Everton 2 Hull City Tigers 1

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Everton v Hull City - Goodison Park

A surprisingly evenly-matched contest had its tipping point after almost an hour, and fittingly it involved a player who is looking more and more like Malcolm Gladwell.

Steven Pienaar, on as a substitute for Leon Osman, finished off a flowing breakaway involving Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas. With a wonderfully assured first-touch-of-a-ball-in-anger-in-six-weeks he clipped the Belgian winger’s low centre along the rain-soaked turf and into the bottom corner of the Park End goal. It was probably the best thing Pienaar’s done all season, as he was less than stellar during the few games he played before his injury; perhaps there is something to Roberto Martinez’s theory then that being out for ages makes you a better player. And we all scoffed.

The Blues’ boss, resplendent in a velvet-collared ‘nylons for the lady?’ war-time profiteer’s coat looked on bemused like everyone else in the ground as Pienaar lept over the advertising hoardings to correct the orientation of a South African flag behind the goal. By the time he was ready to celebrate with his teammates they had all retreated to the halfway line – the moment had gone and he just looked like a bit of a weirdo.

And talking of divvy celebrations, Mirallas’s ‘going over that waterfall at the climax of The Mission‘ schtick is starting to look a bit self-indulgent, especially for a goal that was only his by dint of a piece of chicanery.

On 8 minutes an Everton corner was half-cleared back out to Leighton Baines and he fed the ball to Osman who in turn teed up Mirallas to shoot low through the crowd of players in the box. Gareth Barry, returning from an off-side position, gave the ball a slight flick as it ran through his legs and Allan McGregor was left stationary as it crept into the bottom corner. Barry cracked on he never touched the shot but it was pretty clear at the time and then confirmed on the telly later.

Say what you like about Steve Bruce – that his face looks like a bag of fruit and veg, whatever – he had a few gripes about Barry’s contribution and they were all pretty valid. Not only did the Everton midfielder get away with the goal, he was also very lucky to receive just a single yellow card for two dubious challenges in the first half.

He first went unpunished for a high boot on Danny Graham that saw the dreadful striker stretchered off with a knee injury. Barry was actually cautioned for the next challenge, when his foot rolled right over the top of the ball and almost took Sone Aluko’s leg off, but it wasn’t just Bruce who expected to see the referee give a straight red. The Everton man got away with it though, although there was a degree of payback from the Tigers when, on 30 minutes, Aluko skinned Baines and cut the ball back for Graham’s replacement, Yannick Sagbo, to crack the ball home at the near post.

The equaliser had certainly been coming at that point. Hull have some decent players, and that ones that aren’t decent are at least absolutely massive. Every set-piece saw pandemonium in the Everton box and the visitors headed a handful of decent chances just wide of Tim Howard’s goal.

Hull’s ‘physicality’ – when did people start using that word? – wasn’t the only issue in the first 45 minutes though. Most of Everton’s problems were actually of their own making as they failed to adapt to Bruce’s team putting pressure on the ball-playing central defenders. Their ploy of initially leaving Sylvain Distin as the outlet and then hounding him in possession wasn’t particularly devious but, crikey, it was effective as Everton endured sustained periods where they looked like the team we feared they would become when Roberto Martinez took over.

Some of the one-touch stuff down in the left corner in particular, between Barry, Baines and Distin was cringe-making. There are still times when Everton players are side-footing first-time passes into space with no idea whatsoever who is around and that’s just as bad as wellying the ball aimlessly downfield. No, in fact it’s worse, because at least with the long ball you are taking a chance on losing possession in their half and not a snot-rocket away from your own penalty area.

At its very basic level football is about making your opponent think you are going to do one thing and then doing the other, so robotically passing the ball regardless of what the other team are up to makes no sense at all. The players should be able to work that out for themselves. ‘Imagine what Suarez will do if we play like that’ was a comment made by more than one tense Toffee at the break, and it doesn’t bear thinking about as the lavishly dentured Uruguayan already gives Distin worse nightmares than a drowned clown with crows pecking at its eyes.

Thankfully Martinez gave the team a talk at half time about a space-monkey that always got fed bananas until NASA told his astronaut companion to occasionally feed him nuts instead. No one was sure whether it was racist, or whether monkeys actually eat nuts, but before anyone could speak to the press the Everton manager rolled the sleeve of his coat up to the elbow and asked whether anyone wanted to buy a watch.

Possibly.

Everton were certainly less lemming-like with their use of the ball in the second half anyway and the introduction of Pienaar and, to a certain extent Stephen Naismith and Aroune Kone in place of the subdued Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, pepped them up a bit for the closing stages. Hull appeared to run out of steam too as the exertion of their ‘pressing game’ – ‘getting stuck in’ in old money – eventually took its toll.

All that really remained – apart from a harsh Baines booking for diving – was a strange cameo for Kone as he curled an absolute sitter against the post and then forced a good low save from McGregor. It just seems really weird how the Ivorian has gone ‘full Jelavic’ before his Everton career has even begun. Generally his touch and his movement here were sound if unspectacular but he still looked like a complete confidence-vacuum. The majority of the crowd appear to, well, not hate him, but view him as a joke figure already, which is possibly even worse.

It’s a certainty that we are going to have to rely on this chap at some point during the season though so we really could do with him blamming one in soon just to give him some shred of self esteem and maybe nip in the bud the corrosive effects of the dreaded Goodison groan.

It wasn’t vintage stuff from Everton then, but you have to give Hull some credit and applaud Martinez for making the changes, to the approach and the personnel, that edged the Blues ahead in what was a very competitive game.

Hull City Preview

Monkey_Cosmonaut

Hello.

Hello.

Testing.

Testicles.

One-two.

One-two.

Is this thing still working?

Hey, how you doing? Long time no smell. Great to have you back. Have you lost some weight? Been hitting the gym? You look great? Kids doing well at school? That’s smashing. And the wife, Rose? Tina? Ah yeah, how’s she doing anyway? Oh, sorry to hear that, that’s rough.  With your best mate? Wow, sheesh, double-whammy! Sorry, of course.

Anyway, the return of the Premier League. Can’t come around fast enough, can it?

Well, maybe it can if you are one of Everton’s injured players, with Steven Pienaar still unlikely to recover for the visit of the Hull City Tigers, Anton Alcaraz being a fictional person created purely for the sake of some elaborate West African benefits scam, and now Darron Gibson sustaining a cruciate ligament injury while on international duty.

It’s a rough old do for Gibson, the poor lad’s car already bears a sticker that says ‘MY OTHER SHOE IS A PROTECTIVE CAST’ such is his propensity for knacking various bits of his husky frame. Doing your cruciate is generally viewed as  the number one, top of the heap, stone cold pimpin’ injury that you wish to avoid in football, but thankfully Gibson works under Roberto Martinez who, when asked about the player missing the rest of the season, somehow managed to give a quote that made it sound like a resoundingly positive development. Much like Brasseye’s good and bad AIDS, Gibson’s isn’t the worst sort of mangled cruciate, and most importantly he is sure to come back an even stronger footballer, apparently.

It’s quite a reflection on how radically the squad was overhauled at Everton this summer that the loss of Gibson, sat on his arse, improving as a player, doesn’t initially seem the huge loss that it would have been last season. And bear in mind that’s on top of Marouane Fellaini leaving as well. Obviously we could find ourselves stretched though if anything happens to either James McCarthy or the first man to pull Lee Carsley’s sword from its stone, Gareth Barry, and so no one would be that surprised if Martinez looked at another midfielder or at least some versatile sort in January.

What’s Lee McCulloch up to at the moment?

Other Everton players had more positive experiences than Gibson during the international fortnight, not least Romelu Lukaku who scored the two goals that sent Belgium through to the World Cup in Brazil. The big striker’s form is just batty at the moment, and let’s face it he is the one who everyone is coming to see on Saturday. The excitement around him just seems to grow with every game and it’s getting to the point where he is proving Jose Mourinho so spectacularly misguided in letting him come on loan that you wouldn’t put it past the malignant little arse-piece letting the Belgian ball bladderer stay beyond the end of this season, just out of sheer bloody-mindedness.

He won’t, like.

Despite the excitement surrounding Lukakau, you get the impression that for some Blues his blistering displays are somehow bittersweet because we don’t ‘own’ him and his time at Goodison is observably finite. We need to forget about the illusion of permanence and continuity in football though – all the talk about ‘projects’ and ‘building’ is started off by managers trying to create an image that ultimately strengthens their own precarious positions.

We say hooey to them. Yes, hooey.

Ignore their insecurities, and instead embrace the fleeting, transient beauty of this present Everton team and simply live in the exhilarating moment. Because beneath his studied, slightly damp exterior our manager Martinez actually cares nothing for the lumbering prog rock institutions of the Premier League; his football is all slashing punk  guitars and this Everton team, like his most famous work ‘Oi! Relegated FA Cup Winners’ is a Situationist pop-up guerilla art installation: audacious, inspiring and willing to challenge conventions and accepted paradigms.

Live it then, and love it, and care not what tomorrow brings, even if it does mean Leighton Baines frigging off to Manchester United in the next transfer window and then Ross Barkley and his oddly triangular Scream-mask head following him six months later.

As for Hull, well, what about them? The opposition are merely the canvas on which Everton paint their abstract masterpieces. Or perhaps they are the easel, because the pitch is probably more like the canvas. Hell no, Steve Bruce and his oddly-not-as-bad-as-everyone-expected side are nothing more than the jam jar in which Martinez washes his brushes, even if they do have a couple of good signings from Tottenham and some fella called Robbie Brady who has got loads of points in the Fantasy League and so everyone has transferred him in when it’s too late.

There were some other bits that this was meant to touch on but ended up on a bit of a tangent there and we inevitably start to run out of steam after about 800 words, hence these pieces always seem to end rather curtly. One of them was Roy Hodgson’s joke at half-time during the England game – we actually had loads of well more offensive ones we were going to use here riffing on ‘retro weekend’ at Goodison – and the sheer amazement that he goes into the changies during crucial qualifiers and starts firing off zingers. Following on from that was going to be something about Brendan Rodgers being one for adopting the latest coaching techniques and having a bare brick wall and a single stool put in the Anfield dressing room for when he dishes out his own brand of chilled out entertainment.

But we can’t really be bothered elaborating on that, and Miles did it all much better in his Being: Brendan anyway.

So that’s that then.

Everton, ra ra ra.

Smash the oiks.

West Ham 2 Everton 3

lukaku_west_Ham

Before we begin, it’s important to remember that Saturday’s game wasn’t about the result, but more an opportunity for the footballers of the Premier League to keep chasing that rainbow.

EVERYBODY JAGS NOW!

As for the football itself, well, as the rules are pretty clear about, it was a game of two halves. In the first of those, Everton were pretty poor. In time-honoured fashion, Roberto Martinez did the whole not-changing-a-winning-side thing and started the game with Nikica Jelavic up front, despite Romelu Lukaku finally being eligible following his loan move from Chelsea.

A Kevin Mirallas shot forced a good save from Jussi Jaaskelainen in the first half but otherwise the Blues looked totally ineffective. When you are not on your game total football can look like total shite and when former Manchester United wild-child Ravel Morrison saw his shot deflect off Phil Jagielka and wrong-foot Tim Howard on 31 minutes Everton looked incapable of mustering any sort of serious reply.

You would like to think that Jelavic shouted ‘Hey kid, catch!’ to Lukaku at half-time and threw his shirt to him like Mean Joe Green in the old Coca Cola advert but in reality Roberto Martinez more likely pulled the Croatian and Steven Naismith to one side at the break, did a sort of half-smile, semi-shrug and asked ‘Guys, how did you think you played just then?’

The upshot was they were replaced by Lukaku and James McCarthy, and moments after the restart Bryan Oviedo came on for the injured Leon Osman.

Now let’s just say straight away, forget about any sort of Terry Curran-style campaign regarding Lukaku because he will not be an Everton player next season. ‘We’d have to sell so many players to try and get the money together we wouldn’t be able to field a full team’ was one observer’s verdict. So enjoy him while we can because he is fucking mustard.

Before you even consider his pace and power, his close control and ability to lay the ball off under pressure are simply sensational. Even when there were so many fellas surrounding him you expected to see Brendan Rodgers’ lad taking photos, he held them off nonchalantly before finding a teammate. It completely transformed the way Everton played, as Mirallas, Leighton Baines and Ross Barkley suddenly had the confidence to ‘fizz’ – oh yeah, ‘fizz’ – the ball into Lukaku’s feet before making runs, almost certain that they were going to get the return exactly where they wanted it.

Where the Hammers’ defenders had been comfortable with all the play in front of them, suddenly they were being turned and forced into making panicky decisions as white shirts streamed beyond them.

One such moment, on 62 minutes, resulted in James Collins lunging at Barkley 25 yards out and conceding a free-kick that Leighton Baines coolly whipped into high into the net past Jaaskelainen’s outstretched right hand.

It was a great moment, not just because it was the equalising goal and an excellent free-kick, but because of the awkward position the naughty left-back was put in this week by the loose lips of Everton coach Alan Stubbs.

Now, we are all grown up enough to understand that Baines would have fancied a move to Manchester United this summer. Just because he looks like Jane Weidlin and doesn’t have ‘attitude’ doesn’t make him some sort of mug, happy with his lot while lesser players are playing Champions League football and earning Champions League dough. It’s insulting to suggest he is. However, how he has conducted himself in public and on the pitch, when he must have been disappointed that no move  materialised, has been exemplary. You couldn’t ask any more of him.

So for Stubbs to blurt out that Baines asked to leave was at best indiscrete and at worst an absolute cunt’s trick. And given that pretty much everyone believes Stubbs was a fifth-columnist when Everton were dealing with United over Wayne Rooney, it’s probably understandable that most think it’s the latter.

Quarter of an hour after Baines equalised, matters took a turn for the worse and a different kind of match report began to take shape in the minds of the watching scribes.

With Everton hogging the ball, as is their wont, Jagielka tried to usher out an aimless punt and was robbed on the byeline by Mladen Petric. He fed the ball back to Kevin Nolan who gleefully went over the lazy leg dangled out by the covering McCarthy.

The most West Ham man alive, Mark Noble, converted the penalty and it looked like the theme of the post-match analysis would be how you can be as precise as you like and dominate possession but it’s all for nought if you make silly mistakes at the back and don’t score goals.

And then Baines slotted again.

Another free-kick, slightly closer, was conceded when another Barkley run was halted illegally, this time by World Cup winner Noble. On Match of the Day Sam Allardyce talked about looking at his laptop and saying ‘Fucking hell son, look at this, you’d swear that was a lass wouldn’t you? The size of it! Any idea how you get rid of all these pop-ups?’ And then concluding that Noble won the ball.

He never. Noble got sent off.

Baines put the free-kick to the opposite side this time, almost choking the shot slightly so as to keep the ball from ballooning over the bar. It went in off the inside of the post, right in the top corner, and to mix goalkeeping metaphors here, two keepers, with stepladders – essentially the Chuckle Brothers – couldn’t have saved it.

An incredible amount of technique and subtlety were required to score that goal. And when it went in Alan Stubbs remained a twat.

That wasn’t the end of it though, oh no.

On 85 minutes Lukaku, uncannily reminiscent of another proud wearer of the prestigious Everton number 17 shirt, won the ball just outside the box, fed it to Mirallas and headed straight for the six-yard box. Mirallas, enjoying his best game of the season so far, twisted and turned before clipping a perfect cross to the far post.

Lukaku bravely buried the header, clashing heads with B movie monster Joey O’Brien in the process and appearing to get knocked the fuck out.

‘What a great way to go’ was one rather honest but unsympathetic comment as ‘the big Belgian’ lay motionless, perhaps dying, in the goalmouth.

Thankfully he recovered though and although seven minutes of injury time were added, it was only a question of whether Everton would make the scoreline even more emphatic. Obviously they never.

And with that the Blues are the only unbeaten side in the Premier League and reside just one point behind apparent Champions-elect Liverpool in the table.

You certainly have to hand it to Martinez, he keeps answering the questions asked of him. One lingering worry was that his teams are sort of predictable and bloodless at times and that his studied style would rob Everton of their indefinable elan and that inherent drama that we love and hate about them in equal measure.

Well, crikey, the second half here certainly put paid to that notion.

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.