Gylfi Sigurdsson’s precise low finish from the edge of the box proved in vain as Everton suffered a late defeat in the FA Cup third round at Anfield.
The Icelander had made the most of Phil Jagielka’s pull back to slot past goalkeeper Loris Karius and deservedly cancel out James Milner’s first-half penalty with 23 minutes still remaining.
The Blues then showed endeavour to go for the win but Virgil van Dijk met an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain corner with his head to net a debut winner for the hosts six minutes from time.
Everton boss Sam Allardyce had vowed to “go for it” when speaking in his pre-match press conference - and his team selection backed up that intent. It was a particularly attack-minded first 11, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin chosen to lead the line, supported by Wayne Rooney - scorer of the point-earning penalty at Anfield in the Premier League a month ago - Gylfi Sigurdsson and Yannick Bolasie.
James McCarthy made just his second start of the season in midfield and skipper Jagielka was reinstalled in central defence as Allardyce made five changes in total.
A fantastic atmosphere greeted the two teams for this Friday night under-the-lights cup tie, with over 8,000 Evertonians packed into both the upper and lower tiers of the Anfield Road Stand.
There were a couple of early full-blooded challenges too, including one from Rooney on Joe Gomez which earned the former England captain a seventh-minute booking.
It was a well-contested opening to the match. Emre Can and Sadio Mane fired wide with shots from outside the box, while Bolasie saw plenty of the ball in what had the makings to be an interesting tussle against Liverpool left-back Andrew Robertson. Twice in quick successions, the winger beat his man and whipped over dangerous crosses that had the hosts retreating. Calvert-Lewin as the focal point also gave as good as he got against Van Dijk.
For all of the tie’s early energy, it took until the 25th minute for a genuine chance of note to be carved out. A right-winged centre found its way to Milner and the midfielder steered a side-footed shot a yard or so past the post. Still, Jordan Pickford, scampering across his line, had it covered.
After Mane was again off-target, Milner made no mistake with his next attempt, converted from the penalty spot 10 minutes before half-time when Mason Holgate was adjudged to have held and impeded Adam Lallana just inside the area.
Holgate was then caught up in a touchline incident with Roberto Firmino as the first half reached its conclusion with tempers running high.
The Toffees reappeared following the breaking news at half-time that Cenk Tosun had completed his transfer from Turkish outfit Besiktas.
Allardyce’s first change was replacing Rooney with Ademola Lookman six minutes into the second half, a substitution which saw Sigurdsson move into a more central position. Moments after the switch, if not for an unfortunate slip on the edge of the Liverpool box, the Icelander would have been in a prime position to test Karius.
As Everton went in search of a leveller, the game predictably became more open. Good opportunities for the home side to extend the lead fell to Lallana, Robertson and Van Dijk, the latter two forcing Pickford into necessary saves.
Calvert-Lewin twice threw his body at crosses, one from the left and another from the right, but couldn’t quite stretch far enough to make firm contact and guide the ball towards goal.
And the end-to-end nature of the second half was encapsulated by Sigurdsson’s breakaway equaliser on 67 minutes.
On the counter-attack, Bolasie smartly spread play out to Lookman on the left, who carried the ball forwards and picked out the unmarked Jagielka. The captain teed up Sigurdsson perfectly and the Icelander, first-time, buried the ball into the bottom corner.
The goal - and scenes of celebration in the away end that followed - gave Everton momentum. Lookman’s trickery, again on the left, earned a free-kick in a dangerous position 25 yards out but Sigurdsson was unable to pick out a man inside a packed penalty box.
And though the Blues continued to search for a way to catch their hosts out a second time, it was the debutant Van Dijk who met the ball eight-yards out to settle the tie late on.
The first instalment has been repaid. Virgil van Dijk announced his arrival as Liverpool’s record signing and the world’s most expensive defender with an 85th-minute winner to knock Everton out of the FA Cup, the first time the visitors have suffered that fate in their history. There was no better way for Liverpool’s debutant to respond to the pressure and expectation.
This had been another gruelling derby encounter for Jürgen Klopp against a Sam Allardyce team and his reaction to Van Dijk’s late header spoke of relief. Liverpool had led through a controversial James Milner penalty, conceded an equaliser to Gylfi Sigurdsson and looked set for an unwanted replay until their new signing’s intervention. Phil Jagielka and Jordan Pickford were found wanting at the winner but Van Dijk’s Anfield career is up and running in style.
Allardyce described the third-round tie as “a glory game” on Thursday but his pre-match prediction was less effusive. “The one thing we won’t be doing is playing open, expansive football,” the manager said of a club that spent £140m on new players in the summer and £27m on Friday on the Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun. The Turkey international would have been included on the bench at Anfield had he been registered in time but the deal, worth £125,000 a week to the 26-year-old, was delayed and bizarrely announced by Everton at half-time.
Yannick Bolasie’s return from a 12-month injury lay-off was a significant factor, with his willingness to attack Andrew Robertson at least offering Calvert-Lewin some support. Everton, however, did not create one chance of note in the first half. That will not have shocked regular observers of Allardyce’s team but more surprising was Liverpool’s equal ineffectiveness in the final third.
In mitigation Klopp’s forward options were reduced or not at their sharpest. Sadio Mané arrived back from the African Footballer of the Year awards in Ghana in the early hours of the morning via private jet. The winner, his team-mate Mohamed Salah, was absent through injury along with the transfer window distraction that is Philippe Coutinho. Salah’s replacement, Adam Lallana, was on the periphery of a contest played in a good atmosphere until being central to the breakthrough.
The only incident of note in the opening 25 minutes was a poor challenge by Wayne Rooney on Joe Gomez that brought a deserved booking for the veteran. Otherwise it had been a flowing, even but incident-free derby until Emre Can played a first-time pass into Lallana just inside the penalty area and the boyhood Evertonian went down under a touch from Mason Holgate. The referee, Robert Madley, immediately pointed to the spot and the controversy that shaped the last derby, and earned Everton a point, had resurfaced in Liverpool’s favour. Holgate raised his arms foolishly, Lallana tumbled easily and another soft penalty was the end result. Milner dinked his penalty straight down the middle of Jordan Pickford’s goal and showed barely a flicker of emotion at opening the scoring.
Allardyce argued long over the decision with Jon Moss, the fourth official. Given their respective takes on Dejan Lovren’s push on Calvert-Lewin last month, the Everton manager should have agreed and Klopp disagreed with Madley’s judgment. If they were being consistent, that is.
Another flashpoint involving Holgate quickly followed. The young defender, still incensed by the penalty award, stupidly pushed Roberto Firmino over the advertising hoardings in front of the Main Stand as the pair chased the ball out for a throw-in. Firmino reacted furiously and made a beeline for Holgate. Madley stepped into the Liverpool forward’s path as the Everton defender first eyeballed Firmino then erupted in response to something the Brazilian had said, man-handling the referee in the process. Remarkably no cards were shown but Madley engaged in a long conversation afterwards with Moss, who took notes. We may not have heard the last of this one.
A soft penalty was not the only similarity with the clubs’ recent draw in the league. Again Liverpool should have put the contest beyond Everton at 1-0. Joe Gomez squandered a gilt-edged chance early in the second half when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s corner found him unmarked at the back post. To Klopp’s disgust the young defender steered a close-range header wide. Lallana also shot wide when given a run on Phil Jagielka and Van Dijk headed straight at Pickford from an Oxlade-Chamberlain free-kick.
Everton punished Liverpool for their missed opportunities. Allardyce introduced Ademola Lookman for the unhappy Rooney, with the former England captain sailing too close to a red card, and the youngster was central to the equaliser. Collecting Bolasie’s clearance, he broke into the Liverpool half before spraying the ball out to Jagielka of all people sprinting down the right. Jagielka stumbled over his first touch but passed inside to Sigurdsson and he rolled a cool finish inside Loris Karius’ left-hand post.
Phil Jagielka found it tough to draw any positives from Everton’s FA Cup defeat at Liverpool – but the Toffees skipper believes his team are starting to produce “better football”.
Centre-back Jagielka marauded forward to join a 67th-minute Blues counter-attack and tee-up Gylfi Sigurdsson for an accomplished equalising goal in front of the Blues' 8,000-strong support, after James Milner’s disputed penalty had given the hosts a first-half lead.
Everton carved out further chances at Anfield – with winger Yannick Bolasie instrumental to his side’s attacking efforts, as the 28-year-old completed 90 minutes for the first time since returning from a year-long injury lay-off on Boxing Day.
But it was Liverpool who progressed to the fourth round, after Virgil van Dijk headed home with six minutes to play.
“We played reasonably well, better in the second half than the first,” said Jagielka. “We managed to keep the ball and played much better than we did last time here [the Premier League draw in December] – but unfortunately could not quite keep them out for the second goal.
“People were taking responsibility on the ball. Yannick came in and kept the ball – he retained it well for us.
“We had to be patient and pass the ball around – and in spells we did. But we can still improve. It is still early days in the new regime.
“Hopefully we can get back to the training ground and work on a few things going forward – and get back to winning ways.
“We have come to Liverpool and lost, so there is no consolation or positive thought yet. There is no real positive coming here and losing, except we seem to be getting our confidence back and starting to play better football.”
In addition to Bolasie’s return to the fold during the festive period, Everton also welcomed back midfielder James McCarthy from a lengthy injury absence last week.
The Irishman started at Liverpool and added bite and industry to the Blues’ engine room, while substitute Ademola Lookman – appearing for the first time since an 11-minute outing against Swansea City on 18 December – came on and caused the Reds problems with his direct, purposeful running.
And with the Club also announcing the signing today of Turkey international striker Cenk Tosun, Jagielka spies reason for optimism in the second half of the campaign.
Everton are ninth in the Premier League and resume their top-flight campaign against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley next Saturday.
“There are a few players getting fit and getting a chance,” added the skipper. “Places are up for grabs at the moment and that will keep everyone on their toes.
“We will meet Cenk soon enough. Hopefully he can quickly familiarise himself with his surroundings, we can take him to Spurs and he can play a part there.
“The boys up front have done their best – we have not been tremendous at creating chances [for the strikers].
“It has been a tough schedule lately but getting a new face in and players off the treatment table will freshen up the squad.”