For many Evertonians, today will be the one step too far – the day when a seething tolerance of poor officiating of Merseyside derbies finally crossed the threshold from being coincidental to simply being on purpose.
From the off, let´s make one thing clear. Most Evertonians would have accepted a loss today against Liverpool without any controversy if we were beaten by a better bunch of eleven on the field of play.
We would have also accepted a loss if one of our players had lunged in with a horror tackle and been deservedly dismissed.
However much the red half of Merseyside would like to label it as thus, this isn´t bitterness.
Unfortunately, it´s impossible to accept a defeat where the twelfth man in red – today being Martin Atkinson – scores the winner.
For those of you coming home late from work and have no idea what happened, the Merseyside derby was won by Liverpool by two goals to nil following the sending off of Jack Rodwell for a tackle on Luis Suarez twenty minutes into the game, right under the nose of the referee.
The problem was that not only was it not a challenge which deserved a red card, it did not deserve a yellow card. In fact, it wasn´t even a foul. It wasn´t even close to being a foul. Even the peppering of ex-Liverpool pundits across the media today attested to that fact.
Introducing the Everton Mishmash!
The only man in Christendom who deemed it a foul at all was Martin Atkinson.
And so, in the searing heat of the hottest October day ever, ten man Everton succumbed to a 2-0 loss after wave upon wave of pressure after actually having the better of things in the first twenty minutes. The game was effectively over once Atkinson decided to become a celebrity, like so many referees in the Merseyside derby before him.
In my view, it wasn´t just a poor refereeing decision; it was blatant cheating, a decision made by the referee before the game kicked off. He had made up his mind that the first sliding tackle at pace made by a player in blue would result in a red card, because no other explanation makes sense.
I don´t blame Luis Suarez, by the way. Yes, his antics are an abomination on football, as were the reactions of Lucas Leiva and Charlie Adam. However, it is the ridiculous standard of referreeing in football that allows these players to try it on, because they know more often than not that they can get away with. Evertonian angst should be directed at the man in yellow today, rather than the men in red.
For me, the result was secondary. The real tragedy of this game is that fans from both sides where denied a classic derby after paying to get in the gates and tuning in to Sky Sports all around the globe.
I believe the more level-headed Liverpool fans will feel cheated too, as this is a phantom victory. They haven´t beaten Everton today. They can´t go into work on Monday and laugh at the Toffees, which should be the God given right of the fans after the derby. Basically, this will become the derby that never was – a statistic which says Liverpool won at Goodison Park on a technicality; like a boxer who wins due to an accidental headbutt.
We will now never know how the promising first twenty minutes will have panned out. Sure, Liverpool may have won the game anyway. Or maybe we´d have snatched a win. Either way, it would have been victory or defeat in a contest between twenty-two men on the pitch. Not a result decided by the twenty-third.