Spurs Preview

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Gameweek 25 in the Premier League and it’s all to play for, boys and girls.

And yeah, that is gameweek, all one word, even if the spellchecker in Word really doesn’t like it. We’ve got a new look website, a new logo and we are using fancy American-style sports words.

Or sportswords, even.

Thanks very much to Jonny Gray for the logo. He accepted no payment, because as usual we never offered him any. Hopefully he understands though that it represents a unique opportunity for his work to be seen by literally dozens of people around the world.

But seriously now, we are very grateful and think it looks dead smart.

Thankyou also to computer whizz Laura Johnson who offered to help us sort the website out. We didn’t need her assistance at this point – so if it’s shite, don’t blame her – but we are always overwhelmed by the generosity of people out there, united by a love of the Toffees and gratuitous swearing.

One blue nation, under a fucking groove.

Talking of all things blue and internet and all that, the club invited a selection of active online supporters to go along on a magical mystery tour that culminated in them being the first to find out that…

Hang on, wait for it.

They’ve signed a new five-year kit deal with Umbro.

They must have been blown away.

In fairness, they got to meet Roberto Martinez which will have been ace, and the Blues’ boss expounded on how he is sure that the new kit will help the team perform. And all that.

So, here we go, we are going to be unashamed misery arses here.

The club’s marketing people obviously adore Martinez with his sunny disposition and seemingly unlimited availability. You can imagine he makes their job so much easier – ‘That last miserable cunt wouldn’t give us the steam off his shite’ – but they need to be careful they don’t abuse the privilege.

The position of Everton manager itself should carry a certain amount of gravitas, and Martinez himself is a really smart man. When he speaks it should be a case of turning the volume up on the telly and hushing the kids. He needs to be used sparingly then and not simply wheeled out to endorse anything and everything.

‘I really think that Chang lager is perfect for Everton. It has a warmth that reflects the atmosphere of the club and when the supporters consume a lot of it and scream ‘come on Everton these are sheet’ that lifts the players and helps them perform and fulfil their potential as a group.’

Less is more sometimes. They need to protect the Martinez brand lest his become the Burberry baseball cap of football soundbites, piled high in the Sports Direct bin of aimless punditry. That doesn’t even make sense – but if it did, Brendan Rodgers’ outbursts would be the Londsdale three-quarter length kecks, that’s for sure.

Going back to the new kit, Robert Elstone added some spiel about the history of Everton and Umbro, but in all honesty they miss the point with regards to what supporters really care about. Something along the lines of ‘The new kit won’t look ridiculous and we are guaranteed that there will be no supply issues’ would be more relevant than a load of press release piffle about performance, etc.  The players don’t care about it for a start – let’s face it, they would wear their granny’s skin stitched into a onesy if there was a few a bob in it for them – and it won’t make them play better.

Ultimately it’s just another blue nylon scratchy shirt that a lot of people see as their way of helping the club out morally and financially. And even then, if you believe some tinfoil-hatted internet sources, we negotiated a deal with Kitbag to supply our gear that is the footballing equivalent of Blue Monday so we lose money on every shirt sold.

Or something.

But enough of all that. A trip to the Lane on Sunday is intriguing to say the least. We’re not really used to being so close to that all important fourth place at this time of year and that sort of brings its own pressures. The need to pick up points in each and every game is relentless when the Champions League is your genuine ambition – and it still has to be at this point – so you don’t get to write any weekend off.

So we go to Tottenham, who are somehow only a point behind us despite both clubs experiencing very different ‘narratives’ this season, knowing there’s a lot at stake.

Barn-owl-featured Tim Sherwood’s thumbs-in-the-braces cockney ‘I don’t have time for any of this new-fangled nonsense this is a simple game and we’re Spurs we only play one way and I learned at the knee of Bill Nicholson ooh wasn’t Gazza brilliant!’ attitude comes across as massively disingenuous from someone who is chiefly remembered as a sideways-passing bore of a Blackburn player in the second worst side to ever win the league (Leeds, Carl Shutt, etc. before you ask). That said, Tottenham have undoubtedly perked up since the departure of that ludicrous Portuguese chancer, as they get the ball forward a bit quicker, using the occasionally brilliant Emmanuel Adebayor as a target-man instead of having that little Spanish fella legging around waiting for through-balls that never came from the eighteen man midfield.

Spurs held onto the ball well at Goodison but never really threatened consistently during a tiresome stalemate – they will definitely have more of a go on Sunday and, like all of Everton’s opponents now, will have noted with some interest what happened at Anfield the other week.

Hey, hey, it’s ok to talk about it. This is a friendly space. Relax.

The Blues themselves could have Seamus Coleman back, which will make a massive difference to the way we play. Asking John Stones, a wet-behind-the-ears centre-half, to play out of position at the sharp end of the Premier League was expecting a lot in itself. He was certainly never going to be able to emulate the best attacking fullback in the league.

Gerard Deulofeu is close to a return as well. Having him on the bench is great because despite his inconsistency and tendency to overplay, when he comes on during a tight game he gives the crowd a massive lift. In fact it’s hard to remember a substitute who had such an impact on the expectation levels of the supporters, probably because players with Deulofeu’s immense ability would normally be certain starters.

Finally, it appears that the Blues tried to get Jack Rodwell back on loan during the transfer window. Exactly why is anyone’s guess because he’s crap, don’t let anyone tell you any different. He’s essentially a multi-millionaire because he was massive for his age and it’s hard to imagine how him sheepishly jogging around the centre circle for us again would be any sort of improvement on what we have.

But that’s all conjecture. The reality is the squad starting to look a bit healthier, Liverpool spunking most of the advantage they gained in the derby and throwing more toys on the floor than backstage with the Lost Prophets, and Everton still being very much ‘in the mix’.

All good stuff, and almost unthinkable less than a fortnight ago.

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Everton 4 Queens Park Rangers 0

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Previously, on This Is Not Football…

Right, so after we got beat by Sunderland we had a hard game against Southampton, especially with a couple of big players suspended, but an absolute screamer from Seamus Coleman settled us down early on but then in the second half they equalised when Joel Robles looked like he was being attacked by a swarm of bees as Gaston Ramires’s shot flew through him and into the net. However, while Mark Clattenburg was upsetting and confusing flavour-of-the-month-ill-judged-move-to-Spurs-if-he’s-lucky Adam Lallana by constantly calling him ‘shit hair’, James McCarthy cleverly set up Romelu Lukaku for a winner that was taken more confidently than you would expect from someone who recently has looked dead set on a mission to prove why we wasn’t first always choice for West Brom, never mind Chelsea. Stoke City was next and it wasn’t a classic but there was a stirring climax as Leon Osman’s clever play provoked a wild challenge from Jermaine Pennant in injury time and Leighton Baines did what he does, sweeping home the penalty. Mark Hughes’s post match observation that amounted to ‘they twatted us at Goodison the other week so we’re not complaining’ summed up the high regard this Everton team are held in by the rest of the Premier League.

And then Antonin Alcaraz emerged from the showers and it was all a dream…

That pretty much brings us up to date with the story over the New Year so let’s fade in now to Goodison Park for the FA Cup third round between the Blues and QPR’s selection of well-paid water-treaders and baggage carriers.

‘Jesus, their bench looks strong….if this was 2010.’

Under Roberto Martinez we no longer suffer injuries, we uncover opportunities for other players to get first team experience, and while we all like to snicker affectionately at the eternal sunshine of the Spaniard’s mind, in the past six or weeks or so circumstance has in fact exposed Evertonians to the dervish delights of  Bryan Oviedo’s wing-back wizardry and now the quite exquisite central defensive pairing of Alacaraz and John Stones who were an absolute pleasure to watch as they cruised through this frighteningly one-sided affair.

On the rare occasion that Everton over-confidence allowed a break from the away team the danger was inevitably snuffed out by Alcaraz stepping forward like your fat uncle, holding a can of Fosters, intervening in a match at a family barbecue and chipping your service station fly-away off your toes and into the safety of the utility room. And then farting dead loud.

He looks ace, and with his hunched shoulders and smouldering South American looks he has earned the nickname (right here, now) of ‘the Straq at the back’. Or the ‘back Straq’ for short.

That’s right, and when he pairs up with our ginger midfield dynamo for a game of head tennis they call themselves ‘the back Straq and Mac’.

To be honest, none of that happened.

He is dead cool though. Considering he and Gareth Barry retired two years ago it is an unalloyed joy to watch them make much younger, fitter men look so out of their depth with such regularity.

As for Alcaraz’s rooky sidekick, Stones, well, despite all the goals and long stretches of immaculate Everton football the highlight of the match was his telescopic-legged tackle on Matt Phillips that left the one-time Everton target flat on his face while the whip-thin young defender strode forward like Paolo Maldini with a look on his face that said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what the Stones is all about, bitches, you better get used to it’.

Bear in mind as well that these two are replacing Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka, arguably the best central defensive duo in Britain this season.

It’s just a bit mad at the moment, as we seem to be rhapsodising, eulogising and something else that ends in ‘ising’ about a different player every fortnight. First it was Lukaku, then Gerard Deulofeu, then Ross Barkley, James McCarthy, and now, even better than the two centre-halves, we have Coleman absolutely murdering teams week in, week out. From right-back.

As for the goals and what have you, the first came on 35 minutes. Speedo-sporting poolside muscle oiler Julio Cesar had a decent game but a change of pace from Oviedo and Barkley opened the visitors’ defence up, the England midfielder shifted the ball just inside the box and then beat the Brazilian keeper with a low curler into the bottom corner of the Park End net.

On 44 minutes, and more or less sealing the result, pressure from Barry allowed Nikica Jelavic to nick the ball from Karl Henry, steady himself and absolutely ram a shot home from 20 yards or so. Cesar barely even saw it.

The Croatian is linked with a move from Goodison, with Loftus Road a possible destination, and the goal certainly gave him a lift. On 68 minutes he scored again, this time from close range, converting a brilliant near-post cross from Oviedo.

Jelavic should have kept the match ball but after Oviedo was fouled and the Gwladys Street lit up with camera phones looking to mark what might be the popular striker’s last appearance in royal blue, the absolute plum chipped the penalty onto the crossbar.

It was about the only highlight of the afternoon for the bedraggled QPR support but before they could sit down from their ‘calm down’ gestures, and while the apparently insulted Cesar was still unbunching his drawers, Barkley powered through the centre, fed the ball into the path of Coleman on the edge of the area and he effortlessly unleashed what one observer labelled a ‘power side-foot’ across the keeper and high into the far corner.

Jelavic then had an effort cleared off the line, so never got to redeem himself for the wank penalty. Which was hilarious, quite frankly.

The FA Cup then, as it should be, a joyous break from the po-faced ‘pressure’ of the Premier League.

We like it.

We like it a lot.

Swansea and Sunderland and That

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Big wheel keep on turning.

This is being written dead late by which time you’ve read every last match report online or if you’ve not got a computer you’ve at least been to the barbers especially to read all their papers. That last bit obviously only applies to subscribers reading via the TINF semaphore service.

Anyway, given that so much time has expired, and the Arsenal game’s coming on the telly in a bit, this whole piece is going to be smooshed together with the Sunderland preview and the whole ungodly mess is going to be diced into bite-sized Parmentiers.

The term you are reaching for here is ‘phoning it in’.

Roberto Martinez warns about over-hyping Ross Barkley.

And rightly so. The midfielder scored a brilliant free kick and had another powerful run and shot, but some of the reaction in the press after the game was way over the top. By the standard Barkley set in the derby and at Old Trafford and the Emirates his overall performance here was way below par, to the extent that he looked like he was carrying an injury for most of the first half.

Anyone who writes about matches can’t help but have their report take shape while the game’s in progress and when he slipped when put in by Steven Pienaar the old faithful crutch of saying, ‘summed his afternoon up’, loomed large.

It would seem from now on though that much of the tabloid media have got their story where Everton are concerned.

Barkley doesn’t practise free kicks.

Firstly, why not? What else has he got to do that’s so pressing that he can’t have a little go now and again?

Have a word, Roberto.

Anyway, practise or not, what a timely humdinger this one was.

The top players nowadays – and we think Barkley is one, if you’ve got a bit of a titty lip about saying he wasn’t quite as divine in this game as the papers reckon – kicking these NASA footballs with their isosceles boots, seem to approach free kicks from improbable, post-modern angles. It’s almost as if they aim for an imaginary goal set at 30-odd degrees to the posts. Which is problematic for goalkeepers who are notorious for dealing almost exclusively in reality.

Anyway, whatever plane Barkley was operating in he struck the ball such that it arced viciously, like a mis-hit Swingball, but instead of striking a French exchange student in the neck it caromed off the slick underbelly of the crossbar and crossed the line in rain-sodden triumph. For a ball.

Seamus Coleman’s goal wasn’t bad either.

In fact it was utterly sensational, and no more than his performance deserved.

Coleman has always been popular just for his sheer enthusiasm and endless energy, but he just seems to improve all the time in every aspect of his game. In interviews he always comes across as level-headed and all that, but on the pitch he is utterly fearless and respecter of no reputation. No matter who he is up against his attitude seems to be, ‘Sound, dead skilful are you? Well today I am planning on running up and down here like fuck until someone tells me to stop. Care to join me, you bad jockey? Well let’s dance.’

‘Why didn’t David Moyes buy Barkley instead of Marouane Fellaini?’

Loads of observers are saying that. And the simple answer is ‘because only one of them was for sale’.

The same applies to Arsenal fans who keep assuming that they can just have Coleman as a replacement for Bacary Sagna.

Until they all inevitably spunk it up the wall on players’ wages the bigger-than-expected telly deal has given everyone a bit of financial leeway, at least to the extent that clubs like Everton, for so long scratching around to keep paying their three points over the vig every month, no longer have to cast a desperate eye over their prettiest daughter whenever the light is blocked through the pane of glass on the front door and those heavy knuckles begin knock, knock, knocking.

In short, fuck off.

Something about Sunderland.

We nearly always batter them at Goodison but this season has shown plenty of clubs that if you take any opponents for granted then you can very well come unstuck where you least expect it. They are bottom of the league for a reason though, i.e. because they are cack.

Their manager, Gus Poyet, comes across as something of a crank – one that looks a lot like a cartoon wolf who drives a car in an old, vaguely racist Disney feature.

His suggestion last week that the FA should consider having the season running to coincide with the school terms was an absolute doozy that never really got as much attention as it deserved.

Essentially it boiled down to, ‘Yeeeeeeaaaah, you think being in football is good like, but the holidays are shite. Not like them teachers, fucking hell…’

None of the reports confirmed whether he then went on to say something about ‘lazy frigging firemen. They’ve all got second jobs doing building and that, you know’.

Or whether he whistled as an attractive lady walked past, prompting his beating heart to literally protrude a foot out of his chest and his massive tongue to loll all the way to the floor.

He probably never, in fairness.

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.