LIVERPOOL - Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez issued a call for improved spectator behaviour as police began to investigate reports of crowd abuse by fans of both sides during the Reds' 1-0 derby win over Everton.
The Spaniard took time out ahead of Liverpool's Champions League quarterfinal first leg clash away to Premier League rivals Arsenal yesterday to urge that there be no repeat of the ugly scenes which marred last Sunday's match at Anfield.
"It is important to stop these things (chanting) between the fans. Especially against families and children, it is important to stop these things if it is possible and just talk about football.
"I do not believe we have any problem with Everton, we have respect for each other," he added.
Cameras showed Everton captain Phil Neville, the object of much anger from Liverpool fans because he previously played for bitter rivals Manchester United, being abused by several home supporters as he prepared to take a throw-in during the second half.
Police were also examining reports that Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was subjected to hateful chants regarding his daughter.
Everton spokesman Ian Ross admitted last weekend's match marked a new low in terms of crowd behaviour at a fixture once known as the "friendly derby".
"There is almost an accepted level of abuse that takes place in all derby games," Ross told BBC Radio Five.
"The Merseyside derby is usually laced with humour but on Sunday that was not the case. I think both sets of supporters crossed the Rubicon and went that step too far.
"From our point of view we would like to see this reined back in and we could return to a situation where the Merseyside derby, going back 15 to 20 years, was seen as the friendly derby.
"We don't want a situation where this starts to snowball, and the meetings next season are even more acrimonious than this one was."
Responding to Benitez's comments that he was "very disappointed" by the abuse aimed at Gerrard, Ross said: "While we would never condone the singling out of individual players for vitriolic insults, it is a shame that Benitez chose to ignore the actions of his own club's supporters.
"Not only was Joleon Lescott subjected to an afternoon-long barrage of quite disgusting and quite audible abuse, Phil Neville was seemingly spat at several times and was also punched in the back by a supporter as he took a throw-in.
"In calling for Everton supporters to respect his players, Benitez should, perhaps, remember his comments of 12 months ago when he sought to belittle one of the world sport's oldest institutions by describing us as a 'small club'. - Sapa-AFP