Everton 2 Aston Villa 1

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Winning this game probably isn’t that significant in the big sweep of things. Losing though, that would have felt catastrophic, so it was a sense of relief as much as anything that greeted the final whistle at a sodden Goodison after Kevin Mirallas’s sensational free kick sealed a late comeback for them tricky Blues.

Roberto Martinez is still mending and making do in terms of getting a team out on the pitch – Steven Pienaar and Seamus Coleman returned to the bench here while Sylvain Distin went straight into the starting line-up. Aiden McGeady made his full league debut.

The Irish winger almost made it a glorious introduction too, cutting in from the right with his jinky little baby steps and slamming a doozy of a shot against the far post. Unfortunately though that bright opening was not indicative of the rest of the half. Villa were negative and without a proper centre-forward Everton lacked any focal point for their attacks. Mirallas might be suited to the role of central striker away from home, but against moribund massed defences at Goodison his best assets, his direct running and his shooting, are too easily negated.

At almost no point during the first 45 minutes did one Everton player occupy two Villa defenders, through either strength or skill, so there was simply no space created to work in. The ball got moved slowly from side to side and the murky-shirted Midlanders shuffled along accordingly. It was painful to watch at times and, perhaps understandably after Tuesday night there were audible grumbles as some of the passing looked aimless and the forwards never seemed to make their runs with any conviction.

On one of the rare occasions that Ross Barkley tried to inject some drive into the Blues’ attack, on 34 minutes, it ended up backfiring as the young midfielder’s run across midfield was halted by Fabien Delph’s tackle. While the Evertonians were still crying foul, Christian Benteke fed the loose ball out to Leandro Bacuna who advanced on Tim Howard before slipping the ball through his legs and into the Gwladys Street net.

If Anfield was the point where the season derailed, this felt like the moment where it settled at the bottom of the canyon and then erupted in an oily cloud of smoke.

At half time Martinez replaced the half-fit Barkley with the half-fit Pienaar and that planted the seeds of the eventual revival. The little South African is simply better at anyone else in the squad at changing the pace of the game, with his awareness and the cleverness of his passing. For such a slightly built individual he is also better than any of the club’s centre-forwards at shielding the ball, getting his head up and bringing others into play. What’s more, when the ball goes into Pienaar’s feet his teammates make run beyond him, confident that he will at the very least retain possession or force a foul.

In short: when he plays, we play.

Martinez’s second successful substitution came on 70 minutes when he withdrew John Stones and introduced Steven Naismith. Quite the opposite to Mirallas, the Scot lacks pace so struggles to make an impact away from home, but he does the basics well enough as a centre-forward that he has his uses at home when the Toffees are on top and pinning opponents back. He also freed Mirallas up to drop a bit deeper, away from the close attentions of the Villa central defenders, and the Belgian’s influence grew markedly from that point.

Only four minutes after coming on, Naismith put Everton back on level terms as he ran onto Pienaar’s clever flicked pass in behind the Villa defence and poked the ball past Brad Guzan.

The visitors offered almost nothing in attack throughout – they are a dismal side managed by a once highly-thought-of manager who now just looks like he should be sat alone at night in a dim pool of light at a motorway McDonalds, reducing a Styrofoam cup to tiny pieces, kneading his forehead almost violently and pleading into his phone: ‘I know I said I’d leave her but it’s just not that simple, you know that. We’ve been through all this already…’

If there was to be any justice, and there often isn’t in football, then only one side was going to go on and win the match.

And guess what, they did!

There’s definitely been a change in Mirallas in the last month or so. He was actually one of the disappointments of the early part of the Martinez reign as everyone else’s game seemed to be lifted but he looked less effective playing the more patient style. He seems to have realised that he is a senior player now though, especially in the face of the present injury crisis, and is taking on a level of responsibility more commensurate with someone of his undoubted ability.

It was Mirallas’s persistence that initially won a free kick on 85 minutes, fully 30 yards from the Villa goal. Are you useless at gauging them distances normally? Thankfully Match of the Day confirmed it was that far with a handy infostatistographic.

Talking of the BBC’s flagship sports show, a couple of points. Firstly, them dead long spindly hairs that stick out of the top of Alan Hansen’s shirt and move in time to his wobbling turkey neck – once you see them you can’t unsee them and they will knock you sick every time he’s on now.

Secondly, Andy Carroll’s sending off at against Swansea. Which bit made Bobby Moore spin in his grave worse, Chico Flores holding his face like he’d taken a right-hander off Ernie Shavers or celebrated Geordie hard-case Carroll furiously removing his scrunchy as he stormed down the tunnel?

Top-knot titheads.

Anyway, with both Mirallas and Leighton Baines shaping up over the free kick, Guzan had to try and hedge his bets. Despite the distance though, the American keeper, who looks like a methodical FBI agent in one of those yellow-stencilled jackets who reluctantly has to deal with the unorthodox methods of a detective he doesn’t trust but who gets results in bizarre cases and let’s face it we’re coming up with nothing but dead ends here looking for the missing girl, was helpless as Mirallas struck what Paul Lambert described as ‘a world class free kick’. He also added: ‘There’s nothing you can do about that’.

There were nervy moments at the end when Villa forced a corner. We’ve suffered late disappointments against these before – Ashley Young, you doe-eyed twat – but not this time, buddy.

It wasn’t always pretty, but all things considered it what was required and what was eventually deserved. You could see that Martinez wasn’t just talking out of his arse when he said it was the most satisfying win of his time in charge so far.

Finally, a quick word on the transfer window. The biggest thing to point out is that Kenwyne Jones looked mustard for Cardiff City on his debut. Everton themselves missed a trick by getting their two targets in so early. Lacina Traore they should have signed but kept it quiet and then only announced it at 11.30pm on deadline day. Everyone would have been made up then. It would have looked like a veritable swoopy coup. And he would be that bit closer to actual match fitness.

John Heitinga has gone to Fulham, to join their collection of arl arses who just fancy living in London for a bit. The Dutchman had his moments, and was apparently wildly popular with the other players, but overall he always retained that look of the panic buy he was – one who got paid more than he was ultimately worth. He had the one decent season at centre-half, scored that last gasp goal at Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup, but best of all probably was the way he barged into Ashley Cole during that penalty shootout at Stamford Bridge.

Oh, Everton’s accounts were published too. Without even looking at them it’s probably fair to assume that we are not going to be making any massive signings any time soon, the debt remains about the same, we spend a fucking immoral amount on player wages but we get a ton of money from the telly deals so like the rest of the Premier League basket-cases we will shuffle on regardless for another season at least.

You can probably get more detailed analysis than that but that’s what any fancy number talk will boil down to, ultimately.

Liverpool 4 Everton 0

Is it safe to look yet?

Have they stopped scoring?

Just where do you start with a night like that?

Remember against Queens Park Rangers, when we said that Antolin Alcaraz looked like a drunken uncle playing footy in the garden against little kids? Well imagine if that self-same fella got woken up from his hammock and told to play against Luis Suarez.

Clearly the responsibility for one of the worst humiliations at Anfield in living memory – and boy there’s some stiff competition there – doesn’t lie with the paceless Paraguayan. His selection in such a big game though, in a defence that also featured rookie centre-half John Stones at right-back, gives some indication of the cobbled-together nature of the first Everton side that Roberto Martinez took across the park.

As suspected, a number of other players whose fitness was in question were deemed fit enough, but as we feared beforehand, Ross Barkley and Steven Pienaar looked lacking in match sharpness after a bright enough opening 15 minutes.

It was a night when almost everything that could go wrong did, apart from Daniel Sturridge blazing a penalty over the bar. By that point though, four goals up, Liverpool could more or less laugh that off.

Imagine that. In the derby.

Liverpool’s opener came on 21 minutes when Steven Gerrard connected with Luis Suarez’s excellent corner to crash a header in at the near post.

To add injury to insult, Gareth Barry not only lost Gerrard’s run but he also slipped and crashed into Romelu Lukaku, taking his leg out like a skittle. The Belgian striker hobbled off with ankle ligament damage, replaced by the willing but ineffective Steven Naismith, and our fate was pretty much sealed.

A load of coins also got lashed at Suarez as he took the corner and the police are now involved. It’s not clever, and neither is trying to convince a magistrate that ‘Banzai! You horrible fucking crab!’ is a term of endearment where you come from.

The only players to come out of the game with any real credit for the Blues were Kevin Mirallas and second half substitute Leon Osman. Mirallas has been accused of being something of a fair weather player in the past but despite Everton’s glaring deficiencies in this hopeless encounter he almost singlehandedly took the game to Liverpool at times and nearly equalised with a low shot that skimmed narrowly wide, just before the roof completely caved in.

On 33 minutes Phillipe Coutinho released Sturridge into the space where Everton should theoretically have had a defence and the England striker finished easily past the helpless Tim Howard.

If that one wasn’t bad enough, the next, less than two minutes later, essentially killed the game stone dead.

Sturridge again latched onto a high, straight ball out of defence, unencumbered by anything as gauche as a blue-shirted marker. He still had some work to do though, to bring the big hoof down and get himself facing the goal, but Howard spared him all that by legging out towards a ball he could not possibly reach. Only one of them golf sale signs with LOB ME written on it would have been more inviting.

3-0 at half time, they are all going bananas, understandably, while the Everton team shuffle down the tunnel with the haunted look of men who should be wearing necklaces made of ears.

After the restart Osman comes on and they pin Liverpool back initially, but as they say, it’s the hope that kills you. The hope, and suicide passes by Phil Jagielka.

Suarez cut out the England defender’s lazy sideways pass, surged from just inside his own half and slotted past Howard as everyone knew he would.

All that remained, as if that wasn’t enough, was for Sturridge to toey the penalty over. We could complain about the supposed foul itself by Howard on Raheem Sterling – it’s getting to the point where referees might as well point to the spot the moment a player is put through now – but that wasn’t really the night’s big talking point.

If only.

Liverpool were very good. They pressurised Everton expertly, they broke ruthlessly and when the Blues did pose a threat, which they did on occasion, red shirts crowded them out.

For Everton the result was an absolute disaster in itself – 4-0 at Anfield for fuck’s sake – and also as an indication of where the present injury crisis has left the team.

This certainly represents the first big test of Martinez as an Everton manager and he may well need the help of the supporters to get through it. Let’s face it, we knew it wasn’t always going to be brown shoes and ‘Bring Me Sunshine’.

The style of play Martinez demands from his players is one that is more dependent on confidence and assurance than perhaps more traditional British methods and when it works, as we have seen for most of this season, it is spectacular. When it doesn’t though, as occurred at Wigan on many occasions and now at Anfield, well, it’s still pretty spectacular to be honest.

Aston Villa, one of the division’s best counter-attacking teams, will come to Goodison on Saturday and seek to exploit the same weaknesses as Liverpool and play on any residual fear and self-doubt that lingers from Tuesday night.

Everyone at the club – the group, if you will – has to pick themselves up then, as hard as that is in the wake of what was an absolute fucking massacre, and pull together again for the remainder of a season in which there is still so much to play for.

However, that said, until 3 o’clock Saturday:

JUST FUCK OFF EVERTON

West Bromwich Albion 1 Everton 1

A point away at a traditionally quite tough place, against a side out to impress a new manager, wouldn’t normally be sniffed at. However, with Liverpool dropping points at home this game at the Hawthorns represented a great opportunity to pile some pressure on the other sides hoping to kick and scratch their way into that mingebag jackpot fourth place in the table.

Unusually for Robert Martinez’s Everton though they blew that chance with a poor performance, particularly in the second half when defending the lead earned by Kevin Mirallas’s well taken 41st minute goal.

The creeping fears about injuries are starting to look well-founded now, with only really Mirallas looking vaguely dangerous out of a front four that included Bryan Oviedo, Leon Osman and the desperately out-of-form Romelu Lukaku. The young Belgian needs to be rested or provided with some competition because he barely poses a threat lately. Whether a human pylon with a raggedy hamstring is the answer only time and the usual work permit guff will tell.

In Lukaku’s defence, it was his knockdown that fell to Mirallas who burst past Diego Lugano – who sounds like every holiday airport in the Mediterranean and a skirmish in the Falklands – and slotted coolly past Ben Foster. Despite the obvious delight at taking the lead though, without Steven Pienaar and Ross Barkley Everton just never held the ball long enough up at the business end of the pitch and after the break were restricted to sporadic half-chances in what was a scrappy, horrible game.

Pepe Mel threw Victor Anichebe – the ‘Neech’ – on  for the second half and the much-joked-about former Everton man did a pretty passable impression of a professional centre-forward, holding the ball up and helping the Baggies to build attacks and put pressure on the Blues’ defence. Indeed, on 75 minutes he found James Morrison on the right-hand side of the Everton area, from where the winger was allowed to get the ball into the six-yard box thanks to Leighton Baines and James McCarthy’s half-hearted defending. Lugano then managed to get across Sylvain Distin at the near post and absolutely buried a diving header.

Where do the West Brom get these fellas from? They appear to have a production line of of oafish long-haired gadgies who, to use coaching parlance, ‘give you a solid 6/10 week in, week out’.  He’ll never score again, him.

Anyway, if the deserved equaliser wasn’t fun enough, Seamus Coleman immediately left the field clutching his hamstring. Aiden McGeady got 10 minutes though, so there’s something.

Distin had a goal disallowed at the very end, for being enormously offside, and Everton slipped down to sixth place. The margins for error are incredibly tight at the top of the table, so if you can’t go and outclass opponents – and you can’t every week – then you have to simply find a way to win against the less celebrated opposition like West Brom. After getting ahead the Toffees needed to exert the sort of control that has been one of the hallmarks of this season, but a combination of the Baggies’ efforts and Everton’s lack of so many first choice creative players meant that it never panned out that way.

It happens. The important thing is how you respond.

Twatting Stevenage and Liverpool would probably be adequate.

It will be interesting to see whether this slightly grubby result and the mounting injuries have any effect on Martinez’s approach to the transfer window. Does he more or less stick with what he has and hope to struggle on and stay within reach of Champions League qualification until players like Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu come back into contention, allowing him to save whatever dough there is until the summer? Or will he feel that the ‘platform’ we have given ourselves already this season is too good to waste by being cautious?

What we should do, if we’ve got any sense, is borrow a ton of cash off some lender of ill repute, get a load of Galacticos in and just win the league. Then, and this is the key part of the plan, we just Thelma and Louise the whole thing – set fire to the stadium, melt the trophy down and tell everyone that’s it, footy is over and Everton won. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT, GREG DYKE?

They probably won’t though, you know what they’re like. The shithouses.

Everton 2 Norwich City 0

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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.

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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.