Derby draw turns thoughts to next season

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Steven Pienaar runs at the Liverpool defence during the Merseyside derbyPA PhotosSteven Pienaar runs at the Liverpool defence during the Merseyside derby

Once the dust settles, the 220th Merseyside derby will not live long in the memory. Aside from a disallowed goal, the 90 minutes of football failed to offer a single talking point. On this day in 1928, Dixie Dean scored his 60th league goal of the season with a final-day hat trick; he will be turning in his grave at the attacking play on show here.

Everton's winless run at Anfield continues for at least another year after this 0-0 draw. Much like the rest of the season, this was a near miss for the Toffees. Never quite doing enough to win the match, too many draws is the story of the season for David Moyes and his players.

- Walsh: Derby whimper reflects Reds' transition
- Whalley: Everton aggrieved in derby stalemate
- Gerrard: Liverpool lack cutting edge
- Everton keep league lead over rivals

With European qualification beyond both sides, this game merely outlined the gap between the Merseyside teams and those above them. Both possess a strong starting 11, but the lack of depth within each squad prevents a sustainable European challenge. This was glaringly obvious during the second half, especially for Everton.

Kevin Mirallas struggled throughout, failing to influence the game and struggling to retain possession on the rare occasions he received it. Mirallas eventually had his misery ended when replaced by Nikica Jelavic.

Without a recognised midfielder on the bench, the sight of Victor Anichebe masquerading on the left flank further highlights the problem area within the Everton squad: the midfield. Elsewhere, restored to the advanced role behind the striker, Marouane Fellaini showed why his best position remains in the engine room.

Aside from a prodded effort wide and the occasional wrestling match, Fellaini barely contributed. Isolated in advanced areas, the big-haired Belgian is away from the action; the team is stronger when his physical presence and tackling ability are utilised in central midfield.

Unable to find any kind of rhythm in the final third, Everton were infuriatingly toothless in attack. As if hampered by an invisible force field, the good work in the first two thirds continually crumbled when approaching the Liverpool penalty area.

Overall, neither side did enough to win the match; the two mustered just five shots on target between them. That said, Everton did manage to get the ball in the net from a second-half corner. Sylvain Distin rose above the home defence to give Everton the lead, or so he thought. The untimely sound of an officiating whistle put a swift halt to celebrations.

Disallowed for any number of nothing decisions, the foul was extremely harsh given the grappling present in penalty areas around the country. Nonetheless, after Michael Oliver spoke to Victor Anichebe prior to the corner, there was a lingering air of inevitability about the goal being ruled out.

In a game plagued by poor performances, the visiting defence provided one of the few positives. Registering a clean sheet for the sixth time in eight matches, the players have rediscovered the defensive resilience synonymous with David Moyes' teams.

Making several key blocks and tackles, Phil Jagielka and Distin repelled numerous Liverpool attacks. When Everton endured a rough patch at the beginning of the second half, it only strengthened their resolve. Aided by assured goalkeeping from Tim Howard, the defensive worries from earlier in the season have disappeared.

Unfortunately, the Blues have exchanged defensive strength for a blunt attack. Overworked and overused, tiredness is stifling the attacking players. Lacking the resources to alternate personnel, the established members of the side are running on empty.

Barring a strange turn of results, this point secures another place in the top six under Moyes, and that is a commendable finish given the financial constraints hampering the Everton boss. Nevertheless, without the added bonus of a European place, it is hard to define this season as a successful one; sixth and a dismal FA Cup exit place this firmly in the near-miss category.

Needing a strong and focused summer, the Everton board must back Moyes (should he choose to stay). Having laid the foundations, the club need to strengthen with new additions. January was a chance missed in terms of improving the squad; the Toffees must avoid the same mistakes in upcoming months.

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