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.

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 3 Liverpool 3

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‘These are nothing special. The only thing we have to fear here is just being typical Everton’.

Five minutes later Philippe Coutinho is left completely unmarked at a corner and typical Everton are a goal down. However, rather untypically for modern derbies the Blues went on to batter Liverpool for most of the first half and were level only three minutes later. Kevin Mirallas, who had his best game of the season so far, reacted quickest to poke the ball into the roof of the net when a Leighton Baines free-kick broke in the six-yard box.

Everton were all over them and their Chris Isaak-nosed goaly, Simone Mignolet, had to make some excellent saves especially to deny Romelu Lukaku and the inspired Ross Barkley.

On 19 minutes though, a rare Liverpool foray out of their half saw them win a free kick that Luis Suarez, with his grid like a thrift store chess set, curled around Everton’s shonky wall and into the bottom corner of the Gwladys Street goal.

The Blues genuinely played some great, quick, incisive football – as good as they have since the first half against Newcastle United – but were infuriatingly undone by neglecting the absolute basics.

Again, typical Everton.

Much was said after the game about a challenge by Mirallas where he went in studs first and caught Suarez just above the knee. The Belgian only received a yellow card despite their physio trying to petition for the reinstatement of the birch, the gobby tit.

Two things about the Mirallas challenge then. Firstly, maybe Liverpudlians would find it easier to accept if they just view it as a post-dated foul from the game when Suarez got Jack Rodwell sent off for a great tackle.

You’re welcome.

Secondly, and most pertinently, the squealing rat’s had it coming for a while.

At half time then Everton went in 2-1 down despite controlling the majority of the game. Things changed though five minutes after the restart when Baines had to be replaced by Gerard Deulofeu. Gareth Barry dropped to left-back and Barkley had to come deeper, as a result Liverpool started to get into the game more in midfield where they had been overrun previously, but as they pressed forward that actually saw more opportunities open up for Everton on the break.

Still, they should have been 3-1 up when Suarez did that horribly effective ‘run straight at the defenders’ thing which sees the ball pinball around off knees and shins. This time it broke for Joe ‘remember him?’ Allen who inexplicably side-footed a sitter wide of the Park End goal.

It was the best miss in a derby since Steve McManaman tackled Karl-Heinze Riedle in front of the same goal in the Danny Cadamarteri game.

The game began to get increasingly stretched and frantic – the atmosphere was great for an early kick off – but Everton kept wasting their opportunities. Deulofeu was the worst culprit when put clean through by ‘shouldn’t have even been on the pitch’ Mirallas. All the clips of the young Spaniard playing for Barcelona B or the Spain under-21s show him continually racing from the halfway line and contemptuously slotting, but lo and behold when given the big stage he weakly shot straight at Mignolet.

An already mad game just got even crazier in the final 20 minutes, starting with Everton’s equaliser. Lukaku, who was having a relatively poor game – he made life far too easy for Daniel Agger – smashed a free-kick that deflected off the Liverpool wall and drew another good stop from Mignolet. Mirallas fed the ball back into the box though, James McCarthy failed to connect with it but Lukaku side-footed home despite Mignolet getting his hand to the shot.

At the other end Suarez headed point blank at Tim Howard as we all waited for the net to bulge, and then Everton took the lead. Mirallas – him again, the dirty get! – took a decent corner from the left and Lukaku got up at the near post and planted home the classic Everton centre-forward’s header.

Yowzer.

Everton just had to hold on for the remaining eight minutes or so then to complete a sensational comeback. Clearly they didn’t.

As soon as Steven Gerrard positioned the dead ball yards away from where Sylvain Distin’s raised foot brushed Victor Moses’s head, you knew we were in trouble. The crying-faced get has slowed down alarmingly but he still delivers a great free-kick and this one only had to nick off Daniel Sturridge’s barnet to leave Howard powerless to keep it out of the net.

It could have been even worse though, as Howard had to block Suarez’s rasper at the near post and Moses headed a great chance over the bar. Conversely, the Blues were on the attack at the final whistle, frantically trying to work an opening only for the excellent McCarthy’s shot to get blocked and balloon into the stand.

There’s not really a great deal to add as you will have already heard all the superlatives about just what an entertaining game it was. That’s partly down to the attacking strengths of both sides, but also because of their defensive weaknesses.

The moral outrage about off the pitch stuff seems more low key than in previous seasons. They had some stupid flag with a cake on it that someone had spent far too much time and effort on, while we sang one chorus of ’Brendan Rodgers, your son is a nonce’.

Pretty tame really.

Going back to the football, when we play like this we are one of the most ‘fun’ teams in the league and it’s hard to even get too annoyed with them for all the stupid mistakes.

Liverpool Preview

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Ahoy hoy!

It’s been a while. International breaks are normally an absolute nuisance but it’s allowed This Is Not Football some valuable time to find a way around the stringent anti-cussing rules on Newsnow. Some drastic action was required and in the end we bought a tramp steamer down at the docks, had it kitted out and now we are publishing this from the relative freedom of international waters.

Life on the ocean waves isn’t for everyone, but it certainly helps if you have an experienced crew. Just like on Captain Pugwash (don’t bother with an exasperated comment, we know it’s an urban myth, Poindexter) we are ably supported by a cast of salty sea dogs with ever-so-slightly rapey names. There’s Seaman Encrusted of course, Teabag the cabin-boy, and, er, Roy Harper. Which is awkward.

We’re glad to be offshore this week because as everyone knows, the build-up to the derby is always excruciating. Except it isn’t any more, is it, really? ‘Derby week’ essentially comprises of a series of done-to-death memory lane bits in the Echo, some half-hearted opinion bits by a couple of ex-players or managers who conclude that the team that keeps calmest will prevail, and some interviews with the respective managers. And with all the will in the world, these two seem to be decent enough coaches but you are going to struggle to get either to ‘stoke the fires’ ahead of Saturday’s ‘clash’.

Obviously Roberto Martinez is just super-smiley and nice and probably has massive, massive respect for Liverpool as a football club and as an institution when you think about all the great players they have had down the years and all that they have achieved in the past and the outstanding individuals that they have now in their group and what was the question again? And say what you like about Brendan Rodgers – such as the fact that he has a parsnip for a nose, wears a pair of bedraggled fingerless gloves and a piece of rope as a belt and lives in a hedge – say that if you like, but in terms of Liverpool managers he is one of the least offensive. Possibly the weirdest – good lord he is one odd individual in his Charlie Seger suits and Rimmel of London kite – but he doesn’t really go out of his way to court controversy or have digs at opponents.

Incidentally, does no one else chortle when Rimmel adverts promise ladies ‘thick lashes’? As offers go that’s certainly more alluring than a free makeup bag.

Anyway, it’s not just Rodgers who seems a bit low-key though, because in truth is anyone quite as bothered by Liverpool as a whole as they used to be? After the original Yanks shafted them and it became clear to even their worst swivel-eyed Jihadis that they really are just another club like any other, with no divine right to success, they became almost humanised, like when you follow a monstrous school bully home and secretly spy through a knot-hole in a wooden fence and see him being beaten by a cruel, drunken step-dad.

You still think he’s a little shitbag but you kind of understand why. And you certainly don’t fear him any more.

Both clubs seem to be on the up at the moment, in terms of their recent histories anyway, and there’s an air of relative optimism about both of them, but the majority of supporters on either side of the divide have witnessed enough false dawns that they retain a certain degree of perspective.

The two clubs, separated by only three points in the table,  have both produced some excellent performances and played some decent football at times, but a couple of games, such as ours at Manchester City and Liverpool’s trip to Arsenal have served as reminders that there is still a gap to be bridged between the Champions League teams and the rest.

Liverpool’s relative revival seems to be since they adapted from over-playing at the back and started getting the ball quickly into the feet of their two outstanding strikers, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. For much of his early career the former struggled to hold down a place at clubs whose massive squads meant he never got the chance to play through an indifferent spell. We’ve said it before but there can be such a thing as too much competition for places – players generally need to get a run of games without constant threat of being axed if you want to see the best of them and that’s what Sturridge has at Anfield, and they are reaping the benefits. When he’s off form though he is one right greedy, blind-alley-shoot-from-anywhere merchant, and hopefully that’s the case on Saturday, as we don’t want to see him turned and running at Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka.

It’s not just the centre-halves who need to be alert though – a lot of the work keeping their front two quiet will fall to Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. At the Emirates Mikel Arteta was brilliant at anticipating the through-balls being tucked into them, stepping out, killing the danger and launching counter-attacks.

Obviously Sturridge is a danger then, but we can’t really discuss Liverpool without at least a few words on his ‘strike partner’ Luis Suarez.

Oh, Luis.

Luis, Luis, Luis, Luis, Luis.

Luis Suarez, with your face like a scrapped piano.

The ludicrously talented Uruguayan could only be more of a scoundrel if he held a cloak across his face and his every speeded-up move was accompanied by frantic piano playing. Love him or hate him, and let’s face it everyone fucking hates him, he is the most morbidly fascinating player in the Premier League. Like post-Buster Douglas Mike Tyson you can’t take your eyes off him because he seems capable of doing just about anything.

The thing is, pundits will constantly tell you, if you take away the nasty edge to his game he wouldn’t be half the player he is. And when you think about it, all the greats: Michel Platini, Lionel Messi, Pele, Johan Cruyff, the list goes on. What did they all have in common?

All racist man-eaters.

He never got the move he wanted, and indeed tried to force in quite undignified fashion in the summer, but you can’t really deny that since returning to the side he has given his all in much the same way as Leighton Baines for Everton since his less public request to move to Old Trafford was knocked back. It will be interesting to see whether both players finish this season where they are, with the press seemingly convinced that Baines will finally be departing. The fact that there seems to be no real effort to sort out a new contract with the lovable left-back as well would indicate that perhaps he has made his position perfectly clear about where he sees his future. As for Suarez, there is talk of Real Madrid being in for him in January, but if Liverpool managed to hang onto him in the summer against the odds you can imagine they would fancy their chances of getting him to stay until the end of the season in order to give them the best chance of securing the Holy Grail of fourth place.

That last bit was complete conjecture in order to round off a point and a paragraph that was really going nowhere at all.

One of the more intriguing aspects of this derby is simply the fact that the Blues will go into it and attempt to out-pass Liverpool, something that almost never happens. Even with decent Everton teams you always feel that the onus is on us to try and nullify them first and foremost, and pressurise them into making mistakes. There have been a few notable exceptions down the years, but overall there’s nearly always a feeling that if we win it will be mainly down to hard graft and a big centre-forward.

On Saturday that won’t be the case. Martinez will send his team out to play the way they play, from the first whistle knocking the ball about as if we are winning 2-0. It will make a refreshing change, although the big fear, clearly, is that they – and let’s face it, we mean Suarez – will be able to pressurise the defenders into making mistakes in dangerous areas.

At the other end though, Liverpool’s defence is nothing to write home about- unless of of course it’s a postcard saying ‘Mum, Martin Skrtl’s shit’. Everton certainly have enough quality players in forward positions to give them problems, especially if the two Belgians, Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku, have the great 90 minutes that they are overdue.

Again, that was one of those ‘not really got a point here’ moments, to be honest.

Right then, that’s nearly it, the seas are getting a bit choppy here and apparently we have a couple of coastguard frigates off our starboard bow. Apologies if we start to lose the sig…

…kin’ annoying this. I told you to get decent gear. You’ve made us look like right ama…

…Oi! Get off my fuckin…

…Roy and Teabag? They’ve been gone for…

…ollocks…

…me look like like a right cun…

…Mayday! Mayday!…

Hang on, I think we are back on. Mayday. This is Echo Foxtrot Charlie Number Nine. We are being illegally boarded by representatives of Newsn

…rrect. The news aggregation website. Aggreg. AGGREGATION! ALPHA GOLF GOLF ROMEO…

…Roy, Roy. Zip your kecks…

…dcast the final message for Saturday while we jettison all these swear…

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