By Mitch Phillips
LONDON, Nov 22 (Reuters) - It is a long time since Everton were challenging for the league title and with no realistic prospect of that changing in the near future their fans have been reduced to seeking little, local successes.
Liverpool, however, are enjoying their best start for years and victory at Goodison Park in Saturday's lunchtime kickoff could put them top of the Premier League, for a while at least.
An Everton win would take them level with Liverpool on 23 points and goalkeeper Tim Howard said the derby was always a special day for the city.
"As an American we have local rivalries but they can be hundreds of miles apart," Howard told the club's website.
"I encourage my family and friends to come over for it. I tell them they have to experience the Merseyside derby, there is nothing like it, that fever pitch, that buzz around the city.
"Anything can happen in a derby and it's always exciting to feel like you are going to be a part of something special.
"When you are on a losing end of a derby it hurts, its not like any other loss and for a few days afterwards it's not easy to get out of bed.
"Conversely if you win the derby you are floating on air and all's well with the world. This season though, more than any I can remember, both teams will be right up there, it's more than local pride that's at stake."
Everton lifted the last of their nine league titles in 1987 but since the arrival of the Premier League in 1992 they have cracked the top four only once, in 2005.
An FA Cup win in 1995 and a final defeat to Chelsea in 2009 have been the rare highlights since the glorious mid-80s period under Howard Kendall.
However, even during that spell, the most successful in the club's history since becoming a founder member of the Football League in 1888, they could never quite shake off their red-shirted neighbours.
Hopes of back-to-back championships were foiled when Liverpool edged them to the title in 1986 and the Reds also beat them in three 80s cup finals.
Though Liverpool too have suffered a long title drought since their 18th and last success in 1990, they have continued to hold by far the upper hand when it comes to the Merseyside derby.
Everton have beaten them only four times in the last 30 meetings in league and cup, with the last blue success coming three years ago, a 2-0 Goodison Park league win. Liverpool have won four of the last six Goodison Park league derbies, losing only one home or away in the last 13.
However, despite drawing both derbies last season and losing both the season before, Everton went on to finish above Liverpool both times, the first time they had achieved that "feat" twice in a row in the top flight since 1937.
If that was hardly a "success" to shout from the rooftops, with even a Europa League place again remaining tantilisingly out of reach, it was at least something to discuss in the pub.
This season Everton are going along quite nicely in sixth place, the position they occupied at the end of the last two campaigns, having lost only one of their first 11 games.
Yet another derby defeat would be a double whammy for Everton fans, whose frustration at their own cash-strapped club's inability to challenge for serious silverware is tempered only by the pleasure of seeing their big-spending rivals foundering.
It will be a first taste of the derby for Everton boss Robert Martinez, who succeeded David Moyes at the start of the season
"He's got ice water in his veins," said Howard. "He doesn't blink in the face of pressure. I think he'll stand up on that touchline and embrace it." (Editing by Justin Palmer)