknowledge. "He says that he will take a rest when he is 40, but we have so many games coming up that he will be rested at some point," said the Frenchman.

After moving to the left flank, Steve McManaman did belatedly threaten to run rings round Everton's flagging defenders, and would possibly have done so had over-elaboration not undone all his good work.

As he begins to coast towards next summer, a Bosman-inspired free transfer and a signing-on fee sufficiently generous to settle the national debts of several Third World countries, McManaman is - allegedly - keeping the hopes alive of those Liverpool officials who have been handed the responsibility of trying to persuade him to remain at Anfield.

But word has it that the young mop-top will only deign to consider staying on Merseyside if his weekly pay packet is replaced by a small van transporting £50,000 a week.

Clearly, Liverpool will not accede to his demands, so come next season he will be flattering to deceive in a different coloured shirt in a different country.

EVERTON: Myhre, Cleland, Ball, Watson, Unsworth, Collins, Ferguson, Hutchison, Short, Grant (Cadamarteri 57), Bakayoko (Ward 68). Subs Not Used: Gerrard, Farrelly, Madar. Booked: Cleland, Unsworth, Hutchison.

LIVERPOOL: James, Staunton, McManaman, Fowler, Owen, Redknapp (McAteer 45), Heggem, Berger (Riedle 87), Ince, Bjornebye, Carragher (Kvarme 50). Subs Not Used: Matteo, Warner. Booked: Bjornebye, Ince, Fowler, Riedle.

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).