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.

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Aston Villa 0 Everton 2

lukaku villa copy

So, David Moyes and Alex Ferguson decide to have a game of darts this time.

Not really, simmer down.

Everton’s early-season hot streak continued thanks to a great performance from Tim Howard and another inspired substitution by Roberto Martinez.

Resplendent in that yellow and blue away kit, and with last week’s returning hero Steven Pienaar starting ahead of Leon Osman, Everton began this game pretty slowly and Paul Lambert, dressed as a Premier Lodge night manager, made a fair point when he said he thought they should have really been three up at half time.

After only seven minutes Christian Benteke won a penalty when he cut across the run of Seamus Coleman and managed to get himself tripped. It looked very harsh as there was certainly no intent on the Irish defender’s part and it was hard to see what he was meant to do to avoid the offence.

Justice was done though when Tim Howard and his quite glorious hipster douchebag beard of bees dived to his right and displayed a ‘good strong wrist’ as he deflected Benteke’s ferocious but not particularly well-placed spot kick over the bar.

Undeterred, the home side proceeded to exploit Everton’s high defensive line and Howard had to be at his best to deny Benteke again and then Andreas Weimann in one-to-one face-offs. Or faces-off?

Eventually the Blues began to get their act together, with Brad Guzan making a good close-range save from Romelu Lukaku’s flying header. The Belgian then bundled through the home defence like Mario Kempes only to scuff his shot straight at the keeper as he tried to curl it with the outside of his boot.

Ross Barkley then turned and smashed a Rooney-esque shot from long distance that took a slight nick off a defender and crashed against the Villa crossbar.

Actually, when reading that back perhaps Lambert was being a tad one-eyed with his post-match analysis of the first half.

Anyway, on 60 minutes and with neither side really dominating Martinez had a decision to make. He withdrew Barkley, who apart from that one decent shot had a bit of an off-key performance, and sent on someone to win the game. With Aroune Kone missing due to injury – the physios have diagnosed a ‘broken spirit’ – the Everton boss chose to ignore Nikica Jelavic, Steven Naismith and the dribble and shrug bag of tricks that is Gerard Deulofeu. Instead he introduced little old Neon Leon Osman. Bless him.

And eight minutes later the veteran schemer gathered a pass from Leighton Baines out on the left and cut out three Villa defenders with a square ball to Lukaku arriving on the edge of the box. The Belgian swept his low shot just wide of Guzan’s outstretched glove and into the bottom corner, prompting unbridled tumult amongst Europe’s biggest collection of navy coats and grey sweatshirts.

The best celebration though was reserved for Martinez who merely raised one fist, cool as you like, as if to say, ‘That’s exactly what we showed Osman to do on the iPad as he got ready to come on’.

Agbonlahor, who usually plays well against us, wasted a decent chance to equalise when he fired straight at Howard and the Villans were duly punished again on 81 minutes. A short corner routine – these have definitely improved under the new regime – was worked to Gareth Barry who cut the ball back to Osman on the edge of the penalty area and he tenderly side-footed the ball home with his left peg for a goal that was similar to both Lukaku’s and Kevin Mirallas’s last week against the Hull City Tigers.

Once all the weekend’s matches were played this win left us up in sixth place, but there’s really very little dividing the teams at the top. Considering this was meant to be a season of transition it continues to look almost effortless for Martinez. Obviously it’s still early but the great thing is that this is undoubtedly his side now and the good start, and to a degree the ongoing tribulations at Old Trafford, mean that we seem past the point where he will be judged against his predecessor. Even when we eventually do have a shocker of a performance and a result he has already earned enough trust from the supporters to get through it without calling everything about his managerial style into question.

That said, the one area he does need to work on is his interview technique. On Match of the Day he started speaking and just kept going until he got to a point where he had to sort of tail off because he had clearly forgotten what the original question was.

Let’s just hope that after we play Tottenham next week he’s rambling on delighted about the focus and the dedication of the group and all that, because that looks like a tough game and no mistake. Should be a cracker.

Incidentally, have you ever done any of the following?

Waved your arms about to try and put a penalty taker off?

Wolf-whistled the announcement of the attendance?

Sang ‘Your support is fucking shit’?

Kept hold of the ball when it’s gone out for the opposition’s throw?

Took your shirt off at the game?

No, thought not, we’re still to meet anyone who admits to any of them.

Everton 2 Manchester City 0

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Oh Everton.

Football supporting in the internet age often seems to boil down to watching a match with a fixed perspective and then interpreting what unfolds in a way that fits with the ‘narrative’ that you have constructed for yourself. In which case you can pretty much view this result and performance in one of two ways.

It was either a brilliant reaction to what happened against Wigan in the FA Cup, and a reminder of what this Everton is all about and has been in the main. That’s certainly the way that David Moyes saw it, judging by his prickly post-match reaction and comments.

The other is that it only underlined what a disgrace last week’s defeat was and showed that the team and the manager are essentially bottle-merchants.

What’s not up for debate is that the Toffees gave their performance of the season, comprehensively outplaying the reigning champions for an hour and then, following Steven Pienaar’s sending off, outfighting them for the remaining 30 minutes. And when in injury time Nikica Jelavic scored the second goal to settle the home side’s fraying nerves the reaction in the ground was one of pure elation – the sort that reminds you why you bother – and the bigger picture, be it stalled managerial contracts, rebuffed £124 million takeover offers or the temperature of the Scouse pies, felt fleetingly, mercifully irrelevant.

The Everton manager’s decision to play Phil Neville ahead of Darron Gibson against Wigan will forever remain a mysterious blot on his copy book, whatever one of those is, and the Irishman returned to the side and ran Seamus Coleman close for man-of-the-match. He’s far from the identikit of the modern top-flight footballer, in fact looks like he should be playing for Derby County on Match of the Seventies, but his touch and most importantly his awareness of what is going on around him are invaluable. If given the choice, would you take Mikel Arteta back to play in the same role?

After his contretemps with the Paddock last week there were some questions over whether Marouane Fellaini would retain his starting place – he did, and it was Jelavic who made way instead for Victor Anichebe. The Nigerian international centre-forward only really threatened the visitors’ goal once, blazing over on the turn in the first half, but still he gave as good a performance as he ever has in a blue shirt. He chased down the City defenders at every opportunity and held the ball up so well that his confidence grew to the point where he felt comfortable enough to gee up the crowd with whom his relationship has often been frosty at best. His standing ovation when he made way for Jelavic in the closing stages had a touch of Hollywood redemption about it. It also demonstrated that the Goodison crowd, as harsh as they can be, are always willing to recognise when someone is holding up their end of the deal.

Like Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez, Roberto Mancini is a foreign manager who seems overly concerned with the physical aspects of the English game – as a result he has built a team of talented but primarily big fuckers who won’t be pushed around. That seems to come at the expense of the genuine pace that runs through the Premier League’s standard bearers, Manchester United, and City are far easier to combat as a result. Like Everton on a bad day they all want the ball into their feet, hardly anyone makes unselfish runs, and apart from the isolated piece of invention from Carlos Tevez they were entirely predictable.

Everton were all over them from the first whistle but still it required a breath-taking goal to make the initial breakthrough. The outstanding Coleman appeared to have noodled his way into a bit of a jazz solo cul-de-sac before he rolled the ball back out of the box towards Leon Osman, lurking midway between the centre-circle and the edge of the penalty area. The England international subsequently struck a left-footed shot whose arc could only really be described using an equation that would in turn require several sheets of supplementary paper and a treasury tag. Joe Hart was certainly left bamboozled – granted, he’s not exactly Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting – as the ball announced itself joyously in the top corner of the Park End goal.

The shape of the game changed 15 minutes into the second half, from a footballing lesson to a display of grit and defensive brilliance, when Pienaar’s reckless tackle caught Javia Garcia high on the shin. The South African’s first half booking for a lunge on James Milner looked borderline given some of the tackles the badly-drawn snowman dished out unpunished, but he was always going to walk once he made contact with Garcia.

Mancini dipped into his catalogue of cunts, threw on Samir Nasri and City finally started to look slightly menacing. Rather than crumble though, as Everton are perfectly capable of doing with 11 men, never mind ten, this setback only seemed to inspire the players and the crowd to greater heights. As anyone will tell you, there’s no more glorious assault on the senses than the one you experience at an indignant Goodison Park.

If the atmosphere was any rawer someone would have killed a fat kid with a conch shell in the Top Balcony as Coleman denied Tevez with a courageous diving header that could have easily ended up in his own net. The fullback had already thwarted the Argentinian and his teammate Silva with an outrageous burst of pace and recovery tackle that left the two superstars shaking their heads in despair. Incidents like that were legion during the final stages, not least when Osman threw himself into a tackle on Pablo Zabaleta that had the crowd seeing spots in front of their eyes, such was the effort of expressing their approval.

There was some debate over the referee’s decision to award a free kick on the edge of the Everton box when a Tevez shot struck the hand of Fellaini a fair distance inside the area. It’s been said that Lee Probert indicated at the time that there had been two handling offences and the first, by Osman, occurred exactly where the kick was taken from. However, who cares? There’s no way that City deserved a point because a shot that was bound for Stanley Park inadvertently touched Fellaini’s mitt. How much fucking luck do these twats want anyway, especially after Kevin Mirallas had a perfectly good goal disallowed in the first half, Fellaini was blatantly fouled in the area with no penalty given and, let’s not forget, they have already benefitted from a sham of a decision that gifted them an equaliser at the Lonsdale Leisurewear Arena.

In short, sling your hook, scruffy.

There were a number of outstanding performers for the Blues, including official envelope dodger Jan Mucha. The Slovakian keeper’s belief seemed to grow with every save and by the end of the match he clearly felt invincible, coming for everything and making one double save from Tevez and then Milner that brought the crowd to their feet.

If City had forced an equaliser the main focus would have been on Moyes’s decision to withdraw the dangerous, counter-attacking Mirallas on 69 minutes and replace him with the Highland Holtby, Steven Naismith. It seemed counter-intuitive to everyone except the manager, but to be fair to Naismith it was him who won the ball from Gael Clichy in injury time and set Fellaini free to charge through the heart of the City defence. The Belgian’s pass out to substitute Jelavic wasn’t the best, and the chance looked to have gone as the Croatian fought to get the ball out of his feet. He cut back onto his left though, and with the now immortal words ‘Just fucking hit it’ ringing out from the Gwladys Street, his shot took a nick off a defender that sent it curling past Hart and into the net.

Beautiful bedlam.

Dissect it, analyse it, extrapolate your thoughts and try to find some deeper meaning and broader perspective. Or just revel in being there through all the shite just so you can experience these inexplicable, indefinable moments of bottled lightning.

We’ll probably get beaten by Stoke like.

West Ham 1 Everton 2

crazy in the coconut

The wacky refereeing was always going to be the story at the end of a game featuring a ludicrous red card for each side and the extremely harsh decision to disallow an Everton goal.

Just as noteworthy though from an Everton perspective was how a line-up that nobody got close to predicting played some decent stuff and took all three points from what looked like a tough away game.

In the absence of Marouane Fellaini, Kevin Mirallas, Tony Hibbert and Seamus Coleman, David Moyes played Phil Jagielka at right-back and threw the returning Phil Neville and Victor Anichebe straight back into action. Almost everyone did the wince that you normally reserve for horrible Youtube videos when they saw the teamsheet, but the Blues coped with the changes far better than anyone could have really hoped.

Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar were both at their best and a home side that was also depleted by injuries struggled to match their intelligence on the ball.

It was Sylvain Distin who had the game’s first real chance though. He should have scored when meeting a Leighton Baines free-kick with a powerful downward header but the ball bounced harmlessly over the bar.

Moments later the Blues had the ball in the net, this time when Osman crashed home a header from Baines’s deep corner, but the first wacky decision of the day by referee Anthony Taylor saw him listen to his weird Escape From New York looking linesman and disallow the goal. Apparently it was for a foul by Anichebe on Jussi Jaaskelainen but fucking hell, it was nothing. Anichebe had his arm around the keeper’s side for a second as they waited for the kick to come in, but if you are going to start giving them then how about the shove between the shoulder blades that that keepers always give the striker on the line at every corner? Ridiculous.

Everton’s indignation was only deepened as the home side immediately went downfield and opened the scoring themselves. Carlton Cole cut inside Johnny Heitinga and from just outside the box drilled a shot into the bottom corner of Tim Howard’s goal. It was the sort of goal that Cole never really scores, and although he took it well he was given far too much room to manoeuvre.

Nikica Jelavic shot straight at Jaaskelainen from six yards as Everton probed for an equaliser; the Toffees were definitely the neater team but we’ve seen it plenty of times already this season when they struggle to convert possession into clear-cut opportunities. Thankfully though, on 63 minutes they drew level when Anichebe got his head on Pienaar’s cross and flicked the ball past the keeper and into the far corner of the net.

Fair play to Anichebe, we skitted him in the preview, wondering why Moyes always makes a point of listing him in the absentees, but he does seem to have developed a knack of nicking goals in tight games, especially away from home. And let’s face it, if he hadn’t netted here there would definitely have been an inquest from supporters into why he was chosen ahead of Steven Naismith, Apostolos Vellios or even Ross Barkley.

Three minutes after Everton levelled, referee Taylor made his second inexplicable blunder, issuing Cole with a straight red when his high foot caught Baines on the arm. The decision was so poor that even the Blues’ players looked mortified for Cole – they did everything but organise a whip-round and sign a big card for him as he traipsed off the pitch.

If all that wasn’t bad enough for Big Sam, he tore off his bib, wiped the barbecue sauce off his fingers and pointed a spare rib in disgust at his players when Everton scored the winner on 72 minutes.

Baines, Pienaar and Osman – an absolute stone-cold classic triumvirate of ‘Everton’ footballers – combined on the edge of the West Ham area before Osman, with his those feet, soft like John McEnroe’s hands, made a mug of the most overrated underrated player in the league, Mark Noble, and crossed low into the six-yard box for Pienaar to force the ball home.

Jelavic almost put the game to bed but a good challenge by James Tomkins was enough to force his shot into the side-netting. That kept ten-man West Ham alive and they almost saved a point when Kevin Nolan put a couple of shots narrowly wide when you might have expected him to do better.

In the final minute the referee capped off his bizarre performance by dismissing Darron Gibson, again for an innocuous and completely accidental high challenge. Moyes and Allardyce are going to get all tag team on the FA and should, surely, get both cards downgraded to yellows.

Four points from Stoke and West Ham away is pretty good going but the top four have taken on an all-too-familiar look now, with Arsenal back occupying their coveted mingebag sweet-spot behind Manchester United, City and Chelsea.

It would be ace if the Blues could build on this then and really make a statement in the two home games over Christmas and have us all going into the New Year buzzing but, well, you know what they’re fucking like.

Finally, a happy Christmas and New Year to you all and thankyou to everyone who has been reading the website since the summer and all those who have sent encouraging emails, left comments and passed the link onto their friends – it’s all very much appreciated.

Oh, and this is definitely the last thing, if you receive a Kindle for Christmas and are horrified by the price of the books, well, Vision Sports Publishing are offering The Everton Miscellany in magic electrical format for just over a quid.