Everton and Liverpool share the spoils and the hope that Merseyside revival will bridge the gap
For the past nine years, women's football in Merseyside has felt somewhat stuck in the doldrums while London and Manchester clubs have collected a treasure trove of all the major domestic silverware, but at long last there may be hope on the horizon for Everton and Liverpool.
Local bragging rights was the only prize that was ever really going to be on offer in Friday's high-energy and entertaining derby between two mid-table sides, such is the gap between them and the country's leading teams, but after a memorable night for the city, the primary focuses for both clubs now has to be to finally challenge the top four, and to ensure more of the 22,161 fans who were at Goodison Park return to watch Women's Super League games more regularly.
Everton manager Brian Sorensen has one suggestion – he wants more of their home games to be staged at the men's team's ground.
"Make sure we play here often," Everton's Danish coach said, when asked what needs to happen next, following what was a club-record home crowd for Everton's women. "People will come. Not only for the Liverpool derby but also when other teams are coming. So hopefully we can come here and play some more."
Liverpool manager Matt Beard felt Friday's contest was a "great advert for women's football", and if we are being honest, Merseyside has needed one. Since Liverpool's 2014 WSL title, both they and Everton have each endured spells in the second tier and have had to rebuild. However, this game truly lived up to the pre-match hype, as both teams went on the attack.
Sorensen added, of the atmosphere: "It was electric, it was like when I’m here when the men play, so I'm really happy, it was magic. I'm just a little disappointed we couldn't give them the win."
Both teams will feel they could have pinched it. Everton's in-form, left-sided midfielder Gabby George's curling opener – struck from a very tight angle – was cancelled out by Katie Stengel's confident low finish from inside the box, on a night when both teams had enough chances to score at least four goals each. Their main exasperation, though, focused on two disallowed goals.
Leighanne Robe thought she had put Liverpool 2-1 up from a cleverly-worked corner, but referee Lauren Impey determined that Ceri Holland had impeded Everton goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan as the cross came in. Beard said: "I’m frustrated because it shouldn’t have been disallowed."
Later in the second half, it was the Everton fans' turn to see their celebrations cut short, when their young England international Jess Park fired a stunning strike in from range but replays showed the ball had struck her outstretched arm when she controlled it. This one was clearer. And so the spoils were shared, but optimism in both camps grows.
Having won September's reverse fixture at Anfield 3-0, and now staying six points above their eight-placed neighbours in sixth, Everton will feel they are best-placed of these two sides to try to take the next step. As for Liverpool, who won promotion last term, Beard feels they should now be safe at least, adding: "History tells us the points we’ve got should be enough to stay in the division, but we’ll continue to work hard to make sure mathematically that happens."