Spurs and QPR and Arsenal and that

Booooooooo!

Let’s face it, this blog has already got its flip-flops on, or one foot on the plane, or whatever ‘not that arsed now there’s nothing to play for’ footballing metaphor you like.

A decent point at White Hart Lane, all things considered, and then a routine victory over the club we aspire to be has set us up for what’s potentially a humdinger at the Emirates on Tuesday night.

Woah, woah, woah there. The club we aspire to be? What’s this fucker on about here, Maureen?

Well, firstly – and imagine us doing the now infamous Brendan Rodgers finger and thumb counting here – Queens Park Rangers have got a wealthy owner who isn’t afraid of lavishing his wealth on the club. Are you saying you wouldn’t want someone like Tony Fernandes to buy Everton?

Secondly, they have a manager who has won silverware and has a reputation for playing an exciting brand of attacking football.

These bleeders are living embodiment of the Premier League dream then. Instead of being delighted at their imminent demise, football fans around the country should be weeping at the plight of the Super Hoops. If the golden ticket combination of a benevolent billionaire, Harry Redknapp and £130k per week Christopher Samba can’t even guarantee survival in the top flight, never mind taking you to the ‘next level’ with the elite clubs, what chance has anyone got? Seriously, even the Manchester City fans looked unhappy the other week, and they are the defending champions with owners that are richer than God. Well, defending in the loosest sense of the word, like. Anyway, the way football is going you might as well stop worrying about stuff you have exactly fuck all control over, and may or may not actually happen, and do something crazy like just go the match and enjoy the game itself.

It’s hard though, isn’t it? When Kevin Mirallas slalomed through the Tottenham defence last week and scored an absolute wonder goal, your first instinct is to leap into the air, overjoyed that you’ve witnessed such a feat of athletic prowess. And then you think, do you know what, we don’t even own Finch Farm, and the whole moment’s ruined isn’t it?

Similarly when Tim Howard kept the scores level in the first half of the QPR match with a brilliant one-handed save from Loic Remy, a plaintive voice cried out from the Lower Bullens: ‘That’s all very well, but do you really think we are getting the best deal from Kitbag?’

Incidentally, in Remy and Stephane Mbia, Rangers have two players who for years we thought were imaginary, existing only in the fevered minds of football writers inventing Everton transfer stories.

Anyway, despite Everton’s present ‘plight’, David Moyes’s humble plodders were more than a match for Harry’s thrilling entertainers. Fancy that.

Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar returned at the expense of Johnny Heitinga and the rather disappointing Ross Barkley while Victor Anichebe kept his place up front. The Nigerian striker won all the plaudits for his workrate at Spurs, despite playing ‘first touch roulette’ every time the ball was knocked up to him – even the pass for Mirallas’s goal was meant for Nikica Jelavic. Against QPR though his control was impeccable and he continued running and getting stuck in – although nobody would need much motivation to get into Clit Hill. He earned that nickname because he’s a bit of a cunt. And yes, that is a joke stolen from the Clit Eastwood strip in awful sub-Viz early 90s comic, Zit. They also had one about ET being the bastard son of Jack Charlton and Anne Diamond. The denouement was he became a star footballer in his own right before being literally kicked in half by Vinne Jones shouting something hilarious like ‘Take that you alien twat’.

It wasn’t all totally puerile though. They did examine the human condition in the thought-provoking ‘Screaming Knievel’, the tale of a naked stuntman who specialised in daringly leaping rows of greased cucumbers.

Back to the match though, tax averse tactician Redknapp was, for once, not too far from the truth when he said that there wasn’t much between the sides in the first half. However, his lot – or Mark Hughes’s as he is quick to point out now they are doomed – more or less threw their hand in the moment Darron Gibson’s low shot struck Hill’s leg, wrong-footed fifties smoothy Julio Cesar and looped into the Park End goal.

Awooga.

Instead of conceding a sickener after the break, as is often the Everton way, the Blues should have extended their lead when Mirallas’s quick feet left a defender for dead and then Anichebe showed great composure to make himself space before planting his shot against the inside of the post, only to see it somehow rebound out to safety.

He wouldn’t be denied for long though. On 55 minutes, from a Leighton Baines corner, Sylvain Distin won a header that would be described in any quarters as ‘towering’. Anichebe, stood in what is officially known as the ‘shoved between the shoulder blades while trying to catch the referee’s attention’ position, turned the ball over the line to get the goal his recent performances deserved.

Fair play young man.

Going to watch Everton at the moment, when there doesn’t really feel like there’s that much to play for – we won’t finish fourth – is absolutely ace. Everyone just seems quite relaxed, from the crowd to the players – we’ve even had some sexy formation experiments – and some of the football has been great. The ‘wing play’ in particular, from Baines, Pienaar, Mirallas and Seamus Coleman is proper School of Science stuff. A veritable delight to behold.

History tells us that a win at Arsenal is unlikely – they just have a little bit too much pace throughout the side; enough to give them the edge against most teams, and that’s why they must be favourites to win on Tuesday and to finish in fourth place.

What’s more, Moyes’s poor record at Old Trafford, the Emirates, Anfield and Stamford Bridge is the stuff of legend now – although it conveniently ignores City and Spurs – but it would be interesting to see which managers in the past ten years have got good records away at those grounds. And speaking of our esteemed leader, watching his Everton side, marshalled by the superb budget-buy Gibson, being far too professional for Redknapp’s wealthy wildcards, it hit home just how much we take for granted with his teams.

At times people moan about the perceived emphasis on workrate and effort, but just remember how galling it is when those qualities are absent. It’s not that long ago that we used to get bummed by Charlton or Ipswich and we’d cast envious eyes over their fit, well-organised sides and, staring glumly at Steve Watson’s big beetroot kite, say: ‘All we want’s a bit of effort; it’s not much to ask’. Fuck it, there was a time when people used to wonder whether ‘a season in the Championship might actually do us good, get reorganised, wipe the slate and all that’. Not any more though.

So, while the majority of football fans at every level are tearing their hair out about some shite or other, kick back, hang loose and bask in the knowledge that this is a good Everton team and watching them do their stuff is, on the whole, quite a lot of fun. It won’t last forever, nothing ever does, so you’d be mentile if you didn’t let yourself enjoy this. Again, cast your mind back to a time when we used to rust our armour every summer because ‘Cahill to Man United is a done deal’. Worry about the bad shit when it happens and not a moment before.

Finally, talking of enjoying stuff, just how great is the Premier League generally at this time of the season? Everyone gets sniffy about the ‘best league in the world’ title that Sky have bestowed upon their prize jewel, but in terms of entertainment it is absolutely magnificent when you witness bedlam like that Newcastle versus Sunderland match.

In particular, the impartial Niall Quinn’s commentary just about summed up football as a whole when he barely restrained himself from screaming: ‘3-0 AWAY IN THE DERBY, I DON’T HEAR ANYONE BLATHERING ON ABOUT THE JARROW MARCHERS OR THE INVASION OF FECKING ETHIOPA NOW! SUCK MY DISCO PANTS YOU MOTHERS!’

Oldham Athletic 2 Everton 2

smith oldham

When you write these match reports they start to form in your head as the game nears the end.

Deep into injury time at Boundary Park the tone of this one was going to be about Everton showing a certain degree of Premier League professionalism, especially in the second half, against a ‘spirited’ Oldham side who gave the sort of performance that attracts the cameras and gives the FA Cup its lustre.

However, with Paddy McGuinness already halfway down the ‘love lift’, the massive Matt Smith headed home a corner, amid a crowd that looked like they were trying to get on the last chopper out of Saigon, and forced a replay.

In those circumstances you either go back and re-evaluate your whole opinion of the preceding 94 minutes or you kind of accept that maybe that’s just the way things go sometimes and look forward to getting them back to Goodison Park.

Mindful of what the Latics did to Liverpool in the previous round, David Moyes played something approaching his strongest side, with Victor Anichebe partnering Nikica Jelavic up front and Kevin Mirallas on the bench. However, that didn’t stop the home side taking the lead on 12 minutes. Lee Croft – who looks uncannily like the owl the Oldham badge – out-muscled Leon Osman, broke down the right and crossed low for Jordan Obita to tap in at the far post. There was some question over whether he stayed onside but if Darron Gibson had shown a little more awareness he could have stepped up and left the linesman in no doubt whatsoever.

Midway through the half though, Anichebe repaid Moyes’s faith in him when he outfought Jean-Yves M’voto for Jelavic’s header and absolutely twatted a volley past the exposed Dean Bouzanis.

Only moments later though Obita almost re-established Oldham’s lead with a low shot that beat Howard ‘all ends up’ – whatever that means – but struck the inside of the post.

The sides went in level at the break then and to Moyes’s credit he made the changes that for most of the second period gave Everton the advantage. Anichebe may have felt hard done to, making way for Mirallas after scoring, but the Belgian’s introduction definitely made the Blues look more threatening. That was partly down to his own play but also because of how it altered the shape of the rest of the midfield.

Marouane Fellaini apparently insists that he is a central midfielder and not a centre-forward but every time he gets an opportunity to prove it he fails to convince. He’s not as consistent or disciplined as Darron Gibson in terms of playing the ‘deep-lying’ position and he doesn’t have Leon Osman’s creativity. That’s why he got pushed up into the ‘Tim Cahill role’ in the first place. As the attacking midfielder/withdrawn striker he can get away with playing in spurts and he can use his physical attributes to their full effect. That’s what he was doing earlier in the season when he was ‘beasting’, ‘monstering’ and even ‘stairwell nonce bashing’ even the top sides and people were talking about him as a £30 million player. When everyone’s fit it should be a straight choice between him and Anichebe to play alongside Jelavic.

The Croatian is struggling to score but he is still working his plums off for the team – in which case if he’s fit he should start. Form and class, etc.

Only two minutes after his introduction Mirallas took an ace corner from the left that Phil Jagielka, despite being mauled, couldn’t help but glance home.

For most of the remainder of the game then Everton looked to have too much for the home side but, as is so often the case, the lack of a certain something in the final third of the pitch meant that Oldham remained in with a sniff. In the last 10 minutes they began to take some risks, lashing the ball forward towards substitute Smith, but it seemed as if Everton, who you couldn’t criticise for lack of effort, were going to stand firm, especially when Howard produced a couple of top class saves.

However, it wasn’t to be and Oldham earned the replay that even Moyes said they deserved. It’s hard to begrudge them it really – although that goodwill is obviously contingent on us wellying them from pillar to post at Goodison.

Given that the updating of this here portion of the internet has become a bit sporadic lately, this is probably as good a time and place as any to mention Moyes and the on-going situation regarding his contract.

As everyone knows, his present deal expires in the summer and he is refusing to say whether he will agree to a new one until then. He says it’s because he doesn’t want it to distract from the push for Europe and the Cup, but that is clearly bollocks – the present uncertainty is far more unsettling. The idea has been put out there that he is waiting to see if we qualify for the Champions League as well, but again that seems fanciful. What difference would that make?

What seems the most likely is that he wants to see if he gets a better offer, which he is perfectly entitled to do. Despite what a lot of people would have you believe though, there are actually few posts out there that are better than Everton. Everyone obsesses over the handful of mega-rich behemoths and that blinds them to the situation at the vast majority of clubs in Britain. Moyes gets very well paid at Everton and has a board who, for all their faults, he has a great working relationship with.

However, the Chelsea and Manchester City managerial roles look like they could become vacant this summer and Moyes must feel there’s a good chance that he will get ‘his turn’, almost by default. In fact, he must have been delighted when Pep Guardiola chose Bayern Munich but his arse must go every time José Mourinho makes an enigmatic hint about returning to the Premier League.

Moyes has been magnificent for Everton, that’s a stone cold fact. You can point out his flaws – because he has them – but overall the job he has done given the financial handicaps he has in comparison to the clubs he is expected to compete with is almost unparallelled.

However, his biggest attribute, so we are constantly told, is his single-mindedness and his drive. If he fails to land a job with a massively wealthy club this summer then, will that fire still burn when he ‘settles’ for another four or five years with Everton?

Or, and this isn’t an easy thing to contemplate for anyone who genuinely admires Moyes, is 10 years simply enough?

Manchester United 2 Everton 0

giggs

In the opening exchanges of this encounter you could have been forgiven for thinking that Everton were the side saving themselves for a big game in midweek while Manchester United had the look of the team hungrily hoping to battle their way back towards fourth place in the table.

The unwell Sylvain Distin was forced to withdraw from the Blues’ squad during the warm-up, replaced by the under-fire Johnny Heitinga. There’s an argument to be made that the Frenchman might have done better for the opening goal on 12 minutes when Heitinga got too close to Robin van Persie who turned and teed up Ryan Giggs for a low finish from the edge of the box. However, let’s all be honest, even if the Distin had cleared that one, United would have still found a way to score.

Throughout the match, despite Everton’s passable Swansea impression for large parts of the first half, the home side were always more decisive and convincing in the areas of the pitch where it counted. They were never brilliant, but they didn’t have to be.

Up front for Everton Victor Anichebe barely had a touch, and even when he should have had a tap-in, Kevin Mirallas – who is still to reach anything like his early-season form since returning from injury – ended a rare positive run with a poor pass just behind the Toffees’ face-clutching, turf-twatting centre-forward.

By contrast, United have van Persie who rounded Tim Howard and struck the outside of a post midway through the first period. Not to be deterred though, just before half-time he was played onside by Phil Neville and repeated the feat of avoiding Howard but this time a more composed finish ended up in the back of the net.

That felt slightly harsh on Everton who had seen plenty of the ball but, with Marouane Fellaini too-easily nullified by some big yard-dog woolly, they looked almost apologetic in the final third of the pitch. Leon Osman had a decent volley saved by David De Gea but otherwise there seemed little conviction against a team full of not only good players but ruthless personalities, the likes of Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic, who look like they take defeat personally.     

The second half was a formality. Everton’s performance resembled the later fights of the likes of Shane Mosley and Roy Jones Jr, where they went through the motions against stronger, quicker opponents and did enough to avoid humiliation but knew they were never going to win.

David Moyes said that tiredness could be a factor for his team, and they certainly looked dead on their feet at times, but there’s also the stark fact that United have, on the whole, better players and they beat almost everyone who comes to Old Trafford and have done for a long time now. It’s maybe also worth remembering that during the famous 4-4 last season they did in fact threaten to blow Everton away completely at times.

A Champions League place is starting to look unlikely again, although that can obviously change over the space of a single weekend, and so Saturday’s game against Oldham Athletic is beginning to look massive. Elimination from the FA Cup at this stage, and a really positive-seeming season arguably being as good as over in February, really doesn’t bear thinking about.

So don’t.

Everton 3 Aston Villa 3

derek

If you are struggling at the wrong end of the table and getting happy-slapped by all and sundry almost every week it must be tough for the manager to get you motivated.

Before each game Paul Lambert must face his young beleaguered squad, press play on the stereo, wait until the real nuances of Survivor’s ‘Hearts On Fire’ have sunk in for his assembled charges and then begin a piece of oratory that takes the best bits of Al Pacino’s ‘inch by inch’ speech from Any Given Sunday, Vigo Mortenson’s ‘not this day’ address as Aragorn prepares to lead the suicide mission through the gates of Mordor, and just a dash of that Kenneth Branagh one where he’s on the horse.

Pumped up ‘to fuck’, the players go out believing that they are capable of tearing up the form book – whatever that is – and scrapping for one of those inches (actually points, but you get the gist) that will eventually safeguard their place in the Premier League.

With all that in mind then, there is a certain onus on their opposition to remind them that they are in fact shite and facing relegation for a reason.

So – and this is something of a rhetorical question – what do Everton do?

That’s correct, within two minutes of the Blues’ last ‘easy’ home game for some time, Darron Gibson missed a tackle on Charles N’Zogbia and then the whole ground watched as Christian Benteke jogged past Johnny Heitinga – who was heard to shout ‘have we started?’ – and drilled a low shot past Tim Howard and into the corner of the Park End goal, much to the giddy delight of the assembled Dereks and Dougies in the away end.

Horrible.

On 20 minutes though, the Blues drew level thanks to the most ‘Victor Anichebe’ goal Victor Anichebe will ever score. The defender Ciaran Clark must have felt like he was playing the arse end of a pantomime horse with Jonathan King as Anichebe reached behind and mauled him while receiving Kevin Mirallas’s pass, turning and slotting past Brad Guzan, the American goaly who looks like the incongruous bass player in some band of scruffy long-hairs.

Nice one. Villa deflated. Business as usual. Go get ‘em you sexy Blue boys.

But no.

Three minutes later Villa were back in front thanks to a close-range header from Gabriel Agbonlahor. The ‘irony’ of that being that it was more than likely fear of the Popeye-faced forward’s pace out wide that persuaded David Moyes to persist with Phil Jagielka at full-back, rather than Phil Neville, and ask Heitinga to mark Benteke. More of that particular little tango shortly.

Well, now.

After the break Andreas Weimann – played onside by Heitinga, naturally – blazed over a great chance to extend the visitors’ lead. However, if the Villans were thinking, ‘Ooh, that was the one’, they need not have worried. They looked like scoring every time they broke and on the hour Weimann atoned for his miss by sending over a great cross from the right. With Heitinga in attendance, but only in an observational capacity, Benteke glanced a header home for a peach of a goal.

Although they actually played quite a bit of decent football of their own, despite the shitty pitch, Everton found themselves 3-1 down then. Lumme.

On 68 minutes though, with Nikica Jelavic and Bryan Oviedo on for the disappointing Mirallas and indescribable Heitinga, Marouane Fellaini, who had been overshadowed completely by his countryman Benteke, started to get his shit together. He played a one-two with Anichebe, cutting in from the right-hand side and beating Guzan with a low snapshot from 12 yards.

From that point on Everton absolutely hammered Villa and it’s perhaps a sign of how our expectations have been raised, despite the Blues’ continued propensity for self-sabotage, that almost everyone in the stadium knew for certain that they would equalise at the very least.

Corners and crosses rained down on the Villa penalty box but the breakthrough never actually came until the third minute of injury time, just after Jelavic had scuffed a chance straight into the arms of Guzan. Leighton Baines sent in yet another corner that landed right on the button – the big fuzzy button that is Fellaini’s noggin.

Boosh, have that.

Obviously Evertonians were delighted with the comeback, and Fellaini even had a half-chance to complete his hat-trick and seal a win – Leroy Fer would have scored it – but the elation was tempered quite a bit by the knowledge that this was two bad points dropped.

You can go on about ‘character’ all you like, as is customary after games like this, but in truth all you are really discussing is the order in which you shared the goals with a bad team.

‘I’m so proud of our boys today, they were rubbish first and then it was the other side’s turn. I’d be going fucking mad if we were good at the beginning but then not as good at the end though – that would be totally unacceptable.’

Back in the Everton changing room, littered with all the shit that the scruffy cunts always lash over the floor, Steve Round makes the players sit down and selects an appropriate CD from one of those round canvas zippy wallet things. He pops it into the Akai stereo, solemnly switches it from ‘tuner’ to CD, presses play, there’s a crackle and a hiss and then there’s the unmistakable sound of a taxi door closing before Marlon Brando says, ‘Hey Charlie, I’m glad you stopped by for me, I’ve been wanting to talk to you.”

‘Yeah, sure kid…’