Fulham 2 Everton 1

bent_fulham

What did we say about this game, Roy?

You said don’t be a soft get and balls it up like the last fella and ruin our best chance of winning a trophy.

No we never Roy, you big fat bastard, we said these London cup games have a habit of bringing you down to earth.

At half time at Craven Cottage, with Everton deservedly leading 1-0 thanks to Steven Naismith’s smartly taken 12th minute effort, the match report was going to be all about strength in depth and how Roberto Martinez’s system allows players to seamlessly fit in with minimum disruption to the side. So you have to remember that when looking at the game overall.

The Blues’ boss made eight changes to the team that started against West Ham, bringing in Joel Robles, John Heitinga, Darron Gibson, Bryan Oviedo, John Stones, James McCarthy, Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu.

It was the Spanish teenager who was the star of the show for the opening half an hour at least, mesmerising John Arne Riise and creating openings for the other Everton forwards with his pace and trickery. Naismith, competing here with Philipe Senderos for the title of ‘player most likely to go off injured with rickets’, wasted a couple of those early chances before latching onto Deulofeu’s neat flick around Brede Hangeland and clinically beating David Stockdale with a low shot.

Everton were ace for the much of the remainder of the half but couldn’t score again, despite a Sylvain Distin header grazing the post.

Big Martin Jol, like an ancient talking tree, recently bemoaned the fact that his job doesn’t allow him to have straighteners with supporters who have the temerity to annoy him. You suspect, however, that he has more leeway when it comes to his players as they certainly appeared much more motivated after he’d spent 10 minutes with them in the changies at the break.

Before Everton could get warmed up again Fulham had already threatened Robles goal three times, and on 54 minutes a strong tackle on Lukaku in the centre circle allowed them to quickly break through the heart of the Everton defence where Adel Taraabt held off Stones before squaring for the increasingly influential Dimitar Berbatov to shoot low past Robles.

It had been coming.

Jol introduced Darren Bent on 65 minutes and there was an air of inevitability about his winner three minutes later. With his last touch of the game the tiring Gibson, a player born requiring a late fitness test, conceded a free kick midway in the Everton half. Giorgos Karagounis – you’d never guess he was from Greece, would you? – shaped as if to hoist the ball into the mixer but instead fed it low and wide to the feet of the unmarked Bent. The former Aston Villa misfit finished coolly with his left foot although Robles ‘will have been disappointed’ that the ball flew through his legs at the near post.

To Everton’s credit they put Fulham under plenty of pressure as they chased an equaliser but passed up a number of chances, not least when substitute Kevin Mirallas’s low cross eluded everyone in the six-yard box and presented Seamus Coleman with the lion’s share of an open goal. To be fair to the fullback he and the ball were travelling at some pace, but still he would have expected to guide it into the net rather than ankle his shot harmlessly back the way it came.

For all his inventiveness and undoubted natural skill, Deulofeu became increasingly infuriating as the game wore on. His decision-making seems to deteriorate markedly as he tires and he starts to do a painful American Werewolf In London transformation from Ryan Giggs into James McFadden. More than anything he needs to learn that the obvious option is often the best one: just because you can have another touch doesn’t always mean you should.

He’s clearly still learning and getting used to the pace of the English game, and indeed first team football of any kind, but you can certainly see why Martinez isn’t starting him in Premier League matches yet.

Or do you reckon that’s because he’s got a bit of a Kopite face?

Anyway, Everton did a lot of good things, especially in the first half, but all the changes and the lack of experience perhaps told in the championship rounds.

We’ve certainly gone out of this competition in far worse style before now, but that doesn’t really change the fact that we are out all the same.

Maybe next year, what do you reckon Roy?

Stevenage and Cardiff and That

deulofeu

As someone once famously said: the more something changes, the more it stays the same. It was probably Huey Lewis.

So, let’s get one thing straight, playing badly against lower league opposition has been a recurring theme for Everton for longer than any of us really care to remember. For the last decade or so though, the Blues have been a ‘pressure team’ who unashamedly thrived on forcing the opposition into making mistakes and there was a feeling that under David Moyes the players bought into that approach when playing against Premier League sides but found it hard to give the same respect to Brentford or Shrewsbury. Very often then, with a ‘rotated’ team, they would give performances in cup ties that fell into a strange no-man’s land where they never outpassed nor outfought their opponents, with grim results.

The difference on Wednesday night, against a Stevenage side presently struggling in League One, is that the new Everton comfortably replicated their league approach from the weekend but still found themselves minutes away from a penalty shoot-out when substitute Marouane Fellaini scored and removed a modicum of pressure from his manager. Because the idea of Roberto Martinez chewing and sweating Quadrant Park-style while finding the positives from a cup exit so early in his Everton career really doesn’t bear thinking about.

When Martinez arrived at Goodison the perception was that he would encourage a more fluent, attacking style that would result in a higher goals tally, almost certainly at the expense of conceding more. And after years of a more pragmatic approach the general consensus was that represented an acceptable trade-off.

After three games though – and let’s remember, it is only three – the worries are not about the defence, although we haven’t played anyone really good yet, but the manner in which the Blues go forward. On the whole it’s slow and staggered, allowing the opposition to easily drop back and occupy the valuable territory on the pitch while we construct these long, lazy letter Ws along the halfway line before looping a crossfield ball onto the chest of a winger who still has two men to beat. Thus far it is very much like the style employed by Swansea City at Goodison last season – one that attracted a certain amount of derision at the time.

That’s what has people a little bit concerned, and over the course of this season it appears that we are set to be debating the merits of this new ‘philosophy’ after every game, especially at home where all the emphasis is on Everton to ‘force the issue’.

That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?

For all the reservations, Everton certainly controlled the majority of the game, despite the number of regular first-teamers missing from the starting eleven, and if they had scored early on when Gerard Deulofeu was ragging the Stevenage left-back all over the place then the evening may have taken a far different shape. However, with Arouna Kone still looking distinctly peckish and doubts just beginning to creep in, the away side scored the classic League Cup giantkillers’ goal 10 minutes before half time.

A lost cause chased into the corner, the hopeful cutback, a massively miscued shot and the next minute someone – in this case Luke Freeman – finds himself unmarked in the box and lashing the ball into the roof of the net.

Gúlp!

Thankfully, a rare injection of pace into the Everton game saw Steven Naismith feed a through-ball to Deulofeu for the last kick of the half, and what a lovely boot it proved. The young Spaniard, who looks really similar in style to Kevin Mirallas, opened up his body – whatever that really means – and curled a delicious low effort around a knot of players and into the bottom corner of the Park End goal.

After the break Everton briefly looked like they had learned from their scare but after another little flurry of action they again got bogged down in their own passing drills. Mercifully Fellaini got lashed on in extra-time though and his sheer presence gave the Blues something tangible to work with up front. He had already been denied by one good low save when an unseemly succession of scuffs and mis-controls in the away team’s area eventually saw the ball carom drunkenly off Naismith’s shins for ‘the big Belgian’ to spare everyone the ignominy of penalties.

Other positives on the night were the performances of John Stones and Ross Barkley who were not quite as eye-catching as Deulofeu but still outshone many of their senior colleagues. Barkley’s ‘Mr Grimsdale!’ routine where he drops his shoulder about three times before shooting wildly can be a bit frustrating but is as much a product of the Blues’ inability to open up a packed defence as his own youthful over-enthusiasm.

Going back to Fellaini, the stories continue linking him with Manchester United, with some papers now suggesting that not only is his move something of a formality, but that Leighton Baines is trying to force his proposed transfer through as well. Martinez is clearly getting fed up with being constantly quizzed on the subject, describing the present transfer window as a circus. The fact remains though, if we are genuinely unwilling to sell then it’s not an issue.

We’ve stated previously that it’s at home where Martinez and his team will set the whole tone for the season, and let’s be honest it’s not been exactly a blazing opening so far. After dropping four points against Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion though it’s important that the Blues simply start picking up points and have to be looking at anything less than three at the Cardiff City Stadium as unacceptable.

The slightly wacky Welsh club – come on, just get on Vincent Tan’s chain-smoking-in-Sayers chic and that story about the fella driving up from Luton in his slippers walking around the away dressing room – played so well in their home game against Manchester City that they won the prestigious League Managers’ Association performance of the week award. Don’t scoff, according to the Cardiff website it’s decided by Howard Wilkinson, Joe Royle, Sir Alex Ferguson, Dave Basset and Barry Fry. You can only imagine that this group (the collective noun is in fact a bung of former managers) all get together at a Midlands hotel each week and chew the decision over for hours on end, like a boozier, more arl arse 12 Angry Men.

How else could it be decided?

Seriously though, we were all appalled at the thought of getting a manager like Malky Mackay when he was linked heavily with the Everton job, so we really shouldn’t have any fear about facing his newly promoted side containing the likes of Craig Bellamy, Frasier Campbell and Tommy fucking Smith. That weird Denis Stracqualarsi-looking fella in midfield can frig off as well – the one who seems to have got a transfer on the strength of a Youtube video where he concedes scores of fouls against Barcelona – If he’s allowed to look like some sort of hard case against us then it’s time to wrap up and go home.

Them’s just the facts.

Leeds United 2 Everton 1

Really? We are genuinely doing this dance again?

There really is nothing that quite compares to an ignominious, perfectly avoidable League Cup exit in terms of sucking all the positive atmosphere and happy thoughts out of Goodison Park. After fielding an almost full strength side against Leyton Orient in the previous round it appears that David Moyes had finally taken on board the seemingly endless harsh lessons of the past and realised that the benefits of keeping a settled side outweigh those of mass squad rotation.

That will show us.

Neil Warnock’s Leeds United are by no means a fearsome outfit by any stretch of the imagination, but they are still a side of experienced full-time professionals who were never going to be cowed at home by that ludicrous first eleven that Moyes picked. It’s like he plays squad selection Jenga for these cup ties, attempting to see how many fundamental pieces he can remove from the team and still keep it just about functioning.

No one would complain if he rested a couple of players and let their replacements get a feel for the first team. It would have made perfect sense, for instance, to slot Bryan Oviedo in at left-back, where he could get used to operating in tandem with Steven Pienaar and playing passes inside for Leon Osman, because that’s what he will be required to do if Leighton Baines ever gets injured. Instead, he made his first start in English football behind Magaye Gueye, doing whatever Magaye Gueye does, and looking infield to see Francisco Junior having a nervous breakdown. Cheers boss.

Similarly those young players, instead of coming into a fully functioning team and being able to stick to clear, simple responsibilities, surrounded by experienced players supporting them, were hung out to dry in a cobbled together eleven that was doomed from the first whistle.

Moyes can stand on the touchline with his pursed lips and Scanners death stare all he wants, he picked that team and even his justification about resting players – ahead of a home game against Southampton – is a ropy one. By handing Leeds the initiative in the first half, before Gueye and Francisco were replaced by Pienaar and Phil Neville, the Blues were drawn into a hectic battle in the second. Instead of cruising to a win as they surely would have if they had played anything like they did at Premier League Swansea, it ended up a madhouse where injuries and disciplinary offences became a big risk. And if the match had gone to extra time, as it might have if the referee had spotted a late foul on Victor Anichebe, how refreshed would the likes of Kevin Mirallas and Marouane Fellaini have been then?

The home side, for their part, did the basics well and thoroughly deserved their win. In only the fourth minute Steven Naismith, who was more subdued than one of Anne Frank’s farts, played a dreadful pass in midfield, allowing Leeds fullback Aidan White to storm forward, side-step Fellaini and Sylvain Distin and beat Jan Mucha easily with his left-footed shot.

Luciano Becchio had a chance to double the lead just before half-time but headed straight at Mucha. A side-foot wide from Anichebe was the best Everton offered before the break.

The substitutions livened Everton up a bit and Naismith, who on this evidence should go back to being a sinister Deep South gas station attendant, should have equalised when Anichebe’s cross found him unmarked at the far post. He headed it wide though.

Leeds then pretty much settled the game with a second goal on 69 minutes. Danny Pugh’s low drive following a set-piece took a couple of nicks in a crowded penalty area – the decisive one that took it into the bottom corner of the net was off the ankle of Rodolph Austin.

Distin looped a header home with ten minutes remaining but a succession of terrible decisions and even worse set-piece deliveries meant that the home side were never really put under the sort of pressure you would expect from a top Premier League team.

Moyes can say all he likes about wanting to win the game and, in turn, the competition, but his actions suggest quite the opposite. Like we’ve already found with the Europa League, when there is little financial reward for the clubs in winning a trophy then that is reflected in how they financially incentivise their staff. No one at Everton really cared that much about going out of the Capital One Cup. They don’t like the embarrassment they have to endure for a couple of days afterwards, but other than that it’s only a big deal to the fans.

Premier League points though, are a different matter.

If at Everton we are the People’s Club; one where there is almost supposed to be a new paradigm now, in terms of how the fans understand the club’s financial situation to a point and so are supportive come what may, then those in charge could perhaps consider returning that understanding. If the League Cup isn’t a priority then they should just be up front about it and say from the outset that they are going to play loads of youngster, like Arsenal do, or at least used to. Don’t string thousands of people along like they did at Elland Road as it just causes disappointment and disenchantment at a time when it should all be sunshine and fucking lollipops.

They never fucking learn, and neither do we.

Everton 5 Leyton Orient 0

It was raining goals at Goodison in the I Want My PPI Back Trophy, and nobody told poor old Leyton Orient to bring an umbrella. Oh yes, we actually just said that.

Before we go any further, there is the small point about the opposition being from English football’s third ‘tier’ – or ‘division’, even – and so any superlatives about the Blues’ performance must be viewed in that context. All true.

However, equally relevant is the fact that Everton and David Moyes’s record in this competition is littered with horrible defeats at the hands of sides from the lower leagues. Resting players and rotating the squad is almost always seen as the root cause of such upsets, and Orient manager Russell Slade – who sounds like a young comedian in an ironic t-shirt who does jokes about iPods and ‘sexting’ – might have been slightly encouraged by the absence of Nikica Jelavic, Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar from the Toffees starting line-up. Magaye Gueye and Victor Anichebe were given starts, as was new signing Kevin Mirallas.

All three got on the scoresheet but it was Belgian international Mirallas who took almost all the plaudits in a match that was over by half time.

Everton’s pace and decisiveness were apparent from the first whistle as the visitors struggled to keep up. In fairness to Orient, when they did get the ball they tried to play neat football through midfield, and never resorted to kicking the shite out of their opponents, but the gulf in terms of ability was massive.

Leon Osman will have fewer easier games in midfield, where he was aided considerably by the work of Steven Naismith who has a similar easy-on-the-eye style to the Everton stalwart. On 15 minutes Naismith played a precise through-ball down the inside right ‘channel’, perfect for the run of the already lively Mirallas. The moment that Orient keeper Jamie Jones, who is said to be in love with rock and roll, woah – you had to see that one coming – hesitated instead of coming out to clear he was as good as beaten.

There was no way Mirallas was going to miss as he calmly tucked a low shot into the far corner of the Park End goal.

Six minutes later it was 2-0. Mirallas attempted a backheel in the box, the ball actually struck his standing leg and wrong-footed the entire visitors’ defence, and Osman gleefully (probably) stabbed at a low effort that faded away from Jones and into the opposite corner of the net.

Everton were positively tumescent by this point, and it was no surprise at all when, on 28 minutes, Mirallas scored his second. A square pass to Anichebe looked his best option, as he tricked his way into the Londoners’ area, but a slightly selfish low shot embarrassed Jones and ended up in the satsuma bag.

Why does it always have to be onions? Free your mind, squares.

Jones was at fault again on 35 minutes when Anichebe accepted a pass from Mirallas just outside the box and watched his low shot squirm out from under the keeper and into the net. Despite the two errors by Jones though, the scoreline was far from flattering for Everton. Naismith in particular seemed to enjoy no luck whatsoever when he got a sight of goal – to the point where he actually looks a little bit over-anxious to ‘open his account’ for the Blues.

With the result all but guaranteed, Everton made three changes at the break, sending on Luke Garbutt, Ross Barkley and Shane Duffy. There’s always a great deal of interest in Barkley because of the reports coming from within the club about just what a talent he is. In this game though it was left-back Garbutt who was the most impressive of the young substitutes. He looked quick, competitive and comfortable on the ball, and his slightly stiff-looking run and unfussy manner were reminiscent of a young Gary Neville.

As previously stated though, it was only Leyton Orient, and we shouldn’t see Garbutt as direct cover for Leighton Baines just yet. Indeed, the Blues are apparently looking to bring in Costa Rican left-back Bryan Oviedo in from FC Copenhagen before the end of the transfer window.

Another who impressed on the night was Seamus Coleman who was deployed at right-back but had complete freedom to attack all night. In all three appearances he has made so far this season he has looked back to something approaching his best form following the tough, injury-blighted season he had last time out.

Perhaps some people have been a little bit hasty in writing him off already.

It was yet another strong run from the Irishman that produced the game’s final goal. He burst down the right, drew the Orient defence and then chipped a ball to the far post that invited Gueye to smash a volley into the roof of the net.

He accepted.

With Phil Neville withdrawn and Everton down to 10 men for the final 20 minutes of the match, Orient enjoyed a few sporadic attacks, culminating in Jan Mucha making a save in the 89th minute.

All in all though, it was exactly the sort of relaxed night’s entertainment that you hope for at this stage of the competition.