Stevenage and the Derby and That

‘Don’t look down, lad. Don’t look down. I’ve got some good news for you and some bad news. The good news is that it’s not soft tissue damage…’

The tale of Everton’s trip to Stevenage should have been about how the Blues made a mockery of the banana-skin-seeking BT Sport cameras and put on one of those gulf-in-class-underlining performances that always seemed to be de rigeur for most of the Premier League apart from us. However, this professional and controlled display from Roberto Martinez’s Blues was overshadowed almost totally by a gruesome injury to Bryan Oviedo.

Playing in midfield and gamely tackling back, the versatile Costa Rican got his legs tangled up in the definitive ‘innocuous challenge’ – they’re often far worse than even the really ‘ocuous’ ones – and ended up on the deck. He tried to get up, his leg didn’t, and now he will miss the rest of the season and possibly the World Cup in Brazil.

Rotten luck and that ain’t no lie.

It’s a shame for anyone to suffer such a serious injury, but it seems particularly cruel on someone who has waited as long for their opportunity as cult hero Oviedo has. Now, footballing cult figures fit several archetypes, but they are mostly energetic yard-dogs, locally born hard cases, simple ale tanks or just good goalscorers who bite white people.  The smiling, Sapphic-haired Central American though has won over the Everton supporters for the way, when called upon after so long, he stepped up and seamlessly filled the boots of one of the club’s brightest stars, Leighton Baines.

Taking his sadly historic goal at Old Trafford smoother than a Kenco coffee bean then only cemented his place in the hearts and minds of Blues who all seem gutted for someone who appears to be a genuinely good egg too. He might not be, like, he might be a right little ratbag for all we know, but he always comes across as a fairly unassuming and pleasant sort – there are definitely plenty of players in the Premier League more deserving of having their leg kicked the fuck off. But we’ll probably get to some of them in the second bit.

Oviedo won’t feature for the rest of the season now, which is a genuine loss to Everton, but everyone hopes that he at least manages to get fit in time for the World Cup and comes back next season ready to carry on where he left off for the Toffees.

In better fullback news, the man whose metronome consistency kept the Latin livewire out of the first team for so long, the aforementioned Leighton Baines, has finally agreed a new four-year deal that should keep him at Goodison until he is 33. That’s the proverbial ‘coup’ because, as we never really tire of saying, Baines is just about the textbook definition of an Everton player.

‘Supports Liverpool and never won anything.’ Yes, very good at the back, very droll. If you have to have it explained then you will never really understand. He just is, possibly in the way that Steven Gerrard is more of less the definitive Liverpool player.

And you can take that however you please.

Everton did have far too much for Stevenage, despite the changes to the squad, with Steven Naismith leading the line well in the absence of the rested Romelu Lukaku. The Scot scored two goals, with the first teed up by the impressive full-debutant Aiden McGeady. Granted, it was only a Division One fullback the Irishman was skinning but considering he hasn’t played much first team football in the last six months he looked lively enough and full of running.

Substitutes Johnny Heitinga and Magaye Gueye – did you have him last goal as well? – rounded off the scoring and their mere inclusions underlined the sorry state the squad is in at present. And that’s a shame, because with our best team you genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if we went to Anfield and buried them like a pet, especially after watching their game against Aston Villa the other weekend.

With so many players missing though, you can’t have the same level of belief. A load are said to be borderline in terms of fitness, but even if they can patch up the likes of Ross Barkley and Steven Pienaar, will they be sharp enough to shine in what is a pretty tough ground for any side, never mind us?

Having said all that, despite the dent to our ambitions caused by all the injuries we still probably go with more belief than ever simply because of what’s gone before this season. The confidence that the players have and the style of football we employ under Martinez are what saw us completely outplay the Reds for long periods at Goodison, for instance, as well as also beating Chelsea there before winning away at Manchester United and then terrifying the life out of Arsenal at the Emirates when almost everyone still believed that they might actually win the title this season.

In short, nobody really has a clue of what to expect from this game. Anything seems possible under Martinez – you wouldn’t be at all surprised if some youngster like John Stones was forced to play and had an absolute stormer, while Lukaku, who must be due a decent game, could have Liverpool’s centre-halves looking over their shoulders more warily than Linda Nolan on Top of the Pops. On the other hand, their front two are clearly a genuine danger for anyone, with mantrap molars in particular proving particularly troublesome for even the sturdiest Blues’ defences since he’s been there. Therefore it’s certainly no great stretch to imagine him running riot against any makeshift back-line.

It’s undoubtedly an intriguing game then, because are so many new variables after years of these games having a fairly settled pattern, but whether it is ‘the biggest derby in years’ as it is being billed seems questionable. With so many points still to play for, and plenty of matches remaining against the division’s other top teams, nothing will be settled on Tuesday night, whatever the outcome.

So then, with all that to reflect on, and in something of a break from tradition, we leave the final words to none other than smoky-eyed shite-spieler Mr Brendan Rodgers.

‘When I came in here Everton had finished above Liverpool and last season finished above us also.

‘Everton’s basis is a good defensive record, still stable from what they have been over a few years – we are a team who have upped the ante in terms of our offensiveness.’

Manchester United 0 Everton 1

FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-EVERTON

Dave.

Dave!

DAVE!

Dave, come and have a look at this for us. No, a close look. That’s it.

grass

Does that grass look greener to you?

If that comes across as something of a cheap shot, well, it was meant to.

Like most Evertonians we set ourselves up for one almighty fall with our pre-game optimism, but finally the Blues went out and delivered exactly what they promised, winning at Old Trafford for the first time since Robert Warzycha juggled the ball over Gary Pallister and Maurice Johnston mugged Peter Schmeichel right off.

As expected, Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas returned to the starting line-up and the Belgian winger had the first decent effort of the game, a long range boomer that David De Gea punched over the bar. In truth though, United actually edged much of the first half.

They weren’t amazing by any means, but they exerted a bit more control than Everton and created more openings. Tim Howard smothered efforts by Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa before the former’s deflected shot struck the inside of the post before being hacked to safety. Ryan Giggs then got his head on a corner and watched as the ball faded across the goal and finished inches wide of the far post.

The Blues grew into the match though but at times looked like a side that relies quite heavily on its young players: Barkley, Romelu Lukaku and Seamus Coleman were all guilty of poor some decision-making and minty passing in the instances when United were dissected on the counter-attack.

Everton’s best moments of the half came when De Gea had to block a Lukaku shot with his knees and then looked beaten when Mirallas connected with Coleman’s low cross, only for Chris Smalling to make a desperate block.

A lifetime – for some people anyway – of seeing us turned over at the Theatre of Broken Dreams made you wonder whether the lack of experience and those missed chances would prove costly.

Evidently not though.

Because in the second half Everton were just sensational. For the first 20 minutes or so after the break especially, they looked like a good German or Spanish side playing the second leg of a Champions League tie as they did absolutely everything that we demanded of them in the match preview.

Let’s put it out there, under David Moyes we often frustrated the top sides by sitting deep and being ‘compact’, but this time we did it by just keeping the ball. As expected, when we did that they in turn became scared of giving it away – mindful that they wouldn’t see the thing again for a good while – and so became inhibited and, at times, looked an absolute shambles.

Match of the Day highlighted the lack of protection that was afforded the United defence, but failed to pinpoint the fact that Marouane Fellaini is, and always has been, a terrible defensive midfielder. Yes, it’s the position he prefers, but that doesn’t mean it’s his best, otherwise Moyes wouldn’t have preferred his half a million quid signing Darron Gibson in that role for Everton. Or Phil Neville.

Anyway, that’s their problem now. With the new look Toffees bang on their game, the sweet music of the United supporters’ whistling and Moyes’s ashen face as he was forced into a double substitution after an hour told their own rather marvellous story.

Indeed, on 70 minutes the home fans were apoplectic as Lukaku spun on the halfway line and played in substitute Gerard Deulofeu down the right wing. The little Spaniard needs little invitation to go for goal but, just like in the derby, he appeared to forget that he wasn’t facing the Bosnia under-20s keeper and ballsed his one-on-one up, shooting tamely at De Gea’s legs.

The introduction of Adnan Januzaj did liven the home side up a bit and Everton had to defend well during United’d best spell of the second half, one that saw Howard palm out Patrice Evra’s header from a corner before Danny Welbeck headed the rebound onto the bar.

After that brief burst though Everton reasserted control – Mirallas hit the post with a free-kick – and you got the feeling that even their furious fans suspected that the winning goal, scored on 86 minutes, was coming.

The Blues, away at United, less than five minutes away from ‘escaping’ with a point, were camped out on the edge of their box when the ball was fired into the feet of Lukaku who was revelling in his personal duel with Nemanja Vidic. The on-loan Chelsea striker spun and scuffed a shot right across goal and time seemed to slow down as the ball entered the unguarded space at the far post. As the wrong-footed United defenders spun, the flesh on their faces wobbling like beagles with their heads out of the car window and De Gea, his eyes wide with horror, emitted a low, distorted scream of ‘Noooooooooooo……’ the action returned to full speed and little Costa Rican Richie Cunningham, Bryan Oviedo, drilled his shot home.

He’s had to wait a while like, but Jesus Christ…

Anyway, blue smoke drifted across the pitch as Everton threatened to make the scoreline even more emphatic in the final minutes, with Lukaku and Deulofeu ending breaks with wildly ambitious shots, but it didn’t matter, United’s spirit was well and truly broken by then.

Dave.

Dave!

Dave!

Come and have a look at these for us.

apples

Everton 4 Stoke City 0

deulofeu_stoke

First of all, an apology. Last week, while musing on how Roberto Martinez would cope with the absence of Leighton Baines, we deduced that Bryan Oviedo’s absence from the derby squad meant that the Everton manager doesn’t rate him. In fact, the term ‘a bit shit’ was used.

Well, the Costa Rican started against Stoke City and was excellent. Granted, he wasn’t up against much, but he was full of running and supported the attack superbly, scoring one goal and creating another, to the extent that Baines wasn’t missed in the slightest. You really couldn’t ask for much more from an understudy getting his chance in the spotlight.

Similarly we hold our hands up to Gerard Deulofeu, who we might have labelled one of the few disappointments of the season so far in an interview with United We Stand. In his appearances before Saturday he always played with an air of ‘I know we lost 4-1, but my goal was a cracker wasn’t it’, but starting here in place of Kevin Mirallas he was, at times, absolutely electric.

Ok then while we’re at it, Martinez as well. Admit it though, you pulled your face a bit too when you heard Mirallas and Ross Barkley were being rested. It just had the feeling of something that could backfire spectacularly, but the Everton boss has the magic touch at the moment and this slightly ‘rotated’ side gave their most complete performance of the season.

Stoke, for their part, are clearly in a ‘transition period’. Mark Hughes is trying to get them to play more football, which is to be lauded as they were mostly a disgrace under Tony Pulis, but at the moment he is trying to do that with a squad of players that was assembled in order to intimidate, not entertain. As a result of that they seem caught between two stools.

Neither swish nor foul, if you like.

Everton, on the other hand, have loads of good footballers and with Steven Pienaar pulling the strings expertly they played the visitors off the park. Stoke never lacked for effort though, not while the game was goalless at least, and the game might have panned out differently had they achieved their initial aim of getting to half time level. However, Deulofeu, who had already seen Asmir Begovic make a smart save from a free-kick, capped off a dizzying move on 45 minutes, exchanging one-twos with Pienaar and then Gareth Barry before clipping the ball inside the near post.

Whatever Hughes said to his side during the break was rendered moot only four minutes after the restart when Deulofeu broke down the left and his low cross eventually came to the onrushing Seamus Coleman whose awkward volley sliced weirdly across the goal, leaving Begovic helpless as it spun into the far corner.

It was all over from that point. Stoke had come looking to frustrate Everton and take a point. They weren’t equipped to overturn a two-goal deficit but had to go through the motions and in the process simply exposed themselves to one of the best counter-attacking sides in the league.

Begovic saved from point-blank range following a, let’s just put it out there, ‘Messi-esque’ run from sly eyes Deulofeu, but was again left without a prayer on 58 minutes when Oviedo took the long way around Charlie Adam’s wide load and smashed a 20-yard shot home off the foot of the post.

Talking of old ginger-sidies, did anyone else think the extent of the lusty booing he got when substituted seemed well out of proportion to his whole Kopite career? Oh, and while we’re on the subject of that sort of thing, a quick message to Cardiff City supporters – not that there will be any reading this. What is with you absolute lickspittles, applauding Aaron Ramsey for stuffing two goals past you? Fair enough, some of you meekly argued that wearing red instead of blue is a price worth paying to be in the Premier League, but that doesn’t mean you have to abase yourselves at every opportunity, does it?

Those scenes were even worse than when the Portsmouth support famously dropped their knickers for Thierry Henry.

But back to Everton, who far from applauding the opposition, have no qualms about openly and freely criticising one of their own players – even one who looks likely to finish as their highest goalscorer since Gary Lineker. Loads of people after the game commented about how shite Romelu Lukaku played, but the big Belgian still managed to score, turning home Oviedo’s low cross on 79 minutes.

It was all the stuff we’ve mentioned before, about how flaky he looks with his back to goal and how he should be giving defenders a far tougher time. It might seem overly harsh given his goalscoring record but there will be games when we are up against it and we will need him to do the basics better and win some free-kicks. If he wants to reach his almost unlimited potential as well, and be as good or better than the player he supposedly wants to emulate, Didier Drogba, it’s that unglamorous, old-fashioned centre-forward stuff he needs to work on.

Before we get too dismissive of him though, we need to bear in mind what we’d be working with if Martinez hadn’t secured his loan at the eleventh hour of the transfer window, and substitute Nikica Jelavic served a reminder when played clean through in the dying minutes and shot apologetically straight at Begovic.

However, none of those asides should detract from a great afternoon. As one wise Park Ender remarked: ‘It’s great isn’t it, a couple of hours in the pub and then watch Everton batter someone. We don’t ask for much’.

And indeed there are few more life-affirming feelings than leaving the ground, bathing in the hazy orange glow of County Road and breathing in the coppery winter air following a proper school of science showing from those famous boys in blue.

We really don’t ask for much at all.