‘Everton apply final blow to Liverpool title challenge’

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The cycle of misery that has held Everton in its icy grip for so long was released on a night of passion and fury at Goodison Park that may have applied the final blow Liverpool’s Premier League title challenge.

If a first Merseyside derby home win since October 2010 was not cause enough for celebration for Everton, their 2-0 triumph came with what they will regard as the glorious bonus of inflicting potentially irreparable damage to Liverpool.

This much was clear as the famous old stadium echoed to the taunts of “You Lost The League At Goodison Park” as a leggy, lack-lustre Liverpool banged their heads on the brick wall that was Everton’s defence and outstanding goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

It was 29 years to the night since what is widely regarded as the most famous evening in Goodison Park’s history when Bayern Munich were overpowered in the European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final.

This win, of course, does not even touch that significance but this will be a night Everton fans will remember for a long time and Liverpool will want to forget – and if they do forget they will find plenty of a royal blue persuasion happy to remind them.

Everton flew at Liverpool from the first whistle, roared on in an atmosphere that might just be impossible to replicate when they leave this stadium.

Jurgen Klopp’s side had chances after Jarrad Branthwaite’s 27th-minute opener and following Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s headerto make it 2-0 just before the hour, especially when Luis Diaz struck an upright. But there was no coming back.

Klopp’s downbeat demeanour in his post-match media briefing told the story after his first derby defeat at Goodison Park. He was certainly not throwing the towel in, and rightly so, but he wore the look of someone who knew the game may well be up.

Liverpool are still only three points behind leaders Arsenal but their form is going into reverse and the Gunners’ goal difference is so superior it is effectively worth another point.

Amid the joyous scenes at the final whistle, there is every chance Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Manchester City counterpart Pep Guardiola may also have been allowing themselves a smile.

And it was a game that also left two big questions.

Where has this Everton been for large portions of another season of struggle? And what has happened to Liverpool, especially those tasked with scoring goals, with even Mohamed Salah misfiring miserably once again?

Darwin Nunez must be trying the patience of the Liverpool supporters who have stood by him so long. The chaos that sustained him despite his habit of missing chances is now narrowed down and being replaced by just the missed chances.

Even Virgil van Dijk was unsettled, throwing his arms out in disgust as Calvert-Lewin soared behind him for Everton’s second goal.

Liverpool pressed on but not with conviction or urgency, almost resigned to their fate – something which could not be said often in Klopp’s reign.

Even the manager himself raised eyebrows with his substitutions, taking off Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson and replacing them with Joe Gomez and Kostas Tsimikas when Liverpool needed goals.

Klopp must lift his players for the weekend visit to West Ham United but they must also find something they have lost in recent weeks if they are to have even the slightest chance of regrouping to challenge Arsenal and Manchester City.

Liverpool looked like a side who have gone to the well too often, with two losses and a draw in their past four league games, minds scrambled by the way Everton set about them, with Calvert-Lewin showing what manager Sean Dyche has missed when the striker is at his best.

And what of Everton? Barely a week after a 6-0 humbling at Chelsea they were a team transformed, the sight of Liverpool like a red rag to a bull.

The goals Liverpool conceded where hardly the result of surprises being sprung on them. Everton’s trademark is set-piece power plays and both goals resulted from them. The second goal, a Dwight McNeil corner met by Calvert-Lewin, was as routine as it gets but Liverpool could not cope.

Everton and their followers have been very short on reasons to let it all hang out in celebration apart from in late escapes from relegation as the club lurched towards the footballing and financial precipice, with eight points being deducted this season.

So it was no surprise to see some of their supporters dancing down Goodison Road in the direction of the famous Evertonian pub across from Goodison Park, The Winslow.

Dyche, whose style of play has been something of an acquired taste to some Everton fans, got it spot on here and deserved to fully enjoy the finest night since his appointment.

He did not have to look hard for heroes in the shape of goalscorers Branthwaite and Calvert-Lewin, the faultless Idrissa Gueye in midfield and keeper Pickford, who delivered several crucial saves and even indulged in some Klopp-style fist pumps towards Everton’s fans after one final save from Salah in the dying seconds.

Klopp apologised to Liverpool’s fans, many of whom left before the final whistle, for the bitter taste left by his final Merseyside derby.

He will know how much this will hurt, not just because they were beaten by Everton, because they may have taken a blow from which their Premier League title challenge will not recover.

For Everton, this was the sort of night they waited a long time for – more than 13 years in this fixture at Goodison Park – and the outpouring of joy matched this thunderous occasion.

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