Everton 4 Queens Park Rangers 0

jelavic_penalty_miss

Previously, on This Is Not Football…

Right, so after we got beat by Sunderland we had a hard game against Southampton, especially with a couple of big players suspended, but an absolute screamer from Seamus Coleman settled us down early on but then in the second half they equalised when Joel Robles looked like he was being attacked by a swarm of bees as Gaston Ramires’s shot flew through him and into the net. However, while Mark Clattenburg was upsetting and confusing flavour-of-the-month-ill-judged-move-to-Spurs-if-he’s-lucky Adam Lallana by constantly calling him ‘shit hair’, James McCarthy cleverly set up Romelu Lukaku for a winner that was taken more confidently than you would expect from someone who recently has looked dead set on a mission to prove why we wasn’t first always choice for West Brom, never mind Chelsea. Stoke City was next and it wasn’t a classic but there was a stirring climax as Leon Osman’s clever play provoked a wild challenge from Jermaine Pennant in injury time and Leighton Baines did what he does, sweeping home the penalty. Mark Hughes’s post match observation that amounted to ‘they twatted us at Goodison the other week so we’re not complaining’ summed up the high regard this Everton team are held in by the rest of the Premier League.

And then Antonin Alcaraz emerged from the showers and it was all a dream…

That pretty much brings us up to date with the story over the New Year so let’s fade in now to Goodison Park for the FA Cup third round between the Blues and QPR’s selection of well-paid water-treaders and baggage carriers.

‘Jesus, their bench looks strong….if this was 2010.’

Under Roberto Martinez we no longer suffer injuries, we uncover opportunities for other players to get first team experience, and while we all like to snicker affectionately at the eternal sunshine of the Spaniard’s mind, in the past six or weeks or so circumstance has in fact exposed Evertonians to the dervish delights of  Bryan Oviedo’s wing-back wizardry and now the quite exquisite central defensive pairing of Alacaraz and John Stones who were an absolute pleasure to watch as they cruised through this frighteningly one-sided affair.

On the rare occasion that Everton over-confidence allowed a break from the away team the danger was inevitably snuffed out by Alcaraz stepping forward like your fat uncle, holding a can of Fosters, intervening in a match at a family barbecue and chipping your service station fly-away off your toes and into the safety of the utility room. And then farting dead loud.

He looks ace, and with his hunched shoulders and smouldering South American looks he has earned the nickname (right here, now) of ‘the Straq at the back’. Or the ‘back Straq’ for short.

That’s right, and when he pairs up with our ginger midfield dynamo for a game of head tennis they call themselves ‘the back Straq and Mac’.

To be honest, none of that happened.

He is dead cool though. Considering he and Gareth Barry retired two years ago it is an unalloyed joy to watch them make much younger, fitter men look so out of their depth with such regularity.

As for Alcaraz’s rooky sidekick, Stones, well, despite all the goals and long stretches of immaculate Everton football the highlight of the match was his telescopic-legged tackle on Matt Phillips that left the one-time Everton target flat on his face while the whip-thin young defender strode forward like Paolo Maldini with a look on his face that said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what the Stones is all about, bitches, you better get used to it’.

Bear in mind as well that these two are replacing Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka, arguably the best central defensive duo in Britain this season.

It’s just a bit mad at the moment, as we seem to be rhapsodising, eulogising and something else that ends in ‘ising’ about a different player every fortnight. First it was Lukaku, then Gerard Deulofeu, then Ross Barkley, James McCarthy, and now, even better than the two centre-halves, we have Coleman absolutely murdering teams week in, week out. From right-back.

As for the goals and what have you, the first came on 35 minutes. Speedo-sporting poolside muscle oiler Julio Cesar had a decent game but a change of pace from Oviedo and Barkley opened the visitors’ defence up, the England midfielder shifted the ball just inside the box and then beat the Brazilian keeper with a low curler into the bottom corner of the Park End net.

On 44 minutes, and more or less sealing the result, pressure from Barry allowed Nikica Jelavic to nick the ball from Karl Henry, steady himself and absolutely ram a shot home from 20 yards or so. Cesar barely even saw it.

The Croatian is linked with a move from Goodison, with Loftus Road a possible destination, and the goal certainly gave him a lift. On 68 minutes he scored again, this time from close range, converting a brilliant near-post cross from Oviedo.

Jelavic should have kept the match ball but after Oviedo was fouled and the Gwladys Street lit up with camera phones looking to mark what might be the popular striker’s last appearance in royal blue, the absolute plum chipped the penalty onto the crossbar.

It was about the only highlight of the afternoon for the bedraggled QPR support but before they could sit down from their ‘calm down’ gestures, and while the apparently insulted Cesar was still unbunching his drawers, Barkley powered through the centre, fed the ball into the path of Coleman on the edge of the area and he effortlessly unleashed what one observer labelled a ‘power side-foot’ across the keeper and high into the far corner.

Jelavic then had an effort cleared off the line, so never got to redeem himself for the wank penalty. Which was hilarious, quite frankly.

The FA Cup then, as it should be, a joyous break from the po-faced ‘pressure’ of the Premier League.

We like it.

We like it a lot.

Everton 0 Wigan Athletic 3

martinez_moyes

Right then.

The ‘narrative’ of this season has generally been all about Everton playing well but not killing teams off and paying the consequences with monotonous regularity. This FA Cup quarter-final certainly represented a deviation from the usual script then.

This was just old-school, common or garden shite.

With Darron Gibson dropped to the bench – presumably to try and rest him given the injury he’s carrying – Phil Neville started in central midfield and that fact more or less sums up what went wrong. His contribution at full-back is dubious, but in the middle of the park he is absolutely crap. He certainly wouldn’t get in Wigan’s team for a start.

Half an hour in, and only a minute after Maynor Figueroa had opened the scoring with a header from a corner, Neville displayed his trademark lack of awareness, telegraphed his responsibility-shifting square ball across midfield and allowed Callum McManaman to break free and comfortably slot past Jan Mucha.

Shaun Maloney had already struck a post before all this, so no one could say it hadn’t been coming. Everton’s lack of drive and half-hearted attempts at putting pressure on their opponents just begged the visitors to start knocking the ball around, which they did well.

With the home supporters shell-shocked and Steven Pienaar trying to urge his teammates to calm down and try and get hold of the ball, Wigan killed the game off with a third goal, only three and a half minutes after scoring the first. Jordi Gomez swept home a shot from the edge of the box and Everton’s season was more or less ended. Seriously, what remains now apart from getting twatted at Anfield?

The atmosphere was understandably poisonous for the remainder of the game. The fightback never looked on and the second half saw the unedifying spectacle of Marouane Fellaini having a go at the crowd before storming off down the tunnel after he was substituted. He’s been coasting since January and it came to a head as he continued to swan about while we were getting bladdered by a side that has a very realistic chance of getting relegated this season.

Nothing was more of a certainty than Wigan drawing Millwall or Blackburn Rovers in the semi-final, just to add insult to injury, and we also have the prospect of a home game against Manchester City next Saturday. Great.

The remainder of the season is going to be tortuous now, with the crowd utterly pre-menstrual and the players and manager getting loads of grief  – ‘the full Anichebe’ as it’s known in the trade – over every mishap, no matter how minor. After that on Saturday though, can you blame people for getting annoyed?

The idea was that David Moyes was going to sign off with a trophy, or a day out to Wembley at the very least, but instead his last season in charge will be remembered as one of bitter disappointment.

Some people would argue that’s quite fitting.

Norwich and Oldham and Reading and Moyes and That

David Moyes

After the Norwich City game a massive case of ‘better fucking things to do’ kicked in, hence no update for a bit.

There’s only so many ways you can describe Everton playing nice enough football but lacking the ‘firepower’ to reduce their opponents to sulky booking-magnets for the closing stages of the match. Try we must though, because at Carrow Road they led at half time thanks to a neat Leon Osman header from a Leighton Baines cross, but we only got the customary ‘good hour’ from the Blues who crumbled worse than David Price putting on a big hat as soon as the opposition played their joker.

The week before it was Oldham throwing Robert Pershing Wadlow into the mix that set Evertonian arses quivering like a bunny rabbit’s nostril; for Norwich it was the introduction of a fella on loan from Kansas City who actually does look like a cowardly lion. The five minutes when he scored the equaliser from a corner and then the news came through that Arsenal had retaken the lead against Aston Villa felt like the critical kick in this season’s bollocks.

To top matters off, pumpkin-headed goal-getter Grant Holt stabbed home a winner so deep into injury time that there were creatures lurking in the goalmouth that have never seen the sun. That’s deep.

David Moyes came in for criticism afterwards – for bleating about the amount of added time and petulantly refusing to shake the referee’s hand – but most of all because of a late substitution that pretty much summed up what most people, not just his harshest critics, see as his biggest failing: his lack of daring at crucial moments.

With Norwich forced to push on and take risks, and Everton dropping back towards their own goal, Nikica Jelavic became isolated up front. The pacey, direct Kevin Mirallas was on the bench, but instead of coming on to run at the home defence and lend support to the striker, he simply replaced him. An isolated centre-forward swapped for an out-of-position, and still isolated, winger.

Almost everyone else would have taken off Steven Naismith instead. He’s not having a great time, although people do sometimes wonder what sort of player he is and what his best role is.

To answer those two questions briefly:

a) Imagine if you took the tenacity and aggression of Phil Neville and the touch and vision of Leon Osman. Got it? Well, with what you’ve got left over…

b) A cone.

He clearly does his best, and he’s scored more derby goals than any of us ever will, but when you consider Jermaine Beckford and even Denis Straqularsi were jibbed off after one season in royal blue, you have to think his card might be well and truly marked.

The gloom after the Norwich game was almost overwhelming – it was hard to believe that this is the same squad of players that not so long ago people saw as genuine, strong contenders for a Champions’ League spot. There is any number of theories concerning why the Blues have fallen out of contention for fourth place, and may even struggle to finish above Liverpool, and they range from tiredeness, a lack of impetus after the transfer window, Moyes’s contract shenanigans and, as discussed already, the manager’s lack of adventure, especially when in a winning position.

All those factors may play a part to a lesser or greater degree, but a phrase that keeps springing to mind is one used a while ago by worthy but really-quite-joyless football writer Jonathan Wilson, and that is ‘regression to the mean’. In short, you might have a good start, a good finish, or you might just be ‘inconsistent’ throughout the season, but over time you will average out just about where your quality dictates. When you think about it, we accept that the best side finishes top of the league and the worst ends up at the bottom, so it’s probably fair to expect the seventh best will, well…you get the gist.

Arsenal always perk up towards the end of the season and are good at smashing the granny out of sides who have given up while Tottenham without the freakishly effective Gareth Bale are at least as good as Everton. And as for Liverpool, well, we shall see.

The Oldham game was thankfully straightforward, despite a scare when Jose Baxter struck a post moments after Mirallas had put Everton in front with the sort of instinctive finish that Jelavic must remember so vividly while lying awake at night staring at the ceiling. A Baines penalty and a glancing header from Osman meant that even when Smith eventually trundled on and scored from another one of the visitors’ tremendous corners there was never any real chance of another fightback.

That lifted the mood a bit, but there seems to be a real reluctance to get too carried away – we’ve all been here too many times before and no one is under any illusions about how awkward Wigan could be in the quarter-final.

If this is the end of the Moyes era at Everton then it would be amazing if the players could rediscover their early-season form and send him off with a flourish. He has his flaws but to see his reign being described as almost 10 years wasted, as some recent articles seem to be suggesting, is hugely unfair.

If he doesn’t sign a new deal in the summer he will leave behind a club with a squad of internationals and a professionally run playing side that is a million miles from the disaster zone that he inherited from Walter Smith. It used to hurt to hear the Everton job described as a poisoned chalice, and it’s only Moyes’s efforts, in often very difficult circumstances, that have stopped the role being viewed in such a light.

It’s inevitable that every mishap between now and the end of the season will be seen through the prism of his non-committal to a new contract, and he has brought that on himself. That said though, he could argue that it would be more destabilising for him to announce a decision to quit with so much of the season remaining. You can guarantee he would be accused of it if he did.

In the unlikely event that he does extend his stay there will always be the suspicion that he is only at Goodison because of a lack of alternatives, which raises the question whether he might go even if there is no dream job available straight away in the summer. Could he ‘do a Rafa’ and have some time off and simply wait for another decent job to pop up? One thing’s for certain, one will, and sooner rather than later.

Despite a degree of revisionism and a marked willingness by some to take certain statistics out of any meaningful context, the 10 years under Moyes have, on the whole, been far more rewarding than the 10 that preceded them. Hopefully they won’t be soured by what could be the final couple of months.

The title mentions Reading but this piece has gone on long enough, quite frankly. So fuck ‘em.

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?