Stevenage Preview

Right then, first thing’s first. Own up.

Come on, we’re not going on until you do.

One of you knows who it was.

According to the admin tools of this here website, someone has been entering its address into some sort of web analytics site which creates a link entitled ‘analysing competition’.

Competition, eh?

Well, take this as a warning shot across your bows, if indeed you have any bows, we are not going to surrender this much-sought-after market segment without one heck of a struggle, daddio. We’re planting a flag in our tranche of the ‘read the official site and all the papers’ reports and the proper supporters ones as well that rate players out of 10 and all that and I’ve still got 20 minutes left until my next ciggy break, let’s see what sort of cranky bollocks that dickhead has put on there, if indeed it’s even been updated, with any luck it will be something that slightly aggravates me by not confirming my existing opinions’ pie, and you will take it over our dead bodies – or when we just get fed up and jib it on a whim. Whatever comes first.

Consider that the sheepy mitten thrown down.

We couldn’t find a real gauntlet.

Now, ordinarily it would make sense to write an absolute humdinger of a preview from here on in, to hammer home the point that we’ve well and truly got our literary dander up. Despite not knowing what a ‘dander’ actually is.

That might not happen though.

First off anyway, let’s go back and see what we said about Stevenage after the Capital One Cup game at Goodison earlier in the season.

Right, are you back? Did you read it all? We’re going to be discussing it here so if you never, go back and take it all in. The more you put in, the more you will get out.

Honestly, you people.

Anyway, things have certainly moved on since that encounter with Stevenage, with the goalscoring face-saver Marouane Fellaini joining the Old Trafford fúck de clustier and Everton settling into their passing style to the point where it is not the ongoing divisive, philosophical debating point that we predicted. There are times when the Blues don’t play well, but everyone seems to be pretty much agreed now that it’s when the Roberto Martinez plan isn’t executed correctly and, crucially, not a fundamental flaw in the blueprint itself.

What? You can’t have a ‘project’ without a ‘blueprint’, everyone knows that. Everyone in the ‘group’, anyway.

Stevenage manager Graham Westley has been attempting some cut-price mind games this week, suggesting that Martinez would be mad to play his first choice team ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Psychoville, and also stating that the Toffees can expect a bizarre environment at the seven thousand capacity Broadhall Way.

How bizarre can it possibly be? Are Westley and his players going to simulate a really bad drug episode from 1970s cinema by wearing oversized animal heads, laughing maniacally and looming in and out of focus during the warm up? It’s happened before.

Talking of drugs on screen, this century’s ‘jumping the shark’, the moment when a television series announces it is creatively bankrupt, should be the episode when some uptight character inadvertently eats ‘special cookies’ and says ‘Mmm, what’s in these, they’re gorgeous. Is it cinnamon?’ while their housemate looks on horrified and replies, ‘N-o-o-o-o-o-t exactly….’

The only exception to this rule is the Operation Goodguys Christmas special when they use bags of confiscated ‘special snow’ during their increasingly agitated pantomime.

While we’re on the subject of the telly, have you noticed that when anyone is meant to be drinking a cup of tea or coffee it’s always empty? Do they forget to CGI the liquid in?

And when will girls ever learn that if they get in a pickup truck with a college sports star after the prom, especially one who is swigging from a hip flask, the night’s going to end up with a ripped dress and a chase through a cornfield?

So anyway, Seamus Coleman’s injury isn’t thought to be serious and he could be back for the derby. And as a shout out to all the dads out there, ‘What, did you get kicked in the head, lad?’ Because that’s what they would say if you told them that you had a ‘soft tissue injury’.

In other news, the Blues have been courting a bit of controversy this week, starting with Romelu Lukaku standing up for Nicolas Anelka in the wake of the French striker’s quenelle celebration and subsequent ban. To be honest, there has been very little genuine criticism of Lukaku seeing as Everton took the offending interview off their website straight away and everyone could see it was a comment he made in defence of his mate when asked directly about whether he should be punished. No one really thinks that Lukaku has given much, if any, thought to the nuances of French race relations and the cultural hot pomme de terre that is this weirdo salute.

And if all that wasn’t enough, the club has been fined £45,000 for making an illegal approach to some young centre-half at Nottingham Forest back in 2010. As efforts at tapping up go it was clearly a rubbish one as he is still at the City Ground. In fact, he actually had a loan spell at Stevenage in 2012. See, it’s not just all random this, there is some skilful weaving of threads going on in the background.

That’s pretty much the lot, really. There was some talk of the loan deal for Lacina Traore perhaps failing to go through because of the cruciate injury to Monaco’s main striker, Radamel Falcao, but Martinez seems to think that won’t be the case. Why the lofty forward hasn’t signed then isn’t clear, as he has received clearance to play over here and everything. This is definitely feeling more like a proper Everton transfer window.

Talking of transfers, could you believe paper-faced joy extinguisher Arsene Wenger saying that it’s not fair that Chelsea are selling Juan Mata to United now that they have played them twice already? Do people really think that José Mourinho is really that Machiavellian? If you boil down what Wenger said, he’s suggesting that adding Mata to that almighty mess at United could be enough to swing the league game at the Emirates in their favour, costing Arsenal points that could be crucial in their battle for league placings with Chelsea. That’s pretty specific, as paranoid witterings go.

If it does prove to be prophetic though, Wenger will no doubt choose to gloss over the fact that his side is the only vaguely decent one to lose to a Tom Cleverly-inspired, Mata-less United already this season.

Analyse that.

Stevenage and Cardiff and That

deulofeu

As someone once famously said: the more something changes, the more it stays the same. It was probably Huey Lewis.

So, let’s get one thing straight, playing badly against lower league opposition has been a recurring theme for Everton for longer than any of us really care to remember. For the last decade or so though, the Blues have been a ‘pressure team’ who unashamedly thrived on forcing the opposition into making mistakes and there was a feeling that under David Moyes the players bought into that approach when playing against Premier League sides but found it hard to give the same respect to Brentford or Shrewsbury. Very often then, with a ‘rotated’ team, they would give performances in cup ties that fell into a strange no-man’s land where they never outpassed nor outfought their opponents, with grim results.

The difference on Wednesday night, against a Stevenage side presently struggling in League One, is that the new Everton comfortably replicated their league approach from the weekend but still found themselves minutes away from a penalty shoot-out when substitute Marouane Fellaini scored and removed a modicum of pressure from his manager. Because the idea of Roberto Martinez chewing and sweating Quadrant Park-style while finding the positives from a cup exit so early in his Everton career really doesn’t bear thinking about.

When Martinez arrived at Goodison the perception was that he would encourage a more fluent, attacking style that would result in a higher goals tally, almost certainly at the expense of conceding more. And after years of a more pragmatic approach the general consensus was that represented an acceptable trade-off.

After three games though – and let’s remember, it is only three – the worries are not about the defence, although we haven’t played anyone really good yet, but the manner in which the Blues go forward. On the whole it’s slow and staggered, allowing the opposition to easily drop back and occupy the valuable territory on the pitch while we construct these long, lazy letter Ws along the halfway line before looping a crossfield ball onto the chest of a winger who still has two men to beat. Thus far it is very much like the style employed by Swansea City at Goodison last season – one that attracted a certain amount of derision at the time.

That’s what has people a little bit concerned, and over the course of this season it appears that we are set to be debating the merits of this new ‘philosophy’ after every game, especially at home where all the emphasis is on Everton to ‘force the issue’.

That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?

For all the reservations, Everton certainly controlled the majority of the game, despite the number of regular first-teamers missing from the starting eleven, and if they had scored early on when Gerard Deulofeu was ragging the Stevenage left-back all over the place then the evening may have taken a far different shape. However, with Arouna Kone still looking distinctly peckish and doubts just beginning to creep in, the away side scored the classic League Cup giantkillers’ goal 10 minutes before half time.

A lost cause chased into the corner, the hopeful cutback, a massively miscued shot and the next minute someone – in this case Luke Freeman – finds himself unmarked in the box and lashing the ball into the roof of the net.

Gúlp!

Thankfully, a rare injection of pace into the Everton game saw Steven Naismith feed a through-ball to Deulofeu for the last kick of the half, and what a lovely boot it proved. The young Spaniard, who looks really similar in style to Kevin Mirallas, opened up his body – whatever that really means – and curled a delicious low effort around a knot of players and into the bottom corner of the Park End goal.

After the break Everton briefly looked like they had learned from their scare but after another little flurry of action they again got bogged down in their own passing drills. Mercifully Fellaini got lashed on in extra-time though and his sheer presence gave the Blues something tangible to work with up front. He had already been denied by one good low save when an unseemly succession of scuffs and mis-controls in the away team’s area eventually saw the ball carom drunkenly off Naismith’s shins for ‘the big Belgian’ to spare everyone the ignominy of penalties.

Other positives on the night were the performances of John Stones and Ross Barkley who were not quite as eye-catching as Deulofeu but still outshone many of their senior colleagues. Barkley’s ‘Mr Grimsdale!’ routine where he drops his shoulder about three times before shooting wildly can be a bit frustrating but is as much a product of the Blues’ inability to open up a packed defence as his own youthful over-enthusiasm.

Going back to Fellaini, the stories continue linking him with Manchester United, with some papers now suggesting that not only is his move something of a formality, but that Leighton Baines is trying to force his proposed transfer through as well. Martinez is clearly getting fed up with being constantly quizzed on the subject, describing the present transfer window as a circus. The fact remains though, if we are genuinely unwilling to sell then it’s not an issue.

We’ve stated previously that it’s at home where Martinez and his team will set the whole tone for the season, and let’s be honest it’s not been exactly a blazing opening so far. After dropping four points against Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion though it’s important that the Blues simply start picking up points and have to be looking at anything less than three at the Cardiff City Stadium as unacceptable.

The slightly wacky Welsh club – come on, just get on Vincent Tan’s chain-smoking-in-Sayers chic and that story about the fella driving up from Luton in his slippers walking around the away dressing room – played so well in their home game against Manchester City that they won the prestigious League Managers’ Association performance of the week award. Don’t scoff, according to the Cardiff website it’s decided by Howard Wilkinson, Joe Royle, Sir Alex Ferguson, Dave Basset and Barry Fry. You can only imagine that this group (the collective noun is in fact a bung of former managers) all get together at a Midlands hotel each week and chew the decision over for hours on end, like a boozier, more arl arse 12 Angry Men.

How else could it be decided?

Seriously though, we were all appalled at the thought of getting a manager like Malky Mackay when he was linked heavily with the Everton job, so we really shouldn’t have any fear about facing his newly promoted side containing the likes of Craig Bellamy, Frasier Campbell and Tommy fucking Smith. That weird Denis Stracqualarsi-looking fella in midfield can frig off as well – the one who seems to have got a transfer on the strength of a Youtube video where he concedes scores of fouls against Barcelona – If he’s allowed to look like some sort of hard case against us then it’s time to wrap up and go home.

Them’s just the facts.