Everton 2 Norwich City 0

Barry_norwich

Welcome to Goodison Park.

Wipe your feet and leave the points at the door.

Chris Hughton’s Norwich were simply the latest in a long line of barbecue-coated Christians thrown to Roberto’s rampant lions in the County Road Coliseum.

And if that appears condescending towards the Canaries then it’s meant to. That’s right, every head-patting, dismissive comment goes out to the outraged denizens of that forum who were hoping to ‘stuff our words down our throats’.

Look, look, he’s talking about us!

In the unlikely event that Norwich had escaped without a routine hiding, by an Everton side that never even needed the explosive skills of the injured Ross Barkley, you could bet on the life of your seven foot sibling who you keep in the wood shed that they would have been giving it the proverbial large one in the comments here.

So, to quote Delia – oh yeah, he’s going to do it, he’s going to be THAT obvious – where are you? WHERE ARE YOU? Let’s be ‘aving you…

Not really, we’re not interested in your bumpkin banter in the slightest. Sorry to build your hopes up like that.

The game itself was kind of routine for the first 70 minutes or so. Everton firstly unveiled Aiden Bad Kecks on the pitch and then had most of the possession and did most of the attacking while the visitors sat back, tried to frustrate the Blues and hoped that they could snatch something on the break through the distinctly misfiring Ricky van Wolkswinkel or from the dangerous set-pieces of Robert Snodgrass.

Mcgeady_unveil

Romelu Lukaku missed a sitter when he bottled out of running into the post and glanced his header wide, but before you could say ‘we need to turn some of this possession into goals’ Gareth Barry collected a pass from the Belgian on 23 minutes, advanced unchallenged and then BA-DOOM!, let fly with a swerving shot that almost scorched the Park End net. If John Ruddy got anything on it he would have been left dancing around with his hands tucked in his armpits like someone who gets a bowl out the oven using a deceptively damp tea towel.

For all the great passing, positional interchanging and playing through, between, on, around and even despite the lines, Everton are thrashing home some old fashioned ‘FUCK OFF!’ blammers this season.

Rumour has it that it’s because David Moyes never allowed the players to shoot.

True story that.

On 59 minutes Leighton Baines, back in the side and reminding everyone just what a footballer he is, was fouled 10 yards outside the Norwich area. Just as someone was saying ‘Is there anyone apart from Wayne Rooney who takes more free-kicks and thinks he’s boss at them without scoring than Mirallas’ the scruff’s-dog-on-a-bit-of-rope-faced winger curled the ball inside Ruddy’s right-hand post to the delight of all the Evertonians but especially the lad in the hat sat behind Martinez who on Match of the Day appeared to be up completely losing his shit with furious delight before the ball even left Mirallas’s foot.

Talking of televised celebrations, you have to say ‘fair play’ to Kevin Nolan and Joe Cole for the way they went nuts when Mark Noble scored against Cardiff. They weren’t putting that on.

Back to Everton though. With 20 minutes to go Martinez withdrew Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman, replacing them with John Heitinga and Steven Naismith, switched to a three-man defence and then watched as the visitors began to pour forward.

It’s hard to know what exactly caused the change in the pattern of the game – was it Hughton introducing the tricky Nathan Redmond and his players simply taking more risks or was it down to Everton’s unfamiliar formation? There’s also the fact that the often understated and often underrated Osman and Pienaar are crucial in the way the Toffees keep the ball.

It’s as much about the passes that the pair of little schemers don’t play as the ones they do.

They are soccer jazz.

Whatever the reason, Norwich threatened the age-old Goodison ‘fingernail finale’ as Bradley bleedin’ Johnson became Lothar Mattheus and the Blues’ defence was put under more pressure than we are used to seeing at home. Tim Howard was not to be beaten though and the Blues eventually saw out the little spell of quite endearing Norwich pluck. There was even time for a quite marvelous display of tenacity and skill from Naismith as he out-fought and then skinned two hapless yellow-shirted stooges out on the touchline.

Points in the bag then, as well as the first new signing, and rumours that another big Belgian unit is in line to replace Nikica Jelavic when the Croatian is dragged kicking and screaming to Hull City.

‘Seriously, no one else? Just Hull? What sort of agent are you?’

One piece of good news for Jelavic is that he is no longer in line for the worst penalty of the season award. That’s now nailed on for Jason Puncheon thanks to his creation of rare beauty at White Hart Lane. Fancy achieving your dream of becoming a professional player and then being known only for one of the worst spot kicks ever taken and going for a Tom Tit halfway through a match.

Bravo sir, bravo.

Fulham Preview

the-godfather-kiss-of-death

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.

Manchester City Preview

Manuel Pellegrini

What are you meant to make of this lot?

Manchester City were once quintessentially British in their hangdog awfulness, the footballing equivalent of Hywel Bennet in Shelley, but now they are something almost alien. They have all this money from the Middle East and a big, antiseptic stadium and it should all be great but there is something distinctly hollow and out of place about the whole set up. This new City are a bit like that Ferrari that’s always on a plinth in the airport – it’s meant to symbolise the pinnacle of glamour and sexiness but despite clearly being worth a fortune it just looks a bit tinny close up and your eye is always drawn to the McFlurry carton that some scruff’s left under the wheel arch.

Their supporters, resplendent in their Voi jeans and lemon Crosshatch t-shirts, will probably disagree, arguing that everyone else is simply envious jealous of their newfound wealth, but the whole situation there just always looks slightly unsatisfying.

If being taken over by a sovereign state and having hundreds and hundreds of millions spent is what it takes to win the title, you have to start wondering whether the prize is actually worth it. What’s more, they only won it the once, and haven’t even had a sniff of the Champions League. Just how much cash is that going to require?

They certainly don’t look like winning it this season if Wednesday night’s game against the frankly incredible Bayern Munich was anything to go by. It might irk the purists but Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were something of a turn-off – like American football they were ace in the highlights package, for Lionel Messi’s goals essentially, but pretty tiresome to watch for an entire match. His new side though, oh boy, they are simply raw sex.

That said, City were a disgrace for most of the game in midweek. Until David Silva, James Milner and 1950s Coney Island street-gang leader Alvaro Negredo came on there was a distinct lack of genuine desire to close the Germans down and make life hard for them.

When Manuel Pellegrini got the City job he was asked to stop haunting the nightmares of children and stealing their souls and transform Roberto Mancini’s disjointed misfits into a proper side but he appears to have his work cut out because when the going gets tough a number of his well paid players don’t appear quite as arsed as they should. They look a bit like the England national team sometimes: a lot of superstars who are happy when things are going well but not so chuffed about chasing, sacrificing themselves and making selfless runs when they are up against anyone with a bit of fight in them.

Given time then, will Pellegrini’s unnerving ability to look like he’s chain-smoking without ever holding a cigarette prove much use in transforming the atmosphere and outlook at the Etihad? That’s the question that isn’t on everyone’s lips. But maybe it should be.

Despite all those reservations about the City squad, they do have a pretty formidable home record in the Premier League and the ability to make a lot of changes to their side for Everton’s visit. The three subs from the Bayern game must be strong contenders to start, particularly Negredo who scored a cracking consolation goal. The Spaniard looks a far greater threat than Edin Dzeko – the Bosnian does have the skills of a Brazilian, unfortunately for him though it’s that lolloping shitbag Jo, the striker who not so long ago disgraced the shirts of both of these esteemed football clubs.

Of course Everton only loaned Jo from City, just as they have borrowed the services of Gareth Barry who unfortunately won’t be eligible for Saturday. That’s certainly a shame as, just like Darron Gibson before him, there was all the usual internet grumbling when he was linked but he has been a roaring success so far. Everyone has waxed lyrical about all those great footballing sound-like-you-know-your-shit qualities he possesses like ‘positional awareness’ and the ‘ability to read the game’ but the most impressive thing about him is the way he fouls people. Dead authoritative, but with the minimum of fuss, almost like your Ma’s new fella coming home and saying ‘Right, you’ve all had your fun but that’s quite enough’ he stops opposition attacks just as they are on the cusp of that ‘ooh definite booking’ stage. He then gives the referee a look of ‘come on, we’re all men, you could see what had to be done there’.

Fuck it, let it be known, right here, that Gareth Barry is football’s Atticus Finch and Hatem Ben Arfa is a rabid dog scaring the kids, we’ve just decided, just now, halfway through that last sentence.

Anyway, we’ll miss him on Saturday is what we were trying to say.

But while we are on the subject of fouls, it was interesting to hear Mark Halsey (possibly, some ex-referee anyway) doing his bit of commentary on the Manchester derby the other week and saying that some illegal challenge or other had gone unpunished because the official was ‘taking into account the size of the occasion’. Now, everyone accepts that sort of passing comment without turning a hair, but when you think about it it’s a bit of a wild thing to say.

Can you imagine, for instance, Andy Murray being let off with twatting the net because, you know, it’s Wimbledon and there’s a lot of pressure on him? Or Len Ganley saying ‘Go ‘ead lad, just put it back in the D, I know what it’s like here at the Crucible’?

No, you couldn’t, is the answer you were reaching for there, the rules are meant to be the fucking rules. The size of the occasion! Fuck me a bus. Isn’t every home game at somewhere like Old Trafford a big…

Oh, hang on.

And on that frankly cheap and tawdry note, see you at the match report, bitches. Over and out.

Everton 1 Chelsea 0

naismithgoalchelsea

It’s weird to keep reading José Mourinho making out that Chelsea battered Everton on Saturday but simply failed to convert their chances.

Both sides were fairly cagey, passing the ball around sluggishly in the first half, but the much-fancied-for-the-title Londoners were hardly dominant. Let’s face it, we know all too well what it’s like for a top side to roll up at Goodison and look imperious – this lot were nothing of the sort. They seem to be discovering, the same as Tottenham, that buying loads of players is all well and good, but the impact all those purchases have is limited by the age-old stipulation that you can only ever field eleven of them at any given time. Where’s the justice?

So, with most expectant eyes on world superstar Samuel Eto’o, it was Everton debutant Gareth Barry who stepped straight into the Toffees’ first eleven, improving the side instantly and stealing the show. The on-loan Manchester City midfielder, ably assisted by Leon Osman, showed all his experience, shielding the back four decisively and using the ball sensibly. His standout moment came though when Tim Howard carelessly passed the ball out to Andreas Schurrle who in turn teed up Eto’o in front of an open goal. Barry somehow got back to deny the Cameroon striker, lunging in to deflect his shot behind.

Eto’o and Nikica Jelavic exchanged poor headers at either end and a surprisingly low key game seemed to be drifting peacefully towards the break when Everton opened the scoring. Osman’s chip to the far post was headed back across goal by Jelavic and Steven Naismith, in for the injured Steven Pienaar, nodded past Petr Cech from close range. The former Glasgow Rangers man hasn’t had the smoothest transition to English football – in fact he’s often looked terrible – but this was certainly one of his better games in an Everton shirt and who knows,with Pienaar apparently out for a while, he might benefit from a decent run in the side now.

Chelsea had a couple of chances straight after the restart, but they never really built up that momentum that makes you feel like a goal is inevitable.

If anything, Everton grew in confidence as the game progressed, with Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas increasingly finding space to run at the visitors’ rubbery backline and win a string of free-kicks in dangeorus areas. We are still looking for our identity to a certain degree – we seem to struggle to up the pace in games, but we have to be one of the worst sides to go a goal down to, such is our ability to keep possession and lower the tempo. There’s definitely a balance to be struck yet, but the pace and physical presence of Romelu Lukaku might well be the key to imposing our will on games when we need to press for a goal.

Leighton Baines lashed a free-kick onto the crossbar in the dying moments as Everton looked the side more likely to score, especially when Mirallas moved up front in place of Jelavic who made way for another new signing, James McCarthy, who legged around loads.

Martinez has got a lot right at Everton, in terms of his demaeanour, his positive attitude and some slick moves in the transfer window. All that was lacking was that first win, and so to get it against Chelsea, when most people where looking more at the West Ham game, has given the club another lift.

Fair play like.