Come on, it’s that boss bit between Christmas and New Year when you would rather be watching World’s Strongest Man or feature-length Futurama’s than going online to read about football. Therefore the Wigan match report and the Chelsea preview are being condensed here.
1. Darron Gibson’s red card picked up against West Ham has been rescinded. Can you rescind anything except cards in football? When does anyone else use that word?
Anyway, it was sensibly overturned and Gibson – one of the real revelations of the Everton nuddy calendar apparently, along with Leon Osman – faces no ban. That would be great news if it wasn’t for the fact that he hurt his thigh while attempting what them football freestylers call a ‘blammer’ against Wigan. Thomas Hitzlsperger showed him how it should be done when he almost broke the bar from long distance in the same game, but the German still looks a bit ‘off the pace’ and you fear for him trying to cope with the energy and skill in Chelsea’s midfield.
2. Wigan don’t look like a relegation team. Twice we’ve played them this season and on both occasions they have been really competitive. Roberto Martinez has built his most physically robust side and they are certainly not the pushovers they were in the past. They will run all day too and caused Everton quite a few problems, especially in the second half.
That appetite for hard work is what could very well set them apart from the rest of the relegation-threatened sides when push inevitably comes to shove.
3. That was a penalty. You can argue the toss all the day about Shaun Maloney making a meal of going over Osman’s dangling leg, but if it had been the other way around not one Evertonian would have said the referee was correct to wave play on. In fact, if it had been an Everton player the crowd would have screamed as one and Lee Mason would almost certainly have given it.
We go mad when these things go against us so it’s only fair to hold your hand up when a little bit of good fortune, i.e. minty refereeing, goes our way. That said, Aroune Kone’s consolation goal had more than a touch of Central Park about it.
4. It’s no surprise that Victor Anichebe looks better away from home. He’s no world-beater but David Moyes believes in him and so he wears an Everton shirt. Maybe he hasn’t done himself any favours in the past, but the stick he gets is not helping him to play better.
In fact, some of the comments getting screamed at him from the Park End are embarrassing. He would have to be 15 feet tall, run like Usain Bolt and be triplets to get to every punt, cross and clearance he is venomously accused of not challenging for.
5. Rafael Benitez must feel similar at Chelsea, i.e. ‘I know I’m not your first choice but come on, let’s all make the most of it.’ The whole ‘show just how great a Chelsea fan by how much you hate Benitez’ meme just looks odd to everyone else in football.
Managers do what they do for money – it’s their living – and there is only a relatively small pool of roles available. Now, granted, apart from Liverpool and perhaps Valencia, there is probably no ‘cloob’ in the world that would be particularly overjoyed to be getting Benitez and all his massive baggage – literal and metaphorical – but, you know, you would just suck it and see, surely? Especially if he’s only come in on a temporary contract.
A lot of Chelsea supporters now must be experiencing that weird, very modern phenomenon whereby they don’t know how to react to their club’s results. If the team do well it looks good for Benitez, and that makes their entrenched position look weak, and obviously vice versa. It’s like the Manchester United fans who predicted Armageddon under the Glazers and yet keep seeing the team twat all and sundry. What would make them happier, another League title or the chance to stand amidst the rubble saying ‘I told you so’?
6. Everton will miss Marouane Fellaini in this game. Against the better sides the Blues, by necessity, play more directly and having Fellaini as a target makes that more effective. Whatever people think of Benitez as well, you can be sure that his team will be far more committed and physical than the shameful group that came to Goodison last year during the last days of Andre Villas-Boas and were forced to kneel before the might and majesty of Denis Straqualarsi.
7. Steven Naismith is getting better. It’s taking time, but perhaps that’s not surprising given he’s had to cope with such a long time out of football and the step up in the standard of football from the Scottish to the English Premier League.
He looks like he is growing in confidence though and seems reminiscent of someone like Nick Barmby in that he is not particularly outstanding in any one particular area but he does everything well enough, he’s intelligent and he seems willing to work hard.
You can’t really ask much more of a free transfer than that.
8. This is going to be the toughest game we have for a while. Once this one is out of the way there really is no reason why we shouldn’t go on a decent run until we visit Old Trafford in February. That’s not to say we can’t get a decent result there, but in January the toughest tests we face are a trip to Newcastle and the visit of West Bromwich Albion. As we know all too clearly though, we are liable to beat Chelsea and then undo most of the good work by conceding a late equaliser at St. Mary’s or something equally frustrating.
9. Struggling a bit now. Let’s just reflect again then on how ace Osman is. Dead ace is the answer.
10. Finally, the highlight of the Christmas television was Mark Lawrenson getting caught unawares as the Match of the Day camera switched back to him following Gary Lineker’s jibe about his shirt and almost choking on the massive phlegm oyster he had clearly just hawked up.
See photograph above.