Crystal Palace 0 Everton 0

pienaar palace

You have probably gathered already that the lack of a preview for this game was in fact an achingly post-post-modern comment on a match in which almost nothing of any significance actually happened. That’s right, it was so post-modern that we slagged the game off before it even took place.

The fact that most of the papers focused on Sylvain Distin’s contretemps with a disgruntled Evertonian after the final whistle is an indication of what a disappointing encounter it was, from Everton’s perspective at least.

It’s hard to tell whether the mournful-looking Frenchman genuinely cares about the Blues’ following or is simply a bit over-sensitive. Footballers are always criticised for being too aloof from the people who pay their wages – or as Carlos Tevez once pointed out ‘a portion of my wages’ – but you can’t help feeling that he was on a hiding to nothing there. If someone’s been stood there in the cold after travelling down to London, there’s every chance that they are not really going to be that receptive to nuanced debate, especially in front of all their mates. They want to vent a bit after watching a frustrating 90 minutes of football – it would make more sense to just give a half-hearted clap and maybe a Gallic shrug before fucking off down the tunnel and letting them get it out of their system.
It did seem a strange game to get quite that irate over though – the lad in all the pictures has a twisted grid of Tranmere proportions.

We said during preseason that the debates over Roberto Martinez’s style had the potential to get a bit dull and thankfully the favourable results have actually kept them to a minimum. This game though was probably the first where for the whole 90 minutes we did all the bad things associated with this particular ‘philosophy’. It positively reeked of that horrible Real Betis friendly at times as Everton endlessly shuttled the ball between the defensive six before losing it the moment they tried to play anything like a positive pass into an area where Palace didn’t want us to be.

The statistics said that Everton had 72% of possession, and that gives an impression of some degree of ‘control’, but in truth the home side could argue that their game-plan was the more successful. They were happy with a draw for a start, and they also had the better chances to take all three points. They were very rarely drawn out of their comfort zone as Everton’s glacial passing around the centre circle allowed them to simply get into position, with their backs to their own goal, challenging the Toffees to take the initiative.

Whether it’s a fault with the system itself or the personnel – perhaps a combination of both – it does seem to demand a great deal from the front four, especially when sides like Palace are happy to sit deep. Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman, Romelu Lukaku, and in the second half Ross Barkley, could find very little space to work in through the centre – there was more joy down the wings but a combination of poor crossing, unconvincing movement in the box and some decent defending meant that it was an unusually quiet afternoon for Julian Speroni.

People are increasingly starting to understand perhaps why Lukaku is not a regular starter for Jose Mourinho yet as his form has dipped in the last few games. He could perhaps do with simplifying his game a bit, especially when things aren’t going our way. Instead of constantly playing on the half-turn and demanding sometimes impossible through-balls from the midfielders he could do with just sticking his arse into the centre-half, getting the ball into his feet and winning some free kicks. For someone so strong and powerful he makes the defenders’ job very easy at times.

Pienaar and Osman are constantly trying to spin and wrestle past defenders too, in order to try and make some space, and you can see it wearing them out as the game progresses. Someone more physically imposing like Barkley is probably better suited to that role, but one long range shot apart he made almost no impact either when he was introduced. Deulofeu was disappointing too, especially as he appeared to wilt under the glare of the Everton support after his second McFadden-esque attempt to dribble straight through a defender saw him dispossessed by nothing more than the laws of physics.

It’s that transition from the defence to the forwards that seems to be the key. Perhaps James McCarthy needs to carry the ball forward a bit more and commit the opposition before trying to play the forwards in, or maybe drop Osman a bit deeper so he’s picking the ball up in more space and facing the right way. Having McCarthy and Gareth Barry tripping over each other in front of the defence just seems like overkill though, especially against a team like Palace.

Ultimately though, the problem Martinez has is that when it’s not working for his team it’s going to look like it did on Saturday, a bit anaemic and downright infuriating because when you have so much possession you always appear to be the architect of your own downfall. Under the last fella a disappointing result like this one would have involved a lot more percentage football and long balls towards Marouane Fellaini – a degree of that perceived control would be sacrificed but it would arguably be more exciting as the ball would at least be in the opponent’s area forcing them and the referee to make some decisions.

Phil Jagielka did hit the bar with a header but Palace wasted some great chances – you could hardly begrudge them at least one point.

Still, a draw away from home, even if it was against relegation certainties, is at worst irritating. A performance like that has been on the cards, simply because of the way we play now. When it works it looks great, when it doesn’t it is grim and looks almost as if the players aren’t that arsed as they fiddle about with the ball and suck the enthusiasm and sense of momentum from the game.

What are you gonna do?

Liverpool 0 Everton 0

liverpool_everton_derby

Once again into the court of the crimson ming and once again no win for the Toffees.

It’s hard to think of the ‘prize’ that was at stake in this derby without imagining them minty cartoons they used to have in the tabloids, with two shipwrecked fellas on an unfeasibly tiny island with a single palm tree in the centre. Whoever finishes higher in the league gets to dance around waving the celebratory coconut but little else. And even the people on the deck of the tiny ship on the horizon and the lazy, M-shaped seagulls couldn’t give a shiny shite.

As for Reds and Blues themselves though, well, it will depend on who finishes higher as to how important the ‘achievement’ is viewed locally. Quite depressingly, it actually is something of a feat for us, giving how we rarely finish above them at all, never mind two seasons in succession. For them, edging above us will confirm what they regard as their innate superiority – they finish above us even when they are having a bad* season.

In short then, whoever is lower in the table will mutter to themselves like the single lad in the kebab shop complaining that ‘they were all ugly lesbians anyway’.

Overall it was a rather grim encounter with both sides displaying just why they need to improve quite considerably to trouble a Europa League place next season, never mind a big boy’s Champion’s League spot. As for the title – it’s just about as far away as it’s ever been for Everton. And Liverpool are five points behind us.

There’s always the argument that David Moyes doesn’t ‘go for it’ at Anfield, but this was more or less the most attacking side he could put out. Unfortunately a front pairing of Victor Anichebe and Marouane Fellaini is never going to pose a consistent threat, especially away from home. Playing with essentially two target men asks a lot of the midfielders and they had their work cut out dealing with a combative Liverpool midfield. In fact, talk of a number of them carrying injuries looked bang on as Darron Gibson. Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar all laboured – it was hard to tell with Kevin Mirallas, as he hardly touched the ball.

Steven Gerrard, arguably the outstanding footballer of his generation and a constant thorn in Everton’s side, was given free rein in the centre of the park, by the Blues and referee Michael Oliver, but fortunately time has taken its toll and crying-face’s surging runs have been reduced to the minimum. He’s all about the David Beckam ‘pings to the wings’ now, more than ever, although he still had the home side’s best chances. The first a snapshot blocked by the excellent Phil Jagielka and the second, after the break, saw the equally dominant Sylvain Distin comfortably cut out a shot after Gerrard had rounded Tim Howard.

Distin was also active at the other end, heading home a Leighton Baines corner in the second half. However, Oliver shamelessly blew for an imaginary foul and then booked Anichebe, presumably for complaining, and not just for being shit at footy. One can only wonder at what sort of foul tirade the Everton frontman unleashed upon the official to earn a yellow card given that television viewers all clearly witnessed Gerrard – accurately – brand him a ‘fucking shithouse’ at some volume, with no censure. Presumably it was said in self defence.

Apart from a slack spell at the beginning of the second half, Everton were rarely made to look uncomfortable. Obviously you always expect Liverpool to score, but they would have had to spawn something – not beyond the realms, clearly – as they patently didn’t possess the ability to exert the sort of pressure we came under at the end of recent matches at the Emirates and White Hart Lane.

Daniel Sturridge, for instance, showed why he plays for Liverpool and not Manchester City or Chelsea.

Everton were disappointing too – apart from the Distin goal Fellaini ankled one wide in the first half and an Anichebe shot took a big deflection that panicked Jose Reina in the second. There were a number of opportunities to try and snatch another winner at the end but free-kicks were lofted into the hands of Reina and, with seconds to go, Gibson opted against putting the ball into the box and the Blues settled for the point.

A win against West Ham, or anything other than a Liverpool victory at Fulham, puts this whole thing to bed. It would hardly be worthy of an open-topped bus, but still it would be a relief going into the final match at Chelsea knowing that we are at least king shits on turd mountain.

Finally, we can all look forward to derbies in future without big manly man’s man Jamie Carragher constantly pleading with referees and persistently tugging at their sleeves like a starving Bombay street urchin. The tit.

* This on the rather optimistic premise that what they are currently experiencing is some sort of ‘blip’ when anyone with any sense can see a much more obvious, drawn-out truth.

Queens Park Rangers 1 Everton 1

Total football, League Cup style.

This was always going to be a thankless game, so with hindsight, given that we went into it without two influential midfielders and then had another sent off, there were some positives to be taken from it in terms of the spirit shown by the players and the point gained.

For the most part though, especially during the first half hour, Everton’s football was as gormless as that fella on the Autoglass advert. Yeah, the wool with the windscreen wipers, the windscreen wiper wool. Him. You’ll know him when you see him.

With Maraoune Fellaini out injured, rather than stick Victor Anichebe in as a straight(ish) replacement, David Moyes chose to – to quote an old boss when talking about organisational restructuring –  ‘bash the birdcage’. Anichebe went out on the right, Kevin Mirallas started on the left and Steven Pienaar moved inside, presumably to try and compensate for the shortcomings of Phil Neville and Leon Osman.

You can sort of see a kind of logic to the manager’s thinking then, but you just get the impression that he over-analyses these situations a lot of the time. Put it another way, as soon as you saw that line-up you knew that 15 minutes in he would be reshuffling them all again, presumably negating everything they had worked on in training all week.

He wasn’t helped by the fact that after only two minutes the best laid plans of mice and Moyes were disrupted by a QPR goal. From an Everton corner the ball squirted out towards Neville and Junior Hoilett. The Everton skipper was favourite to keep the attack going but he was just basically out-footballed, by a Canadian, who raced the length of the pitch and had a dig that deflected horribly off the recovering Leighton Baines and left Tim Howard flopped on his arse as it settled in the net.

Bugger, as Unlucky Alf would say.

The home side were predictably buoyed by this and looked pretty decent, especially in central midfield, the area where Everton find themselves dangerously light at the moment.

Their most impressive player in the opening exchanges was every Englishman’s nightmare, Esteban Granero.

“Listen love, who is this fella with the guitar in all your holiday photos?”

“Oh that’s Esteban, he worked in the bar. He was lovely, he used to give us free drinks every night.”

“Oh aye, I bet he fuckin’ did.”

Fortunately for Everton, the defence that has come in for so much criticism this season operated superbly on an evening when the fluent attacking football was notable by its absence.

The home side were kept at bay despite enjoying more possession, and that gave the Blues the ‘platform’ – inverted commas are still an indication of a cliché or footy-nonsense word that we are aware of but too lazy to do anything about – to equalise on 32 minutes.

Horrible defending by QPR allowed Sylvain Distin a free header from a long free-kick – it struck the base of the post, rebounded off Julio Cesar’s back and crossed the line.

The R’s almost imploded at that point. A minute after the goal, Stephane Mbia trod on Nikica Jelavic’s foot as the Croatian tried to turn in the box. The referee missed it but that was almost irrelevant when, from the corner that followed, the brilliant Phil Jagielka smashed a free header against the bar.

Early in the second half Jagielka made a goal-saving challenge at the other end, denying Park Ji-Sung as the home side re-established themselves as the one more likely to go on and win the game.

Moyes replaced the ineffectual Anichebe with Steven Naismith in an attempt to alter matters, but the incident that defined the second half came with half an hour left to play. Already on a yellow card, Pienaar shoved Park as they challenged for a high ball. In fairness, referee Jon ‘no H’ Moss warned the South African while the home side howled for a sending off. Only moments later though, Everton played themselves into trouble down in the corner and Pienaar was left to chase José Bosingwa towards the flag. The Portuguese fullback went down under no challenge whatsoever but with the crowd screeching and bouncing around like the monkeys in one of them Animal Liberation Front videos everyone knew exactly what was coming.

Second yellow, out the derby, thanks very much, goodnight.

A fucking blow then, although Everton appeared galvanised by the dismissal and played some of their best stuff during the final portion of the game. Mirallas began to see more of the more ball and Mbia had to head the Belgian’s shot over the bar following one of the few ‘proper Everton’ moves of the match. Cesar made a point blank stop from another Jagielka header and Jelavic, who worked hard with no real service, chipped a shot onto the roof of the net.

Inevitably Rangers had chances of their own, although they hamstrung themselves to a certain extent by the introduction of Djibril Cissé. The Earl of Frodsham’s only real contribution came courtesy of his barnet, reminding everyone to dig out their Halfords sheepskin car scraping mitt as the cold mornings start to creep in.

Seamus Coleman’s indecision and poor touch in his own box resulted in Moss getting the chance to even matters up in terms of waving away appeals for blatant penalties. The Irishman clearly brought down the dangerous Hoilett.

If just wellying the ball into the stands is good enough for John Terry, Nemanja Vidic and, well, England’s Phil Jagielka, for instance, then it’s good enough for everyone else. Why take even the faintest chance in your own penalty area?

Howard made a couple of great saves in final stages and Jagielka capped off his performance with another crucial block, this time from Granero, deep into injury time.

It ended 1-1 then – not a classic footballing performance by any stretch of the imagination, but Everton showed other qualities in tricky circumstances and earned themselves a point the hard way.

Finally, the winners of the Everton Miscellany competition are:

Magnus Lonnberg – the temptation to call this one a spoilt ballot to save dough on postage was almost overwhelming.

Rolant Ellis.

Les Roberts.

If you chaps can email your addresses then your books will get winged (wung?) over to you forthwith.

Thankyou to everyone who entered.