Captain Marvel Sinks Everton

Steven Gerrard underlined his iconic status as the man for the big occasion as the Liverpool captain scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 Merseyside derby victory over Everton at Anfield.

The midfielder marked his 400th Premier League appearance in style with all three goals to end his team’s three-game losing run in fitting fashion.

Everton had made the short trip across Stanley Park hoping to celebrate David Moyes’ 10-year anniversary as manager, which arrives on Wednesday.

But the Toffees boss, seemingly with an eye on the weekend’s FA Cup quarter-final against Sunderland, made six changes to his starting line-up from the team which defeated Tottenham at the weekend and paid the price.

Gerrard was one of the many differences between the two teams and ensured Liverpool, who could have been overtaken in the Premier League table if defeated, moved five points clear of their city neighbours.

In doing so, the England midfielder became the first player to register a treble in a league derby since Ian Rush scored four in a 5-0 win at Goodison Park in November 1982 and only the fifth Liverpool player to do so at Anfield – the last coming from Fred Howe in September 1935.

His performance was maybe not in the classic all-action mould of years gone by, but with his 32nd birthday approaching in May, Gerrard has shown experience brings out various qualities and he was able to do just as much damage in a more controlled role.

He ensured Kenny Dalglish’s side avoided a fourth successive league defeat – something which had happened to the Reds only four times in 60 years.

The result may have come too late to rescue Liverpool’s chances of a top-four finish as they are still 10 points behind Arsenal in the Premier League, but it provided an important confidence boost ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final at home to Stoke.

Moyes may not have won any silverware in a decade, but has enjoyed relative success at Goodison Park, although winning at Anfield is not among his achievements with 1999 the last time Everton were victorious on the other side of Stanley Park.

And had it not been for goalkeeper Tim Howard another defeat may have been confirmed much sooner than it was.

Good early interplay between Jose Enrique and Luis Suarez put Gerrard through, but the United States goalkeeper was equal to the low shot with Jack Rodwell blocking Jordan Henderson’s follow-up.

Steven Pienaar wasted a good opportunity when he fired over after Leighton Baines’ run had taken him past Martin Kelly and Henderson and into the penalty area.

It was a rare first-half chance as Liverpool controlled the game and although Andy Carroll’s weak header failed to properly test Howard Suarez’s first-time shot from Carroll’s flick-on had to be parried by the goalkeeper.

The breakthrough came in the 34th minute when Kelly’s shot was half-stopped by Howard and Sylvain Distin could only clear as far as Gerrard, who curled an inch-perfect first-time left-footed shot over the heads of defenders and goalkeeper and into the net.

Kelly’s marauding runs from right-back were keeping Pienaar and Baines occupied and from one such surge he clipped a shot just wide of the far post.

Everton’s brighter start to the second half was extinguished just six minutes after the restart when Gerrard struck again with a typical goal.

Suarez chased Henderson’s pass into the corner, cut past Distin along the right byline and shepherded the ball towards the onrushing captain who blasted home.

Carroll should have made it 3-0 but fired wide after Suarez ran along the opposite byline while Suarez also missed an ambitious effort with the outside of his right foot.

The closest Everton came to scoring was when a Jack Rodwell shot was cleared by Enrique a couple of yards out.

On the hour, Moyes made the triple substitution of Nikica Jelavic, Royston Drenthe and Leon Osman, but Everton continued to chase the game without much reward.

Their play became more scrappy and Pienaar, Baines and Drenthe were all booked – but this was a far cry from the fiery derbies of the recent past which had produced 20 red cards in 39 matches.

In added time, Gerrard put the seal on another impressive personal display by starting and finishing the move, exchanging passes with Suarez, to knock in his third.

It meant Liverpool comfortably extended their record in the cross-city encounter to just three defeats in 25 meetings home and away.

Everton, who began the match just two points behind their near-neighbours, evidently still have some catching up to do.