A surprise strike

After a disappointing start to the season, Everton were facing further misery against city rival Liverpool until skipper Phil Jagielka popped up in injury time to rifle an equaliser into the top corner.

Phil Jagielka is expected to lead by example and step up to the plate when the going gets tough in his role as Everton captain — but that did not make his last-gasp equaliser in the Merseyside derby any less surprising.

Liverpool looked to have sealed a derby victory through Steven Gerrard’s 65th-minute free-kick when the local rivalry was renewed at Anfield recently.

After a disappointing start to the season, the blue half of the city were facing further misery until Jagielka popped up in injury time to rifle an equaliser into the top corner.

Of all Everton’s potential sources of a leveller, a Jagielka strike from 25 yards was among the most unlikely. The defender had failed to score for the Toffees in nearly 18 months but the skipper stepped up when it really mattered.

“I’ve hit a few like that in training,” he said. “There were a couple of half-decent goals at Sheffield United but to score in a local derby in the last minute makes it extra special. I wasn’t thinking too much when I hit it, which probably helped me out. I just tried to keep it down and thankfully I got enough pace to get it travelling and it didn’t go over the bar.

“I’ve kept the shirt. I’m getting a little bit of stick for my pathetic celebration but I’m not normally here to score goals so there’s no special dance moves planned. Run around and stand still was about it.” As satisfying for Jagielka as the goal was Everton’s defensive performance, which was much improved from recent games.

The Toffees withstood a lot of pressure, with Jagielka and young John Stones playing in the centre. Everton’s tally of 14 goals conceded in six games remains the worst in the Premier League, and Jagielka said: “The finger’s always pointed when you concede as many goals as we have. It’s not always the defenders’ fault, it’s not always anyone’s fault, it’s just sometimes a little bit of luck and things like that.

“We’ve conceded far too many. We’ve talked about that now and hopefully we can put in similar defensive performances and keep clean sheets.”

Jagielka has come in for some individual criticism but received high praise from manager Roberto Martinez. “We were back to our normal selves off the ball with a real intensity,” he said. “And then you see someone like Phil Jagielka taking responsibility, someone that has got a lot of unfair criticism from the outside.

“That’s a real example of how to face adversity and nobody deserves more than him the feeling of scoring such a special goal in front of the Kop.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a better strike in live football. It’s a very special moment in our season that could change the dynamics completely.”

The England man said of the doubters: “I’m not really bothered. I’m happy with the way things are going. The manager’s sticking with me and it’s up to me to prove the critics wrong, and hopefully I’ll do that. Probably not by scoring 30-yard goals every week but hopefully by defending as well as I have done.”

Jagielka hopes that the derby draw can provide Everton with the spark to ignite their season. The long wait for a victory at the home of their biggest rivals goes on but the point meant it was they who left Anfield with a spring in their step.

The games come thick and fast for Everton, who are also competing in the Europa League this season, and they have still only won one Premier League game this season.

“We’ve not got our game going as we’d have hoped this season,” admitted Jagielka after the Anfield result. “Realistically, the way the game went and being 1-0 down with 90 minutes gone, a point would have been a fantastic result and it’s something for us to build on. We’ve given the fans too many of these rubbish away days at Anfield so it’s nice they’ve got something to talk about and something to hang on to. As long as we build on that going forward, then it's an important point.”

If Everton can kick on from here, Jagielka’s goal could prove as important as it was impressive.

© PA Sport