This encounter at Craven Cottage was literally a game of two halves. And that’s because FIFA and the FA insist on that format. It would be unfair otherwise if you were allowed to just play to whatever fraction you chose. Absolute chaos.
In the second of the allotted periods of 45 minutes plus stoppages Everton played a lot better than they did in the first, and that was primarily because of the introduction of Moomin-faced marauder Steven Naismith in place of midweek maze-meister Ross Barkley. On this showing it will be a travesty if the ex-Rangers man isn’t on the plane to Brazil. Alright, Scotland never qualified, but that’s hardly his fault. It’s just one more thing, apart from clever movement, an unerring eye for goal and a house on stilts that Naismith shares with George Best.
He might not have a house on stilts.
The team that looked so joyous in its Geordie japes were fucking last in the first half. Leon Osman wasn’t so much the fluid midfield pivot this time as a rusty hinge, constantly caught in possession as the whole side struggled to find any space or rhythm on that horrible, minty little pitch.
Gerard Deulofeu, another of the Tuesday night terrors, also looked less effective as he predictably went on the outside of the fullback whenever he got the ball and simply fought a running battle with the onrushing byeline. On the occasions he did manage to flash his customary low ball into the six-yard box his teammates somehow failed to anticipate and the home side’s goal remained unsullied at the break, to the immense satisfaction of tight-shiny-brown-trunks-wearing-stood-too-close-at-the-all-inclusive-salad-bar-in-Kos-looking Felix Magath.
The boss in the bad bins was less pleased after five minutes of the second half when, following a half-cleared Everton corner, Naismith miscued a volley that was heading wide of the goal. Unfortunately for goalkeeper David Stockdale though, trying to recover from the initial delivery and get back in the goal, well, all he managed to do was boot the ball into his own net. Like some sort of tit.
It wasn’t just Roberto Martinez’s substitutions that reaped dividends though. Magath, who piles his breakfast plate full of loads of ham and that weird dark bread, sent on a player who has inspired one of the most predictable terrace chants ever.
That’s right, don’t you just groan every time you hear, ‘Ashkan, you don’t have to put on the red light’?
Six minutes after entering the fray – fray, really? – Ashkan Dejagah cut in from the left, benefitted from James McCarthy’s slip and smashed a shot that beat Tim Howard at the near post. Normally keepers get criticised for when the ball passes them on the short side, but the sheer violence of this effort left him little chance of making the save.
Did anyone really expect Everton to come back from there, because little else in the match had hinted that they had it in them. However, two more substitutes, Aiden McGeady and Kevin Mirallas, combined to re-establish the lead on 79 minutes. The Irishman, whose ability to keep the ball and pass it intelligently has been more impressive than his famed dribbling skills, picked out the Belgian with a superb through-ball and old crazy eyes did the rest, holding off a defender and picking his spot.
Naismith sealed the result with a stabbed finish from close range on 87 minutes as Everton dominated the closing stages, and then hit the base of the post with a low drilled effort that illustrated his growing confidence.
Go ‘ead lad!
That’s five straight Premier League victories for the Toffees, setting up the blockbuster clash at Goodison on Sunday. You would have to say that Arsenal are still favourites for fourth because of the respective run-ins and Everton’s wafer thin margins for error, but simply being in contention at this point is almost an achievement in itself.