The unexpected twists that turned Merseyside derby No221 into a classic did not cease on Phil Dowd's final whistle. We had a manager pressed on his team's Champions League credentials; the Everton manager. We had a captain defending the referee's refusal to dismiss an Everton player; the Liverpool captain. And where Daniel Sturridge must have anticipated acclaim for his 89th-minute rescue act, there was only a withering rebuke from Brendan Rodgers. It was that kind of day.
Both teams left Goodison Park with relief, regret, injury and an urgent need to spend more time on the training ground defending set pieces. So much for the brave new purism of the Merseyside derby. Yes, there was excellence in open play, with Ross Barkley and Philippe Coutinho leading the way, and Roberto Martínez's derby debut as Everton manager injected long-overdue fearlessness into the royal blue approach. By the end, with the rivals launching into one attack after another, even the stadium seemed punch-drunk.
But five of the six goals came directly from set pieces, all six if the source of Everton's second goal is included, and Kevin Mirallas should have joined the fixture's red-card roll-call for an appalling foul on Luis Suárez. The Liverpool manager correctly called it a career-threatening tackle, one that prompted a scuffle between Everton players and a visiting physio after he attempted to sway Dowd from a lenient yellow card. "When I initially saw the incident I was thinking yellow card," said Gerrard, who escaped a booking of his own for leading with an elbow on Gareth Barry. "Now I have seen it again, though, it's a red card but it's very difficult to say that in a split second and at that distance. I'd rather back the referee than have a go at him."
Rodgers' biggest gripe was reserved for Sturridge, however, whom he dropped to the bench for 79 minutes as a result of playing 90 with a thigh injury for England against Germany. The Liverpool manager said; "I am looking at him in training on Friday and he is not right. Whose responsibility is that? It is the [Football] Association and the player.
"It is very simple for me. With any player, you have to put yourself on the training field. If you do that, you will be in with a chance of playing. Jon Flanagan was immense. He will be in a derby that is shown on Sky Golden in 30 years' time because of his desire and will to put himself out there every day.
"If you don't do that, there is a consequence – you don't play. If you want to be a champion, if you want to win things, you have to be ready. For this game I just felt Daniel wasn't ready."
Rodgers was asked how Sturridge responded to the news and whether he asked to play in such an important occasion? "No, I could see it in him. I have seen it before. There is a trend," he replied. "The games he has disappointed in have come when he hasn't trained. That was the call here."
But the Liverpool manager's irritation would have been greater without Sturridge's last-minute equaliser, heading Gerrard's free-kick into the corner despite the close presence of three Everton players. The pattern had been established with Liverpool's first attack, a Gerrard corner that Coutinho converted unmarked at the back post. Everton responded quickly when Liverpool failed to deal with a Leighton Baines free-kick and Mirallas prodded home, before Suárez restored the visitors' lead with a replica of his free-kick against Manchester City last season.
In the Liverpool goal Simon Mignolet was inspired, making at least seven key saves as Everton – who ended the game with three 19-year-olds on the pitch in Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu and John Stones – cut through vibrantly and frequently. Their reward finally came when Romelu Lukaku exploded into life, levelled the game at 2-2 from close range and headed home a Mirallas corner to make it 3-2 with eight minutes remaining. Yet the clearer chances, and misses, belonged to Liverpool. Tim Howard foiled a Suárez header at point-blank range and Joe Allen wrote himself into derby infamy by missing a glorious invitation to put Liverpool 3-1 ahead on the hour.
"We have always been capable of beating anyone," said Martínez, who typified Everton's desire with his decision to replace the injured Baines with Deulofeu. "What was great to see is we went eye to eye and we were the better side in open play. Now the next step is to get three points in those situations. We have to look at how we will perform in a less glamorous fixture, a game that is not a derby. That's what you need over 10 months."
Man of the match Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)