Liverpool striker Steven Gerrard's hat-trick destroys David Moyes' Everton
Liverpool 3-0 Everton: Liverpool's standing might not be what one banner last night made it – "Liverpool FC: the benchmark" – and the search for someone to take on the torch from Steven Gerrard will come soon enough.
But Kenny Dalglish has an innate knowledge of what Anfield people crave and he and his captain more than delivered it last night.
For the stony-faced David Moyes, the pursuit of a first win at Anfield goes on after what has now been 11 visits and the abusive chant from the fans in the Anfield Road end, about "Ten years" and winning what might politely be termed "f-all", certainly cut to the quick.
In reflecting this week on the fact that Liverpool did not come calling for him two summers ago, Moyes achingly reflected on how he "would have loved" to inherit Gerrard. The midfielder's 400th appearance for Liverpool was right up there with the best. His was the first hat-trick in the fixture in the league since Ian Rush scored one in a 5-0 win at Goodison in 1982.
It is the restoration of silverware that Dalglish will be able to point to when his first full season is done and his side's capacity to rise to the big occasion makes the League Cup winners a major presence in this weekend's FA Cup quarter-finals. But if the 186th Merseyside league derby revealed one thing it was how hard the onward journey will be when Gerrard, 31 now, and Luis Suarez – the creator of all three of his goals, who must decide in a few months whether the trouble of this season was worth it – are no longer available for selection.
This was the game when Suarez's manager discovered why all that trouble was worth it. The equations are not as simple as when Suarez was scoring 81 goals in 110 Dutch league matches, because he is working in more areas of the pitch. Dalglish will want to find others to help him this summer.
The match actually presented Liverpool with the opportunity to accomplish something new at Anfield – to beat Everton under floodlights in a midweek league match – but Dalglish hardly seemed bound to the dressing room with anxiety. Half an hour before kick-off he was strolling around the foyer, distributing tickets to friends.
If Moyes' selection, with Tim Cahill and Leon Osman on the bench, suggested divided loyalties between this game and an FA Cup quarter-final against Sunderland which awaits on Saturday, Dalglish's decisions revealed that this week had been build entirely around this match.
"He'll want to mark the occasion with a victory," said Gerrard, who was rested last Saturday for this occasion, in his programme notes on Moyes' celebration of 10 years in charge of Everton. "That's something we have no intention of letting them do."
There was a symbolism about the way Gerrard and Jamie Carragher ran out a full five yards ahead of anyone else in red and it took just over five minutes for the captain to become the advancing presence from midfield without which Suarez has looked so isolated since the departure to Chelsea of Raul Meireles. Gerrard, the one player who understands the Uruguayan's game like Meireles, raced to seize a ball that Suarez, his back to goal, turned around the corner in the area. A low shot was saved sharply by Tim Howard and Jack Rodwell cleared before Jordan Henderson could take the rebound.
The sight of Victor Anichebe vanishing over a hoarding – nudged on his way by Carragher – told you something about the fear of God with which Moyes has made ordinary players giants. Steven Pienaar, who came back north for more, fired over after Leighton Baines carved out some space in the other box and Everton started to make their way into the game.
But when Marouane Fellaini conceded possession, Liverpool rapidly built a goal which epitomised the counter-attacking style Dalglish has created. Stewart Downing and Jose Enrique ferried the ball to Suarez whose pass was deflected into Martin Kelly's path off Gerrard's knee – one of the strokes of good fortune that Dalglish has been hoping for.
The right-back had two attempts at goal before Gerrard, lurking 15 yards out for the ball which rebounded out to him, placed it over Howard.
Gerrard's second goal revealed the same sense of mutual understanding. Suarez hared after a ball Kelly played into the right channel, took it easily around Tony Hibbert on the byline and after he had cut back past Rodwell, Gerrard virtually took it off his boot to dispatch his seventh derby goal emphatically.
Suarez was consigning every opponent to the shadows. Hibbert was left on the pitch as the Uruguayan ripped past him and levelled for Andy Carroll, who fired wide. Moyes tore his side up, introducing three substitutes on the hour, though the substitute Royston Drenthe's slip allowed Gerrard to race away, exchanges passes with Suarez, and complete his hat-trick.
In some ways, the next match is the more significant – Liverpool face Ajax in the Under-19s European Cup tonight, up the road at St Helens. The competition's name – NextGen – reveals its purpose though there will be no hint of this quality. Liverpool need Gerrard and Suarez to hang around and finish what they have started.
Liverpool Kuyt (Henderson, 72).
Everton Jelavic (Anichebe, 61), Drenthe (Coleman, 61), Osman (Straqualursi, 61).
Everton Pienaar, Baines, Drenthe.
Man of the match: Steven Gerrard
Match rating 8/10
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire)