The 9 minutes announced as additional time to the second half stirred up the already palpable nervous atmosphere hanging over Anfield.
Liverpool were within touching distance of the 3 points, leading by one-nil at that moment against an Everton side which was reduced to 10 men since the final third of the first half.
But there was no sense whatsoever that it was by then an already foregone conclusion, nor the bragging rights had already gone to the Red half of the city.
A misstep by any player on either side, a mis-passed ball or an ill-timed tackle could still have made the difference between confirmation of 3 points in the bag or 2 points dropped; the difference between Red Liverpudlians going to work on Monday with a grin as wide as the River Mersey or in a mood as treacherous as the fog can be for a ferry across the said river.
The final scoreline of the latest Merseyside Derby belied the hard work the Liverpool players had to put in that early Saturday kick-off after the international break.
A mental hard work as much as a physical one. The Reds had to dig deep in terms of patience, of keeping knocking at the door and of coming up with alternatives when their attempts at goal were not fruitful.
In truth, Everton players, staff and supporters crossed Stanley Park to Anfield with not much of a lofty expectation. On the basis of recent and not so recent form, Liverpool were expected to win this one.
However, the manner in which they eventually did, showed the mental toughness of this side. After turning around several matches this season during which they conceded first, it was now time to showcase how to grind out a win inside the cauldron of a local derby against a side which presumably would be defensively minded.
As with any derby, both teams were raring to go. The Blues even registered the first attempt at goal on the very 1st minute: a Dominic Calvert-Lewin header which landed straight in Alisson Becker’s arms.
The first half belonged to Liverpool
After that initial attempt by the visitors, it was time for the home side to step up and as expected, the run of play mostly belonged to them from now thereon.
Two characteristic Liverpool counter-attacks from Everton corners could have led Luis Diaz playing a key role in opening the score around the quarter of the hour mark.
Unfortunately, his shot was blocked into a corner by Ashley Young on the first occasion while during the second one, his cross from the left to 3 on-rushing Red team-mates was intercepted by Amadou Onana.
Long-range shots were also hallmarks of this first half. Attempts by Mo Salah, Alexis Mac Allister, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Dominik Szoboszlai showed how compact the defence of an ambition-lacking Everton was.
Moreover, Liverpool also had to resort to long passes which Trent particularly obliged with this speciality of his.
Everton manager Sean Dyche was probably trying to repeat the same tactic employed by his then Burnley side which won at Anfield in January 2021, the first Liverpool loss at home in the league since April 2017.
Back then, the Clarets also played as a defensive compact unit, kept the ball on the fringes as much as possible and fought for it in numbers when it fell in congested areas.
It was more of a not-to-lose tactic primarily designed to neutralise Liverpool’s passing and pressing game and the visitors eventually clinched it courtesy of a late penalty.
However, that was then a Burnley side and now this was a local derby. Ashley Young was keen on perpetuating this fixture’s record of most sending-offs in the Premier League era and copped a second yellow in the 37th minute.
The former Man Utd player rashly hacked down Luis Diaz from behind some 20 minutes after he was cautioned for cynically blocking a run of the Colombian. From that moment, it was full-blown defensive play by the away team.
Everton’s lack of ambition eventually appeared in Liverpool’s 73% possession in the first half. And both teams picked up the second period where they had left off the first with the visitors now switching to a 5-3-1 formation.
Hitting the head against a stubborn wall
Liverpool could barely make a significant headway against the Blue defensive wall and had not much to show for except for two fierce shots in succession by Salah and Ryan Gravenberch on the 52nd that were blocked by the Blues defence.
Despite constantly hitting their heads against the wall, Liverpool were not daunted. Jurgen Klopp introduced Darwin Nunez and Harvey Elliot in lieu of Gravenberch and Kostas Tsimikas with Diaz switching to an Andy Robertson-style role of left full-back.
With this new configuration, the home side kept going, putting their faith on the experience that their incessant probing in the past had eventually paid off.
Effectively, the big break came on the 72nd. A Diaz cross from the left hit the outstretched arm of Michael Keane and ref Craig Pawson awarded a penalty after consulting the pitch-side monitor.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. The Egyptian King blasted a rocket of a spot kick to his right to finally open the score in front of a jubilant and relieved Kop.
This also paved the way for more incisive attacking moves from Liverpool. Not long after, we saw a Diogo Jota header saved by Pickford while a spectacular long-range effort by Elliot was equalled by the Everton keeper tipping the ball on the crossbar.
Without the cushion of a second goal, nerves remained frayed and looked likely to remain so until the final whistle as additional time to the second half was announced.
But if two counter-attacks in the first half did not quite work out, it did not mean it would remain the case for the entire game.
Deep into stoppage time, Alexis Mac Allister launched the ball from just outside his own penalty area to Nunez for a devastating break.
The Uruguayan swiftly ran the ball all the way to the edge of the other penalty box and could have had a go by himself.
Instead, he saw a different option with a higher chance of success and unselfishly laid it to Mo Salah who brushed it past Pickford with his trusted left foot.
A delightful teamwork to put the game outcome beyond any doubt at long last. Anfield was relieved and could finally revel in “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.
Such was the nature of this hard-fought win that Kopp celebrated with his characteristic fist pumps not only towards The Kop but also towards the Sir Kenny Dalglish and Main Stands as well.
The corresponding fixture last season saw Liverpool ending an awful patch at the start of the calendar year as they begun a run of games which eventually propelled them to fifth place.
This time, it was more a case of getting back to winning ways with the bonus of a clean sheet. And at the time of writing, we are now third in the table, just one point behind leaders Man City after having been on top for a couple of hours immediately following this game.
So, it’s now two wins that have been ground out in the much-maligned Saturday early kick-off after an international break. Frankly, it will take more than that to unsettle this reloaded Liverpool side.