We’ve said it before, but last-minute game-changing goals make writing about matches difficult.
In the cold light of day do you reflect the feeling of injury-time elation, ignoring the vast majority of what came before? Or do you write the piece that was already half-formed in your furious mind when Romelu Lukaku forced home Bryan Oviedo’s low cross right on the B of BOOOOOOOOO!
The answer, as ever, is somewhere in the middle.
Roberto Martinez says it would have been a crime if Everton hadn’t earned themselves their distinctly less than enticing replay at Upton Park next week, but it would have been nothing of the sort. The game was at best evenly matched, and given as we are Everton, playing at home to West Ham – you’re meant to say no disrespect here, which in itself is disrespectful – that isn’t good enough.
There were flashes of decent stuff and the odd half chance in the first 45 minutes. Steven Naismith, Kevin Mirallas and Lukaku all slid efforts across the goal, but the massive gaps in the Blues’ midfield and the trademark shonky defence, marshalled by Phil Jagielka who seemed to keep remembering that he’d left the gas on at home, meant that the Hammers also had openings of their own.
At half-time though, with the game goalless, the verdict was that while we were far from outstanding, and that many of the usual faults were on display, there were signs – particularly the energetic display from Lukaku – that with the rub of the green the game was still eminently winnable.
On 54 minutes though, a cheaply conceded corner was played to the near post where James Collins planted a straightforward header past Joel Robles. The most damning indictment of the present situation at the club was that the crowd didn’t even seem angry; more resigned to the fact that conceding that sort of goal was almost inevitable.
In the immediate aftermath the Toffees seemed to get geed up a bit but then, and not for the first time in the past few months, they grew increasingly ragged and limited opponents, who should by rights be shit-scared of getting on the ball at Goodison, were stroking passes around in wide open spaces to the delight of the travelling support. When Collins had the confidence to finish a race against Lukaku with a huge dummied clearance that left the Everton striker careering into the Spellow, things did not look good.
However, the end of the game was nuts. There must have been flecks of beef paste and Sunblest all over the away dressing room when Sam Allardyce was finished with his team, who allowed themselves to get drawn into a jumpers-for-goalposts game of Russian roulette in the dying stages. Ross Barkley, freed from the indignity of using his loaf or doing any defensive work, got his head down and started trying to bulldoze through the middle, Lukaku was desperately trying to work the ball onto his left foot for a trademarked blammeroo, and substitute Samuel Eto’o, although almost everything he attempted failed to come off, at least injected some urgency into proceedings with his flappy arms and pointless step-overs.
Oviedo had a tough game – we’re so narrow in midfield at the moment though any fullback is going to find himself exposed and with too much ground to cover – but the little Costa Rican, aided by late sub Aiden McGeady, robbed the ball on the edge of the visitors’ box, drove towards the line and crossed low along the six-yard box. The ball found Lukaku at the far post, and although his first touch saw it bobble up to waist height, he still managed an awkward, twisting volley to win the Toffees and his manager Martinez a reprieve.
The run of defeats is broken then, but no one is breaking out the bunting just yet. Play anything like that against Manchester City on Saturday and it will get ‘Chelsea messy’. In fact, we can play a lot better than that on Saturday and they may still beat us. Then we go down to West Ham on the Tuesday as underdogs.
At Everton’s best, under Martinez and David Moyes, the team became something much more than the sum of its parts. At the moment though we’re a gang of mostly sorry-looking individuals. Where once we did everything one and two touch, with players knowing instinctively where their teammates would be, now it’s all hesitant passing, shrugs and bickering. Slick team goals are now replaced with the hope that Lukaku, Mirallas or Barkley might conjure something out of nothing for us to cling on to. And all the while sections of the crowd cheer whenever a ball is smashed into the lonely sodium glare of the floodlights.
So, we live to fight another day, just – and Lukaku’s goal was a much-needed moment of release for everyone – but we’re still a long, long way from Kansas, Dorothy.