Liverpool 1 - Everton
Anfield, Saturday 27th September.
When a side is desperately searching for an equaliser, the tendency is for their football to become increasingly highly-percentage. With players unwilling to take risks and determined not to waste any last chances, they typically defer to each other and either look to retain possession or feed the box.
When the ball broke to Everton’s Phil Jagielka at Anfield back in September, twenty-five yards out and deep into injury-time of the first Merseyside derby of the season, that’s exactly what everyone expected to happen. The centre-back does havea semblance of long-range pedigree dating back to his single season in the Premier League with Sheffield United, but the smart play was still to square the ball, allow his teammates to flood the box and to re-set the attacking situation.
But he went for it and, in a derby situation and with the Kop ready to ironic cheer its own roof off, that was a very laudable instinct. Most Everton fans will cheerfully admit that their hearts sank when they saw Jagielka move to shoot and the player could probably sense that too - but how admirable to see someone own that kind of moment, to shoulder the responsibility, and to execute perfectly within the thick derby atmosphere.
And what an exclamation point it provided. There is always something dramatic about seeing a shot bounce in off the underside of the bar and, in a perfect world, that’s what every last-minute goal would look like. The clunk of the woodwork made it more decisive and, in addition to the anomaly of a centre-back scoring in that way, it’s memorable because it was so at odds with the situation.
The irony, of course, was that it really belonged in a Steven Gerrard montage. Had that happened at the other end of Anfield that day, it would have been lost under the usual Gerrard hyperbole and drowned in Captain Fantastic rhetoric. Because it was Everton and because it was Jagielka, though, it has barely been mentioned since and even at the time it was met with an open-mouthed-but-silent outrage from the home fans. It didn’t fit the script and Jagielka wasn’t on the pre-determined list of heroes for that game - and football is at its best when it wanders from the beaten path.
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