Toffees' loss a bitter pill to swallow

Even today, I still receive messages and videos on social media of a goal I scored in 1999.

It was my last game for West Adelaide Soccer Club and it was a left-footed rocket into the top corner against Adelaide City in Australia. The 10,000-strong crowd at West Adelaide's stadium went wild as we won 1-0.

Yes, they still remember me for that strike 18 years on.

They will never forget that because it was a city derby.

On Saturday, it was inevitable that my thoughts would drift back to my career in Australia when Liverpool beat Everton 3-1 in the Merseyside derby.

There are inter-city rivalries like Barcelona versus Real Madrid, or Bayern Munich against Borussia Dortmund but nothing can be better, or worse, than meeting your city rival.

These are rivalries built up by families in the same city over generations, sometimes drawn by ethnic or religious lines and games are taken very seriously.

Koeman has a strong team but somehow, they (Everton) just could not summon the will to beat their neighbours (Liverpool). And I am afraid this will be a big psychological blow for them for the rest of the campaign.

Growing up in the former Yugoslavia, I was a big Red Star Belgrade fan and the country would come to a standstill for 90 minutes when they met Partizan Belgrade.

Things were similarly intense in Australia. Off the pitch, I had coffee with the Adelaide City players but on derby day, I just wanted to kick them.

The atmosphere in the stadium would be electrifying, you did not expect fans to show anything but animosity to the opposite camp, and very few of those games ended goalless.

Anfield on Saturday was like that.

Ross Barkley was guilty of a horrible lunge on Dejan Lovren's ankle, Ronald Koeman accused Jurgen Klopp of over-reacting on the sidelines, there was a brilliant goal from Philippe Coutinho... the Merseyside derby was not short of fireworks.

But you have to question Everton's mentality. They have not won at Anfield since 1999 and not tasted victory against the Reds in their last 14 meetings.

Koeman has a strong team but somehow, they just could not summon the will to beat their neighbours.

They have more history as the older club but they are still struggling in their head-to-head meetings.

And I am afraid this will be a big psychological blow to them for the rest of the campaign.

For footballers involved in city derbies, they can lose every match in the season but they can never lose against their nemesis.

Back then, Adelaide City, with a strong Italian following, had a bigger budget and more national players but West Adelaide, popular with the Greek community, won because we had the hunger.

I made my name in the Adelaide derby, just like how ex-Reds captain Steven Gerrard shone against the Toffees and his name is forever etched in history.

If there is one consolation for Everton, it has to be that they remain on track for European qualification if they can hang on to seventh spot.

That in turn will bring greater exposure and allow them to sign better players in the summer, thus improving the team for next season.

Maybe then they will finally end this painful run against their bitter rivals.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2017, with the headline 'Toffees' loss a bitter pill to swallow'. Subscribe