Everton 2 Aston Villa 1

Jakarta_old_football

Winning this game probably isn’t that significant in the big sweep of things. Losing though, that would have felt catastrophic, so it was a sense of relief as much as anything that greeted the final whistle at a sodden Goodison after Kevin Mirallas’s sensational free kick sealed a late comeback for them tricky Blues.

Roberto Martinez is still mending and making do in terms of getting a team out on the pitch – Steven Pienaar and Seamus Coleman returned to the bench here while Sylvain Distin went straight into the starting line-up. Aiden McGeady made his full league debut.

The Irish winger almost made it a glorious introduction too, cutting in from the right with his jinky little baby steps and slamming a doozy of a shot against the far post. Unfortunately though that bright opening was not indicative of the rest of the half. Villa were negative and without a proper centre-forward Everton lacked any focal point for their attacks. Mirallas might be suited to the role of central striker away from home, but against moribund massed defences at Goodison his best assets, his direct running and his shooting, are too easily negated.

At almost no point during the first 45 minutes did one Everton player occupy two Villa defenders, through either strength or skill, so there was simply no space created to work in. The ball got moved slowly from side to side and the murky-shirted Midlanders shuffled along accordingly. It was painful to watch at times and, perhaps understandably after Tuesday night there were audible grumbles as some of the passing looked aimless and the forwards never seemed to make their runs with any conviction.

On one of the rare occasions that Ross Barkley tried to inject some drive into the Blues’ attack, on 34 minutes, it ended up backfiring as the young midfielder’s run across midfield was halted by Fabien Delph’s tackle. While the Evertonians were still crying foul, Christian Benteke fed the loose ball out to Leandro Bacuna who advanced on Tim Howard before slipping the ball through his legs and into the Gwladys Street net.

If Anfield was the point where the season derailed, this felt like the moment where it settled at the bottom of the canyon and then erupted in an oily cloud of smoke.

At half time Martinez replaced the half-fit Barkley with the half-fit Pienaar and that planted the seeds of the eventual revival. The little South African is simply better at anyone else in the squad at changing the pace of the game, with his awareness and the cleverness of his passing. For such a slightly built individual he is also better than any of the club’s centre-forwards at shielding the ball, getting his head up and bringing others into play. What’s more, when the ball goes into Pienaar’s feet his teammates make run beyond him, confident that he will at the very least retain possession or force a foul.

In short: when he plays, we play.

Martinez’s second successful substitution came on 70 minutes when he withdrew John Stones and introduced Steven Naismith. Quite the opposite to Mirallas, the Scot lacks pace so struggles to make an impact away from home, but he does the basics well enough as a centre-forward that he has his uses at home when the Toffees are on top and pinning opponents back. He also freed Mirallas up to drop a bit deeper, away from the close attentions of the Villa central defenders, and the Belgian’s influence grew markedly from that point.

Only four minutes after coming on, Naismith put Everton back on level terms as he ran onto Pienaar’s clever flicked pass in behind the Villa defence and poked the ball past Brad Guzan.

The visitors offered almost nothing in attack throughout – they are a dismal side managed by a once highly-thought-of manager who now just looks like he should be sat alone at night in a dim pool of light at a motorway McDonalds, reducing a Styrofoam cup to tiny pieces, kneading his forehead almost violently and pleading into his phone: ‘I know I said I’d leave her but it’s just not that simple, you know that. We’ve been through all this already…’

If there was to be any justice, and there often isn’t in football, then only one side was going to go on and win the match.

And guess what, they did!

There’s definitely been a change in Mirallas in the last month or so. He was actually one of the disappointments of the early part of the Martinez reign as everyone else’s game seemed to be lifted but he looked less effective playing the more patient style. He seems to have realised that he is a senior player now though, especially in the face of the present injury crisis, and is taking on a level of responsibility more commensurate with someone of his undoubted ability.

It was Mirallas’s persistence that initially won a free kick on 85 minutes, fully 30 yards from the Villa goal. Are you useless at gauging them distances normally? Thankfully Match of the Day confirmed it was that far with a handy infostatistographic.

Talking of the BBC’s flagship sports show, a couple of points. Firstly, them dead long spindly hairs that stick out of the top of Alan Hansen’s shirt and move in time to his wobbling turkey neck – once you see them you can’t unsee them and they will knock you sick every time he’s on now.

Secondly, Andy Carroll’s sending off at against Swansea. Which bit made Bobby Moore spin in his grave worse, Chico Flores holding his face like he’d taken a right-hander off Ernie Shavers or celebrated Geordie hard-case Carroll furiously removing his scrunchy as he stormed down the tunnel?

Top-knot titheads.

Anyway, with both Mirallas and Leighton Baines shaping up over the free kick, Guzan had to try and hedge his bets. Despite the distance though, the American keeper, who looks like a methodical FBI agent in one of those yellow-stencilled jackets who reluctantly has to deal with the unorthodox methods of a detective he doesn’t trust but who gets results in bizarre cases and let’s face it we’re coming up with nothing but dead ends here looking for the missing girl, was helpless as Mirallas struck what Paul Lambert described as ‘a world class free kick’. He also added: ‘There’s nothing you can do about that’.

There were nervy moments at the end when Villa forced a corner. We’ve suffered late disappointments against these before – Ashley Young, you doe-eyed twat – but not this time, buddy.

It wasn’t always pretty, but all things considered it what was required and what was eventually deserved. You could see that Martinez wasn’t just talking out of his arse when he said it was the most satisfying win of his time in charge so far.

Finally, a quick word on the transfer window. The biggest thing to point out is that Kenwyne Jones looked mustard for Cardiff City on his debut. Everton themselves missed a trick by getting their two targets in so early. Lacina Traore they should have signed but kept it quiet and then only announced it at 11.30pm on deadline day. Everyone would have been made up then. It would have looked like a veritable swoopy coup. And he would be that bit closer to actual match fitness.

John Heitinga has gone to Fulham, to join their collection of arl arses who just fancy living in London for a bit. The Dutchman had his moments, and was apparently wildly popular with the other players, but overall he always retained that look of the panic buy he was – one who got paid more than he was ultimately worth. He had the one decent season at centre-half, scored that last gasp goal at Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup, but best of all probably was the way he barged into Ashley Cole during that penalty shootout at Stamford Bridge.

Oh, Everton’s accounts were published too. Without even looking at them it’s probably fair to assume that we are not going to be making any massive signings any time soon, the debt remains about the same, we spend a fucking immoral amount on player wages but we get a ton of money from the telly deals so like the rest of the Premier League basket-cases we will shuffle on regardless for another season at least.

You can probably get more detailed analysis than that but that’s what any fancy number talk will boil down to, ultimately.

Aston Villa 0 Everton 2

lukaku villa copy

So, David Moyes and Alex Ferguson decide to have a game of darts this time.

Not really, simmer down.

Everton’s early-season hot streak continued thanks to a great performance from Tim Howard and another inspired substitution by Roberto Martinez.

Resplendent in that yellow and blue away kit, and with last week’s returning hero Steven Pienaar starting ahead of Leon Osman, Everton began this game pretty slowly and Paul Lambert, dressed as a Premier Lodge night manager, made a fair point when he said he thought they should have really been three up at half time.

After only seven minutes Christian Benteke won a penalty when he cut across the run of Seamus Coleman and managed to get himself tripped. It looked very harsh as there was certainly no intent on the Irish defender’s part and it was hard to see what he was meant to do to avoid the offence.

Justice was done though when Tim Howard and his quite glorious hipster douchebag beard of bees dived to his right and displayed a ‘good strong wrist’ as he deflected Benteke’s ferocious but not particularly well-placed spot kick over the bar.

Undeterred, the home side proceeded to exploit Everton’s high defensive line and Howard had to be at his best to deny Benteke again and then Andreas Weimann in one-to-one face-offs. Or faces-off?

Eventually the Blues began to get their act together, with Brad Guzan making a good close-range save from Romelu Lukaku’s flying header. The Belgian then bundled through the home defence like Mario Kempes only to scuff his shot straight at the keeper as he tried to curl it with the outside of his boot.

Ross Barkley then turned and smashed a Rooney-esque shot from long distance that took a slight nick off a defender and crashed against the Villa crossbar.

Actually, when reading that back perhaps Lambert was being a tad one-eyed with his post-match analysis of the first half.

Anyway, on 60 minutes and with neither side really dominating Martinez had a decision to make. He withdrew Barkley, who apart from that one decent shot had a bit of an off-key performance, and sent on someone to win the game. With Aroune Kone missing due to injury – the physios have diagnosed a ‘broken spirit’ – the Everton boss chose to ignore Nikica Jelavic, Steven Naismith and the dribble and shrug bag of tricks that is Gerard Deulofeu. Instead he introduced little old Neon Leon Osman. Bless him.

And eight minutes later the veteran schemer gathered a pass from Leighton Baines out on the left and cut out three Villa defenders with a square ball to Lukaku arriving on the edge of the box. The Belgian swept his low shot just wide of Guzan’s outstretched glove and into the bottom corner, prompting unbridled tumult amongst Europe’s biggest collection of navy coats and grey sweatshirts.

The best celebration though was reserved for Martinez who merely raised one fist, cool as you like, as if to say, ‘That’s exactly what we showed Osman to do on the iPad as he got ready to come on’.

Agbonlahor, who usually plays well against us, wasted a decent chance to equalise when he fired straight at Howard and the Villans were duly punished again on 81 minutes. A short corner routine – these have definitely improved under the new regime – was worked to Gareth Barry who cut the ball back to Osman on the edge of the penalty area and he tenderly side-footed the ball home with his left peg for a goal that was similar to both Lukaku’s and Kevin Mirallas’s last week against the Hull City Tigers.

Once all the weekend’s matches were played this win left us up in sixth place, but there’s really very little dividing the teams at the top. Considering this was meant to be a season of transition it continues to look almost effortless for Martinez. Obviously it’s still early but the great thing is that this is undoubtedly his side now and the good start, and to a degree the ongoing tribulations at Old Trafford, mean that we seem past the point where he will be judged against his predecessor. Even when we eventually do have a shocker of a performance and a result he has already earned enough trust from the supporters to get through it without calling everything about his managerial style into question.

That said, the one area he does need to work on is his interview technique. On Match of the Day he started speaking and just kept going until he got to a point where he had to sort of tail off because he had clearly forgotten what the original question was.

Let’s just hope that after we play Tottenham next week he’s rambling on delighted about the focus and the dedication of the group and all that, because that looks like a tough game and no mistake. Should be a cracker.

Incidentally, have you ever done any of the following?

Waved your arms about to try and put a penalty taker off?

Wolf-whistled the announcement of the attendance?

Sang ‘Your support is fucking shit’?

Kept hold of the ball when it’s gone out for the opposition’s throw?

Took your shirt off at the game?

No, thought not, we’re still to meet anyone who admits to any of them.

Aston Villa Preview

Everton V Aston Villa-1285281

‘Yeah, so they have offered me a new contract, which is fantastic. I’m going to go in and sign it on Monday. You’re stripes.’

‘Woah, steady on son. Are you sure?’

‘Definitely, even more money for doing the same job, why wouldn’t I?’

‘I think you are being hasty there, to be honest. Two shots.’

‘Seriously? Is it two shots carry or the old rules? Right, thought so. Anyway, it’s just more dough and the guarantee of an even bigger pay-off if it all finally goes tits up. A no-brainer, surely?’

‘Well, that’s one way of looking at it.’

‘And what’s the other?’

‘I just think you need to keep your options open. Unlucky.’

‘We’re talking about thousands of pounds a week here though, you know.’

‘I know, I know. From the D, not anywhere behind the line, we’re not savages. None of that only play down the table bollocks though. It’s just I think there will be a bigger club in for you this summer.’

‘Do you?’

‘I do, yeah. Get in!’

‘Nice, nice shot. Who do you reckon then?’

Hang on, we’ve not really set this up properly have we, it’s David Moyes and Alex Ferguson and they are playing a game of pool round at Ferguson’s house here. Sorry about that, it’s sort of ruined now, but we’re in this far so we might as well plough on with the whole conceit otherwise we’re just going to be all ‘Christian Benteke is likely to start after injury’ and you’ll be all ‘well, what about the danger posed by the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor on the break?’ and we’ll be well, yeah, and then we’ll be sort of ‘ooh, remember that game the other year when we scored them goals and everything’ and then it will be all ‘both teams will see this as a decent test of their credentials’ and that. Maybe a prediction of the score – these are always, by law, 2-1.

So anyway, back to this game of pool. Hang on, this was a while ago as well, when Moyes was still Everton manager, but you probably got that didn’t you. Anyway, crack on, do the wobbly Scooby Do / Wayne’s World thing and return to the story. Well, we say story, it’s not really going anywhere to be honest. There’s no real narrative arc and there is certainly no climax or punchline.

We’re just warning you now.

So, like we said, this game of pool. To be honest, it didn’t have to be a game of pool, it could have been any activity really – in old stage plays set in one room they used to have people getting up and making drinks all the time, just to provide some physical action to accompany the dialogue. But for the sake of this it is a game of pool.

We could have Moyes potting most of his balls early doors and then trying endlessly to roll up behind the black instead of finishing the game off, and Ferguson storming back and winning in the end because he is naturally the more daring and aggressive man. But that would be trite and a little bit obvious. This thing’s going to rumble on and be shite in a different manner to that altogether.

So, they’re playing pool and everything. And like we said, it doesn’t have to be pool, but it is pool, so just imagine they’re playing pool. He’d have them pictures on the wall Ferguson wouldn’t he, of the dogs all hustling at pool and playing poker. And probably a photo of him and Stephen Hendry both cueing up and grinning at the camera, because he’s met every bleeder hasn’t he, especially if they’re Scottish. Anyway, him and Moyes are playing pool. In Ferguson’s house. Around about the beginning of this year. Ferguson’s just told Moyes that he thinks he shouldn’t sign a new deal with Everton. But you’ve read all that already. Anyway, here we go.

The overwhelming temptation is do one final little infuriating diversion here but the whole thing is really wearing thin, so we won’t.

Although that’s kind of the joke, it wearing thin, and then doing it anyway.

So, this game of pool.

‘Oh go on Alex, who do you reckon?’

‘I couldn’t possibly comment, but just let’s say that a little bird has told me that you stand a very good chance of getting one of the top jobs in the game. That’s all I’m saying.’

We’re going to dispense with all the pool shot comments now, so just imagine they are playing pool while they are talking from here on in.

‘Oh come on! You can’t do that, tell me I’m in line for a top job but not which one it is! I’d rather you not tell me at all than do that.’

‘I know, I know. Let’s just say it’s one that wouldn’t require you to move house and just leave it at that.’

Right, now, the temptation here is to make out that he thinks it’s City, just to hammer home the point that the idea of this conversation that the two are meant to have had according to Ferguson’s book, where he told Moyes to hang fire without explicitly offering him the United job, is slightly ludicrous. But that just feels a bit pantomime. So instead we ask you now to pretend that Ferguson has, using his ‘mind games’, brought the conversation around to a point whereby he wants to know what Moyes would do if he got one of the top jobs, like United for instance, just hypothetically speaking. Seriously, we’ve saved everyone a lot of pain by just moving it on like that.

‘Oh well, obviously I’d need the Think Tank with me.’

‘The Think Tank?’

‘Yeah, the Brains Trust. Roundy, Neville and Chris Woods. I’m nothing without those guys. What do they say, behind every great manager there’s a James Milner-looking little fella who looks like his aunty cuts his hair! But seriously, if I wanted to break that glass ceiling and push on and compete with the best in Europe I’d need the three amigos.’

‘Even Woods?’

‘Oh yes, definitely.’

‘How’s that weird inner-ear balance thing that disrupted his playing career?’

‘He’s more or less over it completely. He says the headset helps.’

Honestly, bail here if you like, no one will think any less of you.

‘Interesting. And what about players? What sort do you think that, er, I will need to strengthen my squad next season?’

‘That’s easy Alex. A top, top chester of the ball, you’re crying out for one. If you see one on the market you should break the bank, even if it means getting in a bidding war with just yourself.’

It would help if we could somehow get them discussing other managers here, but again it would be a bit laborious so we will just cut straight to the point we want to make, and that’s how hot and tired Villa boss Paul Lambert looks. He’s almost as sweaty as Roberto Martinez, his shirts are always a bit rumpled and his glasses make the bridge of his nose look dead sore and in need of a rub. It’s a look that says ‘Mersey Rail ticket inspector who, in between stops, still briefly daydreams about becoming an architect and designing award-winning suspension bridges and cathedral-like airport terminals’.

And at this point the game ends in acrimony as Moyes pots the black but fails to name his pocket.

‘My house, my rules.’

You were warned.

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…’