West Ham And That

Feels like I've swallered a billiard ball, Jesus!

Take the skinheads the Boleyn, take them the Boleyn.

Everton go to West Ham United for this Barclays Premier League match minus their two famous Belgians as well as Tony Hibbert and, so it’s not only David Moyes who always brings his absence up, Victor Anichebe.

The chances are Steven Naismith will move up into the Tim Cahill/Marouane Fellaini/false-number-nine-or-genuine-number-ten/Peter Beardsley/Nigel Clough position with Steven Pienaar and Bryan Oviedo swapping wings every 15 minutes. That would seem to make the most sense anyway: Naismith is hardly electrifying out wide so he might as well have a little go up front where he can re-establish the partnership with Nikica Jelavic that was once the scourge of Falkirk and Gretna.

It’s going to be a hard game then for a side that is struggling to win games anyway, going to somewhere like West Ham shorn of both its quickest attacker and its most powerful. And Victor Anichebe.

While not quite as brazen as Stoke City in their approach, the Hammers are nonetheless managed by the living embodiment of all that is absurd about top flight football, Sam Allardyce, and so any visiting team has to cope with what that entails. ‘Keeping the ball alive in the box’ is the phrase they use to describe what Allardyce teams do well, and that seems to involve lobbing the ball up in the air in the vague direction of the goal and having a load of big fuckers challenge for it rather eagerly.

That’s fair enough – Everton are hardly averse to swinging the ball in towards Fellaini, or occasionally that young Greek chap, and hoping that it falls for Jelavic. See Hotspurs, Tottenham, for a prime example.

While they are doing well – and for West Ham, let’s face it, they are doing great – there are going to be very few supporters getting too uppity that they have moved away from their traditional ‘pass it around neatly and lose’ style that now has its most fervent disciple much further north. And west. Brendan Rodgers, if you need it spelling out for you.

Say what you like about Allardyce, but his approach means he kind of lives and dies by results more than most. There’s no ‘creating a narrative’ like Rodgers has done at Liverpool, whereby you insulate yourself from a certain degree of criticism because there is always the promise of jam tomorrow once the players understand your style or you finally get enough cash to assemble a squad that can match your exacting standards. Standards like they have at, ooh, let’s think, Barcelona, for instance. With Supersized Samuel the football is never going to be attractive but it has been proven to be effective over and over again. The moment it stops being effective though and West Ham have a bad spell you can guarantee the ‘we just want to see some decent football’ cudgel is the first one his critics reach for.

In Kevin Nolan, Allardyce’s Phil Neville if you will, the Irons have a player disliked by Evertonians for a number of perfectly valid reasons, most notably his utter Kopitiness, that challenge on Anichebe at St. James’ Park, the fucking ballbag chicken dance celebration and just his overall unnecessary sweatiness. For all that though, you have to give him some grudging respect. Well, obviously you don’t have to, but it’s churlish to completely ignore his footballing qualities just because everything else tends to mark him out as something of a massive twat.

If nothing else his goalscoring record from central midfield is impressive, averaging about one in three during his time at Newcastle United and West Ham, but he’s also one of those fellas who looks like he genuinely hates losing. Let’s face it, if Allardyce always wants you in his team it’s clear that you are not some massive fanny; you’re the kind of leader or strong character who, we are always led to believe, you absolutely need to make a team work in what is a pretty cut-throat sport. You could even go as far as to suggest that there are times when Everton seem to be crying out for a few like him, especially since Tim Cahill left.

Going back to Allardyce, taking the piss out of him feels old hat now, especially since the advent of The Big Sam on Twitter, and he does seem to have mellowed somewhat since he moved to London. He’s tried to smarten himself up a bit too, and as a result he now constantly has the look of the father-of-the-bride who is beginning to feel a bit tired and emotional as he delivers a speech where he goes completely off-script and starts telling everyone just what he really thinks of them.

‘No, I won’t be piggin’ quiet, Margaret. I paid for all this and it’s about time some of these heard a few home truths…’

Fair enough, old habits die hard.

Everton 1 Norwich City 1

We all know the details by now. A distinctly patched up Everton side took an early lead in the first half, looked ropy as all fuck in the second but appeared to have limped over the line with the win until Sebastian Bassong scored a horror goal in injury time.

The truth of the matter is that injuries and suspensions saw the Blues without any Belgians or a proper right-back of any description. Phil Jagielka had to play fullback while ahead of him on the right wing was a Costa Rican left-back with hardly any experience of English football. Similarly the central midfield anchor-man was Thomas Hitzlsperger, a player who looked as if his career was over a few months ago.

Nikica Jelavic was joined up front by Steven Naismith and as a partnership they managed to look distinctly SPL for most of the match.

In Naismith’s defence, he did score the opener on 11 minutes following a great pass from Hitzlsperger and even better control on his chest from Bryan Oviedo. The lively ex-Copenhagen man coolly picked out Naismith with a cut-back and he fired the ball into the roof of the net.

Everton remained the better side for most of the first half but not by much – this was not one of those ‘if we could just start converting some of these scores of chances’ games.

Norwich didn’t have to up their performance much after the break to give themselves some belief, and as the match wore on they began to look increasingly ominous. Hitzlsperger was clearly shattered and his confidence seemed to crumble following an over-ambitious throw-in that allowed the visitors to break on goal. Johnny Heitinga and the normally laid-back Leighton Baines tore an absolute strip off the chubby-cheeked German. Indeed, Baines looked frustrated with his teammates throughout and even David Moyes was forced to comment on his left-back’s clear annoyance with Jelavic’s lack of effort in terms of making himself a decent target.

On a more positive note, Baines almost scored goal of the season when, probably because he had no one to pass to, he shimmied through the Canaries’ midfield and defence only for John Ruddy to beat away his ferocious drive.

At the other end Tim Howard was increasingly called into action, making a superb save from Anthony Pilkington’s free kick before Heitinga cleared Robert Snodgrass’s shot off the line.

Unfortunately though, the Everton keeper always seems as likely to make a balls-up as a blinding save and Bassong’s equaliser was just another in a long succession of his baffling contributions to shitty results.

Naismith looked like he had got away with a ludicrous cross into the Gwladys Street when all he had to do was square the ball to Jelavic, but no one reckoned on Norwich being granted a nothing free kick inside the Everton half. It’s the second week in succession that it’s happened, and while the referees’ errors are annoying, the players still have plenty of opportunity to make sure that they don’t have a bearing on the result.

The free kick was swung in deep, beyond the far post where Bassong, unchallenged, managed a header that Howard got his body behind but for some reason could only slap into the roof of the net. It looked ridiculous.

Ultimately, the less quality there is in the side, the worse we play. Moyes said he wants more competition for places in the first team but no one realistically thinks we are going to go out and buy top quality in January. If we had the cash we would have done it in the summer.

We just have to hope that key players start to get fit and return to action sooner rather than later. In the meantime the rest have to at least keep grafting and do their best to work their way through what has turned into a distinctly shitty patch of form.

Reading 2 Everton 1

Well at least this result made a change from drawing with really average teams.

David Moyes said that he was as pissed off as he has ever been after a game, but it couldn’t have come as that much of a surprise to him as an all too familiar pattern of play saw the Blues dominate the early stages, fail to open up a decent lead and then allow very limited opponents back into the game courtesy of hopeless defending.

Thomas Hitzlsperger, Der Spirit-Level, was a surprise starter in place of the injured Phil Neville while Steven Naismith continued on the right while we await the return of Kevin Mirallas.

In the first half Reading were shocking – the worst side Everton have faced this season. Indeed, the Toffees should have been ahead within the first couple of minutes when first Adam Federici blocked a Phil Jagielka effort from close range and then watched as the unmarked Nikica Jelavic volleyed Hitzlsperger’s cross into the turf and harmlessly wide. It was a passage of play that summed up much of the rest of the half.

A goal did arrive on nine minutes though as a Reading defence that looked like chickens with a fox in the coop every time the ball came into their box failed to deal with a straightforward bouncing ball, allowing Naismith to score from six yards.

After that it was the usual procession of Leon Osman pea-rollers, some decent saves and plenty of shrug-inducing misjudged final balls from Everton as they walked the ball to the edge of the home side’s penalty area with impunity. Jelavic and Marouane Fellaini should have run riot against such a disorganised back four, but the pair of them looked too casual and failed to get hold of the ball and do the basics consistently.

Jelavic’s only notable contribution should have seen a penalty awarded when his fierce shot was blatantly handled by Sean Morrison. It was the second Stonewall spot kick – so blatant it caused a riot in a gay bar – that referee Martin Atkinson failed to award. The first was when early-90s Dennis Leary-looking tripe-hound Kasper Gorkss clearly clattered Naismith.

1-0 at half-time then and you just knew that Brian McDermott’s team talk would be along the lines of: ‘We should be dead and buried here, so see this second half as an opportunity – be a bit more aggressive and we will get chances’. With some of those sort of crouching fist pumps he does thrown in for good measure.

Lo and behold, after only five minutes Martin Atkinson gave a bollocks free kick against Hitzlsperger, it got lofted into the near post area and Adam Le Fondre, hardly the most fearsome target-man, found himself free to head past Tim Howard.

Only Sonny and Cher playing over the public address system would have made the whole mood feel more like Groundhog Day.

Fellaini hit a post with a header and Hitzlsperger volleyed narrowly wide, but there was no real conviction from a generally sloppy and off-colour Everton team.

To top it all off, on 78 minutes winless Reading took the lead from the penalty spot courtesy of a ridiculous challenge by Seamus Coleman. The young Irishman’s enthusiasm is always commendable but in all honesty, the Southampton game aside, he has looked something of a liability during this spell covering for Tony Hibbert. He makes too many bad decisions when he’s under pressure – none more so than his leap into the back of Le Fondre. It looked like someone trying to break down a door but realising while in mid-air that it’s a lot harder to do in real life than it is on television. Even Atkinson couldn’t miss it, and similarly Le Fondre was always going to do the business from the spot.

It’s hard to know what Moyes is meant to change about his team given that most of what they have been doing this season has been exemplary. Even at the Madejski, where the second half was really disappointing, they should have scored at least two or three before the break, and that’s besides the two denied penalties.

The return of Mirallas will obviously be a welcome one, and dare we say it Hibbert’s too, whenever he’s fit. The forwards could do with being a bit more aggressive – they look as if they give balls up a little bit too easily at times and hardly won a free-kick all game – and the defenders might consider not conceding at least one soft goal every single game.

Other than that, we are still in fifth place, but it’s not lost on anybody that a mass of points have been dropped unnecessarily over the last month or so. And the upshot of that is we are now going to have to beat some pretty good teams if we want to maintain any genuine ambition of a fourth place finish.

Everton 2 Liverpool 2

The immediate aftermath of a Merseyside derby officially branded ‘pulsating’ saw both sets of supporters trying to work out who was the most indignant with the final result.

Liverpool saw a perfectly good winning goal disallowed deep into injury time, scored by a player who could have had two red cards.

Everton are the better side, with a formidable home record, but they hamstrung themselves by conceding two early goals. The first came on 13 minutes when weak play from Seamus Coleman and Steven Naismith down Everton’s right allowed José Enrique to fire a low cross along the six-yard line. It ran through to Luis Suarez who smashed the ball back the way it came, off the legs of Leighton Baines and into the Park End net.

The Uruguayan celebrated by diving in front of David Moyes, in response to the Everton manager’s pre-match comments about the way he cons referees. Moyes’s response afterwards was to make light of it. He also criticised his own captain, Phil Neville, for a rubbish dive that earned him a booking. Some other managers might have reacted a bit differently

Six minutes after the opener, Goodison was stunned again when Suarez lost his markers to wander into space and glance Steven Gerrard’s long free-kick past Tim Howard.

It just seemed incredible that the Blues were going to blow it again against a side as poor as this Liverpool one. Even those of us who are sceptical about mental blocks and inferiority complexes begin to scratch our heads in that sort of situation.

Thankfully the Blues’ reply was immediate. On 21 minutes Liverpool keeper Brad Jones punched a corner out to the edge of the box from where the excellent Leon Osman drilled a low shot home with the help of a deflection off Joe Allen.

From then on Everton fucking murdered them. Kevin Mirallas, carrying a large part of the creative burden in the absence of Steven Pienaar, took the game to Liverpool and caused them all sorts of problems. He had their shit-looking fullback Andre Wisdom twisted like DNA, and it was no surprise when the equaliser came from the Belgian’s work down the left. Mirallas’s low cross struck Marouane Fellaini who in turn fired the ball across the six-yard box. Naismith and Nikica Jelavic exploited the gap between the Liverpool central defenders, with the Scottish international getting the crucial touch.

Unfortunately a shocker of a challenge by Suarez, standing on Mirallas’s left ankle, meant he was replaced by the frankly hopeless Magaye Gueye at half-time. The Liverpool striker went unpunished though – it wasn’t until he repeated the indiscretion, stepping on Sylvain Distin’s Achilles, that he received a yellow card. That’s the challenge that has received all the attention, but the foul on Mirallas looked even more cynical and premeditated.

He’s a cunt, quite frankly.

Liverpool were one more goal away from total collapse but Everton couldn’t force the breakthrough before half-time. With Mirallas off the pitch in the second half, the Blues were still on top but lost that real cutting edge. Brendan Rodgers completely changed his side and his formation for the second period, such was the chasing they were getting, and it made for a strange 45 minutes.

It almost felt like extra-time in a game where both sides are down to ten men. They frequently lost their shape, struggled to really exert any control and the whole thing seemed on the verge of descending into chaos.

Raheem Sterling, another who got away with a ton of niggly fouls, should have put Liverpool back in front early on but screwed a shot wide when clean through on Howard. At the other end Jelavic planted a free header wide and was only inches away from converting a low cross from Seamus Coleman.

That just left the madness at the end.

Liverpool were clearly robbed when a linesman deemed that Suarez was offside as he turned Sebastian Coates’s header down over the line, but it would have been an undeserved winner scored by a rat who should have been sent off. So they’ll get little sympathy from us.

Everton were disappointed that they again failed to take all three points from a game in which they were superior, but then at 2-0 down we all would have settled for a point.

Everton finished the day in fifth place – Liverpool remain six points behind their Merseyside rivals in 12th.