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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Wayne Rooney is spot on for Everton as Mohamed Salah once again shines for Liverpool

Honours ended even in the Merseyside derby thanks to late spot-kick from the England forward.

Wayne Rooney scored the equaliser for Everton from the penalty spot in their 1-1 draw with Liverpool. Lee Smith / Action Images via Reuters
Wayne Rooney scored the equaliser for Everton from the penalty spot in their 1-1 draw with Liverpool. Lee Smith / Action Images via Reuters

Chapter Two of Wayne Rooney’s Everton odyssey has been nothing if not eventful.

Four months, and three different managers; an immensely dispiriting European campaign; time called on his England career; several weeks in the Premier League’s relegation zone.

A comeback of regrets? Not entirely. Appreciation for him in the Evertonian constituency of which he is a lifelong member grows with each decisive contribution.

Yesterday he made the latest of them, securing a point from the match that means more than any other for a club where contention for trophies is a very rare eventuality.

Rooney’s seventh goal of his first Premier League season back at his boyhood club earned a reward from Merseyside derby against Liverpool that for most of the afternoon looked highly improbable.

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Rooney struck the equaliser in the 1-1 draw, from the penalty spot. That might make it sound a cheap goal until you remember this was Anfield, hostile territory, and, with 13 minutes remaining, every reason to believe it would be Everton’s one lifeline.

Everton had barely had 20 per cent of possession in the preceding slog under snowfall.

His first goal in a Merseyside derby – this was his fifth, after four as a teenager – would be thumped gleefully past Simon Mignolet, to the dismay of Dejan Lovren, who had given the penalty away with an unnecessary push on Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

That Lovren even felt Mignolet’s goal under imminent threat was thanks to Rooney’s searching, long-range pass to the striker. Everton needed to prize any moments of penetration; Rooney had provided a uniquely visionary one.

Operating in midfield, Rooney spent much of the match as an auxiliary right-back, so deep were his side pinned back.

“We will focus on frustrating them,” acknowledged Sam Allardyce, the Everton manager, of his gameplan against free-scoring Liverpool.

Allardyce achieved that, and Lovren was protesting at the match officials, presumably about the penalty, long after the final whistle.

The defender can anticipate sharp criticism, not for the first time, from supporters; Liverpool, too, for letting a lead slip away, as they did at Sevilla and at home to Chelsea within the last three weeks.

Against Everton, they lacked the insurance that converting all their time with the ball into goals would given them, and by the time Rooney winkled a draw out of an unbalanced contest, Liverpool no longer had their likeliest match-winner on the pitch.

Mohamed Salah, showing some symptoms of fatigue, had been withdrawn by Klopp to his customary ovation from the Anfield loyalists and certainly to the relief of Cuco Martina, the Everton left-back given the deflating task of marking Salah for most of the afternoon.

Martina was bamboozled by the effervescent Egyptian several times before Salah left him floored and eased into a shooting position to put Liverpool 1-0 ahead by half-time.

Without Salah, Liverpool would still be a high-scoring team. Without him they would sit lower in the table.

It was he who once more unlocked a stubborn rearguard and added another piece of evidence in his claim to be the Premier League’s Player of the Season so far.

In the course of 2017, five of the established Top Six have made significant recruitments to bolster their forward lines.

City, with Gabriel Jesus; United, with Romelu Lukaku; Chelsea, with Alvaro Morata, and Arsenal, with Alex Lacazette, sought out men answering the template of orthodox centre-forwards.

Liverpool splashed out their funds on a footballer who operates from the flank, takes corners. And yet he has scored at a higher goals-per-minute ratio than any of those others.

His excellent strike - trademark in that it followed a powerful run along his favourite path, cutting in from the right flank, teeing up his shot onto his left foot - took him above Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane in the list of leading scorers in England’s top division.

He now has 13, and another six from the Uefa Champions League, and, just in case anybody wondered how a man from the hot, dry north of Egypt might respond to winter in the cold, wet north=west of England, here’s his form since the beginning of November: 10 goals in nine games.

His latest was not worth the three points Salah deserved on what turned out a happier day for Rooney, that cool-under-pressure, true-blue Liverpudlian.