‘You can fuck off and take your mate’s fucking knee with you,’ is one of the more esoteric shouts heard at Goodison Park in recent times.
It came after Johnny Heitinga more or less summed himself up: after scoring the glorious last-minute winner at the weekend he started here and gifted West Bromwich Albion a goal that turned what should have been this season’s most straightforward win into yet another nail-biter.
David Moyes finally bit the bullet and dropped Nikica Jelavic, starting with Kevin Mirallas and Victor Anichebe up front and Phil Neville in midfield. It seemed a few changes too many, as it necessitated Leon Osman being shunted out to the wing where he’s never as effective as when he plays through the middle. It’s probably a bit of an indictment of how anaemic Jelavic has looked lately that without having a barn-stormer of a performance Anichebe still did enough that the Croatian’s absence was barely noticed.
One player who just keeps performing at a frighteningly high level though is Leighton Baines, and 28 minutes into what was a rather humdrum affair he had something of a Steven Gerrard moment – no, not defending himself and a gang of mates from a DJ who viciously threatened not to play the latest Matthew E White single – but rather taking the game by the scruff of the neck, in lieu of any better options, and smashing home a shot on the run that beat Ben Foster at the angle of his near post and crossbar.
Baines is just wonderful. Technically amazing, unassuming, his own man and removed enough from the general titheadery of football to be effortlessly, unintentionally, genuinely cool as fuck. He embodies almost everything we think of when we consider the abstract notion ‘Everton’.
He notched again on the stroke of half-time when Anichebe was caught as he spun onto Steven Pienaar’s pass on the edge of the visitors’ penalty area. Baines drilled the penalty home.
West Brom were poor and never posed any sort of threat until James Morrison was replace by Shane Long on 61 minutes. The Irishman’s sheer enthusiasm and willingness to just ‘leg about loads’ gave his teammates a lift that paid off after only three minutes. The otherwise subdued Romelu Lukaku beat the Everton offside trap and although Tim Howard seemed a bit slow off his line he managed to force the Belgian striker wide enough that his tame shot at goal looked easy for Heitinga to smash clear of the six-yard box.
In fact it was easy. So easy that the World Cup finalist chose to take a touch first – a shit one that spun up in the air and allowed Long to pile in and head it into the Park End goal. Some of the expletives aimed at the Dutchman haven’t been heard since that bit at the end of Cape Fear when Robert De Niro is going down on the sinking boat, speaking in tongues.
Obviously Everton’s collective arses went for a spell then, culminating with the moment when Graham Dorrans almost snapped Howard’s crossbar with a pearler of a free-kick. Eventually the Blues got their composure back though and should have ‘closed the game out’ with another goal when Pienaar struck the foot of the post and Osman lashed the follow up into the Glwadys Street stand. It was a bad miss, although seeing it again on the telly showed that he did have to get a bit of height on his shot to avoid the defender sliding in – just not that much.
Going on in the background to all this was the transfer deal – or saga, if you are being pedantic – to try and bring FC Twente’s Dutch international midfielder Leroy Fer to Goodison Park. It all started very positively until the rangy racehorse owner had a medical that raised concerns over his knee. It seems that Everton went back to Twente and stated a desire to renegotiate the terms of the transfer based on these results and, at the time of writing this, the whole deal is dead.
It’s up to you how you choose to interpret that. One way, and it’s no doubt a popular one, is that it’s typical Everton who can’t do anything in a straightforward manner – they clearly tried to ‘nickel and dime’ Twente, the small-time gets.
An alternative spin is that the club were being very professional, in the strictest sense of the word. The medical staff did their job properly and the executives acted on their results: Fer represented more of a risk than originally thought and so Everton wanted Twente to take some of that burden. ‘Oh sod it, we’ll just give them what they want and keep our fingers crossed’ is perhaps more along the lines of how things were done in the past, and indeed still are at cash-sodden clubs like Manchester City or Chelsea, but that doesn’t make it the right way. With news that even Liverpool are looking to make players’ contracts more performance-orientated it does seem that some clubs are finally waking up to the fact that they have to curb the excesses of the past.
This sort of prudence won’t ever increase your chances of short-term success – City, United and Chelsea have shown that spunking oceans of cash is the only way to do that – but it can certainly help reduce the chances of long-term catastrophic failure. Essentially, some of the people paid to look after football clubs are finally starting to question the Premier League’s ‘shit or bust’ economic model, as unsexy as that might be for sports pages, agents and fans.
There are a few hours left of the transfer window left now and it looks as if the Blues have missed out on another target with Seville stating that only ‘crazy money’ would make them sell striker Alvaro Negredo. Presumably that means crazy amounts of cash and they are not referring to the piles of hallucinatory magic money that Everton often do business in, because we’ve got yards of that.
That leaves us with a teenage right-back from Barnsley whose nickname is almost certainly going to be ‘Paintstrophy, lad’. And even he’s not even signed yet.
Just turn off Sky Sports and go and read a book.