Everton 4 Fulham 1

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As ‘wake up calls’ go, a 4-1 win that takes you up into fourth place is far from the worst sort.

Despite Roberto Martinez’s warnings about taking Fulham lightly though, Everton did struggle through the middle of this match before eventually blowing the visitors away during the last 20 minutes.

The Blues have set sky high standards for themselves, especially in the past couple of weeks, and so it was inevitable they were going to experience a dip at some point. The players definitely looked guilty of thinking that they only had to turn up to win, and in fairness history has shown that’s usually the case, and the ‘nice arrogance’ that Martinez highlighted among the club’s young players strayed into complacency as Fulham, resplendent in their Phil Stamp era Middlesbrough kit, weren’t always pressured in the way we have come to expect.

Not that the slow pace seemed to be so much of an issue when, after a flat opening, Everton scored a belter. Leon Osman, starting in place of the suspended James McCarthy, took a neat pass from Steven Pienaar, side-stepped two defenders and stroked home a left-foot curler from the edge of the box.

It was the quite frankly cool-as-fuck Everton-through-and-through midfielder marking 300 Premier League appearances with the definitive Leon Osman goal.

Him and Pienaar are great – we talked about McCarthy learning from Gareth Barry but the rest of the young Everton attackers should really study how these two play the game. Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu all have distinct physical advantages over the two little veterans but hopefully with experience they will develop the same sort of intelligence, timing and commitment to getting the basics right as those two have. Unless they leave Everton of course, in which case they can carry on overdoing the flash stuff and the lazy passing as long as they want.

Lukaku should have been ragging the back out of the Philipe Senderos – given that the Swiss centre-half is all kinds of last – but the Belgian actually spent the afternoon looking slightly frustrated, doing his woolly jazz hand thing and calling for through-balls that were never going to come. Still, he almost scored an odd goal when a corner hit him in the stomach and nearly beat Maarten Stekelenburg at the near post.

Osman then ‘flashed’ a dipping volley just wide after Barkley’s initial shot was blocked at the end of a good move.

Everton were certainly the better side during the first half, and Fulham barely troubled Tim Howard, but there was just an uneasy feeling during the interval because they had shown that they were at least competitive while the Blues’ play lacked the rhythm or, to use a good pundits’ word, ‘cohesion’, that has become their trademark.

Rene Meulensteen – who, by the way, is a ruddy great chap – seemed to feel that his new side were still capable of getting something out of the game, other than twatted, and sent them out to push up on Everton in the second half. That always represents a risk, as these Toffees are particularly adept on the counter-attack, but it initially paid dividends as Fulham started winning possession in dangerous areas and Everton struggled to really get going.

Then there were three horrible minutes in which it felt like the season was taking a sinister detour from the path of sunshine and lollipops it had been cruising merrily along.

First, on 64 minutes, Deulofeu went down holding his leg. There was a whole pantomime as the stretcher bearers stopped for a smoke halfway across the pitch, but eventually the young Spaniard was carried off and afterwards Martinez spoke about him ‘preparing himself for the final third of the season’. That’s a blow – he wasn’t enjoying his best game here, despite starting ahead of Kevin Mirallas, but he’s a brilliant option to bring off the bench, as demonstrated emphatically at Arsenal last weekend.

With Deulofeu possibly out for months a move for Aiden McGeady in January looks even more likely. Now, the mere mention of the ex-Celtic winger usually draws groans but Martinez appears to know his stuff and the internet has been wrong about enough players already that you have to think that it’s probably wise to hang fire and give any new signing the benefit of the doubt. Unless he doesn’t sign for us like, in which case he is just a wartime urchin-looking headless chicken.

It’s that simple.

Anyway, with Deulofeu barely down the tunnel Fulham equalised.

A rank touch by Lukaku on the halfway line allowed them to break and Barry’s attempt to poke the ball away from between Alexander Kaciniklic’s legs saw the Swede tumble and, after a long pause, the referee stunned everyone by pointing to the spot. It looked like an outrageous decision at the time but after seeing it on Match of the Day it probably comes under ‘seen them given’. That said, it’s easy to be philosophical when you end up scoring a load of goals and making the penalty irrelevant.

Dimitar Berbatov missing it was not an option.

‘Here we fucking go’.

Except we never.

Went, that is.

It really could have turned ugly after the equaliser – we’ve seen it plenty of times before – but instead of freezing this confident Everton rallied, put together the best move of the game and retook the lead after only six minutes.

Pienaar dummied Bryan Oviedo’s pass and made a run into the box, Lukaku did brilliantly to hold off the defender and push the ball into the South African’s path and in what is almost a signature move now, his low cross appeared to evade everyone only for the fullback, in this case the superb Seamus Coleman, to arrive late at the far post and clip the ball home.

There was a degree of relief then, but with around 20 minutes of the game remaining and Fulham still looking competent the potential remained for another demoralising equaliser. Goodison remained edgy then until the 84th minute when Barry nodded home from on the goalline after Sylvain Distin and then Lukaku headed Mirallas’s corner goalwards.

In injury time Osman picked out Mirallas’s run, he cut inside and his rather selfish shot should have been pretty comfortable for Stekelenburg but, well, it wasn’t, and ended up in the back of the Gwladys Street net.

To reiterate then, 4-1. Without playing anything like your best. Against a team whose attitude was typified by the excellent Steve Sidwell.

It’s not to be sniffed at.

Bring me sunshine indeed.

Fulham Preview

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Let’s do it for Martin Jol.

You have to feel for the big Dutchman don’t you, when you think of him on that crisp, fateful morning, turning into the training ground and slamming on the brakes when he sees that the club’s directors cars are already there and Rene Muelensteen is parked in his space.

That great head slumps forward onto the steering wheel and Jol emits a low, doleful sigh, much like the death rattle of the punctured Narwhal he so resembles.

Because he knows.

He’s always known.

All that remains is for the hollow click-clack-click of his Ford C-Max’s indicator to beat a lonely tattoo, marking time on the last dying moments of Maarten Cornelis Jol’s proud reign at Fulham FC.

Also, briefly, while we are discussing the end of an era, you probably already know that the Liverpool Daily Post will cease to be next week. Everyone will have their own opinions on the Post, Trinity Mirror and how they have chosen to face the challenges of the digital age, but personally the paper simply means a lot because I wrote Everton stuff for them for years and will always be grateful to the sports editors, Len Capeling and Richard Williamson, for giving me the opportunity to do something that made an Everton-mad family very proud.

It also taught me a great deal about the nuts and bolts of ‘journalism’, such as how to talk about the same dull match four times in a week, and how busy sub-editors care not for your ‘art’, so if you are going to write a piece that builds up to a belting punchline in the final paragraph make sure you do not exceed your word limit even slightly because without a shadow of a doubt that’s the fucker that is getting lopped off.

Right, enough of that. Personal stuff, eeugh!

See that Bears game last night?

Looking forward to Saturday’s game, Meulensteen, a Dutchman who couldn’t look any more Mancunian if he worked in a unit under a railway arch and drank in the Monkey, brings a club that have never won at Goodison but a side, let’s not forget, that knocked the Blues out of the League Cup. Their league form has picked up since he took over from his countryman Jol, and their biggest dangerman, Dimitar Berbatov, apparently looks vaguely arsed again. Not that it will last.

Everton, for their part, have improved since the cup game at Craven Cottage – bear in mind we battered them in the first half, with a much rotated line-up – and after a couple of massive results come into the weekend as heavy favourites.

Unfortunately the Toffees will be without the suspended James McCarthy though and that’s a big loss. Outside of the club, much of the attention has been on the eye-catching Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu and of course Ross Barkley, but week by week matchgoing Blues’ admiration of McCarthy steadily grows. He’s a cracker and always has been, and what’s more there is still so much room for improvement as he still defers to his teammates a little bit at times. As his confidence grows though he will take charge more and has what it takes to be the main man at Goodison for years to come. And what better teacher could he have than the man playing next to him, Gareth Barry?

Everton will certainly lack McCarthy’s drive and pace in midfield against Fulham – Leon Osman will presumably replace him, and he brings his own set of skills – but hopefully the Blues will simply have too much all round for the Cottagers, and indeed have too much of the ball, for that to impact the result.

On a broader note, much is being made in the press lately of Roberto Martinez’s use of the loan market, especially since Arsene Wenger complained that the present system is unfair. He has a point to a certain degree, that clubs should not be allowed to prevent their loaned out players from featuring against them, and Everton would love to have Barry in the side, for instance, when we play Manchester City. Romelu Lukaku not facing Chelsea is less of an issue as we’ve demonstrated already this season that we can beat them simply by replacing him with another top international striker, Steven Naismith.

The problem with Wenger’s gripe is that even if formal agreements not to play against the ‘parent’ club were banned, there would be no way to prevent informal arrangements to the same effect.

‘We would like you to ensure that our player is rested sufficiently while he playing for you. The second week in January looks good. If he isn’t then we would have to strongly question whether we can trust you with our assets in future’.

You could even go a step further and wonder how motivated a player would be when facing the club that holds his registration if he’s had a phone call the night before reminding him that clubs who have qualified for the Champions League tend to be far more generous than those who haven’t when it comes to renegotiating new contracts.

Would you put it past any of them?

That quibble aside though, the loan system is brilliant, especially when you exploit it as astutely as Everton have this season. Anything that spreads the better quality players out a bit further and therefore makes the league more competitive is surely to be encouraged.

As for doubts about amorphous, antiquated concepts such as ‘stability’ and ‘building’, are the critics really suggesting that  Everton would be better off without Lukaku and Deulofeu because they are only going to be playing in royal blue for one or two seasons? Would we be more stable if, for instance, we paid £10 million for Stewart Downing and gave him a four year contract?

Is ‘owning’ Andy Carroll better than lending Lukaku?

As long as the players are committed while they are on what essentially amounts to a one-year deal -and the evidence is there for all to see with the three Everton have at the moment – then the rest, quite frankly, is just admin.

Ultimately the loan system, when used correctly, minimises risk and maximises opportunity for the clubs and the players alike, and the only people who suddenly seem to have a problem with it are those who are envious and perhaps even a little bit scared of how well it is working for Everton. And when it comes to stuff that is unfair in modern football, well, doing well out of loan deals is right down near the bottom of a very long, financially doped list.

And that’s how Sue ‘Cs’ it.

Yeah, Glee references at the end of 2013, what are you going to do about it?

It could have been worse, we could have run with the whole Meulensteen as Macbeth thing we were looking at, the payoff being ‘Andy Burnham would!’

You will have to agree, it’s for the best that we never.

Fulham 2 Everton 1

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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?

Everton and Fulham and Sunderland and that

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To be honest, there’s not a lot to be said about the Sunderland defeat, but to not even give it a mention would give the impression that we only ‘report’ on games in which Everton don’t lose.

It was watched in some Australian bar on the Rembrandtsplein in Amsterdam through a fog of Amstel and the only abiding memory is of a big spray of what appeared to be blood up the middle of the screen and, even more horrifically, Leighton Baines’s mis-placed pass to Stephane Sessegnon. The Benin international – is there a better fact in the modern football than that? – hit a great low shot that Tim Howard got a hand on but couldn’t quite keep from the bottom corner of his goal.

And that was that. Everton never mustered a chance worthy of the name.

On to the Fulham game and, in the absence of Darron Gibson, David Moyes chose to play with both Victor Anichebe and Nikica Jelavic up front against more or less the softest opposition anyone could hope to face at this time of year. You couldn’t hand pick better bums than the Cottagers for Jelavic to try and rebuild his confidence against, but once again the Croatian who used to score in his sleep looked as frustrated as a one-armed midget trying to change a duvet cover. His whole demeanour screamed ‘What’s the fucking point – you know and I know that this is a waste of time’. And indeed it was.

It’s utterly bizarre to see a player who looked so accomplished so recently struggle to do even the basics, like standing up and running for instance. When he was replaced by Ross Barkley with 20 minutes remaining the whole ground just seemed relieved for him that the ordeal was over.

Still, Jelavic apart, Everton are better than Fulham and have moderately more to play for, and it showed from the outset. The winning goal, on 16 minutes, certainly came as no surprise to anyone. A lovely move that encapsulated the best of this present side saw Kevin Mirallas, Leon Osman and Seamus Coleman exchange quick-fire passes down the right before the Irish fullback cut the ball back for Steven Pienaar to neatly side-foot home.

They really have played some great stuff this season and you can only wonder how much closer to the Champions League places they might have finished with an in-form goalscorer. Someone to convert a decent portion of the chances that Baines alone creates would make the Europa League a formality for next season at the very least.

In the second half the England fullback fashioned an absolute sitter for Marouane Fellaini with a cross that cut out the whole Fulham defence and left Mark Scwharzer stranded in no-man’s land, but the wiggy-headed Walloon somehow kicked the ball into the ground and watched as it bounced over the bar.

Mirallas had a great juggle and shot palmed over by Schwarzer who then made a simpler stop when Barkley’s finish at the end of a strong run had too much of the Hollywood about it – a snidey toe-poke might have been more effective than the medium-paced top-corner curler.

There remained then the nagging risk of a seat-clattering afternoon-spoiler from Fulham. Urby ‘Ancock’ Emmanuelson sliced an effort just wide and the whole of Goodison looked on with a mix of dread and morbid fascination when Philipe Senderos, who despite working outdoors always has the pallor of an earthworm exposed under a paving slab, embarked on a run down the right and into the box that could only really be described as ‘slaloming’.

Luckily the Everton goal remained unsullied and the Blues go into the derby five points clear of Liverpool.

So then, in a rare request for audience participation, what’s your prediction for the run in?

Our team of top soccer statisticians predict a draw at Anfield that appears to put the ball firmly in our court but that will then be followed by an outrageously ‘Everton’ cock up and only one point at home to West Ham. Chelsea away will yield the stubbornly defended but inevitable defeat, especially if they still need points to qualify for the Champions League.

If it does pan out that way, given that Liverpool’s last match is at home to QPR their chance of pipping us on goal difference to the ‘best of the next of the rest who don’t even get into the Europa League’ trophy – otherwise billed as ‘local bragging rights’ – will hinge on them the winning at Craven Cottage. And judging on Fulham’s performance on Saturday, yadda, etc. and so forth.

Please note that This Is Not Football accepts no responsibility whatsoever for any or all of the arithmetic above being completely and utterly flawed.