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BATE Borisov 1-2 Everton: Match Analysis
02.10.09

Tim Cahill heps Everton surpass adversity to defeat BATE.

Tim Cahill helps Everton surpass adversity to defeat BATE.

It’s football’s ability to show that adversity can be conquered that makes it so enjoyable sometimes. When Everton travelled to Belarus for their Europa League match against BATE Borisov yesterday, they were missing nine players from their first team squad through injury, suspension or intelligibility and when they arrived, stand-in captain Joseph Yobo picked up an injury in training just for good measure.

That meant that Tony Hibbert had to fill in at centre back while young Dan Gosling was forced to drop into the right back slot. It also enforced a change of formation from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 because the only senior player on the bench (except Carlo Nash) was Yakubu, who came in to partner Jo up front and left us with outfield substitutes aged 17, 17, 17, 17, 18 and 19. And this was against a side who have won three league titles in a row and drew with Juventus twice in the Champions League groups stages last season.

I must admit, before the game I thought we could be in for a long 90 minutes. A huge away trip to Belarus to play in absolutely hammering rain is never going to be an easy game, but without Arteta, Jagielka, Pienaar, Neville, Anichebe, Saha, Heitinga, Neill, Rodwell and Yobo it looked to be nigh on impossible. Even when we managed to get 11 players on the pitch they weren’t exactly fit – Yakubu is only just returning from his cruciate injury and looked laboured throughout.

However, despite all of this Everton stood up and were counted today. We certainly didn’t play our best football, but given the overall pastiche of a lineup that was out on the park and conditions that made passing football a difficult objective for both sides and we were never going to. But Moyes’ men showed a hell of a lot of fight and determination throughout the ninety minutes, not least after going a goal down to the Belarusians in the 15th minute.

In fairness, it was one hell of a goal. Likhtarovich met a ball that came his way about 35 yards from goal with the outside of his right boot and struck it beautifully. It clipped the underside of the bar as it crashed into the back of the net and bounced out again so quickly that I was initially unsure what had happened. No keeper in the world would have saved that strike, and though you could argue that he could have been closed down faster. there wasn’t much that Everton could have done about it.

And apart from that, Tim Howard in the Everton goal had very little to do. He came for a few crosses and endured some nervous moments in the last five minutes as the ball was deflected past his posts, but otherwise he was untroubled. That’s not to say that BATE were poor, indeed they passed the ball around slickly at times and showed impressive pace on the counter attack, but Everton’s makeshift back line were surprisingly solid.

Tony Hibbert, who is not the most talented player in the world by any stretch of the imagination even when playing in his regular right-back role, was magnificent in the heart of defence, he won ball after ball and blocked plenty of shots. And when he did get turned or caught out of position he showed pace that we didn’t know he possessed to get back and make amends. Sylvain Distin, his more experienced consort was as assured as ever and though given a torrid time by a tricky winger, Dan Gosling did enough in his unfamiliar full back role.

Another impressive performance came from Mauroane Fellaini, Everton’s giant Belgian who has been employed as a striker or an attacking midfielder for much of his time at the club, due to various player shortages. However, playing today in central midfield proper as part of a flat 4-4-2 he really came into his own and showed two very good sides to his game. He put himself about and won tackle after tackle – far more cleanly than last season too, might I add – while also showing good vision and awareness to pick a range of effective passes.

A few passes did go astray, but he wasn’t alone in that and in difficult conditions, can be forgiven, especially as he notched a trademark header to equalise. From last season’s major signing to this, and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov was equally impressive. Still not fully integrated into the side and let down by his set-pieces today, his overall performance was good. He has a great touch and, much like Arteta and Pienaar, is able to draw players in and then nip past them with ease – he looks like a fine acquisition by Moyes, and one who also displays Everton’s characteristic work rate and commitment.

Two players who were disappointing though were Jo and Yakubu up front, who struggled very much to get into the game. Jo in particular looked lacklustre, not chasing opponents down and providing very little movement to aid the midfielders in their distribution. Yakubu looked good when he managed to get on the ball and looks a far more intelligent player than I remember him being, and when his fitness is fully recovered from his injury he should become a key member of our squad.

All in all then, it was a strange sort of performance. Without actually ever playing really well, Everton have earned an absolutely brilliant result. I seriously can’t overstate how big an achievement it was to travel to Belarus with half a squad and beat a very good BATE side in awful conditions. It leaves us sitting clear top of Group I of the Europa League and well on course to progress to the next round after Benfica were undone by AEK Athens in the group’s other fixture.

The most pleasing thing of all though is that even though Everton were missing ten first team players for one reason or another, we were still able to put out a side that could compete against decent European opposition. Over the past few years now Moyes has been gradually building Everton into a consistent top six side, and all we’ve needed to push on has been greater strength in depth. Now though, let’s look at tonight’s team lineup and compare it to one made up of those players who weren’t available:

XI vs. Bate Borisov
Howard
Gosling|Hibbert|Distin|Baines
Cahill|Osman|Fellaini|Diniyar
Yakubu|Jo
Unavailable XI
Nash*
Neill|Yobo|Jagielka|Neville
Arteta|Heitinga|Rodwell|Pienaar
Anichebe|Saha

*So if you allow Carlo Nash to play ‘keeper for the ‘Unavailable XI’, you have to say that there are two very strong lineups taken from our squad. Now just imagine, come January when hopefully all of the players suffering from long term knee injuries will be getting back fit again and Neill and Heitinga can be registered for the Europa League, we’re going to have an incredibly strong squad.

Indeed, I believe that there we have a squad which has sufficient strength in depth to allow us to mount a serious challenge to the top four – if we receive any sort of luck with injuries. Last season we lost Arteta, Jagielka, Yakubu and Anichebe to long term injuries, from which only Yakubu has yet returned, and with Pienaar and Neville picking up fresh injuries so far this season, that is no guarantee. However, if Moyes does have some fortune in the near future, and can keep the majority of this squad fit, then bright things lie ahead for Everton football club.

Most amazingly though is that that squad that you can see there has been amassed for a fraction of the price of those squads of the ‘big four’ and Manchester City against whom we will hope to compete. The most payed for any one player on either of those lineups is about £14-15m that Moyes paid for Fellaini last season and indeed – if memory serves – only Fellaini and Yakubu have been acquired for fees larger than £10m whereas if you look at two of the strongest line-ups I can draw from Man City’s current squad:

City Lineup 1
Given
Richards|Lescott|Toure|Bridge
Phillips|Johnson|De Jong|Ireland
Robinho|Tevez
City Lineup 2
Taylor
Onuoha|Zabaleta|Garrido|Slyvinho
Barry|Kompany|Petrov
S.Cruz|Bellamy|Adebayor

…there is undoubtedly a lot of talent there, and those two teams are perhaps stronger than Everton’s two, but in those two sides there are no fewer than 11 players who cost them £10m or more. Of course, quality does usually cost money but I think it’s an incredible achievement that Moyes has managed to build a squad that will be able to compete with City’s for such a fractional comparative outlay. It shows that it isn’t all about money these days in football, though cold hard currency certainly quickens things up.

The result against BATE Borisov today then, was one that meant a hell of a lot to Everton Football Club. Not only has it continued our good form (that has seen us score 14 goals and concede just 1 in five games) but it has also given a clear indication that we are getting closer and closer to being able to seriously mount a challenge to the ‘big four’ and the Champions League, despite lacking the financial power of our rivals.

This has been Moyes’ goal since he joined the club, he’s gone about his job with dignity and skill and as an Evertonian, I’m delighted to see that we’ve shown that adversity can be overcome with perseverance. Life will always throw up problems in our path but if you want something badly enough and are willing to work towards it, success will come eventually. Football, ever a perfect analogy for life itself, has shown us that, and I look forward to seeing Moyes and Everton reap the rewards for their efforts.

Portsmouth Mercenaries: Why they deserve to be relegated.
22.03.09
Reaction to Everton’s defeat to Portsmouth.

Leighton Baines sublime free-kick served as a stark contrast to the tragedy of football that Portsmouth inflicted upon most of todays match.

Leighton Baines' sublime free-kick served as a stark contrast to the tragedy of football that Portsmouth inflicted upon most of today's match.

Before I begin this article proper, I will acknowledge that is likely to contain some bias. I have been inspired to write it because this morning I watched Everton lost to Portsmouth, and I’m a little bitter. Everton did not play as well as we know they can, but also the manner in which Portsmouth played the game was disappointing. So yes, this is reactionary to our loss, but I still feel it is a worthwhile article, and that the points I intend to make are worthwhile. Importantly, they are points that would hold even if Everton had comfortably beaten Portsmouth today, and so I hope you will forgive any bias that creeps in.

Let’s begin then. The match today was not a great spectacle by any means. Everton as usual in recent months were hampered by an obscene injury list, yet they started brightly, dominating Pompey and going ahead after just a couple of minutes courtesy of a Leighton Baines free kick. Then though, the game changed.

Portsmouth, after the shock of going behind and the evidence provided by the first few minutes that proved that they couldn’t match Everton in terms of quality, turned to Plan B: to bully the Everton players out of the match. They are an enormous side, seriously massive, with big, strong, tall players all over the pitch. Indeed, it is perhaps this that results in their poor performances – they’ve opted for size rather than skill.

Unfortunately, what the game lacked today was a referee capable of asserting his authority properly and fairly. Under constant bombardment from a very vocal Portsmouth crowd (respect to them for that, but there’s really no need to ‘boo’ Steven Pienaar for the entire game simply because he picked up a genuine injury after a dirty challenge from behind) the referee Peter Walton was soon pandering to the roars of the crowd, and indeed, it was this tragedy of influence that gifted Portsmouth an equaliser.

Glen Johnson hit a speculative shot from thirty yards out and ballooned it high and wide, but the Pompey fans screamed “corner” and corner was given. Some average defending from Everton allowed the ball to be hooked back in and Peter Crouch naturally managed to out jump everyone and bundle the ball into the net. Yes, the defending was poor and inexcusable, but that does not alter the fact that with a competent referee, Everton retain their lead.

However, this was not the only failing of the referee. Throughout the entire match, players like Herman Hreidarsson were constantly being overly physical against Everton’s players and yet remained largely unchecked throughout the match. This meant that Everton’s attempts to play their usual flowing football, already hindered by a large injury list, were rendered almost pointless against the endless physical tyranny that Portsmouth served up.

It is not that I am against players being physical. Indeed, I myself am quite a physical player and I love Everton’s spirit because we are a team that will go in where it hurts when we have to. But there is a limit, and Portsmouth, in my opinion at least, exceeded that today. It became painful to watch, as Portsmouth’s players consistently settled for going through Everton’s players to retrieve the ball, and then having ‘won’ possession, proceeded to launch long ball after long ball towards Crouch who, awkward elbows flailing, continued the oppression of good football.

This display, that ultimately earned Portsmouth a valuable three points to aid their quest for Premier League survival, induced in me a fervent desire to see the South Coast outfit relegated. It is not simply their ugly style of football that puts me off them either, but also the overall feel of the club and its playing staff.

Looking at the players they have on the books, you cannot help but think of them as mercenaries. Soldiers brought in to fight in a battle, and motivated not by loyalty or a sense of justice but by money. Portsmouth as a club means nothing to these players, all that matters to them is that they continue to take home their pay packet, and of course, they fear relegation because Championship clubs cannot pay such wages as they earn.

This is a legacy, in my opinion, of Harry Redknapp’s tenure in charge of Portsmouth. This is not the place for me to discuss the merits of Redknapp (regular readers will already know how I feel about him), but there is no denying that he has a knack for bringing together a whole bunch of unlikely players to unfashionable clubs, and keeping them happy. Unfortunately for Pompey, once the leader falls, the troops will follow, and they have seen that first hand this season.

Their players don’t give a damn about Portsmouth really, and I bet most of them can’t wait to jump ship now that Redknapp is no longer at the helm. And to be quite honest, I think that because of this, it would actually be good for Portsmouth to be relegated. Obviously no one wants to see their team sink out of Europe’s elite league, but I also doubt that Pompey fans can really feel proud and connected with their current playing staff.

What makes me so proud to be an Evertonian in recent years is the spirit and commitment exuded by everyone involved with the club. Bill Kenwright and David Moyes are both 100% committed to the good of the club, and Moyes has built a squad that possesses a similar quality. You can see in their play that they are playing for the badge on their chest, and for the fans in the stand. And deep down, that is what every football fan wants to see when they watch their team. They want to see their own commitment reflected out there on the pitch.

Portsmouth do not have that, and only the most deluded Pompey fan would even try and claim that they do. Indeed, Jermaine Defoe proved this beyond all doubt, and proved that most of the squad that Redknapp assembled on the south coast were loyal to Harry, and not the club and its fans.

If Portsmouth were relegated though, these are exactly the sort of players that would jump ship at the first opportunity. They don’t want to be playing Championship football and they would quickly find suitors back in the Premier League or abroad that more suit their egos. Thus in being relegated, Pompey would rid themselves of what can only be regarded as dead wood, players that are dragging them down because they have no investment in the club.

The money garnered from their transfer fees could be immediately reinvested in the squad and the new management team, whoever it turns out being, could build a loyal squad that will play as a unit for the club and for the fans. And ultimately, surely the Pompey fans would enjoy watching a bunch of players dedicated to their cause in the Championship than a bunch of disloyal mercenaries struggling along in the Premier League.

From a consequentialist point of view then, it would seem to be best for all concerned if Portsmouth were relegated. The rest of the league would not have to put up with their mockery of football anymore, the players marooned there would be able to slip away to more comfortable employ and the club and it’s fans would be able to rebuild a more worthy squad and reassert the integrity of their club.

So tell me Pompey fans, do you agree with my assessment? Do you feel that the players at your club are little more than mercenaries? If not, why not? What have they done to prove their loyalty? I know this article sounds a bit extreme, and is certainly fuelled by my bitter resentment for Pompey after they condemned us to a second defeat in 18 games. But I will defend my view.

I do not mind watching my team lose. If Everton are out played, then I will graciously concede that the better team won, and that we deserved nothing. If it is a tight game and it tips slightly against Everton’s favour, then I will curse our luck but certainly not develop elaborate reasons for our opponents doom to be best for all concerned. But the thing is, Portsmouth didn’t deserve to win today.

Everton did not play well, I freely admit that. We did not play the sort of good football that I’ve come to expect of us, even with such an injury list hanging over our heads. But Portsmouth didn’t play football at all! They pretty much wrestled and strangled Everton into submission, and I can’t even conjure up a memory of them stringing together more than one or two passes before clumping the ball forward. I find it hard to accept then, that Portsmouth have won a game of football without actually playing any, and I’m sure most of you out there will have had similar experiences at some point.

So yes, in a sense, I’m picking on Portsmouth because I’m bitter. But I think everyone but Pompey fans would agree with me when I say that West Brom bring much more communal value to the Premiership than do Portsmouth, because they play nice, attractive football that is a pleasure to watch, even if it’s incredibly ineffective when it comes to results. And while this doesn’t give them a right to survive, I still feel justified in saying that it would be better for them to survive and better for Portsmouth to go down.

I will watch the relegation battle with much interest then, and come the end of the season, I hope that Stoke and Portsmouth are the two sides to join a surely doomed West Brom beneath the dreaded red line. In the last two weeks I’ve been condemned to watching my team play against these two moguls of the ugly side of the beautiful game, and I will be totally honest in saying that I hope I never have to watch them play again.

Newcastle United 0-0 Everton: Match Reaction
23.02.09

Kevin Nolans challenge pretty much summed up Evertons day.

Kevin Nolan's challenge pretty much summed up Everton's day.

Frustration, in a word, sums up how I feel when I think about Everton’s draw with Newcastle this morning. For a whole range of reasons but mainly because we really should have got three points from the game but, for reasons largely out of our control, didn’t. I’ve rated Newcastle quite highly at times this season, but to be quite honest, today’s game left me in no doubt that they are a very poor side, and that makes it all the harder to accept that Everton, who are a very good side (that’s not biased, that’s a fact) could only manage a draw.

My only consolation to help me get past this overwhelming sense of frustration is the cold hard facts about the game. The fact that going into the match, we had Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman, Tim Cahill and Tony Hibbert all missing through injury and suspension, in addition to long term absentees Yakubu and James Vaughan. On top of that, Louis Saha and Maruaone Fellaini were only fit enough for the bench as neither has played for some time.

This meant that a re-shuffle was enforced from the side that had played so well over the past few weeks. In defence, Yobo came in for Hibbert, with Jagielka shifting to right back while in midfield, bright young things Jack Rodwell and Dan Gosling continued to partner the class and experience of Arteta and Neville. Up front we had a partnership that lacked both years and match fitness with Jo and Victor Anichebe pairing up, both 21 years old and both having had very limited match time this season, through one reason or another.

Still, the game began with optimism which in the end meant only that my disappointment and frustration was far more severe than it would have been had I expected a tough match. But the team that lined up, though rather makeshift in places, still had a lot of quality, a lot of class and guile. Unfortunately much of that quality, class and guile, and especially, most of the creativity that there was in the team, was concentrated in one player, Mikel Arteta, and his part in the game was to be brief and distressing.

A mere four minutes into the match he used his strength to intercept a throw in but twisted his knee rather savagely and you knew as soon as he hit the deck, writhing in agony and signalling the bench that his game was over. It is a terrible blow to our season as the little Spanish magician is so often the driving creative spark in our midfield and has been in great form, contributing his fair share of goals too.

Into the fray came Segundo Castillo, the Ecuadorian who to put it mildly has been an epic disappointment in an Everton shirt since he smashed a crashing volley into the net during our UEFA Cup qualifier against Standard Liege. It has been all downhill from there for the loan signing from Red Star Belgrade, and yet it is a sign of how short we have been in recent weeks that Moyes has been forced to push him into the fray on a number of occasions, only to see him surrender the ball time and again.

Despite the early blow, Everton had the majority of the first half, without really threatening from open play. We certainly lacked imagination in midfield with only Dan Gosling’s direct running causing the home side any problems. When we got set pieces it was a different matter though, with Jack Rodwell and Phil Jagielka both missing chances to side foot into the goal from the far post, although it must be said, the technique is difficult and Newcastle’s goal line was packed.

Newcastle hadn’t really troubled our defence at all, but I almost had a heart attack mid way through the half when somehow Lovenkrands found himself both completely unmarked and in possession of the ball (both very rare occurrences in the match) right on the edge of the Evertin area. A breakdown in communication by the newly reunited partnership of Lescott and Yobo must take the blame, and they will be relieved to find that Lovenkrands is actually as shit as he had looked, curling the ball safely wide of Howard’s post.

Shortly before half time came the match’s really talking point, when a terrible tackle from Kevin Nolan almost broke the leg of Victor Anichebe. I honestly wasn’t expecting the big Nigerian to be able to walk after seeing the replay, but incredibly he managed to hobble round for a few minutes more before being replaced by a very rusty (and very hairy) looking Fellaini. Another injury to worry about, as Moyes said after the game that initial signs are not looking good for either Arteta or Anichebe.

Seven minutes of injury time slipped quickly by as Nolan took an early shower and before you knew it, a rather fractured first half had come to an end. It would have been a positive ending for Everton, what with Newcastle going a man down, but even at that point, it was clear that they would shut up shop and it had been worryingly apparent that our depleted numbers left us with very little creative spark, and ten men behind the ball is a difficult thing to break down even with players of Arteta’s calibre on the pitch.

‘Lo and behold, the second half played out just as drearily and as disappointingly as I’d feared. Leighton Baines was perhaps Everton’s most likely source for an assist but all too often his crossing let him down at the crucial moment and while Jo worked hard and impressed with his commitment and work rate as well as a few neat touches, there was altogether a lack of attacking cohesion in the team as a whole. It was startlingly apparent that this really was a side patched together.

Credit to Newcastle, they did defend very well, but when you have no attacking ambition and will settle for a point it is easy to keep everyone behind the ball and simply not give the opposition any room. Sheer force of numbers, rather than skill, was what ultimately flawed Everton. They showed no real attacking intent and seemed to launch counter attacks rather unenthusiastically, as if they were only doing it because they knew it was expected of them. Surprisingly  a half hearted swipe at the ball did set second half substitute Gutierrez free but his hair got in his eyes and his ambitious chip turned into a rubbish chip.

That’s about all of note that happened in the second half. Constant Everton pressure resulted in very few chances, and if anything, the non-event that the game turned into simply provided me with a chance to dwell on Arteta’s injury. Will he play again this season? And how different would this game have been with him on the pitch? The first I cannot answer, I can only hope, but the second, well, nothing is certain in football, but I can say with 99.9% certainty that had Arteta played ninety minutes, I would not have begun this match report with the word “frustration”.

Disappointment is starting to tinge my frustration, but once again, I am trying to fend off the overwhelming emotion with the use of some cold hard facts. Everton still sit sixth in the league and are still in the quarter final of the FA Cup. We have come off the back of a brilliant run of form which has seen us defeated only at Old Trafford by a penalty and we have achieved all this with a threadbare squad. Next week we will have Cahill and Hibbert back at the very least, Osman and Pienaar are in with a chance and Jo will be another week fitter.

While this is a disappointing result, confidence at Finch Farm will remain high and next week the players will have the chance to go out and make amends for this disappointment. They will, I’m sure, be hurting almost as much as I am after today’s game and no blame can be aportioned to them. It’s not that they played badly, but if you round up the visitors from a hospital ward and send them out to play against a hospital team who compete in the local league, you wouldn’t expect a result, no matter how good the visitors are individually. That’s a shit analogy, but it sort of makes the point. They played OK individually, but as a team they couldn’t quite fit together, like eroded pieces of a jigsaw – it’s not going to show a pretty picture.

Consolation, is what I seek from these words. I’m telling the readers of this site what happened today but the words are as much for me as for you. I’m trying to cheer myself up. These aren’t excuses either. I have accepted that we weren’t good enough to win on the day, but I remain confident that with our full squad, Newcastle would have taken quite a battering. So Everton fans, try and resist the despair. After all, a 0-0 draw away at St. James’ Park isn’t actually that bad a result, and if anything, we should be proud of how far we’ve come that it feels so bitterly like a defeat even with such obstacles in our path.

Man of the Match: Jo.

Everton 3-1 Aston Villa: FA Cup Reaction

16.02.09

Young Jack Rodwell sets Everton on the way to a stunning victory.

Young Jack Rodwell sets Everton on the way to a stunning victory.

Everton reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup today for the first time since 2002, and it is an achievement made all the more impressive by the manner in which it was achieved. After overcoming local rivals and title challengers Liverpool in the fourth round, we were given another extreme test of character by being pitted against Aston Villa, perhaps the Premier League’s form team, in the fifth.

Upon looking at the draw one could perhaps have taken the sole comfort that we had the home advantage for the tie, but given that Villa possess the best away record in the Premier League and have won their last seven games away from Villa Park in an incredible run, it was hard to take too much comfort from that thought.

However, Everton have been in fine form of late too, despite a recent loss to Manchester United, we have come through an incredibly busy fixture pile up in which we faced three of the top four teams five times in a matter of weeks with that defeat the only blip in our record, despite battling many injury problems.

Today’s game was as affected by player absence as any of the others have been, with Villa missing Emile Heskey through injury and Gareth Barry missing through suspension. However, given that Everton were without Steven Pienaar through suspension and Fellaini, Osman, Yakubu, James Vaughan, Louis Saha through injury and Jo through his being cup tied, Villa’s fans could have been forgiven for being quietly confident going into the game.

They reckoned without Everton’s battling spirit though, and even more so, they underestimated the sheer quality of the youngsters that have so frequently adorned David Moyes’ bench this season. Dan Gosling, who of course made such a spectacular impact against Liverpool in the last round, came in for Pienaar while Jack Rodwell added to his appearances so far this season with another start in midfield. Victor Anichebe was recalled for Jo, to play up front alongside make-shift striker Tim Cahill. And they were superb.

Rumours of a big bust up between Anichebe and Moyes may well have been on the money, but each man is simply wholly committed to their football and it looks as if each has been big enough to put their differences aside for the good of the club. Moyes could have been tempted to leave him out of the side on spite, and Anichebe could have put in a indifferent performance through similar motivation, but both showed their commitment to the club by behaving admirably.

Aston Villa were missing Heskey through injury, but even if the England man had been playing, he would likely have been shown up by the young Nigerian anyway, who was a constant thorn in the Villa defence, both with his excellent strength and skill in holding up the ball and with his driven running to create opportunities. Gosling too was excellent on the left, constantly ghosting past his marker and putting across dangerous balls. The standout though, was Rodwell, who partnered Arteta and Phil Neville in the centre of midfield and completely nullified the considerable threat usually posed by Petrov and Sidwell in the centre of Villa’s midfield.

It was he too, who broke the deadlock early on, when Tim Cahill’s bullet header from a corner was handled off the line by Petrov, Rodwell spared the inadequacy of the referee by blasting in the rebound. The Villa captain should have been dismissed and a penalty awarded for his blatant cheating and had the game turned out differently, no doubt I would be more worried about it. As it is, it is almost icing on the cake, an incompetent referee did all he could to aid Villa’s passage and still they could not overcome us.

Though two minutes after Everton had take a deserved early lead, the scores were again level, when Agbonlahor tumbled under the challenge of Tony Hibbert. I won’t say that Hibbert got the ball, he didn’t, but he didn’t get the player either. It was an ill advised slide, but Agbonlahor certainly made the most of it by toppling awkwardly alongside the outstretched scouser and winning a penalty that Milner converted – just. Tim Howard got a lot on the weak penalty but it squeezed awkwardly beneath him, as Villa’s luck looked like continuing to hold.

However, the early pattern of the match continued, as Everton continued to dominate possession and were not troubled by Villa really at all. At the other end, Everton’s full backs were flying forwards at every opportunity to help break down Villa and Everton’s smooth passing game was looking good. The breakthrough, when it came though, was a result of some superb direct play by Victor Anichebe, as he chested down a ball forward, turned, and quite literally charged at the Villa goal.

The players around him seemingly hadn’t expected the burst of pace of which he is capable and were somewhat blown away as he surged into the penalty where a lunging challenge from Sidwell brought an end to the bursting run in highly illegal fashion. No complaints for Villa as Mikel Arteta stepped up and converted the penalty incredibly calmly. It is genuinely uncanny that the man can be less nervous running up to take the kick that I am sat in my living room praying for him to convert it.

A deserved lead was taken into half time then, with all of the action so far having occurred in the first quarter of the match, the second half of the first period saw both teams taking stock a little. Villa couldn’t get a foothold in the game, and their only threat came when Agbonlahor missed a gilt edged chance with a header from two yards that slipped past the post and Everton were content to keep the ball and nudge and nurdle for gaps in the Villa defence. Half time came and the scoreline was rightly tipped in Everton’s favour, though arguably not enough to truly reflect the game so far.

The secodn half was a far more edgy affair. Everton were careful not to over-commit and leave themselves exposed and were clearly desperate not to repeat the defensive errors that gifted Villa the three points in the League version of this clash a month or two ago. Villa lacked any real edge going forward, with their usual wide threat of Ashley Young and James Milner being superbly contained by Tony Hibbert and Leighton Baines. I’ve always been a big fan of Baines for his dynamic attacking play, but in recent weeks I’m starting to appreciatete what a solid defender he is too. It is simply so difficult to get past him, I don’t remember Milner doing it once all game.

That left Carew for the most part stranded and ineffectual as he lacks the all round ability to be able to drop back and pick things up for himself. Still, he proved how adept he is in the air when Villa eventually caught Everton napping a bit and fired the ball to meet the head of  the big Norwegian whose glancing header brought a world class save out of Tim Howard.

Eventually though, the game was rightfully killed off, as a lovely move down Everton’s left found Anichebe with a bit of space to cross, and he did so in style, whipping the ball in with the outside of his foot. It evaded the on rushing Gosling and his defender, but Cahill had drifted free at the far post in trademark style and calmly volleyed the ball back across the helpless Friedel into the far corner. 3-1 to Everton and game over, there was no chance of the late drama that plagued the previous League encounter between the two sides, Everton were simply too comfortable.

Moyes brought on Yobo and Castillo for Anichebe and Arteta with a few minutes to go, but that was less to sure up the defence than to allow the exiting players to receive a standing ovation from the Goodison faithful, and honour that each thoroughly deserved and duly received. The whole team really deserved one too, with Rodwell and Jagielka standing out in particular, and Cahill continuing his world class form up front.

So a match that had had me rather worried in the build up to it in fact turned out to be relatively easy for Everton. I say this not to undermine Villa’s credentials, no doubt they were not at their best today, but a very understrength Everton side had very little difficulty in rolling them over. The real positive to be taken from this game though, is the genuine quality that we have available in our young players. Rodwell, Gosling and Anichebe, who are 17, 19 and 20 respectively, showed that they are perfectly capable of performing at the top level, and that lends a fair amount of strength in depth to our small squad.

With so many top players to come back into the side, especially our strikers, Everton look very nicely set up for a push for the top four and hopefully, an even longer Cup run. It has been fourteen long years since Joe Royle brought the FA Cup and Charity Shield to Goodison in 1995, but Moyes and his men showed today that the time is drawing near when silverware will once again grace the blue half of Merseyside.

Man of the Match: Mikel Arteta.

Manchester United 1-0 Everton: Match Reaction

01.02.09

Everton suffer the penalty for a tough few weeks, but its not all doom and gloom.

Everton suffer the penalty for a tough few weeks, but it's not all doom and gloom.

After watching Everton finally succumb to defeat against Man Utd after an eight game unbeaten run, I feel disappointed, but also proud and optimistic. We battled bravely against the best team in England this morning, were never out of the game and only conceded thanks to a quite soft penalty. Yes, we never really troubled them too much, and the players looked quite lethargic, but after the few weeks we’ve had, that is no surprise really.

Right off the back of the busy Christmas period, we have faced Liverpool twice, Arsenal once and Man Utd once in a two week spell, as well as having faced Chelsea just before Christmas, and have another match against Liverpool still to play. That is a hell of a period of fixtures for any side to come up against, but considering Everton’s considerable injury list, three draws and a loss in four matches against three of the ‘big four’ is not a bad return.

Indeed, if we were to have had striking options available, be it Yakubu, Louis Saha, James Vaughan or a fully fit Victor Anichebe, I would be fairly confident that we would have picked up at least one victory from these games. We played with ferocious intensity in these games for the most part, but were restricted in out attacking ambition by nature of our having no fit forwards. Tim Cahill did an admirable job as a fill-in, but if we could have teamed him up with Yakubu or even another natural striker, we would have had that extra edge going forwards.

Today, if anything, I think we lost because these last few weeks finally caught up with us. The intensity in defence was as fierce as ever, but when we claimed position, our transition from attack to defence wasn’t as fluid as it has been, and we were unable to really penetrate what is a very formidable defence anyway. When you consider that Cahill and Fellaini were doubts for the match with slight injuries, and Arteta missed the match in midweek with an injury, it shows that our squad was jaded as well as depleted.

Let that take nothing away from United. At times they looked very good, and towards the beginning especially, they looked deadly every time they had the ball, and I was initially worried. However, as we settled down into the game, we tightened up and worked them out to an extent and really, for the most part, we weren’t tested. Carlos Tevez was an endless nuisance to Everton’s stubborn defence with his bullish running and persistence, and looked most likely to get a breakthrough, but he couldn’t quite break through.

Eventually though, we were undone by the referee, and one has to say it had been coming. Criticism’s have been made already this week by a number of managers about referees, how they are consistently biased towards the ‘bigger’ teams and how players and managers seem to influence them by being ‘pally’ with them. Tonight was no exception, as Man Utd had the rub of the referees decisions from the get go.

I will say right here that I’m not necessarily contesting the penalty decision. There was certainly contact from Arteta, but there wasn’t much. I would call it more of a brushing of the feet of the two players, the sort of thing that happens constantly all over the pitch. But there was contact and Fletcher made the most of it, and the referee gave it. I can’t say he shouldn’t have done but I will say it was soft. If Fletcher was a bit more of a sportsman and the diving culture hadn’t progressed so far in this country, I think he would have stayed on his feet and tried to score himself. In the ‘good old days’, it wouldn’t have been a  penalty.

And I don’t want to complain about the referee too much, as I seem to do it quite a lot, and I’m sick of it, so you must be too. What that tells me though, is that the standard of refereeing is abysmally poor though, and something needs to be done. Throughout today’s match, it seems that Fellaini and Anichebe and even Cahill were not allowed to make aerial challenges while Vidic and Ferdinand were allowed to climb all over them. The linesmen were shockingly poor with some terrible offside decisions given.

This is not an excuse though. I’ve already said that we weren’t at our intense best, for various reasons, but I will say that had we been competing against eleven men rather than fourteen, we would have stood a much better chance of taking something from the game. When you consider that Lescott had a rather blatant penalty appeal ignored too, the result does seem to have been effected by the referee and his cronies.

However disappointed I am at the result and some aspects of the game though, I am not too down. Usually when we lose I feel completely dejected and depressed. Today is different though. We lost to a good side, only very narrowly with much against us, and what’s more, we’re still in rather a good position. Despite suffering terribly with injuries, our tiny squad has pulled together and showed enormous character to pull us through the toughest part of our fixture list relatively unscathed.

We are still a little way off the fifth spot, and have plenty of work ahead of us, but with a less intense fixture list against lesser opposition, and hopefully, a squad with fewer casualties, I am confident we can kick on and make a good challenge for the top five, especially as Aresenal are faltering badly and Villa’s luck will surely run out some time.

In all then, it is a good time to be an Everton fan. Yes, we have just lost at old Trafford again, quite narrowly. We have come very close to getting results against Uniyted in recent years and I thought this year might be our year. However, I feel optimistic still, a win or draw would probably have been seen as something of a bonus for us, and with these tough fixtures out of the way, the season will hopefully continue positively.

I just hope the players can muster one last big effort against Liverpool in the FA Cup replay on Wednesday night. I feel that after all the effort they have put in over the last few weeks, for little actual reward points wise at least, they deserve a bit of glory, a Cup upset and a chance to go on a Cup run and win some silverware. As David Moyes has said a few times, we are top of the league on spirit, and as a fan, my spirits are high, even in the face of defeat. Against all the odds, we keep on fighting, so here’s to an upset on Wednesday!

Everton FC: At The Heart of Liverpool

An Argument to Keep Everton In Our City.

27.01.09

The site of Evertons new stadium?

The site of Everton's new stadium?

Though Everton’s season on the pitch looks to be shaping up nicely after a shaky start, there still hang some serious clouds on the horizon with regards to the clubs future. The ‘new stadium’ debate is one that has been rumbling along with our club for some time but has really gained some momentum in recent years, with the Kirkby proposal seemingly being the chosen option for the Everton officials.

There is no doubt that Everton do need an improved stadium if they are to continue to progress as a club, to allow for larger crowds and thus greater profit to match their on field ambitions. However, I have serious reservations about the Club moving it’s stadium outside the city limits, as Kirkby would be. I’m sure that those inside the club, those with the power to make decisions, feel that in their heart too, and I think they have perhaps abandoned that hope too easily.

Of course, the obvious problem with a new stadium within the city itself is that there are very few, if any, areas for development within the city that are large enough to allow a football stadium and all that comes with it, to be built. A few years ago, we explored the Kings Dock area and even got as far as having a vote amongst season ticket holders as to whether to leave Goodison and go ahead with the move. However, eventually that prospect fell flat and so we were forced to look elsewhere.

The really grinding thing though, is that there is a location that would be perfect for a new stadium. It’s about a minute from Goodison Park and has plenty of space available for development. I’m talking of course, about Stanley Park. And this was an option that was explored, and a couple of years ago, the club approached the Liverpool council with regards the possibility of using the land to build their new home. The council though, said that it was land that was indispensable as a public park, and would not consent to have it bought up for ‘private’ use.

A few years later though, and Liverpool FC, now also deciding that they need a new stadium, also approach the council about the possibility of a Stanley Park stadium. And surprise, surprise, in February 2003 they were granted permission. The plans are now in the pipeline, and the stadium was due to be completed ready of an August 2012 opening before the economic decline halted its progress.

The fact remains though that the Council has gone back on it’s decision to keep Stanley Park for public use, and given Liverpool permission to build a stadium where Everton were denied. This is downright favouritism towards the ‘more successful’ of the city’s two largest clubs, and to my mind, is downright wrong.

For one thing, Everton are the oldest club in Liverpool. Founded in 1878, fourteen years before Liverpool, we were also the original tenants of Anfield stadium, using it from it’s construction in 1884 until 1892, when we left due to a rent dispute and moved to Goodison Park. The owner of Anfield then founded a new club simply to have some use for his stadium, and thus Liverpool FC was formed.

So Everton FC were the first football team in Liverpool, and we remain the People’s Club of the city, as David Moyes memorably christened us when he took the manager’s job. But he had a point when he said that the man on the streets of Liverpool supports Everton. The people who actually live in the heart of the city are usually Everton supporters, with Liverpool’s support often coming (quite famously) from further afield and even abroad. This trend, of the people of Liverpool supporting Everton is probably due in part to the fact that Everton were established before Liverpool. The local people already had their team, and we all know how allegiances are passed down bloodlines, thus the ancestral people of Liverpool, support Everton.

It seems even more ridiculous then, that the prime location for a new stadium in the centre of Liverpool was given not to Everton, the People’s Club, but to Liverpool. If we move to Kirkby and Liverpool move to Stanley Park, match days in Liverpool could have the bizarre occurrence of Everton fans leaving the city to go to their stadium, while Liverpool fans flood in to the city from around the country to their stadium. Surely it would make more sense for Everton to remain in the city, as both history and the majority of supporters’ location suggests is logical.

Of course, this option seems closed to us now. Liverpool have been given Stanley Park, and so we must accept that, unfair as it may be, we cannot use that space (don’t even mention sharing). I still think though, that we belong in the city. Everton are, as I have discussed, the city’s founding club. We are the People’s club, and so why should the people of the city have to leave it to watch their team play at ‘home’?

Now comes the point in my article where I must consider the plausible options for remaining in the city, and this is unfortunately where I hit a bit of a hurdle. I can’t pretend that there are many, because there aren’t. The club has looked long and hard, but space for a development of this nature is hard to come by in such a busy city.

It is this which will prompt some to call for a shared stadium between Liverpool (despite my annoyance), and in a sense, it is a sensible call. Financially it would make sense and both clubs would have a prime location for ‘their’ stadium. But would it really be ‘their’ stadium? I think not, I think that with a shared stadium, each club would lose a big part of their identity. Goodison Park is a historic old ground, full of grace and character. Of course we will lose it when we move, but we will retain it’s qualities, and we establish a new ground that feels like home, that is our spiritual place. Likewise, Liverpool have their Kop end, and that is something else that could not be shared. How could a stand be ‘the new Kop’ one week and then be full of Toffee’s the next? It would simply destroy any chance we have of transferring our atmosphere from our current grounds, and that is something that should not be sacrificed.

So if sharing is not an option (and it isn’t), and there is no room for new development within the city, surely moving away is our only option. That is certainly what the club seems to have concluded with their Kirkby proposals, but I hesitate to agree. I think that there is a great location within the city that could house a stadium. In fact, I know it could house a stadium, because it already does.

I’m talking of course, about the area enclosed within Goodison Road, Bullens Road and Gwladys Street, where Goodison Park currently resides. Because what we need is a better stadium. It doesn’t have to be completely new, and we don’t have to move. Goodison Park has the central city location that we so desire, and it also has rather good foundations for a stadium. I fail to see then, why we are not seriously looking in to the possibility of updating and improving Goodison Park.

The club say that they have explored this possibility, but I don’t know to what extent they have done so. I have a sneaky suspicion that what most puts them off the redevelopment of Goodison is that it would mean we miss out on a lot of financial help for the improvement of our Stadia. Moving to a new ground would allow Naming Rights to be purchased, as well as the development of some sort of ‘complex’ adjacent to the stadium, which would help fund the build – at Kirkby, it’s a Tesco’s.

Now of course, that’s a handy financial boost. But I for one don’t like all this commercially named stadium bollocks. The Ricoh Arena for christ’s sake?! Ricoh make photocopiers!!! And why does a football ground need to be surrounded by a supermarket or ‘luxury apartments’ or a fitness complex? It doesn’t. That just detracts from the majesty and purity of a football stadium. It is a place where only one thing matters. Everything should be geared towards the football, and what happens on the pitch. They shouldn’t be trying to sell you shit on the way in. This is football dammit!!!

So I would be glad of missing out on those particular annoyances if we were to stay at Goodison and redevelop. Obviously that creates financial problems, but really, we’re in no state to build a stadium even with naming rights and a fancy complex at the moment anyway. We’re broke, and need someone to buy us and invest pretty heavily (but sensibly, none of this ‘Kaka for 100m’ rubbish) and so if we have an investor, why not just spend a bit more on redeveloping Goodison. After all, we won’t have to build from scratch anyway, as I said, it has good stadium foundations!

The only other major obstacle I can see to this plan, is that the redevelopment of Goodsion may make the ground uninhabitable while the work is being completed, and so it may leave us with nowhere to play. I am not much of a builder (understatement of the century), and so I don’t really know the logistics of it all, but perhaps the redevelopment could be done in stages, with simply a reduced capacity while the work is done, or (‘lo and behold) we could share Anfield for a season or two. God I actually shuddered as I typed that.

My point is though, that I don’t see any major, major problems with the prospect of redeveloping Goodison, and the fact that it would keep us in the city, and let us remain at our beloved Goodison Park, are enormous plus points in its favour. If anyone else can shed any light on other stumbling blocks that I may have missed, please do so, but at the moment, I see it as an entirely plausible (and favourable) option.

At the end of the day, I think it would simply be a tragedy if Everton were to leave Liverpool itself. While Liverpool, have more history in their trophy cabinet, it is we who have more history in the city. We have been here longer, it is where we belong, and it is where our fans live and work. The heartbeat of the club and it’s fans are in tandem, from the heart of Liverpool itself. I think it is absolutely sickening the way we have been treated by Liverpool council, but I think the club should do absolutely everything in its power to prevent us leaving the city. Taking Everton out of Liverpool would be like ripping my heart out of my chest. It just shouldn’t be done.

Liverpool 1-1 Everton: Match Report

20.01.09

The little guys upset the big guns, as Tiny Tim Cahill nets a more than deserved equaliser at Anfield.

The 'little guys' upset the 'big guns', as Tiny Tim Cahill nets a more than deserved equaliser at Anfield.

Everton put in a great performance and more than matched Liverpool in this first part of a double-header of Merseyside Derby’s this week. It was a derby high on quality, whereas they are often supremely scrappy affairs, full of passion but not much class, this one actually demonstrated the strengths of both teams. Scoring chances were thin on the ground but Everton created more and often looked the more likely to get the breakthrough. It was no more than they deserved then, when Cahill headed a late equaliser after a typical Steven Gerrard goal had snatched Liverpool an undeserved lead.

From the off both teams looked far more settled than they usually do in this fixture. Liverpool looked to have something to build towards with Torres returning in attack, and the Spanish superstar looked in good nick, though he was doggedly tracked by Everton’s defence, Jagielka and Lescott hardly putting a foot wrong. Everton lined up with Anichebe and Cahill forming an attacking partnership and the two of the had the beating of Liverpool’s defence in the air all game. The midfield play from Everton was great at times too, Arteta and Neville combative in the middle, with Osman and Pienaar’s constant running giving Liverpool’s full backs endless headaches.

The first chance of the game came when Anichebe controlled the ball on his chest on the edge of the area before volleying low with his left foot, forcing a full stretch save out of Pepe Reina. The young striker, returning from injury in place of the suspended Fellaini, then whipped in a cross which Cahill attacked with characteristic vigour, and Reina again had to get down sharply to deny Everton.

The Toffees were allowed plenty of time in possession with Liverpool content to let them knock it around the defence. This seemed a bad move though as it gave them plenty of time to build up an attack and when the likes of Arteta, Osman and Pienaar moved into the final third their passing was crisp and accurate with full backs Baines and Hibbert getting forward and whipping in dangerous crosses. These led to a number of corners from which Reina had a couple of flaps, but the ball wouldn’t quite drop where Everton wanted it and Liverpool survived unscathed.

Indeed, looking at the first half, I can only remember one time when Liverpool actually threatened seriously, and indeed Howard didn’t have a save to make. In fairness their one opportunity should have given them a goal, with Sami Hyypiä’s through ball catching Everton’s central defensive partnership for once unawares, Torres skipped into the area but good recovering pressure from Jagielka and Lescott as well as an onrushing Tim Howard seemed to do enough to ruffle the usually clinical Spaniard, who clipped his finish against the outside of the post.

As half time arrived then, Moyes would certainly have been the happier of the two managers. If anything it seemed that Everton simply wanted it more. Their constant closing down and incredible work rate was simply closing all avenues for Liverpool and forcing them to make mistakes. Half time saw no changes from either side but Benitez would surely have encouraged his side to try and retain possession more and get a bit more tempo and urgency into their game.

The second half began a touch more tentative than it had been. Liverpool managed to get a bit more sustained possession but for the most part had to content themselves with knocking it about in the middle third as they just couldn’t breach a stubborn Everton back line. Finally the game seemed to ignite again when Torres was put through into the box and toppled easily under no real challenge. Referee Howard Webb waved play on, and rightly so, but Liverpool were wound up and so the contest hotted up.

This was Liverpool’s best spell, and they at last managed to force Tim Howard into making a save when Gerrard hit one from the edge of the area, which then rebounded in the direction of Sami Hyypiä, who had an empty net to tap into, or would have done had Leighton Baines not pulled of a stunning saving tackle. Torres then hit a snapshot on the turn from the edge of the box but it was never a threat to Howard’s goal.

Robbie Keane was then taken off by Benitez, and the fact that I haven’t mentioned the twenty million pound now is proof of the fact that he simply did not impact on the game at all. He failed to link up at all with the impressive Torres, and while credit to that can be given in part to Everton’s miserly defending, one would think that for such a large amount of money he should make things happen. Liverpool’s fans seem to be losing patience with the Irishman too and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t there for much longer.

Everton, who had at last found themselves slightly on the back foot at Anfield, then began to get a handhold on the game again, and putting some passes together. This culminated in a wonderful, bullish run from Anichebe down the left hand side, but as he charged into the area he was clipped from behind by Skrtel. To me it looked a good shout for a penalty, considering it was a challenge from behind and he was moving at quite a pace, any impact is likely to unbalance you, but the referee waved away Everton’s appeals and awarded a goal kick.

Everton would have been ruing that decision even more a minute later, as they found themselves a goal down, completely at odds with their dominance of the game. The goal kick was taken and knocked down to Gerrard who for once found some space 25 yards out as perhaps Everton still had the penalty appeal on their minds. Either way, that was all Gerrard needed and he rifled in a low shot which beat Tim Howard and tucked into the bottom left hand corner.

It was perhaps inevitable that Gerrard would be the one to make the breakthrough for Liverpool, because he was the only one who had shown any real derby spirit for the Reds. While Everton’s team were fired up for it, it looked like the rest of Liverpool’s foreign stars saw this as ‘just another match’ and so they were outdone by Everton’s passion. It was a painful goal to concede, not least because we perhaps should have been tucking a penalty away at that moment, but also because now it looked as though Liverpool’s team were beating Everton. In fact, the team contest was lying in Everton’s favour, but Gerrard as an individual had got one over on us.

I constantly wonder just what Liverpool would do without Gerrard. He scores so many important goals for them, goals that win them games, and come purely and simply from his own inspirational brilliance. It is almost unfair to put them in Liverpool’s ‘Goals For’ column because they are all his own work, and no matter what Torres has brought to Anfield, they would be well and truly lost without Gerrard. I await the verdict of his court case with anticipation, because if he goes to jail, Liverpool will go downhill – very quickly.

Back to the match then, and Liverpool’s goal had taken a bit of sting out of the contest. While Everton were stunned to find themselves behind after such a good, brave performance, Liverpool seemed content to settle for 1-0 and attempted to slow the tempo of the game down and play with their ‘beaten’ opponents. We even saw Martin Skrtel showboating at one point as he extravagantly flicked a header forwards, but such arrogance was soon to be regretted.

Everton gradually regained their battling spirit and started to set up camp in the Liverpool half. Torres looked to have run out of steam (no surprise after a long lay off) and so they had little outlet up front, while we were desperate to get back on level terms. Cahill and Anichebe were putting themselves about and causing all sorts of trouble and Leighton Baines in particular spent most of his time in the final third as Everton pushed everyone forward at every opportunity, with Lescott going forward for every free kick too. We looked a constant threat with balls into the box and it was starting to look like the best way to break them down as they pulled everyone back as we entered the last part of the game.

Torres was withdrawn by Benitez with ten to go, Babel coming on in his place, but Moyes had little in terms of experience to turn to on his bench and so stuck with the players who were so undeserving of being a goal down. His faith paid off too, as Anichebe was fouled near the byline on the left hand side of Liverpool’s penalty area, and Arteta stepped up to whip in another dangerous delivery. Tim Cahill snuck into the box and managed to shake off an inattentive Skrtel, before sneaking into the front post just in time to meet Arteta’s vicious cross with a glancing header into the back of the net.

Cue pandemonium in the Everton stands and in my living room in New Zealand (my cat was catapaulted off my knees as I proceeded to hop madly around, avoiding putting weight on a sprained ankle) as the players and fans celebrated a goal that was the absolute minimum that their performance deserved.

The final few minutes of the game were tight, Liverpool had had the wind taken out of them and though Everton sent a few balls forward with the hope of snatching another, it seemed that both teams were just desperatete to at least hold onto a point and so no real further opportunity was risked. As the final whistle blew the Blue half of Merseyside was by far the happier. Even though they perhaps did enough to deserve three points, we were delighted with a draw after it looked like we may have been heading to a thoroughly undeserved defeat.

Not only that but we managed to sabotage Liverpool’s title ambitions a little and a draw at Anfield is always a pleasing result, as it is a formidable place to go, especially as it usually means facing twelve men. Today though, Everton’s players showed incredible passion and commitment to outplay Liverpool for large parts of the match, but also they showed considerable control and quality to keep their emotions under check enough that it did not affect their football.

Trying to select a man of the match for this game is incredibly difficult. Phil Jagielka was as usual a rock at the back, and Lescott hardly put a foot wrong. Hibbert was his usual fully committed self and got forward to good effect on a few occasions. Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta were magnificent in the middle, constantly breaking up the play and Arteta’s passing and set piece delivery was instrumental in Everton’s attacking threat. Osman and Pienaar worked as hard as anyone and their neat passing and moving is at times simply beautiful to watch, and makes me proud to be an Evertonian.

Cahill and Anichebe up front were brilliant, they threw themselves into every challenge, ran at players and chased everything. Anichebe showed trickery I hadn’t expected of him and should have been rewarded with a spot-kick and Cahill showed just how good he is at finding a bit of space in the box and grabbing the all important goal. Tim Howard in goal made some good saves too, but I think Leighton Baines gets the accolade for me today. His defensive work was faultless and he prevented a certain goal with a last ditch tackle, and going forward he was simply brilliant. Since coming in for Yobo he has given us an extra dimension in attack with his overlapping run and he has shown he has a great footballing brain by linking up well with the midfielders and Pienaar in particular.

All in all today saw a great performance from Everton. Other reports will focus on the match as one that prevented Liverpool from going top. But it was so much more than that as we proved that we are certainly good enough to give Liverpool a hell of a run for their money – despite a lengthy injury list and missing Fellaini through suspension. I look forward to next weeks FA Cup clash now, and if we can produce another display like this, I will be quietly confident that we can progress at Liverpool’s expense.

Man of the Match: Leighton Baines.

Everton 2-0 Hull City: Match Reaction

11.01.09

Arteta scores a wonderful free kick as Everton give Hull a footballing lesson.

Arteta scores a wonderful free kick as Everton give Hull a footballing lesson.

Everton showed their true colours in yesterday’s match against Hull City, and in doing so, exposed those of their opponents too. Hull never threatened Tim Howard’s goal, not getting a single shot on target and struggling to string more than two passes together. Everton on the other hand, looked good in possession, sharp, neat passing exposed weaknesses in the Tigers’ defence, and for the most part Hull had to resort to committing cynical foul after cynical foul to prevent the scoreline becoming the annahilation that it perhaps could have been.

In many ways, the tale of these two clubs is bound very tightly in their two managers. Regular readers of this site will know that I am a huge fan of David Moyes, and indeed, he is in my opinion one of the best managers working in this country today. Phil Brown is another boss I hold in high esteem, and I believe that it is mostly down to his attitude, cunning and energy that Hull have had such a fine season to date. Their playing squad certainly is not of top six quality, that was shown clearly enough today, but Phil Brown has masterminded a sterling show from them so far this season.

Faced with the mountainous path of trying to keep his newly promoted side in the Premier League, Phil Brown could easily have sat down and thought, as most other managers do, that consolidation was the key. Indeed, when clubs reach the dizzy heights of the Premiership after working away for years in the Coca Cola leagues, ‘consolidation’ is often their watchword. And perhaps sensibly so. They do not have, for the most part, the financial luxury afforded to most top flight clubs and their pulling power towards players, especially foreigners, is not great. In many ways it can seem that the best they can hope for is to sign a few experienced heads, knuckle down, and fight for their lives.

Insetad, Brown evidently had a different idea. He decided that he was going to come into this league and have a real go. Why should his side be condemned to a relegation battle? Why shouldn’t they be able to compete higher up the table? Why should their ambition simply be survival? Why couldn’t they succeed? These are all questions that must have passed through his head, and it seems that he realised there weren’t definitive answers to any of them. He believed his team were capable of doing more than people expected, and they have, so far at least, done so.

It was perhaps down to that element of the unexpected that they had such a bright start to Premier League life. Their opposition, expecting another tough but ultimately winnable battle against ‘relegation candidates’, perhaps took them a bit lightly, and were slightly overwhelmed when they came out and played with such attacking gusto, such overwhelming confidence, such belief. Now the surprise is over, and everyone knows where Hull’s strengths lie. Unfortunately, their weaknesses have also been spotted too, and life is now harder for Brown’s men, as their recent results have shown.

What has got them by so far has been their spirit. Brown managed to transfer his belief and energy into his players, and they played like men who not only belonged in this division, but men that believed they could achieve something within it. Confidence and belief is a big thing in football, the mindset of a player has to be right. If he’s not in the right place mentally, he may as well have no legs, that’s how much good he’ll do. And Phil Brown is excellent at motivating his players, at man-management. He can get them going and make them believe in himself. But a top manager needs more.

David Moyes came into Everton under tough circumstances. Perennial relegation battlers and with little to no money in the bank, things had been grim for a long time, and looked like remaining that way. However, Moyes came in with a plan. He sat down and worked out with Bill Kenwright what he wanted to do. The key for him, was to rebuild. He wanted to start bringing in younger players. Players whom he could work with, who he could bond together into a tight unit. But first of all, he had to turn things around straight away, and keep us in the league.

He did that with his own brand of man-management, and by consolidating. Joseph Yobo was brought in to strengthen the defence and he built from there. He turned us initially, into fighters, because that’s what was needed to survive. However, that was only ever a stop-gap, and gradually, steadily, he started to effect his changes. Younger players were brought into the side, academy products like Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman, and of course Wayne Rooney, were given more of a chance. They fought for the team they loved, and built a great atmosphere at the club, and things began to pick up.

The development was aided by Moyes’ careful signings. He made a number of excellent signings from the lower leagues, picking up Tim Cahill from Milwall for a snip, and he also brought in some experience and some cunning by bringing Phil Neville from United. He also signed a young Spanish playmaker who was struggling to get games at Real Sociedad, he saw the potential, and Mikel Arteta has become one of the league’s finest midfielders, all for just two million pounds. The atmosphere around the club had changed. No longer was our side full of ageing players, totally committed but losing their legs fast. Instead the team, like the manager, was young and hungry.

And still Moyes had not spent any real money. Lescott joined for what was then an extravagant £5millon for Everton, and James Beattie, his one real mistake was signed for £6million. But the club was now, all of a sudden, back at the right end of the table. We were challenging for the European places and so gradually, more money became available. Beattie moved on but was replaced with another record signing, Andy Johnson, for £8million, and then Yakubu for £12million.

And now here we are today. Everton are established contenders for the European places. Last season we went out of the UEFA Cup quarter final on penalties after strolling past the eventual winners in the group stages. We are the only team to have broken the ‘big four’s stranglehold on the Champion’s League places in recent years, and we look set to challenge to do it again. All this is down to Moyes. His initial attitude when he joined the club has been complimented by shrewd transfer business and good tactical sense. He was one of the first managers in the league to use the 4-5-1 formation that is now very common, and has probably used it to greater effect than anyone else at this point.

In yesterday’s game, we saw the culmination of all this hard work. His latest record signing, Marauone Fellaini was a constant thorn in Hull’s side, and they resorted to downright brutality against him whenever he got the ball, but he still scored the opener. Mikel Arteta cracked in a thunderous second and throughout the game the likes of Osman and Pienaar played scintillating football when not being kicked up in the air by an increasingly frustrated Hull side. It’s not all easy though. Fellaini continues to be unfairly targeted by referees, and in picking up a booking will now miss both matches against Liverpool next week. We also are still without a fully fit recognised striker and lack the money to buy a replacement, meaning Moyes must find someone of top-six quality who is available for loan.

These are the newest obstacles in Moyes path. If we are to attempt to continue progressing to be able to compete with the ‘big four’ we must overcome the refereeing bias that is commonly in their favour. We must find money from somewhere, as transfer prices are inflating rapidly and less and less can a player be signed for less than £5million who has a realistic ability to compete at the top of the Premier League. But Moyes is committed to the club. He has signed a new long term contract and will continue to build. We hope that he will be able to continue our progression in the quiet and dignified manner in which he has led us so far, and we have every faith in him.

Phil Brown must hope that his club have the same faith in him. They are where we were, in the lower echelons of the Premier League, lacking much real quality, but with ambitions of bigger and better things. They need a David Moyes, and I think they have one. Brown has shown he has the motivational ability, and in signing Geovanni on loan has shown that he has a keen eye for a player too. They must show the sort of faith in him that we have had in Moyes. There might be downs, we had them, a couple of very tight scrapes with relegation might have seen most chairmen reaching for the axe, but we stuck with him. Hull must do the same, Brown has a plan, and he has the ambition. They must only hope they can hold onto him.

Last night’s game told me two things then. It told me that despite their great start, Hull are still a long way off the pace of the top Premier League clubs. But it also told me that they have they might, if they are sensible and lucky (football requires a certain amount of luck, just ask Aston Villa), one day find themselves in the upper echelons of the Premier League. Ultimately though, only one thing really matters. Everton won, convincingly, and so they took the three points. We continued our great form defensively and will be high on confidence going into next weeks games against Liverpool. Those games may be more telling than this one was, as it is our chance to prove just how far we’ve come.

Middlesbrough 0-1 Everton: Match Reaction and Mid-Season Assessment

28.12.08

Gosling, Jags, Cahill and Arteta emody the spirit of Everton as they celebrate the winner against Borough.

Gosling, Jagielka, Cahill and Arteta embody the spirit of Everton as they celebrate the winner against 'Borough.

Seeing as I didn’t get to see Everton’s boxing day win against ‘Borough until 4.30pm on the 27th in New Zealand, I figure a match report is really not too necessary as those who would read one will have read an alternative one. Instead I’m going to use the match as a basis for a wee assessment of our season so far. We stand on the cusp of the new year, and after not having really hit our best form at all so far this season, we still find ourselves in sixth position in the Premier League.

Going into the game at Middlesbrough, we still had to contend with having no fit senior strikers to field, as we have in recent weeks. Fortunately Tim Cahill and, to an extent, Marouane Fellaini have stepped in and filled the void admirably. On top of that, we had picked up a few more injuries in the game against Chelsea, with Joseph Yobo and Leon Osman both ruled out, which meant that Moyes’ squad was starting to look very threadbare. In came Leighton Baines at left back, no worries there, he should have been playing all season. And a debut was handed to 18 year old Dan Gosling in midfield.

Our current injury list reads: Yakubu, Louis Saha, James Vaughan, Victor Anichebe, Joseph Yobo, Leon Osman, Nuno Valente and Lars Jacobsen. That’s quite a list, and has meant that for the majority of the season Moyes has been naming a bench consistently full of youngsters, such as Jack Rodwell, Lukas Jutkiewicz, John Paul Kissock, Jose Baxter and Dan Gosling himself. It would be fair to say that we don;t have the largest squad in the Pemiership, and so you would think that such an injury hit season (considering Cahill, Pienaar and Arteta have all been injured at points too) would have doomed us to struggle in the Premier League.

Instead, we find ourselves sitting sixth in the table, and in many ways, the game at Middlesbrough exactly characterised our season. It was a side that was cobbled together somewhat, no recognised strikers, an 18 year old debutant in midfield and no experience on the bench. But we came away with three points after a very good performance. In many ways the 1-0 scoreline does not do the performance justice. Boruough barely had a kick and threatened only once when Howard saved well from O’Neill, whereas we were always comfortable in possession, and could have stuck a few more chances away, particularly young Gosling.

Still, it was the character of the performance that was most telling. From the very beginning Mike Riley was his usual pedantic and (in my opinion) blatantly biased self. He was giving free kicks for almost every aerial challenge that went in (from both sides, he was consistent on that at least). He took the over-protection of goalkeepers that we have seen in recent years to new levels, with Jagielka being punished for simply standing next to the hapless Turnbull who flapped consistently from every aerial ball and would have been found very wanting had it not been for Riley’s exuberant whistle-blowing.

We also had a perfectly good goal disallowed for ‘something in the box’ (if you can see pushing in there, please show me) and Fellaini was constantly pulled up for winning headers simply because the Borough players could not compete with his height. Since when was having the natural advantage of being hopelessly tall an offence according to the rules of Association Football? Credit where credit is due, Riley did get the big decision of the game right, when Adam Johnson (on as an impressive sub) threw himself dramatically to the ground under no challenge from Arteta, the referee could so easily have ruined our boxing day by giving the penalty against us (lord knows he gave almost everything else) but instead he did march over and book the England U21 international. Well done Riley, you got something right at least.

And though the refereeing performance was shambolic, and our injury list enormous, the players performed admirably. They didn’t get frustrated with Riley, though everyone else in the ground was, and they worked incredibly hard from first to last, knowing that they were all we had, and knowing that it was down to them. And while the scoreline was only one goal to nil, it could and perhaps should have been more. But then, that is the nature of our season so far.

We find ourselves in a respectable sixth position, albeit with a bit of catching up to do if we are to match last season’s fifth place finish. But it could, once again, be so much more. We have played very well and lost on occasions, often in heartbreaking circumstances. Late goals conceded against Blackburn on the first day and Aston Villa recently robbed us off two points that really should have been six on the merit of the performances on the day. We threw away a two goal lead against Newcastle to drop another two points and a simply abject performance allowed Wigan to beat us despite being bloody awful themselves that day. They were simply the lesser of two uselessness’ on the day.

But through those disappointments we have battled on. We started the season with barely a side to put together after a summer of frustration and uncertainty regarding transfers and the future of our enigmatic manager. But the players banded together with the sort of spirit that makes our club so special. Watching the likes of Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta fighting every inch for the badge on their shirt is a sight to make the heart of every Evertonian swell. They weren’t raised as Evertonians, but since joining the club, they have become two of us.

Seeing Phil Neville do the same is even more amazing. Born and raised in Manchester as a United fan and making his career there, he is as well placed as anyone to embody the traditional hate that mancunians and scousers feel for one another. And I must admit that when he was signed a few years ago, I was very sceptical of what he could bring to our club. But he has proved me wrong. His dedication to the team’s cause is second to none, he fights every scrap of turf for Everton, and that is telling of the special atmosphere that surrounds our club. From the very moment you step foot inside, it grips you. From the moment I walked into Goodison as a five year old and curled up on my seat in the family enclosure, I was hooked.

It is that spirit, that we feel as fans and that we see reflected in the efforts of the players on the pitch that has made this season a success so far. The players haven’t performed to their best yet this term, they know that and we know that. If we had of done, we would have won the games mentioned above, and we would be sitting in third in the League table. But we are sixth, and against all that has been put against us this season, that is some achievement. There has not been a game that has been played when we have not named a possible debutant on the bench, and we have often been the subject of some very harsh refereeing decisions (Tim Cahill’s sending off at the hands of Mike Riley springs to mind).

It is a testament to the players, the management and the fans then, that we find ourselves in a good position going into 2009. We have all banded together, even though at times it would have been easy to fall apart. We have watched other clubs fall into disarray and pay the consequences for it. Tottenham, Newcastle and Blackburn all came apart in one way or another and they suffered because of it. Only now that they have made significant changes have they resurrected themselves. But at Everton we are more loyal and patient. We have sat through years of relegation fights and mediocrity, but now we are making progress. Under Moyes, we have become consistent challengers for European places and become the only team in recent seasons to break the ‘big fours’ monopoly on the top four places in the Premier League.

Under Moyes yesterday, it was clear to see just how this has been achieved. Moyes has brought the club together, united everyone to do with the club under a single banner. The first day he walked into the club he described us as ‘The People’s Club’, and that is what we are. We lack the superstars of other Premier League sides. Our players have great talent, but they also have great work ethic and commitment. Outsiders will see Mikel Arteta as a flair player, with great vision and technique. Evertonians know that he possesses those traits, but first and foremost we see his commitment to the club. We see how he fights to win every ball, we see that when he gives the ball away (which isn’t often) he is always the one to power back and retrieve it. We see that when we don’t have the ball, he is simply part of the unit, marshaling his team mates as they work as one to defend Everton Football Club. We see that he is as much a ball-winner as a ball-player and that that is because of the spirit of the club.

At the final whistle yesterday, Moyes told his players to go to the travelling supporters and give them their shirts. It was Boxing Day, when they should be at home with their families. Gone are the days when Christmas fixtures were local, and a long trip to Middlesbrough is not an appetising thought when you could be at home eating turkey in the warm. But the people of Everton travelled in their thousands to support their club, and Moyes recognised that. They were there for the players, and Moyes acknowledged that much, and repaid them for it. It is that special bond, that connection between fan and club that brings the spirit to our club.

And that spirit is, in turn, the reason why we find ourselves in a good position after a troubled first half of the season. It was evident yesterday, from the moment the teams were announced, when young Dan Gosling was supported by his friends and team mates. It was evident as he put in a stunning debut performance, as his team mates played brilliantly, battling a strong Middlesbrough side and making them look average. It was evident in the stands as the travelling Evertonians out-sung the Borough fans. It was evident when Cahill poked the ball into the net and the players and fans alike when wild with jubilation. It was evident at the final whistle, when Moyes and his men acknowledged and thanked the fans for their support, and we thanked them for their effort. It is evident in the fact that someone went home with Tim Cahill’s vest, as he had already swapped his shirt with a Borough player. He could easily have just waved and signed autographs, that would have been enough. But he wanted to give them something more.

In the second half of the season, all we ask as fans of our club is that they continue to do that. To strive to give their all for the club and for us, and we will do the same for them. Whether we travel to Middlesbrough on Boxing Day or get up at all hours of the night in New Zealand, we will be there to support them, and they will be there, fighting for us. And that is why, come the end of the season, I fully expect us to be there or thereabouts in the European places. Whatever obstacles are put in our way (and surely they can’t be as numerous as they have been so far) we will overcome them together. As one enormous hypocrite once said, “Once a blue, always a blue.” But we mean it.

Manchester City 0-1 Everton: Match Report

14.12.08

Tiny Tim makes a big impact.

Tiny Tim makes a big impact.

Everton travelled to the City of Manchester Stadium today with no fit strikers, after Victor Anichebe failed a late fitness test. What was already looking to be a tough test had almost become impossible, with City’s attacking riches usually reaping them rewards at home, and Everton on the back of a demoralising later-than-last-gasp defeat to Villa last time out. But the Toffees came out today and played with real spirit and passion, in the end outplaying City for much of the match and thoroughly deserving their win.

Castillo came in for Anichebe, to sit in a holding midfield role while Tim Cahill was pushed up front to be a makeshift striker, with Mauroane Fellaini encouraged to support him whenever he could. The little trinity of Arteta, Osman and Pienaar completed the midfield, with Arteta staying more central, and they bossed the midfield right from the start, with only Shaun Wright-Phillips really giving them any sort of a headache, and Robinho conspicuous only by his absence.

The first half was bright and lively, both teams looking to get forward and take the game to the opposition and both creating chances. Everton edged it though, their passing work was neater, with City giving possession away far too easily and at times they simply could not get the ball off an Everton midfield who are starting to get back to their best. Arteta, effortlessly comfortable in possession dictated the play, and Osman and Pienaar with their beautiful technique and clever interplay provided a great link up to the makeshift forwards. When the trickery didn’t work, Fellaini and Cahill, both strong in the air, provided an alternative threat, and it was amazing that the game was 0-0 at the interval.

Mikel Arteta came closest in the first half, rasping a free kick against the cross bar with Joe Hart beaten, and Fellaini couldn;t find the target with a looping header from the re-bound, but in fairness, Hart would have made the save if required. City threatened at times too, Stephen Ireland actually managed to involve Robinho in the game as he found him in space on the edge of the Everton box, but the Brazilian’s shot was well saved by Tim Howard. Elano and Ireland had snapshots too but didn’t really cause a scare, but otherwise Howard had a fairly quiet first period.

Arteta then tested Hart again, when the ball dropped to him on the edge of the area it struck the ball with a huge amount of venom and the young former Shrewsbury ‘keeper pulled off a good, almost improvised save as the ball came on him faster than he anticipated. Wright-Phillips had Howard reeling for one final time in the first forty-five as his cracking distance from effort rattled the crossbar, before Hart was again forced into a top save as Fellaini pounced on the ball in the area, his snapshot seemed destined for the bottom corner before Hart’s lunging hand intervened. From the resultant corner Lescott, back on the score sheet last week, almost continued his great scoring record against City but could only guide his header just over the bar.

The second half, though less populated with chances was still an enthralling game to watch, though probably not for the Man City fans. Everton kept the ball with ease for long periods, knocking the ball about with patience and hoping to wear down a resilient home defence. Phil Neville’s surging run and whipped cross should really have been tucked away, first by Fellaini who couldn’t quite make contact at the front post, and then only an essential defensive recovery from Zabaleta prevented Cahill from nodding into an unguarded back post.

City had brought on Jo for the injured Benjani at half time, but to be honest both City forwards had as much impact on the game as Everton’s did, watching from home with injuries. Instead it was Stephen Ireland who forced a final save from Tim Howard with about twenty to go, the American making a good save, it certainly would have been against the run of play had City found a break through.

Whether Moyes was tempted to throw on young striker Lucas Jutkiewicz as the game drew towards its conclusion goalless we will never know, but in the end he chose to stick with the eleven that were looking comfortable against a full strength City side, and were looking far more likely to get the breakthrough. And as the game moved into injury time, the players were still working tirelessly, with pressure on Richard Dunne forcing him to concede a soft corner. Osman floated the ball in, and Cahill once again bemused everyone by beating Micah Richards (who must be almost double his size) in the air and nodding the ball back across the face of goal and into Hart’s net.

The brilliant Everton travelling support erupted to celebrate a victory that they had thoroughly deserved, and after the referee had played a minute and a half more injury time than indicated (perhaps hoping for a repeat of last week – it’s a conspiracy I say) the few City fans left in the ground promptly booed their players off the park. City didn’t necessarily play badly, Everton were simply excellent. I haven’t mentioned the defence, because they coped with Benjani, Robinho and Jo so comfortably, which is testament to how solid they were. Wright-Phillips and Ireland threatened occasionally from midfield, but Castillo did well in his holding role, aided by the tireless work rate of the other midfielders, with Arteta again deserving a special mention for his work both in attack and defence.

It was great to see Tim Cahill punching the corner flag again, he has come close a number of times in recent weeks, and now hopefully he will have the confidence (as well perhaps, as a more attacking role) to go on and get some more goals. Most encouraging though is the continued improvement of the midfield, who are starting again to resemble their selves of last season, with lovely precise passing work keeping man City chasing shadows for long spells. Osman and Pienaar were as tricky as ever, but for me it was Arteta himself who orchestrated the midfield and dictated the game and so he gets my Man of the Match this week.

A great three points and a great performance from Everton – something we haven’t seen hand in hand too often this season so far. We have played average-poorly and won a number of times, and played well and lost a few times too, but now hopefully we can get into a good rhythm in time for the Christmas fixture pile up. With such a diminished squad today the players deserve huge praise for their hard work and commitment, they epitomised the spirit of the club today, and we can ask no more than that of them. Well done boys.

Man of the Match: Mikel Arteta.

Everton 2-3 Aston Villa: Match Reaction

09.12.08

A bemusing finish to a telling game.

A bemusing finish to a telling game.

This was the meeting of the top two teams in the league outside of the top four in the Premier League. Many things in football are contested, but I think most fans will agree with the above statement. The difference going in, was that Villa were in great form (and the top four) while Everton have had a very stuttery season so far, showing only rare glimpses of their potential and yet somehow still within reach of the European places. It promised to be a telling tie, and that it did turn out to be, though the result is not what tells the story.

Villa got off to an absolute flier as a surge down the right saw Luke Young play the ball to Agbonlahor who laid off to Steve Sidwell who blasted the ball into the Everton net after just 34 seconds. This goal comes down to Everton’s sleepy start, and Villa’s incredibly ferocious one. I have watched hundreds of games of football in my life and never have I seen a team out of the blocks so fast. Still, the concentration of the Everton players should be questioned, as should Tim Howard’s positioning.

As the ball settled in the net, I picked my jaw up off the floor and thought ‘shit’. It was a hard enough task anyway, but now to come from behind to beat Villa would be very difficult, masters of the counter attack that they are. Surprisingly though, after five minutes or so, Everton began to settle into the game and then to dominate it, so much that Villa did not threaten again for the remainder of the first half. It was a display from Everton that was littered with mistakes still, passes going astray and movement not quite right, but that promised much. We were confident on the ball, looking to build moves up from the back and our midfield, especially Arteta, were ticking.

The reward came on the half hour, when a silly foul on Cahill gave Arteta a lovely vantage from which to whip in a dangerous cross which was flicked on to Lescott, who somehow had wriggled free in the six yard box, and made no mistake poking past Brad Friedel. It was no more than we deserved, and from that point on, anyone watching the game would surely have expected Everton to go on and get the three points fairly comfortably. Villa literally didn’t threaten again, and while chances weren’t coming thick and fast for Everton, the intent was there, and one felt like the goal was coming.

Half time came and went and it was the same story, we started the second half brightly and put on some pressure, earning a corner. The delivery whipped in by Osman was superb and found Fellaini mistifyingly unmarked in the six yard box and only a frankly incredible reflex save from Friedel kept the ball out of the net off the crossbar. Then once again, concentration let the Toffees down. And if there was one player this season who you would have thought would never let us down, it was Phil Jagielka.

Mr. Consistent picked up the ball inside his own half, and with options at a premium, turned and knocked the ball back towards Tim Howard. The pass was incredibly under hit, that much is clear as day, but it was also played in the direction of the hovering Ashley Young who nipped in and made no mistake with the gifted opportunity. I can only assume that the questionable choice of kits (Villa’s home maroon and blue was dark enough to make you look twice on occasion) played a part in the lapse from Jags, but still, he will know as well as anyone that with those passes, you have to make sure, and he simply didn’t. The amount of times he has saved us this season alone though, means that he is still way ahead of everyone else in the team, I just hope it doesn’t affect his confidence too much.

So suddenly we were 1-2 behind, Villa had hit two shots (plus a free kick in the first half) and they had scored two shots. Everton had been completely dominant bar two lapses but were a goal behind. Cue absolute Everton dominance once again as Villa retreated back into their shell and tried to defend out the game. Complete dominance resulted in few blatant chances, but then I suppose a team of Aston Villa’s quality keeping ten men behind the ball will do that for you. Still, the goal did feel like it was coming.

And sure enough, it did, though we had to wait until the third and final minute of injury time for it. A ball lumped into the box in the dying seconds was headed back across goal then toward Joleon Lescott by Tim Cahill, where the big defender executed a flawless semi-bicycle kick to smash the last gasp equaliser past Friedel. Goodison went mad, we had a point, which was the least we deserved, and the Villa players slumped to the ground.

And that is where it should have ended. The game should be telling us that it was a game between two evenly matched teams, dominated by one that made mistakes and thus the points were shared. Instead though, contrary to the announcement made that there would be three minute of injury time, the referee decided, such was he enjoying himself, he would play a little more. The equaliser had come at the very death of the third minute, and so rightly or wrongly, when Villa restarted, the Everton players were just waiting for the whistle.

They continued to wait for the whistle as Villa attacked and the ball was safely gathered by Tim Howard. They waited some more as Tim Howard launched the ball up field, and while Arteta failed to control it. They were still waiting, as was everyone in the crowd, when the ball then dropped as misfortune would have it (from an Evertonian viewpoint) to Ashley Young. Joleon Lescott continued to wait as he gave chase to the speedy winger after he had knocked the ball past him, and as he rifled the ball into the net. We didn’t have to wait for the whistle anymore, it was blown, but not to signal full time. It was blown to signal that a legitimate goal had been scored at least a minute after the game was due to finish. As I was picking my jaw up off the floor again, the whistle finally did blow for full time, just as we kicked off. It was a twist of fate, a reverse mirror image of how it should have happened. Villa should have been kicking off then slumping to the ground, not us. We should have been the triumphant ones.

So what did we learn from this game? We learnt that Aston Villa are very solid defensively. We learnt that Ashley Young is a good finisher. We learnt that Phil Jagielka is human. We learnt that Lescott should be a center forward. We learnt that a severely dimished Everton team with only one half fit striker played Villa off the park and did more than enough to take a point from them. We learnt that the gap between the two teams is far slimmer than the points column in the Premier League table suggests. And we learnt, once again, that referees in this country are shocking.

So Everton fans, don’t despair. It was a heart-rending result, truly it was, and it would be easy to criticise the players for their lack of concentration. But it should never have occurred, and in the period of time when the game was actually taking place, our team more than matched our biggest rivals for fifth spot, even with such a depleted squad. So yes, we are not playing as well as we can, and yes we didn’t get any points, but we showed Villa that they are going to be in for a battle for fifth place. Man of the match for me was Mikel Arteta, he looked back to his best at times, now we just need the rest of the team to get there too.

Man of the Match: Mikel Arteta.

When your English centre half is wearing gloves you know you’re in trouble… A response to Everton’s defeat at Wigan

26.11.08

Optimism is both a great and terrible thing. If the thing one anticipates with confidence goes according to plan, you feel great, almost superior in your apparent foresight. However, when the event does not go as you had hoped and perhaps expected it might, you feel almost doubly crushed. After Everton’s defeat to Wigan yesterday, that is how I felt. We were unbeaten in five games and Wigan were in the drop zone. The stats suggested we should emerge victorious and I justified it to myself: we had to come good soon.

Unfortunately, the stats masked the fact that Everton, though picking up points, have not been playing well lately. A succession of late wins has but a bright sheen on some very unconvincing performances. the only difference yesterday was that our endeavour, what little of it there was, bore no fruit. And it is actually quite worrying. Because although we are 7th in the league, that doesn’t mean much because points wise we’re closer to the bottom than the top.

I think it is time then, that we saw some changes. One may suggest that suddenly getting on the manager and players backs after one defeat in six is a little harsh but I reiterate: we have not played well. And I also invite you to read the last few match reports where I have repeatedly suggested thatchanges need to be made in certain areas. While I would loved to have been proved wrong by the faith Moyes has shown with what can be seen as his first choice XI at the moment, I think my suggestions have actually been justified.

One area where I feel this is definitely the case is at left back, where Joleon Lescott continues to do his England chances a world of bad with stuttering performance after stuttering performance. Like Middlesbrough last week, Wigan will look fondly at Lescott’s positioning as it contributed in a large way to their goal. Coming after half time, he was caught up field and out of position by Antonio Valencia, and rushing to get back, got beaten far too easily by Wigan’s play maker, who then had all the time in the world to slip Kamara in for an easy finish.

Having pointed out exactly this problem last week I now believe that Moyes must surely be running out of patience with his star defender. There is no doubting Lescott’s quality, but he simply is not playing well at the moment, and so should not be playing at all. Especially when we have Leighton Baines, who in my opinion is probably the third best English left back (the other two play for Chelsea), on the bench. The time has surely come for him to be given a prolonged run of games. It is his turn to have a chance, as Lescott has had enough.

Another thing I mentioned in the article I linked above, was that a change of formation might be prudent, to switch back to the 4-5-1 formation that we have utilised effectively for the past two years, as I feel the 4-4-2 is restricting our attacking impetus. While two up front as opposed to one may sound more attacking, I believe that the partnership of the Yak and Saha isn’t working, and it restricts the sort of openings we can create. Both players like to operate centrally, and are powerful, target men type players, who demand service but are shadowed by the opposition’s central defenders.

When we adopt a 4-5-1 formation on the other hand, we have options. For one thing, it liberates Cahill, allowing him to make his trademark late runs, and float around behind the front man. He has been getting into the right positions of late, even from his withdrawn role, and it is only a matter of time until he starts putting them away as usual, but it couldn’t hurt to speed that process up by giving him more freedom. It also allows us to play with more width, which was something that was really lacking against Wigan.

Having the five men in midfield sort of packs it out a bit, and so Pienaar (if fit) and Arteta get automatically pushed out wide, while Cahill and Osman stay more central. This gives us far more options, far more angles and the ability to work our passing game in and around the opposition defence, dragging them out of position and creating gaps for the front man – gaps that haven’t been opening with Yakubu and Saha both in the middle. Playing 4-4-2, our midfielders who all perhaps have a tendency toward central play, all have the room to stay in more central positions, and so we fail to exploit the pitch as we need to.

Those then are a couple of changes I have been looking for for a while, and in light of the Wigan performance, I think my case for each has been enhanced (let me know if you agree or not). But I think that the performance against Wigan was so uninspiring that certain personnel changes are required. I think what we need is to shake the team up a bit. Bring in players who have a bit of bite and fight about them, and balance them with the more technical boys. Last season we had Carsley, who was always mixing it up in the midfield a bit, and I think we’ve missed his attitude as much as his sweeping up so far this season.

So what I’d do, in addition to swapping Baines for Lescott, is bring in Tony Hibbert at right back, pushing Phil Neville into Carsley’s holding midfield role. Yobo and Jags can stay, as they were the only outfield players who really performed on Monday night. In the midfield we must bring Pienaar back if he’s fit, in place of Fellaini. The young lad has masses of talent and at times looks brilliant, but he was poor against Wigan and needs a rest.

Arteta can stay too. He has had critics in recent weeks and it is true that his passing game has not been up to scratch, but watching the Wigan game, he was one of the few players still really fighting for a result come the end, and he worked incredibly hard tracking back and getting stuck in. That is a side of his game usually overshadowed by his fine skills, but he deserves to be allowed the chance to find his form as long as he is still committed, which he proved he is against Wigan. Tim Cahill will remain too, because as I said earlier, it’s only a matter of time until he gets a goal and then there will be no stopping him, and he’s always as committed as anyone.

The final midfield place goes to Osman I think. He was very poor against Wigan. It was the quietest I’ve seen him for a long time, and I would hope he will bounce back from it. Perhaps Fellaini or Castillo could take his place, but I think he Pienaar and Arteta are important to the 4-5-1 formation with their trickery and quick passing, so he gets the benefit of the doubt, and I’m sure he’s desperate to overwrite the memory of his Wigan performance too.

Up front for me, Louis Saha gets the nod. Some will be surprised at this because Yakubu is considered to be our best striker by some distance, but for me, that’s the problem. He knows that he is Moyes’ main man, and so there is little pressure on him to be performing regularly. Saha on the other hand has had a real shortage of football in recent years and must be desperate just to be playing. He will be hungry to get back to his best and will work his socks off for the team – something that can rarely be said for the Yak, no matter how many he scores.

In addition to this, I though Saha played reasonably well against Wigan. His touch is excellent and he has speed and power in equal amounts so can be a handful to any defence. His finishing needs a bit of work, it’s still a bit rusty but matches will be best for that and he is good in the air. All in all he is nearly a complete striker when fit, fast strong, good on the ground and in the air, and with just the one up front, it’s an advantage to have that one with many facets to his game. Plus it will send a message to Yakubu, show him that he has to do more than turn up each week.

So there you have my team for the match with Tottenham at the weekend. There’s no doubt that a revitalised Spurs team will be up for it, and so we need to have as much fight and passion to match them in all departments, and I think this team should be able toachieve that, while retaining quality all over the park. A quick word on Tim Howard too, who showed his true talent against Wigan. I’ve made it clear so far this season that he hasn’t been up to scratch but on Monday he was fantastic, and I hope he can maintain that standard.

I said last week that Moyes had some decisions to make, but he didn’t make them. He gave the team another go and they let him down. If I know him at all (which I can’t claim to) I don;t think he’ll be happy with that and I think he will make some changes for the weekend. Whether his match mine, only time will tell, but he is sure to be giving them a rocket in training this week, lets just hope it ignites the necessary fire and passion in them, because we need to get straight back to winning ways if we are to keep up with the leading pack and fight off the chasing pack, because they’re not far behind and once you get dragged in, it’s hard to get out again.

Apologies for yesterday’s missed update. I was miserable and couldn’t face writing about the game so I switched off from football altogether. It probably did me good! Thanks for reading.

David Moyes: Decisions, Decisions…

19.11.08

Well, unbeaten now in a little while after some good results and even a slightly disappointing draw against Middlesbrough, one could be forgiven for thinking that David Moyes has hit upon a winning formula, as he has done so often in the past. Unfortunately though, though Everton have been winning games, we have not been playing well, and there is still a long way to go before I will be confident in our European challenge.

There are two major areas that I think Moyes needs to look at, and the problem in both cases is actually not a problem as such (and if it is it’s the best kind to have) but more a difficult choice. These areas are defencively, specifically the left back slot, and up front. In both positions Moyes has a number of highly talented players, but I think he needs to think carefully about which one he chooses, as to how it will effect the overall balance of the team.

Let’s start at the back then. In Joseph Yobo, Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott, we have three centre backs of genuine international quality. This of course poses a problem as we can really only accommodate two of them at any one time, even though all would walk into most Premiership sides. To solve this of course, Moyes has pushed Lescott out into the left back role, which he has filled to some acclaim, but this displaces another top draw player – Leighton Baines.

I feel quite sorry for Bainsey, because whenever he has had a chance in the team he has impressed. Defensively he is very solid, he’s quick and his positioning is excellent, he’s a big threat on the overlap and with a natural left foot, adds an extra fluency to attacks down the left. Yet again and again he finds himself on the bench, as Moyes opts for Lescott instead, presumably to sure up defensively, as we have conceded far too many goals already this season.

But I am skeptical as to whether or not playing Lescott as a left back is actually making us more defensively sound. Yes, Baines is a more attacking wing-back type player, but he is also a natural left back, and I don’t think that Lescott is. Joleon is an excellent defender, his tackling and marking are superb, he’s unmatchable in the air (as he’s proved with his goal tally last season) and he is as solid as they come, and has a bit of speed to him for a defender too.

But he is a central defender, out and out. I often think when I watch him play that his positioning for a left back is a little bit off. He tucks in too much, playing almost as a third centre back at times, and this gifts the opposition space to play the ball into, and the right sided winger more time on the ball to pick a cross. And I think that this has been directly responsible for our weaker defence this season.

Whereas last season we were nigh on impenetrable, this season we have conceded a lot of scrappy goals, when the ball has been delivered, then dropped to a player in the box and been tucked away. I think this is at times because the winger has had more time to accurately place his cross, where usually they are under pressure and must simply get a yard then whip the ball in. This means that the ball is likely to find the opponents target men more, and though our centre backs do enough to prevent the direct goal, the ball can’t be cleared as comprehensively as it was last season.

Now hang on, you might say with good reason, Lescott played at left back last season too, so why the sudden change? A good point well made that, but I think that it may come down to the players mentality so far this season. He rightfully earned a lot of plaudits for his form last season, and I think it may have gone to his head a little bit. I’m not saying he’s cocky, but such praise relaxes a player a bit, and seeing as he is playing out of position, he needs to be fully concentrated on his positioning etc. because it does not come naturally. It seems to me that this focus isn’t always there tough, and so probablyunconsciously, he drops back into a more central position, purely from natural instinct.

It may also be down to the fact that he himself wants to play at centre back. He has said a number of times that he’d prefer to be at the heart of defence, and in an ideal world that’s where he’d be. Unfortunately though, Jags and Yobo formed a great understanding last year, and thus have become the first choice defensive pair, even though Lescott is probably the most gifted of the three at an individual level. Because if this it may be almost a subcouncious resistance that drives him slightly further toward what he regards as his natural position.

I think then, that Moyes needs to change this. I am a big fan of both Baines and Lescott, but at this point in time, I think we need Baines playing at left back. It is his natural position, he is a very talented lad and can do the defencive duties at least as well as Lescott, in my opinion, probably even better. He also, with his left foot, provides an immense attacking outlet. He has shown earlier in the season what a threat he can be, I remember one game (the opposition won’t come to me) where he setup one goal with a cross and won a penalty, as well as making two goal line clearances.

I don’t think that this means Lescott should be dropped altogether though. Either Moyes could fiddle with his central partnership, which I wouldn’t advise as they look solid, or he could think about deploying Lescott at right back, if he really does want him in the side. I’ve said that Lescott is not a natural full back, and I believe that, but he is right footed, and so on the right hand side he would be a touch less awkward and may fare a touch better. That would mean he would replace the captain Phil Neville though, who has been playing well and I don’t think should be dropped, for his leadership qualities if nothing else. He could perhaps be moved to the midfield holding role, but with Arteta, Cahill, Osman, Pienaar and Fellaini all to fit into midfield, that poses another dilemma.

So Moyes has a few options up his sleeve and it will be interesting to see if the great man himself thinks he needs a change. This is just my own little theory, but to me I don’t think Lescott is quite right so far this season and if I were in charge, that’s what I’d be looking at. Let’s now look at my second little theory though, whcih concerns the attack, and introduces the choice between a straight 4-4-2 and our usually preferred 4-5-1.

In recent games, when we have had Cahill back fit and from suspension, and Fellaini playing well and Saha back in the goals, we have still lacked a bit of cohesion going forward. And while it is great to see Louis Saha back playing well because he is a class player when fit, and the Yak is always a threat, even if he is a little lazy for my liking, I must admit I think we need to revert to the 4-5-1. It surprises me to say this as I have always preferred teams playing with two strikers as it’s more attacking, but I think in our case it actually holds us back.

Because while Saha and Yakubu are both great players, they are too similar to really function as a partnership. Both have a bit of pace but aren’t really willing runners. They rarely make runs that can be found with a cutting little pass, yet with players like Arteta, Osman and Pienaar in midfield, that is what we do best.

In full flow last season (the European game against Larissa springs to mind) Everton played amazing quick, often one touch passes, interchanging positions across the midfield and then setting either the Yak away, or Osman or Pienaar who then played a square ball or a cut back into the danger area. This season though, our attacks break down at the edge of the box, and we look a bit stale.

Some people have criticised the midfield for this, Arteta in particular has been on the receiving end with people suggesting he is always playing sideways. But there isn’t any movement for him to lock on to. Yes he can (and has been) go past his man and then send a cross over, but that is only one way to build an attack, but so far, it has been the only way we’ve really scored. We are at present a one dimensional attacking force.

I think what needs to happen is for Moyes to revert to his five man midfield. This gives Osman and Cahill in particular the freedom to roam forward and play just off Yakubu, while Arteta, Fellaini and Pienaar are a bit more withdrawn (with Arteta and Pienaar on the wings too). Then the withdrawn three have the physical presence of Yakubu to aim for, as well as the flitting runs of Cahill and Osman, and then with deft one-twos and overlaps and more movement on the edge of the box, the opposition will be far more easily dragged around and gaps created. As coaches always say, marking a still player is easy. I’m not saying marking Yakubu or Saha is easy, they’re both very strong, but staying with Yakubu, Cahill and Osman and retaining your shape all at once is nigh on impossible.

The problem then is which player should make way. Saha is in the goalscoring form, but Yakubu is Moyes’ main man really, and has just broken his duck. Both are excellent players but as a partnership I’m not sure how much chemistry they will ever have. There is also the point to consider that we could need a holding midfield player in the ‘Lee Carsley role’ to allow the system to work. I agree that it does free up the other midfielders, but from what I’ve seen of Fellaini so far, I think he has it in him to do that job, as well as providing an attacking threat.

He is always the first midfielder back to help out in defensive situations, and often, when we’re building an attack will be found sitting a touch deeper and conducting the play from side to side. of course as such an aerial threat it is important he be allowed to burst into the area sometimes too, but i think that the other midfielders are intelligent and disciplined enough to provide temporary cover on these occasions. For me that is the ideal solution, because brilliant as Carsley was for us (more than we realised at the time) I always wished he could contribute a bit more with the ball. Fellaini seems to me to have that mix of attributes and will become a very important player for us I think.

In all then, I would like to think that Moyes has a lot on his mind this week. Though his team are getting results, I am certain he will not be happy with the level of performance he has been seeing. These then are the areas in which i think that we need to take another look, but maybe Moyes has different ideas. The weekend will probably shed light on that, and we’ll see what he does with his lineup. In the end though, thta Moyes must choose between Lescott and Baines, or Lescott, Jagielka and Yobo or Saha and Yakubu simply shows how far we’ve come. A few years ago we had a shallow squad with talent but no quality in the depth. Now Moyes has really strong replacements in almost every position, and that is a vital ingredient in having a successful season. Whether or not this turns out to be a successful season for us will, possibly, depend on how Moyes utilises this strength in depth, so I will be watching his decisions closely.

Everton 1-1 Middlesbrough: Match Summary

17.11.08

Feed the Yak...

Feed the Yak...

My, my, football is a funny old game. After somehow managing to pick up a few wins on the trot despite playing distinctly averagely, Everton go in and put in a reasonably promising performance today and can only muster a draw. I’m not quite sure how it was only a draw, as we had the chances to win comfortably, but once again, we were lacking in the finishing department and it’s cost us two points.

Right from the off, it looked more like the Everton of last season, comfortable in possession, playing nice quick, interchanging passes through a fluid midfield and it was all looking good. Then all of a sudden, Middlesbrough actually got the ball, as well as a couple of enormous slices of luck as their players were tackled only for the ball to drop right to another Borough player, eventually Downing, who slipped the ball out to an unmarked Gary O’Neil, who was left with a relatively simple task of popping the ball into the net, which he did in style at the near post.

A couple of things to mention about the goal. Firstly, why on earth does the ball never drop for us like it did for them? Secondly, Joleon Lescott is a great defender but he has shown this season that he is not a great left back, I want to see Baines playing there (more on that in tomorrow’s post, as I’m planning a tactical analysis) and thirdly, Tim Howard was beaten far too easily at his near post. Yes, he shouldn’t have been able to get the shot away unchallenged, but it wasn’t hit hard and at the near post, you would expect better.

As O’Neil (for some unknown reason) pointed at his name to the Evertonians, they sat their in stunned silence, a bit shell shocked from having seen eight minutes of comfortable football collapse into a 0-1 deficit and suddenly a lot to do. It was clear that Borough would now shut up shop and maybe try and hit us on the break again, and so we all knew that we had our work to do to get back in the game against an in-form and very solid side.

A few minutes later though, and we should have been back on level terms, the impressively lively Saha flicking Yakubu through on goal, and after out-muscling his defender, the Nigerian should have ended his goal drought. He was foiled by a fantastic rushing save from Turnbull, but the ‘keeper should never have been given the chance to save.

Next Lescott, who looked far better going forward than he did at the back, drifted over a tempting cross which eluded everyone but almost managed to sneak in itself, coming back out off the inside of the post and sparking a scramble in the area which Borough cleared. They were living dangerously and Arteta was looking as bright and silky as ever in possession, but his passing and delivery lacked its usual pinpoint accuracy. Fellaini too was looking good, very comfortable with the ball at his feet, I really do see a big future in front of the big fella.

Soon we saw Howard Webb doing what refs at Goodison do best, ignoring blatant penalty appeals from the home side. Despite giving free kicks a plenty in central areas of the pitch after Borough players ankles were lightly caught by Fellaini and Cahill, Mr Webb managed to ignore Turnbull going right into the back of Yakubu inside the six yard box. And while the Nigerian is often a bit too over theatrical for my liking, he didn’t even make a meal of it, obviously deciding that it was so obvious that such tricks weren’t required, but of course the referee gave only a corner (even though Turnbull actually didn’t touch the ball).

Still, Everton pressed on, and from an Arteta corner, Tim Cahill was found in acres of space at the near post but once again, the Aussie’s header was mystifyingly off target. He who normally slots straight back into the team after an injury layoff doesn’t look quite himself since returning from his suspension, something that needs to be rectified soon.

We went in a goal down at half time but after watching the first half, it was clear that there was only one team in the game. the only worry was whether we would be able to find two goals seeing as the first was proving so elusive. Moyes remained unchanged at half time, though he must have been tempted to deploy Baines to give us more natural width, I know I would have been.

Middlesbrough in fact started the second half reasonably well, keeping the ball far more than they had at any other point, but then Everton gained the upper hand again, as Saha threw himself into a diving header with gusto, but lacked the control to make the effort a threat to the Borough goal. But the Everton fans soon had something to cheer as we won a free kick on the left hand side of the box which Arteta curled in beautifully, and Yakubu managed to almost pirouette the ball in, spinning to allow his back to deflect the ball past a helpless ‘keeper.

Borough then managed to carve out another quick counter attack, with Tuncay and Downing the heart of it, as they had been of all that was good about the Tee-siders today, and Howard made a decent save, pushing a vicious Digard effort onto the post, as I almost had a heart attack, thinking we’d thrown away the game after working so hard to get back in. As the ball fell wide though, I was confident that we would go on to get a deserved winner, but it wasn’t to be.

We saw the introduction of Pienaar, Anichebe and Vaughan, but in the end Middlesbrough were solid enough to hold out. I must admit, I’d never thought of Gareth Southgate’s outfit as particularly solid before today, but once they got the early goal and shut up shop, they were impressively disciplined and so you cannot fully resent them a point. But still, it was a draw that felt like a defeat, and if there was a side that deserved to win, it was us no question.

But going into the game, even though we had three wins on the trot, we still haven’t played to our potential this season, and we faced a Middlesbrough side who are at the top of their game and look likely to challenge for Europe, so I don;t think we should be too disappointed by the result. Other pluses are that the performance was at times much improved, but the defensive lapses need to be rectified completely, and Moyes must consider playing a natural left back, but as I said, more on that tomorrow.

Man of the match today is a tough one to call. No one really had an amazing game, but many showed glimpses of their true talent. Arteta was dazzling at times with the ball and while his distribution was still better than most, it wasn’t as consistently outstanding as we’ve come to expect. Fellaini impressed, but dropped away in the second half and Saha played well, looking lively and with an exceptional touch, he has a lot of promise, especially when we start to function as effectively through the midfield as last season, he will get lots of goals. Man of the match goes to Phil Jagielka again though. The man has been outstanding in every game so far this season, and that Lescott is in the England squad and Jags is not is mystifying because I know who I’d rather have in my team at the moment.

Man of the Match: Phil Jagielka.

West Ham United 1-3 Everton: Match Summary

09.11.08

Well the final score is as I predicted yesterday, but the game itself was not what I expected at all! Having been a loyal Everton fan for many years, I know as well as any one that we rarely do things straight-forwardly, but we pretty much took that to new highs today. In the end we have come away with three points, but the Hammers will feel a little dazed after they were robbed late on.

The first half was a drab affair, and Everton never got going at all. West Ham’s lively attack was full of pace, from Craig Bellamy and Freddy Sears especially, and they were a handful for the Toffees defence from the off. But Zola’s side lacked any of the technicalaoty and precise skill of the little master himself, and their attacks involved more just flinging men forward at great pace, through the middle, and trying to overwhelm the Everton defence.

And while it wasn’t exactly pretty, it nearly worked, with Howard saving early on from Sears with a good tip on to the post, and the youngetser creating many opportunities, Bellamy skying a volley from the edge of the box that he should have done better with. It was all West Ham, Everton couldn’t get any sort of passing momentum together and Saha was looking lost in the wilderness up front, with Anichebe dropping back into midefield, to help out defensively.

Amazingly, the breakthrough never came. I’m not sure quite how, as we didn’t look at our best defensively, but through sheer commitment I think we managed to stop the ball getting into our net at times. The half time whistle came and Moyesey must have been relieved, and something needed to be changed.

They came out for the second half and looked brighter. Everton actually managed to string passes together and even build the odd attack, and we were starting to hold a bit of possession and look threatening as Rodwell narrowly put a header wide from a corner and Tim Cahill was clattered in the air giving us a decent penalty shout (if Gerrard got his this was nailed on) but then West Ham went straight down the other end and scored.

After they broke away with everton protesting, a couple of passes down the left wing produced a deft chip over the top from Bellamy, and Parker, on the receiving end, performed a cheeky cruyff flick, knocking the ball past Joseph Yobo and into the path of Collison, who took one touch before curling a neat finish into the corner. The home fans were delighted to finally get the reward that their play had deserved, but us Evertonians thought it might have killed off any chances of any revival we’d been experiencing in the game.

How wrong we were, as Moyes immediately substituted the again impressive Rodwell for James Vaughan, who went up front with Saha, and we went for it. Finally we showed real determination to attack, and there is no doubt they had been startled awake by going a goal behind. Mounting Everton pressure followed, but for a while we never really troubled Green in the West Ham goal, and it looked like we may go home frustrated.

Then it all kicked off. In the 83rd minute, Louis Saha found himself out wide after a corner had been cleared, with a bit of time to look up and pick out a beautifully whipped cross to the head of Joleon Lescott, the big defender powering his first goal of the season past Robert Green, and the travelling Everton fans went mad.

A few moments later, after the restart, West Ham were looking all over the place, clearly knocked off their stride by the equaliser which had defnitely come against the run of the match. Everton attacked again, sensing the kill sure enough the ball was worked down the right hand side where the industrious Anichebe found a pass inside to Saha who spun and hit a shot that took a deflection on its way to the very corner of Green’s net. Absolute hysteria, we’d come from nowhere to seemingly take the three points.

Still, with Everton you can never be sure and as I sat down after jumping round the living room (it was nearly 5.30am) my brother and I agreed jokingly that one more would be nice to make the ending a bit less tense. Louis Saha heard us and duely obliged, the ball recovered from a Faubert clearance and the striker finding a bit of space inside the West Ham half he surged towards the goal before cracking a sweving bullet into Green’s bottom corner. I pretty much just burst out laughing.

After such an atrocious first half, and a tepid Everton display, West Ham, who had looked decent for much of the game, must have been wondering where that whirlwind came from. Three goals in four minutes within the last ten, and West Ham never really managed to try and recover, they just looked too shell shocked. So Moyes while doubtless being a bit concerned with the performance of the first 80 minutes will doubtless be proud of his players commitment and determination, as we picked up a third successive win in the last ten minutes.

To pick a man of the match from the Everton team is a bit misleading, as we really only turned up to the show in the last ten minutes. But there were some good points, Rodwell looked solid and full of confidence going forward, Anichebe was a constant nuisance to the opposition defenders and Osman worked incredibly hard as ever. Arteta and Cahill showed only in fits and starts what they can do, and we lacked creativity. At the end of the day though, Louis Saha stole the show, as he looks like he’s really finding some confidence and goal-scoring form, good news for us Evertonians!

Man of the last-ten-minutes: Louis Saha.

Everton 1-0 Fulham: Match Summary

02.11.08

Saha & Vaughan make the difference.

This match all but epitomised the frustrations that come from being an Everton fan. After the second half performance against Man Utd last week, we should have been full of confidence and ready to brush aside comparatively poor teams like Bolton and Fulham. An away win at Bolton, however late it was won, is a good result though, and today’s game should have been much more comfortable than it was.

The first period was in a way, more of an exhibition match than a Premier League game. At times Everton played some lovely flowing football, but all too often the attack would break down with a misplaced pass, or mis-communication between midfield and attack. Fulham for their part, never really got going, they had the odd attack, but rarely threatened, and I don’t remember Howard making any saves of note in the first half, though he did bravely claim a cross that was destined for the unmarked Zamora’s head.

So at half time, the game hadn’t been great, but we’d looked comfortable at the back and dangerous at times going forward, with Fellaini frequently finding pockets of space and even hitting the post with a shot squeezed through from the edge of the box, after good work from the lively Arteta.

The second half started more brightly, with a prolonged period of Everton possession, focused down the left hand side where Arteta was starting to sparkle, and it was he that provided a beautiful cross for Tim Cahill to power into the net as we have seen him do so many times before, except, inexplicably, the ball drifted agonisingly over, and the Everton fans began to wonder if it was going to be our day.

Fulham should have punished Everton for failing to capitalise as they began to have a period of pressure themselves, as Zoltan Gera should have buried a free header but found only the crossbar, and Zamora had a close-range effort cleared off the line (via the post) after Bullard had brought a full stretch save from Tim Howard.

Moyes then took off Fellaini, who had played well but was evidently tiring, and clearly the Everton boss does not want to fatigue his young star, and Louis Saha entered the fray, looking to score against his old club. Everton began to dominate again, but the final ball, and the touch of many of our players was lacking, and frustratingly we often resorted to speculative long balls, which never looked likely to break the deadlock, with the towering Hangeland winning most aerial challenges.

Finally, when it was getting very desperate and Victor Anichebe had replaced Pienaar (whose passing was surprisingly woeful today) and Vaughan had come on for a tiring Yakubu, Everton finally got the break through that they deserved. Good, battling work from Osman down the right saw him interchange passes with Neville and then whip in a tantalising ball for Saha, who got so much power on the header that it whistled straight through Mark Schwarzer’s hands in the Fulham goal.

Cue Fulham playing long ball after long ball in an attempt to regain the point that they had obviously come for, but to no avail, Everton held firm and took all three points, in an entirely unconvincing manner. Tim Cahill was absent for much of the game and as I mentioned, Pienaar’s usually neat passing game was below par. Yakubu worked hard but with few rewards and little service, with Arteta and Osman the only ones to really look like creating a spark. Moyes will be delighted with a first home win but will hope in future to make them a bit more convincing, as we will need to play much better than we did today if we are to compete for a European spot once again.

All in all though, Fulham are a tricky obstacle and the main thing is we got the three points, and never really looked like losing. As his players continue to gel and hopefully regain the form of last season, Moyes’ men will surely recapture some of the glittering football we saw then, but until then, as long as we continue to take the three points, I’ll be happy. Man of the match today goes to Mikel Arteta, who occasionally shone and looked dangerous whenever he had the ball. Jagielka, as always it seems, was superb, but in all, didn’t have too much to do.  Seventh place now, we can push on from here, to reclaim our fifth spot. Oh I never felt more like singing the Blues, when Everton win, and Liverpool lose, ohoh…

Man of the match: Mikel Arteta

Everton 1-1 Manchester United: Match Summary

26.10.08

Gentle giant stands tall for Everton.

Gentle giant stands tall for Everton.

Football clichés are used all too liberally in today’s media I find, but there really is no better way to sum up yesterday’s game that to say that it very much epitomised a game of two halves. While United dominated the first (though not to the extent that others have suggested), Everton very much controlled the second, and in the end the draw was a fair result, though United might arguably have been more pleased as they looked in danger of losing all three at times towards the end.

The first ten minutes was open and even, with both times showing attacking intent but really failing to carve out any real opportunities. Louis Saha having a snapshot blocked from the edge of the box. Then Man Utd settled into their rhythm and started to hold the ball for long periods of possession, but until the goal in the 22nd minute, never really looked like scoring. The Everton defence were doing a decent job of marshaling Rooney and Berbatov who didn’t see much of the ball all game, and Ronaldo was absent much of the time too.

What we needed was some form of respite for the defence though, but Giggs and Fletcher were dominating midfield proceedings in this spell, and eventually it was this combination that unlocked the defence, exchanging passes before Fletcher made a nippy run and Giggs found him with a slide rule ball. Fletcher’s touch was exquisite, taking him away from Lescott and he applied the finish through Howard’s legs, which suggests that perhaps the keeper could have done better with it. Up until this point we hadn’t been worried, and it took an extra man bursting from midfield to get through the defence which was resembling the solid unit we had come to expect after last season.

But once United got ahead, they were fairly comfortable for the first half. But it was not as dominant as other match reports have suggested with more than an element of hyperbole in my opinion, and Everton did have moments where we played some nice passing football and always looked a threat when we did so. Marouane Fellaini in particular was winning everything in the air and Arteta and Pienaar were showing their creative spark, but we needed more possession, a luxury United simply didn’t afford us.

Come half time and while we had been slightly overrun at times, we were in touching distance and United hadn’t particularly troubled the back line any more than is to be expected. Moyes would have had enough to suggest we could go on and get something from it, and so he rightly left the side as it was, and apparently, got them really wound up for the second half – we came out blazing.

I’ll say now that in the second half, Everton genuinely had everything that United had in the first. We had the lions share of possession and looked entirely comfortable at the back, but we also produced more chances than they had, and played nicer football for the most part. It was a sight to make any Evertonian proud.

The players were up for it too, with Fellaini and Osman breaking things up in the middle and Arteta and Pienaar working their magic out wide. Yakubu and Saha didn’t really show for too much, but they worked hard and against Vidic and Ferdinand, we might have expected that they wouldn’t get much of a look. Fortunately no one could handle big Fellaini in an aerial challenge and it soon paid off.

Kissing the right badge.

Kissing the right badge.

A nice sweeping move after a mistake from Ferdinand saw the ball deflected out for a throw in from a Pienaar shot. Taken short, the ball came back to Neville, who put in a lovely flat cross which Fellaini rose to meet, beating Vidic to the ball, and tucked a fantastic header inside the far post. The Goodison crowd erupted and we knew that we could push on and even snatch something from the game.

Tempers were starting to flare though and it was starting to effect the game’s flow. Before the goal Ronaldo had been up to his usual cheating tricks, making a meal of a tough challenge from Phil Neville who blatantly won the ball, by rolling over about five times. Ferdinand ran half the length of the pitch just to make sure his ex-team mate was booked and suddenly there was fire in the air.

Spurred on by our goal Everton continued to press forward, and Yakubu should have put us 2-1 up almost immediately, another Ferdinand mistake as he underplayed a back-pass allowed the big Nigerian in at a tight angle, and his effort was tipped onto the post by Van Der Saar, but you would have wanted him to do better. Still, the signs were encouraging, we had most of the ball and looked dangerous, and United were getting frustrated.

One man in particular was getting frustrated, not seeing any of the ball, denied at every turn by the Yobo and the outstanding Jagielka, Rooney realised he might not have it all his own way for once. This caused him to go into a thundering late tackle against Mikel Arteta (no dramatics from him though, take note Ronaldo) which saw him booked. Jeers from the home fans saw Rooney prove me right in my article from yesterday, as he showed what a silly little boy he still is by kissing the Man Utd badge on his chest. What his Dad thought sitting in the stands wearing Blue, I can only imagine. A quiet word from the referee presumably told him how stupid that was, and credit to Alex Ferguson, he defused the situation by bringing him off almost straight away.

Ferguson brought Nani on for Rooney and Tevez for Fletcher to try and regain a grip on the game, but for te most part Everton were comfortable, only giving away a few free kicks that I would question, Alan Wiley is not our biggest fan, but I am trying hard not to be too biased, honest. Eventually Ferguson gave up the ghost, suring things up by replacing the combative Anderson for the absent Park, and accepted a point. Everton were still going for the win, Vaughan and Anichebe replacing Yakubu and Saha with a few minutes to go (I’d have liked to see them a touch longer), but we could not quite get the second break through.

In all, a draw was the fair result. A few second half opportunities could have seen us snatch an unlikely victory though, and despite what you’ll read elsewhere, it would not have been undeserved. Easily Everton’s best half of football this season, we need to kick on from here, having games against three of the top four teams behind us, and start racking up some serious points – if we can play like we did in the second half today, we should have no problem.

Man of the match today goes to Fellaini, not just for getting the goal, but for his all round hard work – he was our main midfield presence in the first half too, winning everything aerially, but also showing immense composure and good passing ability with the ball at his feet. Arteta and Pienaar were lively and Jagielka remains the rock of our defence so far this season, and everyone else played very well in the second period especially. United’s main threats were absent for much of the game, and Giggs and Fletcher tellingly lost control of the middle in the second period.

To my fellow Evertonians, of whom I know some were despairing at half time, we have shown that we still have the spirit and the ability that we showed last season, and I’m sure it is coming. No game is easy, but few are as tough as the last two and we competed well last week and even better this. If Moyes can keep this level of improvement up, we should soon be back to our best, and back where we belong, challenging for Europe.

Man of the Match: Marouane Fellaini

Why Wayne Rooney will not be forgiven…

25.10.08

Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy

With the game later today between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison, we will see Wayne Rooney returning to his boyhood club once again. And once again, you can guarantee that he will get a very hostile reception, to put it lightly. Some football fans from other clubs might wonder why this is, why we will not forgive him even a few seasons on. I will endeavour to explain, as best I can.

Firstly, there is the manner in which he departed our club. Having broken through into the first team with his magnificent goal to end Arsenal’s unbeaten run, the whole of England suddenly knew Rooney’s name. But us Everton fans had known about him for a while before this, particular after he helped fire us to the Youth Cup final – and revealing a certain message during a goal celebration under the way.

You see, not long before Rooney broke through, we had sold Francis Jeffers to Arsenal. Where Franny is now I don’t know, but when Wenger signed him as his ‘fox in the box’ he never really got out of the box again. He left us, where he was loved as an Evertonian playing for Everton, and he left for the money. None of us would have begrudged him leaving, but he left out of greed, he wanted to go and live it up in London.

But that was OK, we were disappointed, but life went on. Then we hear of a young lad Wayne Rooney, who, scoring for the youth team in the youth cup semi-final, lifted his shirt to reveal the slogan ‘Once a Blue, always a Blue’, in response to Jeffers’ leaving the club of his dreams. The future looked bright, we had the countries hottest talent and he wants nothing more than to play for the club he supported as a boy.

Fast forward a few seasons and Rooney has just signed for Man Utd. We never expected him to stay forever, it was clear he was destined for the top, but I’m sure most of us were hoping for a few more seasons out of him. He was developing well, and the pressure of winning matches week in week out for us seemed to spur him on, and with the state of the England team, surely only prepared him for carrying the hopes of a nation.

But United came sniffing, and it was natural for him to go. we could have accepted him leaving even then. But two things riled us. Firstly, is the manner in which the transfer went through, with him deciding to leave right near the end of the trabsfer window, leaving us without our star player and with no time to buy a replacement and secondly, that he had the nerve to critcise David Moyes after he had gone.

Moyes was the man who brought him through, who nurtured his talent and didn’t push him too hard, even when all the fans wanted was to see Rooney win us the game. And Moyes is a legend at the club, he gave us our nickname for christ’s sake, under him, we are The Peoples’ Club. Moyes has done more for this club over the past few years than most in our history. And the fans know this, and love him for it (any who you hear calling for his head at any time should be ashamed). So for Rooney, who is supposedly an Evertonian, who grew up watching the club as I did, and after he’d done so much for him personally, to criticise Moyes was unacceptable.

Finally, there is the way in which Rooney has acted since he left the club, and on his every return since that day. Most players who have even had a long spell at a club, even if they weren’t boyhood fans, tend not to celebrate when they score against their former team, as a mark of respect for the fans, appreciation for their support during their time at the club. The fans don’t expect him not to try, and it’s natural they will maybe even try a little harder to score, but as long as they act with dignity, they will be fondly received by their former fans. But not Rooney.

Whenever Rooney has come back to Goodison, he has stated in the lead up to the game how desperately he wants to score against us. And every minute he’s on the pitch you can see him straining himself to cover every inch, you can see his absolute desperation to score against us. And worst of all, you see him flying into reckless tackles against his former team mates, seeming to want to hurt them simply because they play for Everton. But why should he act like this? Is he not still an Everton fan? Does he really want to inflict that much damage on the club he purported to love?

And he knows what an uproar this causes. Upon his first return to Goodison, when he did score, there was terrible violence in the streets outside the stadium after the game. And while Rooney cannot be blamed directly for this and I cannot condone the violence of the Everton fans, he knows that he is winding the crowd up. He knows what he is doing, he knows the hatred and the rage that is actions incite in the fans among whom he used to count himself.

It is common knowledge that Rooney’s family still have season tickets at Goodison. They sit there through thick and thin, watching their beloved club. What must they think, when their son, who they raised alongside them, who sat there with them as he grew up, is out there on the pitch snarling and gnashing at their team, the team whose passion should flow through his veins as it does every true Evertonian.

It is enough to question whether he was ever really an Evertonian in the first place. He can’t have felt as I do now if he feels justified in acting the way he does. I understand that the boy has faced huge pressures and has great talent, but if he truly was an Everton fan, he would not act the way he does. But this is the same boy who once declared ‘Once a Blue, always a Blue’, a motto that filled us with hope and has remained, a constant reminder of his treachery and hypocrisy.

So if you see the match later on and you question why the Everton fans have not forgiven Rooney, I hope this goes some way to helping you understand why we cannot do so. Until Rooney grows up and starts to conduct himself with true professionalism and dignity could we even begin to consider forgiving him, but to be honest, the damage seems very much to be done.

It would be best for all then, if Rooney did not score today. I say this not because I am an Everton fan and want us to win, but because if he does, he will react stupidly. He will once again incite the fans into an inexcusable but completely understandable anger and he will cause serious trouble and danger to the safety of both sets of fans. So Rooney will not be forgiven, because, despite his huge footballing talent he is still too ignorant or naive to realise what a negative influence he can be, either that or he is a very hateful human being.

So Everton fans will not forgive Wayne Rooney because he does not deserve to be forgiven. He has a long way to go before he can begin to earn back any respect we once had for him, which was immense. So to the outsider, I don’t expect you to fully understand why we will continue to boo him, despite this attempted explanation. But please do not judge the fans of Everton Football Club harshly because of it. Rooney has brought it upon himself, it is his burden to carry and it is his to relinquish – if he is mature enough to choose to.

Arsenal 3-1 Everton: Match Summary

19.10.08

Flying start...

Flying start...

I suggested in my prediction for this match that if the Everton from last season turned up, we would have a reasonable chance of taking at least a point from this game. Fortunately, the real Everton did turn up, it was back to the hard working defensive unit, pressing the opposition with the ball, and linking up nicely, playing good high tempo football when we had it. Unfortunately, the real Arsenal turned up in the second half as well.

It started well, Everton looking dangerous from the off, and really the first major chance saw Osman release Pienaar down the right, Pienaar hit the byline, looked up and pulled it back to Osman who poked the ball into the back of the net. Half time came with the game still poised in our favour, after an entertaining first half, that had seen both teams playing fast attacking football.

Arsenal had, somewhat surprisingly, resorted quite often to playing long balls for Adebayor to latch onto, and the target man was always a threat with his pace and power (and his tendency to go down rather easily, for which Lescott got an undeserved yellow card), and Van Persie went close, but the Everton central defensive partnership showed the sort of form we expected of them last season but have seen only too rarely this term, and held firm.

At the other end, though having less of the ball, the Toffees were looking more likely to extend their lead, with Lescott going close as he managed to pick out Clichy on an otherwise unattended goal line from a short corner routine. Record signing Fellaini, deployed as something of a target man in the hole, was playing excellently, holding the ball up and bringing in Osman, Pienaar and Arteta excellently, and Yakubu showed that he is becoming a changed player under Moyes, one who is willing to run his socks off for the cause, and he too was holding the ball up well.

But half time came and still there was only one goal in it, and it was obvious that the period directly after the break would be key. If Everton could frustrate the gunners for 10-15 minutes then desperation may set in and make the job easier, but if Arsenal were to grab an equaliser, they would have the momentum to press on.

Within two minutes of the restart, they were level, though it was almost so different, with Almunia saving well from Yakubu in the first attack of the half. Walcott was introduced at half time and they looked to him immediately down the right, and a crossed ball was cleared only as far as the edge of the box where Samir Nasri struck low shot through a crowd of players, and courtesy of a slight deflection, saw the ball tuck into the corner of the net. The keeper was unsighted and the deflection took it away from him, but one could argue that he should have covered to the post with his dive, and still Howard remains yet to really look convincing this season, even despite a couple of good first half saves.

Arsenal had firmly seized the momentum, and for a spell Everton struggled to get any possession at all, seeing wave after wave of red and white shirts breaking on the defensive wall that still held firm. Until another slight piece of fortune saw the ball drop inside the box after Howard saved well, leaving Van Persie the chance to head in from the six yard line, with Baines just unable to repeat his goal-line heroics of the last fixture.

This was the very least that Everton deserved, after having dominated portions of the first half and defended excellently on the whole, they found themselves behind to an Arsenal side who were showing glimpses of their unplayable best. Moyes brought on Saha for the tiring Fellaini – a switch he had been waiting to make before the second goal, obviously with the intent of giving us more of an outlet to relieve some of the pressure. Now though, we had a game to chase.

The game really started to flare up now, with Clichy making a meal of a tough but fair challenge from the solid Tony Hibbert, resulting in a small scuffle, which the referee handled sensibly, issuing a yellow card to either party. Arsenal retreated to calmly keeping possession when they had the ball, but Everton remained a threat when we got it off them, but without creating any really clear cut chances, and you could tell that the energies of the first half were beginning to take their toll as we chased down Arsenal’s famous passing football.

The introduction of James Vaughan for the exhausted Yakubu saw a little life sparked into the attack, but we remained unable to quite find a breakthrough, and then as we pushed for the equaliser, Theo Walcott combined with Eboue down the right to find himself with room to shoot from an angle, the ball finding it’s way through Howard’s legs, the keeper again perhaps needs to ask himself some questions.

In all then, it was a game which we thoroughly deserved a point out of for a battling performance. Arsenal at their best are unplayable, but we resisted very well for much of the game and always looked a threat. It is often the case that when we play the ‘big four’ teams we seem to miss out on a touch of fortune that they seem to take for granted (their first two goals dropping perfectly for them in good positions). This could be my bias speaking of course, but if there are gods of football, they were certainly smiling on Arsenal today.

But there are positives. We saw Everton return to the sort of form that saw us compete for a top four place for much of last season, and with a little bit more of a cutting edge (say Tim Cahill?) we could well have gone on to take all three points from today’s game. As fans we must try not to be too despondent at what, when the statistics are consulted, can be seen as a poor start to the season, and face the prospect of an even tougher game at Man Utd next week.

But today the players showed signs that we are reaching our best form, Fellaini impressed a lot, Pienaar back from injury is dynamic as ever and Baines is showing that he is top class wing back. The real Everton are on their way back, and once this tough run of fixtures is out of the way, we can be confident that we will soon start picking up points and return to the challenge for a European place, where we belong.

Amazingly I haven’t yet mentioned Jack Rodwell, who had an outstanding game today, keeping Van Persie almost entirely quiet except for his goal (not his fault), and the youngster showed great discipline and determination to do a job on a proven world class forward. It is a performance almost worthy of the man of the match award for me, but I think Phil Jagielka just shades him, having worked tirelessly and not putting a foot wrong, he definitely didn’t deserve to be on the losing side, but then the same can be said of all the boys in blue.

Man of the Match: Phil Jagielka

A Defence of Bill Kenwright

13.10.08

Blue Bill Kenwright

Bill Kenwright

Much has been made of late on the impact of foreign owners in English football. We have seen the revolution at Chelsea under Roman Abramovich, and of course the recent takeover of Man City that sent waves through the football world as Chelsea were outbid for the first time in a few years. Suddenly, every club wants a new owner with billions to invest in the same way that everyone these days wants a new iPod.

My club, Everton, is now the latest in a line of clubs to be the subject of (if we are to believe the media at any rate) a multi-million pound takeover. This is a move that would, I cannot deny, be a step forward for our club. For the past five years or so we have been gradually, and quite unspectacularly, evolving into a side capable of pushing the ‘big four’ clubs in the Premiership, even managing to achieve a Champions League place a couple of seasons back. Apart from that solitary breach though, we have always been unable to quite keep up our momentum and form sufficiently throughout a season to be genuine contenders, and this is due to a lack of strength in depth in our squad.

While our first eleven players were good enough to challenge anyone on our day, when we suffer from injuries and suspensions, we have never had sufficient class on the bench to make up the numbers effectively. The reason for this is simple – we cannot afford the sort of quality necessary in the required quantity. Our top class players like Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill, Joleon Lescott and Yakubu cannot really be replaced when they are missing.

It is a problem that all Evertonians have been aware of of course, and one that every summer we hoped might be rectified. But every summer when the transfer window opened, we again sat through a couple of months where we saw our club outbid by many other, less successful teams. Even more painfully we have seen players opt to sign for clubs with far less chance of silverware and European football than us, simply because they can offer them a higher salary.

Naturally, and inevitably, some fans have begun to ask questions of the board, and specifically our chairman, Bill Kenwright. He has been criticised for not putting his hand in his pocket often enough, and of holding back the club from kicking on and becoming genuine champions league place contenders. And this has only been encouraged by the spending power of other clubs in a similar position to our own, clubs like Aston Villa, Portsmouth and Tottenham, not forgetting Man City, all of whom have spent far more lavishly in recent years, but have, as yet, failed to surpass us.

I feel though, that criticism of Bill Kenwright is entirely unjustified. Whereas the clubs mentioned above are run by somehow ‘faceless’ investors as businesses, Everton FC is run by a fan, who pours his own money into the club that he loves. Some have questioned this situation, arguing that it influences his decisions, or even questioning his love of the club because of our failure to match the spending of other teams. But in my eyes Blue Bill has done more for this club than many give him credit for.

It is not so very long since we were perennial relegation battlers, when a mid-table spot would have been a success. It is not so long since we were under the ownership of Peter Johnson and in a miserable state of affairs financially. But Kenwright stepped in, he threw our club a lifeline, and steadied us. He brought in David Moyes, undisputedly one of the brightest managers in the country at the moment, and most importantly, he gave him time. The early years of Moyes’ reign saw us see-saw from European places to finishing seventeenth, and many chairmen would have wielded the axe there and then.

But Kenwright let Moyes build. And more than that, he has backed him again and again, allowing us to break the club transfer record consistently over the past few seasons. And yes, we haven’t spent lavishly, and yes, our current highest transfer fee is only £15,000,000, pittance compared to most top half clubs, but Kenwright has seen us from relegation battlers to a team that is disappointed when we don’t finish fourth.

I also admire the way in which Kenwright has controlled the club’s spending. While, as a fan as true as any of us, it would have been easy for him to allow Moyes to spend more money, risking transfers and budgeting for subsequent success, he restrained himself. He didn’t risk the clubs future, he didn’t do to us what Peter Ridsdale did to Leeds, another historically great club now languishing in League One. I for one, would rather the steady progress that we have made that Leeds’ brief steep trajectory to the highs of a Champions League semi-final and subsequent plummet, and I’m sure Leeds fans would concur.

So while yes, success in football these days does seem very much to correlate to a clubs bank balance, Bill Kenwright has shown that progress toward the top doesn’t have to be spectacular, and doesn’t necessitate the world ‘billions’ being splashed all across the newspapers. And furthermore, he has now said that he is willing to step aside and sell the club to someone with deeper pockets, who is capable of funding Everton’s progress to the next stage, and allowing us to properly challenge the so called ‘big four’.

I can only hope that whoever does by our club, if someone does, they are as sensible as Bill Kenwright, and as committed as he has been over the years to bringing about the success of the club not for the financial gain, but for the fans, for the pride of the club, for the glory of Everton FC. While Blue Bill has been in charge, I’ve known we were in safe hands, and i trust those hands to pass the club on to someone who will continue to show faith in our great manager, and who will continue his own sterling work.

4 Responses to Everton FC

  1. Bluenose. says:

    Bang on site lad. ONCE A BLUE ALWAYS A BLUE AND FUCKIN PROUD OF IT. Keep up the good work. And If Ya Know Ya History…..

  2. gifts says:

    I guess it had to come sooner or later for Everton in their case it was the latter. Wasn’t it September last time they won a league game. We know they have numerous players injured at the moment and then the sloppy play by Tony Hibbert to give West Ham a goal could really have meant a different outcome today. Both teams weren’t that great if I’m honest and West Ham had their chances to turn it around with Zavon but the absence of the injured Cole definitely showed. Half way through the second half I think the tempo changed for both sides thankfully and if anything Everton’s second goal altered the mood of the hammers and they were unlucky to get a equalizer, even more so with the visitors messy defending at times. Everton must be buzzin with the away result and good on ‘em.

  3. Ian Davies says:

    Sorry to be a bit random but I was talking to a Birmingham fan who was insisting that only her team’s fans are known as Blue Noses. Is that right? I thought Everton fans were too.

    Ta.

  4. A. Howard says:

    @Ian,

    You can assure your friend that Everton fans are Bluenoses too. While our official nickname is obviously ‘The Toffees’ or ‘The Peoples’ Club’, Evertonians have long thought of themselves as Bluenoses.

    This was established firmly into the club’s folklore when after our 1995 FA Cup victory over Man Utd, club legend Duncan Ferguson joined thousands of Evertonians in the crowd by sporting a ‘Blue Nose’ as he paraded the trophy.

    Hope that clears things up 🙂

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