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.

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Sunderland and Southampton and That

Before-it-got-all-punchy

The games are officially coming all Darren Huckerby now – that’s right, ‘thick and fast’ – so once again we adopt the lazy-arse scattergun approach of talking about what’s going on, Toffee-wise, at the moment.

Systems are no substitute for intelligence

The horrendous snafuckup that blew the Sunderland game was more down to poor decision-making than the Roberto Martinez ‘method’. Granted, if you watched a lot of Wigan Athletic over the last few seasons you would be forgiven that horrific blunders at the back were an integral feature of the Spaniard’s philosophy, but the responsibility for ‘doing a Caldwell’ has to lie with the players.

After all, it’s not as if our goalies have never rolled the ball out before during the past century or so of football at Goodison.

That said, if you do it every time without fail it does become a bit predictable and maybe encourages the opposition to make that bit more effort to pressurise the outfield player receiving the ball. Again though, it’s down to the players to make the right decisions – it’s not enough to take unnecessary risks at the back and then simply shrug and say ‘the manager told me to do it’ when it all goes cigar shaped.

Incidentally, a lot of people have said that Tim Howard made a further error by bringing down the Sunderland player and getting sent off. In that split second though, his instinct will have been to stop a goal. He tried to make a save but Ki Sung-Yeung was a bit too quick for him. It’s easy with hindsight to suggest he should have allowed the Korean to walk the ball in, but could you imagine the scenes at Goodison if he had stood there and ushered him forward like a footman doing the ‘your carriage awaits’ sweep of the arm towards an open net?

We need to talk about Romelu

With 10 men you need a heroic performance from your centre-forward, unfortunately though ours is having a horrible time at the moment.

Romelu Lukaku looked like an utter phenomenon when he first arrived at Everton but in the last month he seems to have fallen apart. A key feature of Everton’s play has become brilliant moves culminating with Lukaku and Ross Barkley shaking their heads at each other and pointing at completely different areas of the pitch as the ball dribbles out for a goal kick,  even during the majestic team performances at Manchester United and Arsenal, .

We’ve said it before but the burly Belgian needs to get back to basics. He has to accept that he can’t always have 30 yards of pitch to run into with defenders bouncing off him like Jonah Lomu, and that 90% of being a centre-forward involves getting the better of the jiu-jitsu skirmishes with the centre-half and taking your lumps for the team. Drifting out to the wings and making applause-prompting loping jogs to hurry the keeper up are all well and good, if you want to be Marcus Bent, but Lukaku apparently wants to be the best striker in the world.

When Nikica Jelavic is coming on and showing you up by winning a simple free-kick you know you need to have a look at what you are doing.

When we played Arsenal and they started getting a bit of joy towards the end of the first half, it was because Olivier Giroud was standing strong on the edge of the box and the attacking midfielders were confident that they could fire a pass into his feet, make a run past him and he would hold the defender off and try and ‘turn the ball around the corner’ for them. Everton are crying out for a bit of that simple stuff at the moment, especially given how much possession they have just outside the opponents’ box.

There’s no lack of effort by Lukaku – if anything he’s trying too hard.

How will Martinez cope with his first hint of adversity?

Two games away from going the whole year unbeaten at home, facing a team bottom of the league who traditionally get prison-petted all over the place at Goodison – ka-blammo, 1-0 reverse.

Everton that.

As they say.

Apparently.

It’s not a crisis, or even a mini crisis. Hell, it doesn’t even merit the term ‘crisette’, but things have been running so smoothly this season that even one rather unlucky defeat at home feels like a bit of a blow.

Anyway, as a result of that game the new Blues’ boss now has some selection problems ahead of facing a more than decent Southampton team.

Joel Robles obviously comes straight in for Howard while presumably Leon Osman, after having a good long think about just what he did on Boxing Day, gets to try and redeem himself in midfield alongside Ross Barkley and James McCarthy.

Gareth Barry’s experience will certainly be missed against a wily sort of Saints team – the wide-waisted former England man was magnificent again organising the 10 man assault on Sunderland in the second half on Sunday. Given that he is almost certainly the slowest player in the Premier League he should be getting mugged off constantly, but his first touch, anywhere from the neck down, is so immaculate, and he shields the ball so effortlessly, that it is almost never a problem.

12 months ago you would never have imagined that we would all have a massive man crush on a player famous only for trailing in the wake of Mezut Ozil – can’t do the Umlaut – and that the form of Bryan Oviedo would have people weighing up whether a decent bid for Leighton Baines might be worth considering.

Something about Southampton

Their jowly young-Homer-Simpson-haired manager Mauricio Pochettino has essentially become the poster boy for sacking popular managers who appear to be doing ok. And for people who like to pass off as their own deep insights into the game the shite they read in the paper and hear on Match of the Day – for instance that clueless Portsmouth supporter on The Football Ramble when he does his ‘but seriously now, it’s just not good enough’ voice – it’s de rigeur that you mention Saints’ ‘high pressing game’ whenever discussing them this season.

So we just have.

They have some decent players and are ‘coming off the back of’ a good win at Cardiff City. Incidentally, can you wait to see who takes over there? Or even better, listen to their first press conference when they are asked about working for Vincent Tan?

‘I know what you’re saying like, but, you know, we’ve all got to put a loaf on the table, lad’.

And that’s where this thing just sort of peters out, almost apologetically.

Everton 4 Stoke City 0

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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.

Everton 1 Chelsea 0

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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.