IT WAS A cold, wet Tuesday night in April, utterly forgettable in almost every respect. But Jason McAteer will always remember his first Merseyside derby in the “cauldron” that is Goodison Park.
Now the man affectionately nicknamed “Trigger” says Liverpool’s young guns will have to steel themselves to face some sniping from the stands this weekend.
Before Chelsea and Manchester United square off in Stamford Bridge on Sunday, two of English football’s most historic rivals meet in the first part of a mouth-watering double-header.
It is the 219th meeting between the sides, a series which tilted unusually in Liverpool’s favour last season when the Redmen won all three matches including a thrilling FA Cup semi-final in front of 87,000 fans in Wembley.
But when these two collide, form goes out the window as Liverpool fans will hasten to remind you given their indifferent start to the domestic season. Under new management in Brendan Rodgers, the Reds have only won two of their first eight league games while their Stanley Park neighbours — traditionally the slower starters of the two — are currently riding high in fourth with just one black mark on their record, an away defeat against West Brom.
As well as ensuring a few months of bragging rights in the city’s bedrooms, kitchens, pubs and offices, a win on Sunday would catapult Liverpool to within three points of the Toffees and something approaching mid-table respectability.
One bright spot in their disappointing start has been Rodgers’ willingness to throw young talent in at the deep end and let them prove themselves. Raheem Sterling, Suso and most recently defender Andre Wisdom have all acquitted themselves well, attracting plenty of praise, but McAteer knows that the derby represents uncharted waters.
“It is an aggressive game,” the former Liverpool winger and Republic of Ireland star told TheScore.ie at an ESPN event in Dublin this week.
It’s going to be another one of those games where it’s going to be a learning curve for the younger players. A lot of them won’t have played in anything like it.
“As much as the older players and the managers and coaches tell you what it’s going to be like, until you actually get out on the pitch and you feel it… it sort of just filters on to the pitch, the atmosphere and the tension and the pressure.
“There’s that element of not wanting to make a mistake. You feel like if you make a mistake and get punished, you’re going to get your head chopped off. It’s got that real horrible sense to it.”
Goodison doesn’t hold too many fond memories for McAteer, who never won a game there in his four seasons with Liverpool. As a winger in a tight ground, he got closer to the atmosphere than he would have liked on a couple of occasions.
Goodison is always a more aggressive atmosphere because you’re so much closer to the fans. At Anfield you’re a little bit further. It’s more of a cauldron at Goodison than Anfield. Nothing gets you ready for that game.
Playing out on the wing as well, when the ball goes out of play, you’re the one who has to go and pick it up. Being spat at and having things thrown at you is never, never nice. I remember that as well.
Everton are hopeful that star man Marouane Fellaini will recover from a knee injury in time for Sunday, while David Moyes will definitely be without the suspended Steven Pienaar following his red card at QPR last weekend.
“It’s probably the first time in a while that you’d say Everton go in as favourites,” McAteer says. “I can’t remember the last time we’ve said that.
“As we’ve seen with Everton over the last few years, their bad part of the season is usually at the beginning. They usually really, really struggle.
“Their start has been absolutely fantastic.”