West Bromwich Albion 0 Everton 2

Bingo bango. We’ve only gone and won one.

We’re off the mark, out of the traps, up and running, two’s a crowd and cooking the books.

You have to take the quality of opposition into account when assessing any performance – unless of course you are Manchester United and have spent a trillion pounds to beat Clint Hill – and West Brom are, to be as kind as you can, ‘ordinary’ at best. They occasionally passed the ball competently in a drab first half but very rarely looked like crafting the equaliser they required after only the second minute.

Massive yard-dog Jonas Olsson, under no pressure at all, mishit a clearance straight to Romelu Lukaku on the edge of the penalty area and the Belgian, once he recovered from the initial shock, picked his spot with an exquisite curler that seemed to be heading wide before its ‘shit is that my turning?’ trajectory took it veering across three lanes and inside Ben Foster’s left-hand post. Lukaku, in respect to the Baggies faithful, then hand-wrote apology cards to each and every one of them, including a signed photograph and a £5 Waterstones voucher. Which he didn’t have to do.

According to one season ticket holder, Alan Breadbin: ‘It was a nice gesture but I’ve got a Kindle. I’d rather have had the cash’.

The rest of the half was tripe – they had at best a few half-chances as, like all our opponents, they seemed to find it pretty simple to get centres into our box. Is that fair? Do you reckon that our fullbacks, Leighton Baines in particular, always seem pretty casual about stopping crosses? They never seem to get very tight, instead choosing to stay narrow and invite wide-players to bend the ball around them. Not that it mattered this time, as West Brom are, as stated, pretty last.

In the second half Lukaku recovered from his shame enough to summon another shot on target – this time Foster made a good low save, parrying the ball into the path of Steven Naismith who inexplicably smashed the resultant sitter into the sky. He hasn’t played for them as well, has he?

Before you could say ‘ we could come to regret that’ – well if you have had a stroke or a massive head trauma or something, because it was actually a good few minutes later – the Blues extended their lead. Kevin Mirallas, another one you suspected of having a Laurie Cunningham tattoo up to that point, cut in from the left and hit one of them underwhelming near-post drives he specialises in. Fortunately Foster dived right over it and the game was won with 25 minutes or so left.

A crap back-pass from James McCarthy in injury time saw Tim Howard forced into a good double save but the beard-of-bees-sporting septic managed to preserve a rare clean sheet and so all remained well with the world.

McCarthy’s been linked with a move to all sorts of glamorous destinations – and Manchester United – as his new contract talks have apparently ‘stalled’. Seeing as he is only one year into his original deal though, any potential suitors would have to pay top dollar. Or top, top dollar, even.

He’ll sign.

In other news, apparently a new 50,000 stadium in Walton Hall Park is due to be announced. Oh joy. There’s nothing more exhilarating than ground moves and the surrounding paranoia. As stated previously, about three hair-brained schemes ago, when we turn up at Goodison and there’s a hand-written note on the door saying ‘WE HAVE MOVED’ and a little diagram with an arrow pointing down the road, only then will we believe it.

Monster trucks and Elton John.

Me White Noise

International breaks are shite. We may have mentioned this before.

Everyone’s scraping round for club-related ‘content’ in lieu of actual games and there’s only so many times you can read interviews with Steven Naismith where the reporter is incredulous that a footballer would actually think about other people less fortunate than himself. Even he must be getting embarrassed now that they keep on going on about it.

‘I bought a handful of season tickets for unemployed Blues. My motivation? Well, ‘not being a cunt’ was first and foremost in my mind.’

In other news, Romelu Lukaku is apparently struggling with a toe injury that could see him miss the West Bromwich Albion game. Apparently it’s been troubling him for a while, and that might explain why his recent anaemic performances have been reminiscent of that other famous digit-victim, David Haye, when his problematic pinky stopped him from throwing any punches at Vladimir Klitschko.

File that analogy under ‘tortuous’. We said there was no real news.

There is a rumour of Samuel Eto’o pulling his hamstring, potentially leaving Robert Martinez’s striking options Rizla-thin when the Premier League resumes. Arouna Kone is said to have scored in a 4-0 defeat of Stoke City behind closed doors – a game in which Darron Gibson and Bryan Oviedobaby also featured – but the Ivorian and the other absentees won’t be ready to start for the first team until October, apparently.

The squad starts to look really quite deep – for us, anyway – with those additions, but you can never envisage Gibson staying fit for any length of time. He’s got ‘retired at 28’ written all over him, which is a shame because he has already shown that he has what it takes to ease the burden on Gareth Barry and also to succeed the veteran in the long-term. Kone is unfortunately a bit of a joke figure because of a nervy start to his Everton career, but he deserves to be given more of a chance than he’s had.

Oviedo is just slightly ace.

Another wee belter is the player who always looks like he should change back into his school uniform after games, replete with tie worn skinny end showing, shirt-tails hanging out and Head bag over his shoulder: James McCarthy. The freckle-faced enforcer is said to be set for a new deal at Goodison, which is good because he is going to keep attracting attention from clubs in this country and maybe even abroad. Couldn’t you see him playing for Bayern Munich?

Apparently Johnny Giles criticised his performances for Ireland, saying he lets games pass him by. That seems slightly harsh but there are times when his side is in possession that he looks as if he could drive forwards an extra 10 or 20 yards and commit the opposition before releasing the ball. Perhaps he’s under orders not too, for fear of exposing the defence if he loses possession, but that’s the area where he could improve, just being a bit bolder when he’s on the ball and not always shuffling it to the fullback when he’s in loads of space.

Again, possibly a bit harsh.

And that’s it, other than to recommend a few books. Hack Attack by Nick Davies is ace if you don’t know all the ins and outs of the whole phone-hacking scandal and quite enjoy being enraged at the establishment. Some of it, especially the levels of corruption in the Met Police, is genuinely shocking.

Playing Off The Rail: A Pool Hustler’s Journey is exactly what the title describes. David McCumber, the author, goes on a road trip across the US with a talented player looking for serious ‘action’ among the odd, devious characters who make up the pool-hall subculture. It’s a little-known minor sporting classic in its own way, much like Robert Anasi’s The Gloves.

Finally, the heartbreaking The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty. Another road trip, but this time a fictional one taken on a push bike by an obese, drunken Vietnam veteran whose life is turned upside down by a number of deaths in his family. Occasionally the characters he encounters seem a little bit too willing to recount their colourful life stories to him at first meeting, but that shouldn’t detract from what is essentially a fable anyway. And a beautiful one at that.

For those of you who hate books we should finish with something manly about football. Well, John Stones is never a right-back and his international career could end up being ruined straight out of the gate by being played there by Roy Hodgson.

Word.

Soccer!

Let’s clear up the most important thing, the elephant in the room. How come Chelsea don’t (yet) sing of their young Belgian goalkeeper ‘Are we not men? We are Thibaut!’? Unless of course we missed it among the general hubbub of Saturday’s Premier League ‘clash’.

It was a wild one, that’s for sure, to the extent that it’s hard to know what to take from it. If, say, in the past when watching more functional football you have said, ‘I don’t care if we win, I just want to see us have a go’ then you surely have to look at the positives here. Even at 5-3, when Courtois tipped Kevin Mirallas’s flying Tommy Steele slice onto the post, it still felt as if a draw was a strong possibility.

Indeed, after the disastrous opening minutes, when Chelsea’s personal massager of an attack breached the Everton defence like a big, tempting reporter’s ear, the Toffees absolutely smashed the visitors from pillar to post for the rest of the first half. The amount of energy that required though, to push for a goal while all the time knowing that allowing their massively potent attack could spring for another at any time, took its toll in the second half and eventually the Londoners, led by the impressively dastardly Diego Costa, made their power and all-round ability count.

Ultimately the Blues never really recovered from those first two goals.

The defence took most of the blame – and when you concede six goals at home you certainly deserve plenty – but the lack of pressure on the Chelsea midfielders, as they picked their passes into the box, was of equal concern. Again, maybe that’s because of the energy Everton exerted, pushing forward, but Gareth Barry in particular looked like a spectator during that second half blitz. Let’s be honest, everyone was crying out for Muhamed Besic’s introduction, to give us some ‘legs’. Unfortunately though, when he did make an entrance he forgot to accompany those limbs with a brain. There was still ‘a lot to do’ when the midfielder’s ludicrous back-heel spun loose in his own half but Chelsea, well, a lot to did it, with Costa’s swaggering finish just underlining the level this game was being played at.

Deadline day saw us linked with some loan moves and a series of £8 million deals that gave a clear indication that we probably have about £5 million to spend. Tom Cleverley stayed at Manchester United though, where he wasn’t actually joined by Ryan Shawcross – who appears to have stayed at Stoke City – while that weird-looking Portuguese character, Rolando, may or may not even exist, never mind ‘was on Merseyside with his agent’.

There’s still talk of Cleverley joining January, and while he has become a joke figure at Old Trafford, so was Darron Gibson so it’s better to just hang fire and judge these players yourself.

The strangest deal was the one that saw David Henen, who has presumably been spending his summer afternoons in the Showcase and his evenings in Smokey Mo’s, waiting for his transfer to Everton to be completed, joined Olympiakos for £3 million instead. Before then being loaned to us anyway.

You can only begin to imagine the shenanigans involved in that one – and heaven forbid any journo asks Roberto Martinez for an explanation at the next press conference. They would be there for hours as he sweatily talked around the houses without ever saying what’s gone on.

We did sign Samuel Eto’o though, and as stated previously you probably wouldn’t have been terrified if he had gone elsewhere but, you know, it’s Samuel Eto’o and seeing him in an Everton shirt is undeniably ‘quite cool’. And he scored on his debut, which can’t be bad, although so did that nine foot fella from Monaco as well so we’re not actually sure what our point is there, to be honest.

Anyway, it’s time for this international break which invariably sucks the life out of the start of every season, just as you are getting back in your groove. After that though, we have the prospect of Europe and tales of fleeting mega-bargains on travel and drunken derring do that for years to come you can use to really bore and annoy any of your mates who don’t go.

‘Remember that time when we put the Everton scarf on that rhinoceros and took it on the cable car in Vladivostock? Oh no, you were on lates that week weren’t you. I always forget.’

 

Leicester City 2 Everton 2

We came, we saw, we let in soft equalisers.

Everton are back, bitches.

Before the kick-off at the rubbish-named King Power Stadium – it will always be Filbert Street, a ground that holds many mixed memories, from The Duncan Ferguson strangle, the Anders Limpar screamer, Muzzy Izzet throat-slashing gestures and, for a select few, an absolute arse-ragging in the Zenith Data Systems Cup when one beacon-cheeked drunken teenager in the Everton section might have screamed for handball during a ‘crowd scene’ only for both sets of supporters to hysterically reply in unison: ‘It was the goaly’ – there was the news that veritably rocked Evertonians, that Ross Barkley is set to miss a fair chunk of the season with a knee injury.

Now, Barkley’s far from the finished article, but he is developing all the time and he offers something completely different from the other midfielders at the club: Roberto Martinez has seen his options reduced considerably with this ill-timed turn up.

The show must go on though, and Barkley’s injury means an opportunity for Steven Naismith, a player who showed his worth during the second half of last season. The Scot picked up where he left off too, scoring a goal on the cusp of half-time that looked for a good while as if it was going to be the winner. It was created by some old-school left wing magic between Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar – they are like Morecambe and Wise in that you’ve seen their interplay a million times but it still never fails to raise a smile – and when the little South African eventually poked the ball into Naismith’s path near the penalty spot he instinctively cracked a shot home off the underside of the crossbar.

A very Everton goal.

Unfortunately Leicester’s goals had a touch of ‘typical Everton about them too. Their first on 22 minutes came when Sylvain Distin, off-balance and using his wrong foot, ‘Yoboed’ a clearance straight at home debutant Leonardo Ulloa – his three brothers are apparently policemen – and the former Brighton striker smashed home the Foxes’ first equaliser of the afternoon.

That jammy strike came less than two minutes after the opener from Aiden McGeady’s absolute pearler – the best thing he’s done in an Everton shirt by some distance. The home side looked as if they had dealt with the worst of the danger when, following a corner, Baines’ deflected shot fell to Distin. Kasper Schmeichel did well to smother the Frenchman’s close-range effort, and even though the loose ball fell to McGeady the keeper had five defenders back behind him on the line.

Undeterred, the little Irishman curled his shot over them all and in off the angle. There wasn’t even a postage stamp to aim for, in all honesty. The target was so small you could actually say that the shot was franked. And you don’t see many of them.

Everton were deserving of their lead at the interval, but with Romelu Lukaku failing to make an impact throughout and visibly flagging in the second half, they failed to do enough to see the game out. At some point Leicester were going to take some risks and this Everton side, though it’s good at controlling large portions of games, always looks susceptible to conceding a goal to some crude or unorthodox manoeuvre as opposed to being punished by slick, attacking football. A manky set-piece for instance, or a straightforward welly right up the middle looks as if it can undo 89 minutes of well-rehearsed training ground professionalism. You either have to starve the opposition of the ball altogether, and really crush their spirits, or you go forward and you score more goals, and as the match wore on the Toffees didn’t quite looked capable of either.

As the game got really messy in the closing stages, and Everton were guilty of some lazy passing when under no real pressure, the home side looked to have spurned their chance of a point when substitute Jeff Schlupp – not to be confused with his brother Mick – ran unhindered through the heart of the defence but smashed his shot somewhere over Ashby de la Zouch. They did get another chance though, on 85 minutes: half a tackle by Baines, a tentative challenge from recently booked Gareth Barry and then a tackle from Phil Jagielka that broke to the unmarked Chris Wood. He would have struggled to miss.

A bit of a ‘pisser’ then, as they say in UEFA coaching circles. To throw away two points like that, from a winning position away from home, is at best careless, at worst maybe an indication that we still lack a certain mentality or ruthlessness that the real top teams possess. Maybe even cynicism.

The next two games are at Goodison, which is positive, but big things are expected of both Chelsea and Arsenal this season following heavy investment in their squads over the summer. Points against those two will be as difficult to find as the really ill-advised diary that the police appear to be looking for in Sir Cliff Richard’s bachelor pad.

‘Had lunch with Una then the funniest thing happened. Met a lovely young lad. We had a little struggle cuddle. Pretty sure I got away with it though. Played a couple of sets with Sue afterwards, still can’t used to this new racquet…’