The banners proclaimed the return of “The King.” Yet Kenny Dalglish’s presence in the home dugout for the first time since he quit as Liverpool manager 20 years ago wasn’t enough to inspire victory over neighbor Everton.
Yesterday’s 2-2 draw leaves both teams in the bottom half of the Premier League, four points clear of the relegation zone.
The 59-year-old, who claimed three league titles during his earlier six-year reign, was the preferred choice of many Liverpool supporters following the departure of Roy Hodgson this month. Hodgson left after just six months, with the 18-time English champion on its worst run in more than half a century.
“It was emotive for me to go down there and it was very, very much appreciated, the response from the crowd,” Dalglish told reporters. He’d seen Dirk Kuyt’s penalty rescue a point after Everton turned a halftime deficit into a 2-1 lead within the first seven minutes of the second half. Dalglish quit Liverpool following a 4-4 F.A. Cup draw with Everton in February 1991.
“I think it’s very important that everybody does what they can do best for this football club, whether it’s the players lifting the crowd or the crowd lifting the players,” Dalglish said. “If I can help in a small way in that, then we’ll be much better off as long as we’re all together.”
The crowd had been chanting Dalglish’s name during the final weeks of Hodgson’s tenure, but the change in management hasn’t led to a change of fortunes on the field. Liverpool has failed to win any of its three games under its new coach. The tie with Everton follows defeats to Manchester United in the F.A. Cup and newly promoted Blackpool in the Premier League.
Liverpool, missing captain Steven Gerrard through suspension, dominated the first half. Fernando Torres struck the post and Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard made several saves before Raul Meireles struck the opener with 30 minutes played. Liverpool’s failure to exploit its dominance in the first 45 minutes cost the team the chance of victory, both coaches said.
“Liverpool in the first half might have had two or three,” said Everton’s David Moyes, who added he had harsh words with his team in the dressing room during the break.
His intervention had the desired effect.
Defender Sylvain Distin headed in Mikel Arteta’s corner within a minute of the restart and soon afterwards Leon Osman dribbled into the area before teeing up Jermaine Beckford to put the visitors ahead.
Kuyt restored parity from the penalty spot with 20 minutes to go after Howard bundled Maxi Rodriguez to the ground.
Liverpool’s U.S. owners John Henry and Tom Werner were in attendance. They’ll meet with Dalglish and other club officials over the next few days as they continue to devise a strategy for the team they acquired for 300 million pounds ($476 million) in October. Dalglish said he wasn’t sure if the team will be strengthened during this month’s transfer window.
His focus, he said, was on the players already at the club and he suggested he’ll give opportunities to some of the lesser known, younger talent on the squad. Academy graduate Jay Spearing, 22, started in midfield and Jonjo Shelvey, 18, replaced Meireles for the final quarter.
“We’ve got to be careful that we put them in and don’t destroy them,” he said.
Moyes praised his team’s character, saying he had to play understudies because of the absence of players including Tim Cahill, Louis Saha and Phil Jagielka. Steven Pienaar was left out and may have played his last game for the team after Everton accepted an offer from Chelsea for the South African midfielder.
“I don’t think (Steven) has agreed terms with Chelsea and felt he wasn’t in the right place, so I had a decision to make and I felt it would be better not to use him,” Moyes said.
Tottenham has also expressed an interest in Pienaar but hasn’t met Everton’s valuation.
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