Not for the first or last time in his Everton FC career John Stones called it just about right.
Amid all the pre-derby rhetoric, hype and hysteria the young defender offered the most accurate prediction of how events would unfold.
“We can stop anything Liverpool throw at us,” he said this week.
It pretty much summed up the tense and tight 224 Merseyside derby.
There wasn’t much of the breakneck speed of last season’s thriller at Goodison Park or the dramatics of September’s tussle at Anfield but this was nevertheless an absorbing contest .
If the 3-3 draw in November of the last campaign felt like something out of the ordinary then this 0-0 draw felt like typical derby fodder as Liverpool, the more dominant side, were rebuffed and suffocated by an organised Blues.
Everton still have the stomach for the fight
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Roberto Martinez had spoken about this fixture being about two attack minded teams going head to head on the electrifying stage of a Merseyside derby but Everton’s role was largely different to that.
But, maybe it had to be.
Of all that has come from the wreckage of Everton’s torrid and tumultuous run of form during the darkest of festive periods, it has been the proof that this side have fight.
We feared they had lost it. Lost that ability to refuse to accept defeat and no longer had that fearless mindset.
Yet as this draw extended their unbeaten run to six matches, the Blues once again showed they know how to roll their sleeves up , grit their teeth and tough it out.
It’s not what Martinez brought to Goodison. It’s what he inherited, built upon and took on a journey to a record Premier League points tally.
But it has been a quality the manager has been forced to rediscover.
Lack of attacking threat raises questions
Emre Can of Liverpool competes with Romelu Lukaku of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park on February 7, 2015 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
There will be legitimate questions, however, over Everton’s lack of attacking threat.
Where they looked capable of scoring at anytime in this game last season, it was a struggle to create chances this time around – Simon Mignolet only had one shot to save.
It came near the death when Ross Barkley, thrown on with five minutes left to inject intent to Everton’s attack, laid the ball into Seamus Coleman’s path and his shot was tipped away for a corner by the Liverpool keeper.
It was shame it took the Blues that long to test the visiting goalkeeper and a regret that the Blues were unable to expose the obvious shortcomings of Mamadou Sakho who was decidedly dodgy throughout.
Romelu Lukaku was ineffective for too long, Kevin Mirallas spent much of the game on the periphery and Steven Naismith’s lung-bursting efforts went without reward.
New-boy Aaron Lennon’s debut was promising, at least.
But, clearly, this is still Everton in their rebuilding phase.
Everton’s defence kept Liverpool quiet
Merseyside Derby. Everton FC v Liverpool FC Premier League match at Goodison Park Liverpool. John Stones gets to this cross
A derby victory, for the first time since October 2010, would have been marvellous, truly marvellous but the feeling at full-time was one of satisfaction.
This is Everton taking it step by step, game by game but there is definitely something solid to build on.
The derby, played among the usual backdrop of tension and nerves, was assessed as “grim” by outsiders but when you are invested in it emotionally, you see it more as gripping.
Everton’s defensive solidarity and organisation means they now have three consecutive clean sheets with the latest coming against the form side in the division.
Across Stanley Park they warned us of Raheem Sterling’s threat, of the returning Daniel Sturridge and, of course, the swansong of Steven Gerrard.
It turned out that the Liverpool’s emerging teenager Jordon Ibe was the one who came closest as he smacked the outside of the post following a bamboozling run.
Martinez has been asked many searching questions of late and the scrutiny over his defensive capabilities has been forensic.
The Catalan has not delivered a definitive answer to those claims but Everton are starting to look far more solid than they were, that is undeniable.
John Stones, who shackled Sterling with ease, and Phil Jagielka – who produced a performance fitting of his role as skipper – picked up where they left off at Palace and served up another stoic display.
Midfield display nullified Liverpool’s threat
In front of them was something equally as defiant.
Everton’s midfield trio of James McCarthy, Mo Besic and Gareth Barry largely nullified the threat of Philippe Coutinho and Gerrard with a combination of industry, energy and tenacity.
And the odd tactical foul throw in for good measure as well.
McCarthy’s return for the first time since the end of December was the antidote to the worrying news that Leighton Baines would miss out through injury.
His hunger was infectious and Barry, barring a wasteful spell early in the second-half, followed suit to show once more that he is clawing back his best form.
Besic, of course, needs to follow nobody’s lead and it was the expectation that such a game would suit him down to the ground.
That an evening billed to be solely about one man largely passed Gerrard by was, credit to the work of the Bosnian terrier.
Typically, he was at the centre of the game’s flash point as the ‘friendly’ derby became feisty.
Tensions, tempers and frustrations boiled over near the end as Liverpool reacted angrily to Besic’s tangle with Jordon Ibe.
Brendan Rodgers was incensed but as the melee erupted behind him, Besic casually sipped from a water bottle.
It all adds to his cult status at Goodison.
On a booking, Besic was withdrawn with five minutes remaining as Martinez let Barkley off the leash but brought Antolin Alcaraz on to shore up at the back.
It was the period in which Everton went closest but Mignolet denied them another stunning finale.
But as Stones said they would, the Blues also denied Liverpool.
WATCH: Phil Kirkbride on the Merseyside derby
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