Liverpool have not lost a Merseyside derby at Anfield for more than 14 years but memories of that September night in 1999 still burn in Steven Gerrard. That is hardly surprising, given he collected the game's third red card for a thigh-high foul on Kevin Campbell and was later confronted in a restaurant toilet by an angry Everton striker with his trousers around his ankles.
"I had a gut-wrenching pain in my stomach after that defeat. It took a long time to go," the Liverpool captain recalls of a Campbell-inflicted 1-0 reverse. "We'd lost, I'd been sent off but I'd booked a meal at the Albert Dock for afterwards thinking we were going to win the game. I really didn't want to go but at the same time I don't like letting people down so I went with a face on me and the first person I bumped into in the toilet was Kevin Campbell.
"He dropped his kecks and showed me the stud-marks I'd left on his thigh. When you're 19 and there's a man-mountain stood in front of you with a cob-on there's only one thing you can do so I apologised for the tackle and shook his hand."
Gerrard can laugh about the incident now, having played a pivotal role in Liverpool's unbeaten record over the past 13 Anfield derbies. The chance to make it 14 arrives on Tuesday when the Merseyside rivals meet in a 222nd derby loaded with Champions League significance.
For the midfielder it will be the most important league derby since April 2001, when Liverpool needed to win at Goodison Park to strengthen their grip on the top four and Gary McAllister obliged for the 10-man visitors with a long-range free-kick in injury time. The stakes may be higher than recent years, youthful rashness may have evaporated with age but the 33-year-old will approach this derby like any other.
"I've had fear going into every derby," Gerrard says. "The fear of losing, it is not nerves or a butterfly feeling, but it is there in the days leading up to the game. It can be energy sapping. You can be lying in bed or driving the car and your mind wonders 'what if?' The proof is in the pudding with my performances against Everton and the important thing is that you don't get too worked up for these games and let emotion beat you on the day.
"It is going to be a tough game, a big game. People are talking about a six-pointer but for me it's bigger than that in a way because if either of the sides were to win it's a huge springboard for the rest of the season as far as confidence and belief is concerned. It is that big a game. Parking Everton aside, just this run to finish in the top four is so big for this club anyway. So to have Everton breathing down your neck makes it even more challenging. With Tottenham and Manchester United as well, I think the run-in for the top-four places is harder than ever."
Everton's trip across Stanley Park is timely on a personal level. The Liverpool captain recently gave £96,000 to the Hillsborough Family Support Group – not through his charitable foundation but via a personal donation – having decided that a Merseyside derby one month before fresh inquests open into the 96 deaths at Hillsborough, and with two investigations into the disaster continuing, was an opportune moment to give added support to the campaign. It must be borne in mind that Gerrard's 10-year-old cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.
"With my own family's connection to Hillsborough it is something I've wanted to do for a while," he says. "I think the timing is right to send another message out about how we want justice. Alongside the gesture I am making, I and every other Liverpool fan can only thank Evertonians for their support. I'm not saying that to try to get in any Everton fan's good books because I understand my own personal rivalry with them. But it's there for everyone to see, the support they've given us is very touching."
There is also a different emphasis on this derby for Gerrard tactically. His shift to a deep-lying midfielder has been accentuated since returning on New Year's Day from a hamstring injury, along with scrutiny on how the England captain will adjust with a World Cup on the horizon. Brendan Rodgers claimed Gerrard could achieve Andrea Pirlo and Javier Zanetti levels of influence from that position before the recent 2-2 draw against Aston Villa but did not help his captain's cause by removing the protection of Lucas Leiva to the bench.
The Brazilian is sidelined for up to two months with a knee injury suffered against Villa, when Gerrard was restored to his advanced role in the second half and gave a far more effective performance. He insists the spotlight on the change and the change itself have come as no surprise.
"I knew there would be a time in my career when I'd drop a bit deeper and I knew when that time came other people would be talking about it more than myself," Gerrard says. "I also expected it because of the first conversation I had with Brendan when he became the manager.
"This is not something that myself and Brendan just decided to do over the last few weeks. He told me this would be happening when we first spoke. He didn't pinpoint the week or month but he said he still saw me as an attacking midfielder and further down the line there was a role in his system that I would be able to play really well, and I'd still be able to contribute until my mid-30s. That's what we are trying to do now. It suits me perfect."
Gerrard adds: "I want to play for this club for as long as I can so to have a manager who believes in me and wants me around for a few more years is a great compliment, but it's one of those things were we have to see how it's going."
Gerrard concedes that his own mentality has to change to make the tactical adjustment succeed. "With experience you realise you can't be unbelievable in every game," he says. "I do have to get my head around it too but I think I can make the adaptation really quickly. It's more about people understanding that I'm not going to be the Steven Gerrard I've been for the last 15 years and going from goalline to goalline. It's going to be more of a controlled performance and a role that can help the team win games, rather than trying to rescue games on my own."
The Liverpool captain is the sole survivor from the club's last home derby defeat. "Thanks for pointing that out," he says, and senses "there is tension everywhere" in the crowded pursuit of Champions League qualification.
He adds pointedly: "This is the tension we want. I've sat here too many times when we've been nowhere near a top-four race in December and January and this is the pressure you want to be under as a player. If you don't like and revel in this pressure and tension you're at the wrong football club."