Kent State it was not.
After all the pre-game protest talk, we ended up with yet another plane that most people missed and even less actually cared about, and then once the final whistle had gone a load stayed behind in the Gwladys Street with a selection of raggedy banners. It was actually quite exciting hearing Mike Hughes on Radio Merseyside having to report on what was essentially some people sat in some seats – no more than a timing issue, really – as if it was some developing hostage crisis.
These sporadic insurgencies liven up the arse end of the season immeasurably. Before the match there’s always that frisson of excitement as normal people are sucked into thinking that there’s going to be some grand gesture that will make the footballing world sit up and take notice.
‘What have you heard? Some lad on Twitter is apparently going to set himself on fire on the penalty spot if the board don’t do something.’
And then there’s the tightly-sprung defenders of the faith, constantly scanning those around them for the faintest hint of disloyalty or generally un-Everton behaviour.
‘What’s that? Is that a flag? Let’s see it. It is, isn’t it, that’s a flag.’
‘Woah! Pipe down Dixie, I’m just blowing my nose mate.’
And invariably, it’s all a load of shite. Even the media are getting a bit tired of it now, you can tell.
It’s not even a decent angle when trying to get something out of Roberto Martinez, as his line about understanding why the supporters aren’t happy, because the results simply haven’t been good enough, pretty much pulls the rug from even the most persistent inquisitor.
Not going to do the accent here, by the way.
‘It shows a lot of dedication, to scoop it out of the bowl and get it all in the envelope. And then to lick the envelope, of course. That dedication is what I admire so much about the Everton fans and that’s why I understand their passion and why this is really a perfect moment for us all to pull together.’
As for the game itself, it was pretty much a non-event between two sides that have seemingly packed up for the summer. Martinez made some surprise team selections, most notably starting Oumar Niasse up front with Romelu Lukaku on the bench.
Let’s all be pretty up front about it here, if Lukaku is off in the summer, as everyone expects, then it looks highly unlikely that Niasse is going to be a direct replacement. Granted, it was first start since signing – although that in itself has alarm bells ringing – and he showed very little against a pretty ordinary Bournemouth side. The Senegalese forward barely touched the ball in the opening quarter of the match, and at times looked a little bit scared of showing for a pass. It might just be nerves, or the old ‘struggling to settle in a new country’ bit, but you would expect your third most expensive signing of all time to at least be demanding the ball a bit and just doing the basics. His confidence did appear to grow slightly when he chased a few balls down and got encouragement from the crowd, but it’s not being unfair to say that he has a lot of improving to do before he can resemble anything like a genuine Everton centre-forward.
Still, despite the travails of their sheepish striker, Everton still took the lead, thanks to a well-taken goal by this season’s sleeper hit, Tom Cleverley. Considering the hoots of derision emanating from Old Trafford when the midfielder was signed, he’s won over the Everton crowd with his industry and no little talent. His drag-back and angled finish from the edge of the box was the highlight of an otherwise tame first half.
In enormously Everton fashion though, the visitors were level within minutes. The Blues’ players’ were insistent that teenage centre-half Matthew Pennington was fouled in the build up, but the scruffy goal stood when Marc Pugh eventually turned the ball past Tim Howard.
With Niasse replaced by Lukaku, Everton looked sporadically brighter in the second half, and scored the winner when Aaron Lennon, one of the real disappointments of the last few weeks, drove a low cross along the six yard box. It looked to have evaded all the Blues’ attackers until Leighton Baines arrived on the scene to coolly plant the ball past Artur Boruc to secure a rare home victory for the tricky Toffees, although not before the visitors missed a sitter when the unmarked Benik Afobe headed over the bar.
Next up then, the Champions, Leicester City. Loads has been written and said about them already, and it just underlines what a closed shop the major leagues in Europe are when there is this much shock and awe at their success.
Much has been made of their inexpensive but efficient defence, and it’s true that they are brilliantly organised and extremely competitive at the back, but focussing on that aspect of their game really does them a disservice. If anything set them apart from the rest it has been their attention to detail – the way they look to gain an advantage from every single situation, and for the full 90 minutes. Their early form that put them in the running for the title owed much to the pace of Jamie Vardy and the cleverness of Riyad Mahrez, but when they entered the ‘championship rounds’, when many of the wise old heads sagely declared they would ‘blow up’, they were able to fall back on the old-fashioned centre-forward play of Leonard Ulloa, for instance, and some absolutely lethal set pieces.
Everyone fully expects a regression to the mean next season, when the sides with the bigger budgets are a bit wiser to the threat of the Foxes, and no one really expects to see a procession of new names on the league trophy every year. But what Claudio Ranieri has done is given hope to a lot of fans, and created a rod for the backs of plenty of his fellow managers, by showing that while winning the ultimate domestic prize is highly improbable for the majority of clubs, it is demonstrably not impossible.
And talking of managers, the list of candidates linked with Roberto Martinez’s role continues to grow, with some of the rumours, especially chorizo-cheeks Rafael Benitez, surely emanating from the Everton boss’s agent. Mark Hughes is another who is surely only in the mix in order to try and get fans to reassess just how unhappy they are with the clammy Catalan. The Stoke boss, with his exquisitely pampered barnet, is often likened to one of these exotic crossbred dogs that have become all the rage.
A labraditehawk, for instance.
Or a gobshoodle.