Before we begin, it’s important to remember that Saturday’s game wasn’t about the result, but more an opportunity for the footballers of the Premier League to keep chasing that rainbow.
EVERYBODY JAGS NOW!
As for the football itself, well, as the rules are pretty clear about, it was a game of two halves. In the first of those, Everton were pretty poor. In time-honoured fashion, Roberto Martinez did the whole not-changing-a-winning-side thing and started the game with Nikica Jelavic up front, despite Romelu Lukaku finally being eligible following his loan move from Chelsea.
A Kevin Mirallas shot forced a good save from Jussi Jaaskelainen in the first half but otherwise the Blues looked totally ineffective. When you are not on your game total football can look like total shite and when former Manchester United wild-child Ravel Morrison saw his shot deflect off Phil Jagielka and wrong-foot Tim Howard on 31 minutes Everton looked incapable of mustering any sort of serious reply.
You would like to think that Jelavic shouted ‘Hey kid, catch!’ to Lukaku at half-time and threw his shirt to him like Mean Joe Green in the old Coca Cola advert but in reality Roberto Martinez more likely pulled the Croatian and Steven Naismith to one side at the break, did a sort of half-smile, semi-shrug and asked ‘Guys, how did you think you played just then?’
The upshot was they were replaced by Lukaku and James McCarthy, and moments after the restart Bryan Oviedo came on for the injured Leon Osman.
Now let’s just say straight away, forget about any sort of Terry Curran-style campaign regarding Lukaku because he will not be an Everton player next season. ‘We’d have to sell so many players to try and get the money together we wouldn’t be able to field a full team’ was one observer’s verdict. So enjoy him while we can because he is fucking mustard.
Before you even consider his pace and power, his close control and ability to lay the ball off under pressure are simply sensational. Even when there were so many fellas surrounding him you expected to see Brendan Rodgers’ lad taking photos, he held them off nonchalantly before finding a teammate. It completely transformed the way Everton played, as Mirallas, Leighton Baines and Ross Barkley suddenly had the confidence to ‘fizz’ – oh yeah, ‘fizz’ – the ball into Lukaku’s feet before making runs, almost certain that they were going to get the return exactly where they wanted it.
Where the Hammers’ defenders had been comfortable with all the play in front of them, suddenly they were being turned and forced into making panicky decisions as white shirts streamed beyond them.
One such moment, on 62 minutes, resulted in James Collins lunging at Barkley 25 yards out and conceding a free-kick that Leighton Baines coolly whipped into high into the net past Jaaskelainen’s outstretched right hand.
It was a great moment, not just because it was the equalising goal and an excellent free-kick, but because of the awkward position the naughty left-back was put in this week by the loose lips of Everton coach Alan Stubbs.
Now, we are all grown up enough to understand that Baines would have fancied a move to Manchester United this summer. Just because he looks like Jane Weidlin and doesn’t have ‘attitude’ doesn’t make him some sort of mug, happy with his lot while lesser players are playing Champions League football and earning Champions League dough. It’s insulting to suggest he is. However, how he has conducted himself in public and on the pitch, when he must have been disappointed that no move materialised, has been exemplary. You couldn’t ask any more of him.
So for Stubbs to blurt out that Baines asked to leave was at best indiscrete and at worst an absolute cunt’s trick. And given that pretty much everyone believes Stubbs was a fifth-columnist when Everton were dealing with United over Wayne Rooney, it’s probably understandable that most think it’s the latter.
Quarter of an hour after Baines equalised, matters took a turn for the worse and a different kind of match report began to take shape in the minds of the watching scribes.
With Everton hogging the ball, as is their wont, Jagielka tried to usher out an aimless punt and was robbed on the byeline by Mladen Petric. He fed the ball back to Kevin Nolan who gleefully went over the lazy leg dangled out by the covering McCarthy.
The most West Ham man alive, Mark Noble, converted the penalty and it looked like the theme of the post-match analysis would be how you can be as precise as you like and dominate possession but it’s all for nought if you make silly mistakes at the back and don’t score goals.
And then Baines slotted again.
Another free-kick, slightly closer, was conceded when another Barkley run was halted illegally, this time by World Cup winner Noble. On Match of the Day Sam Allardyce talked about looking at his laptop and saying ‘Fucking hell son, look at this, you’d swear that was a lass wouldn’t you? The size of it! Any idea how you get rid of all these pop-ups?’ And then concluding that Noble won the ball.
He never. Noble got sent off.
Baines put the free-kick to the opposite side this time, almost choking the shot slightly so as to keep the ball from ballooning over the bar. It went in off the inside of the post, right in the top corner, and to mix goalkeeping metaphors here, two keepers, with stepladders – essentially the Chuckle Brothers – couldn’t have saved it.
An incredible amount of technique and subtlety were required to score that goal. And when it went in Alan Stubbs remained a twat.
That wasn’t the end of it though, oh no.
On 85 minutes Lukaku, uncannily reminiscent of another proud wearer of the prestigious Everton number 17 shirt, won the ball just outside the box, fed it to Mirallas and headed straight for the six-yard box. Mirallas, enjoying his best game of the season so far, twisted and turned before clipping a perfect cross to the far post.
Lukaku bravely buried the header, clashing heads with B movie monster Joey O’Brien in the process and appearing to get knocked the fuck out.
‘What a great way to go’ was one rather honest but unsympathetic comment as ‘the big Belgian’ lay motionless, perhaps dying, in the goalmouth.
Thankfully he recovered though and although seven minutes of injury time were added, it was only a question of whether Everton would make the scoreline even more emphatic. Obviously they never.
And with that the Blues are the only unbeaten side in the Premier League and reside just one point behind apparent Champions-elect Liverpool in the table.
You certainly have to hand it to Martinez, he keeps answering the questions asked of him. One lingering worry was that his teams are sort of predictable and bloodless at times and that his studied style would rob Everton of their indefinable elan and that inherent drama that we love and hate about them in equal measure.
Well, crikey, the second half here certainly put paid to that notion.