Football supporting in the internet age often seems to boil down to watching a match with a fixed perspective and then interpreting what unfolds in a way that fits with the ‘narrative’ that you have constructed for yourself. In which case you can pretty much view this result and performance in one of two ways.
It was either a brilliant reaction to what happened against Wigan in the FA Cup, and a reminder of what this Everton is all about and has been in the main. That’s certainly the way that David Moyes saw it, judging by his prickly post-match reaction and comments.
The other is that it only underlined what a disgrace last week’s defeat was and showed that the team and the manager are essentially bottle-merchants.
What’s not up for debate is that the Toffees gave their performance of the season, comprehensively outplaying the reigning champions for an hour and then, following Steven Pienaar’s sending off, outfighting them for the remaining 30 minutes. And when in injury time Nikica Jelavic scored the second goal to settle the home side’s fraying nerves the reaction in the ground was one of pure elation – the sort that reminds you why you bother – and the bigger picture, be it stalled managerial contracts, rebuffed £124 million takeover offers or the temperature of the Scouse pies, felt fleetingly, mercifully irrelevant.
The Everton manager’s decision to play Phil Neville ahead of Darron Gibson against Wigan will forever remain a mysterious blot on his copy book, whatever one of those is, and the Irishman returned to the side and ran Seamus Coleman close for man-of-the-match. He’s far from the identikit of the modern top-flight footballer, in fact looks like he should be playing for Derby County on Match of the Seventies, but his touch and most importantly his awareness of what is going on around him are invaluable. If given the choice, would you take Mikel Arteta back to play in the same role?
After his contretemps with the Paddock last week there were some questions over whether Marouane Fellaini would retain his starting place – he did, and it was Jelavic who made way instead for Victor Anichebe. The Nigerian international centre-forward only really threatened the visitors’ goal once, blazing over on the turn in the first half, but still he gave as good a performance as he ever has in a blue shirt. He chased down the City defenders at every opportunity and held the ball up so well that his confidence grew to the point where he felt comfortable enough to gee up the crowd with whom his relationship has often been frosty at best. His standing ovation when he made way for Jelavic in the closing stages had a touch of Hollywood redemption about it. It also demonstrated that the Goodison crowd, as harsh as they can be, are always willing to recognise when someone is holding up their end of the deal.
Like Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez, Roberto Mancini is a foreign manager who seems overly concerned with the physical aspects of the English game – as a result he has built a team of talented but primarily big fuckers who won’t be pushed around. That seems to come at the expense of the genuine pace that runs through the Premier League’s standard bearers, Manchester United, and City are far easier to combat as a result. Like Everton on a bad day they all want the ball into their feet, hardly anyone makes unselfish runs, and apart from the isolated piece of invention from Carlos Tevez they were entirely predictable.
Everton were all over them from the first whistle but still it required a breath-taking goal to make the initial breakthrough. The outstanding Coleman appeared to have noodled his way into a bit of a jazz solo cul-de-sac before he rolled the ball back out of the box towards Leon Osman, lurking midway between the centre-circle and the edge of the penalty area. The England international subsequently struck a left-footed shot whose arc could only really be described using an equation that would in turn require several sheets of supplementary paper and a treasury tag. Joe Hart was certainly left bamboozled – granted, he’s not exactly Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting – as the ball announced itself joyously in the top corner of the Park End goal.
The shape of the game changed 15 minutes into the second half, from a footballing lesson to a display of grit and defensive brilliance, when Pienaar’s reckless tackle caught Javia Garcia high on the shin. The South African’s first half booking for a lunge on James Milner looked borderline given some of the tackles the badly-drawn snowman dished out unpunished, but he was always going to walk once he made contact with Garcia.
Mancini dipped into his catalogue of cunts, threw on Samir Nasri and City finally started to look slightly menacing. Rather than crumble though, as Everton are perfectly capable of doing with 11 men, never mind ten, this setback only seemed to inspire the players and the crowd to greater heights. As anyone will tell you, there’s no more glorious assault on the senses than the one you experience at an indignant Goodison Park.
If the atmosphere was any rawer someone would have killed a fat kid with a conch shell in the Top Balcony as Coleman denied Tevez with a courageous diving header that could have easily ended up in his own net. The fullback had already thwarted the Argentinian and his teammate Silva with an outrageous burst of pace and recovery tackle that left the two superstars shaking their heads in despair. Incidents like that were legion during the final stages, not least when Osman threw himself into a tackle on Pablo Zabaleta that had the crowd seeing spots in front of their eyes, such was the effort of expressing their approval.
There was some debate over the referee’s decision to award a free kick on the edge of the Everton box when a Tevez shot struck the hand of Fellaini a fair distance inside the area. It’s been said that Lee Probert indicated at the time that there had been two handling offences and the first, by Osman, occurred exactly where the kick was taken from. However, who cares? There’s no way that City deserved a point because a shot that was bound for Stanley Park inadvertently touched Fellaini’s mitt. How much fucking luck do these twats want anyway, especially after Kevin Mirallas had a perfectly good goal disallowed in the first half, Fellaini was blatantly fouled in the area with no penalty given and, let’s not forget, they have already benefitted from a sham of a decision that gifted them an equaliser at the Lonsdale Leisurewear Arena.
In short, sling your hook, scruffy.
There were a number of outstanding performers for the Blues, including official envelope dodger Jan Mucha. The Slovakian keeper’s belief seemed to grow with every save and by the end of the match he clearly felt invincible, coming for everything and making one double save from Tevez and then Milner that brought the crowd to their feet.
If City had forced an equaliser the main focus would have been on Moyes’s decision to withdraw the dangerous, counter-attacking Mirallas on 69 minutes and replace him with the Highland Holtby, Steven Naismith. It seemed counter-intuitive to everyone except the manager, but to be fair to Naismith it was him who won the ball from Gael Clichy in injury time and set Fellaini free to charge through the heart of the City defence. The Belgian’s pass out to substitute Jelavic wasn’t the best, and the chance looked to have gone as the Croatian fought to get the ball out of his feet. He cut back onto his left though, and with the now immortal words ‘Just fucking hit it’ ringing out from the Gwladys Street, his shot took a nick off a defender that sent it curling past Hart and into the net.
Dissect it, analyse it, extrapolate your thoughts and try to find some deeper meaning and broader perspective. Or just revel in being there through all the shite just so you can experience these inexplicable, indefinable moments of bottled lightning.
We’ll probably get beaten by Stoke like.