The Merseyside Derby has a long history that spans more than a century. But the 1980s and early 1990s were likely the golden age for this rivalry. Liverpool were the dominant force in English football, but Everton were riding high. The Toffees won their last top flight league titles in the mid-80s, and while Liverpool were still imperious. The results from meetings between the two were far from certain.
However all good things come to an end, and as both clubs slipped from their respective lofty positions as the 1990s progressed, the quality of the Merseyside Derby similarly declined. Bit it didn’t go out with a whimper.
This week we look back at what may have been the greatest Merseyside Derby ever— February 20th, 1991, the Fifth Round of the FA Cup.
There was another Merseyside Derby the week before, wherein Liverpool thumped Everton 3-1 in the league. But apart from the usual pride at stake, Liverpool’s celebrations were muted. They were riding high near the top of the table, but Arsenal were firmly in the driver’s seat to win the title. They had only lost one game all season, a 2-1 away defeat to Chelsea. As strong as Liverpool were, they likely knew that Arsenal couldn’t be caught. Their season would come down to the Cup.
Everton were in mid-table territory but winning the FA Cup, particularly at the expense of their neighbors across the park, was their top priority. After the first attempt at their Fifth Round tie at Anfield ended in a goalless draw, the two sides reconvened three days later at Goodison.
It was a thrilling match. After some tense back-and-forth, blistering counterattacks, counters to the counters, and plenty of near-misses, Peter Beardsley opened the scoring with a volley on the rebound of an Ian Rush shot that was cleared off the line. The Reds held on to the slender lead at halftime.
But Everton came roaring back. Graeme Sharp headed in the equalizer just a few minutes into the start of the second half. After a difficult 20 minutes or so, Liverpool found their way back in and Beardsley tallied his second with a thumping strike from the top of the box in the 71st minute.
Liverpool’s joy didn’t last very long, though, and Sharp scored his second two minutes later by taking advantage of a scathing defensive error. But they did regain the lead in the 77th when Ian Rush headed in off a setpiece. It looked like Liverpool would just about manage to see this thing out.
And then, with seconds ticking down in regulation, striker Tony Cottee bundled in a through ball to level the score once again and force extra time.
But even that wasn’t enough to settle this Derby. John Barnes put Liverpool ahead again in the 103rd minute and Tony Cottee came right back ten minutes later. They probably could’ve gone on all night— Liverpool moving ahead and Everton tagging them right back. Alas, legs get tired and people have to work in the morning. The game finished 4-4 after extra time, forcing a second replay but also giving the world an absolutely superb clash.
It would turn out to be Kenny Dalglish’s last hurrah. Unable to put Everton away and under tremendous pressure, King Kenny tendered his resignation two days later. A week after the 4-4 at Goodison, Everton beat Liverpool 1-0 to advance to the next round.
Liverpool ended up finishing as runners-up in the First Division, seven points behind an Arsenal side that lost just one game all season in the league. Everton finished 9th in the league and had their Cup run cut short, losing to West Ham in the very next round 2-1. Tottenham would go on to win the FA Cup that season, beating Nottingham Forest 2-1 after extra time.
We won’t have to wait long for the next chapter in this tremendous rivalry, as Everton host Liverpool on Monday. Kickoff is at 3pm Eastern on NBC Sports Network.