West Ham 2 Everton 3

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Before we begin, it’s important to remember that Saturday’s game wasn’t about the result, but more an opportunity for the footballers of the Premier League to keep chasing that rainbow.

EVERYBODY JAGS NOW!

As for the football itself, well, as the rules are pretty clear about, it was a game of two halves. In the first of those, Everton were pretty poor. In time-honoured fashion, Roberto Martinez did the whole not-changing-a-winning-side thing and started the game with Nikica Jelavic up front, despite Romelu Lukaku finally being eligible following his loan move from Chelsea.

A Kevin Mirallas shot forced a good save from Jussi Jaaskelainen in the first half but otherwise the Blues looked totally ineffective. When you are not on your game total football can look like total shite and when former Manchester United wild-child Ravel Morrison saw his shot deflect off Phil Jagielka and wrong-foot Tim Howard on 31 minutes Everton looked incapable of mustering any sort of serious reply.

You would like to think that Jelavic shouted ‘Hey kid, catch!’ to Lukaku at half-time and threw his shirt to him like Mean Joe Green in the old Coca Cola advert but in reality Roberto Martinez more likely pulled the Croatian and Steven Naismith to one side at the break, did a sort of half-smile, semi-shrug and asked ‘Guys, how did you think you played just then?’

The upshot was they were replaced by Lukaku and James McCarthy, and moments after the restart Bryan Oviedo came on for the injured Leon Osman.

Now let’s just say straight away, forget about any sort of Terry Curran-style campaign regarding Lukaku because he will not be an Everton player next season. ‘We’d have to sell so many players to try and get the money together we wouldn’t be able to field a full team’ was one observer’s verdict. So enjoy him while we can because he is fucking mustard.

Before you even consider his pace and power, his close control and ability to lay the ball off under pressure are simply sensational. Even when there were so many fellas surrounding him you expected to see Brendan Rodgers’ lad taking photos, he held them off nonchalantly before finding a teammate. It completely transformed the way Everton played, as Mirallas, Leighton Baines and Ross Barkley suddenly had the confidence to ‘fizz’ – oh yeah, ‘fizz’ – the ball into Lukaku’s feet before making runs, almost certain that they were going to get the return exactly where they wanted it.

Where the Hammers’ defenders had been comfortable with all the play in front of them, suddenly they were being turned and forced into making panicky decisions as white shirts streamed beyond them.

One such moment, on 62 minutes, resulted in James Collins lunging at Barkley 25 yards out and conceding a free-kick that Leighton Baines coolly whipped into high into the net past Jaaskelainen’s outstretched right hand.

It was a great moment, not just because it was the equalising goal and an excellent free-kick, but because of the awkward position the naughty left-back was put in this week by the loose lips of Everton coach Alan Stubbs.

Now, we are all grown up enough to understand that Baines would have fancied a move to Manchester United this summer. Just because he looks like Jane Weidlin and doesn’t have ‘attitude’ doesn’t make him some sort of mug, happy with his lot while lesser players are playing Champions League football and earning Champions League dough. It’s insulting to suggest he is. However, how he has conducted himself in public and on the pitch, when he must have been disappointed that no move  materialised, has been exemplary. You couldn’t ask any more of him.

So for Stubbs to blurt out that Baines asked to leave was at best indiscrete and at worst an absolute cunt’s trick. And given that pretty much everyone believes Stubbs was a fifth-columnist when Everton were dealing with United over Wayne Rooney, it’s probably understandable that most think it’s the latter.

Quarter of an hour after Baines equalised, matters took a turn for the worse and a different kind of match report began to take shape in the minds of the watching scribes.

With Everton hogging the ball, as is their wont, Jagielka tried to usher out an aimless punt and was robbed on the byeline by Mladen Petric. He fed the ball back to Kevin Nolan who gleefully went over the lazy leg dangled out by the covering McCarthy.

The most West Ham man alive, Mark Noble, converted the penalty and it looked like the theme of the post-match analysis would be how you can be as precise as you like and dominate possession but it’s all for nought if you make silly mistakes at the back and don’t score goals.

And then Baines slotted again.

Another free-kick, slightly closer, was conceded when another Barkley run was halted illegally, this time by World Cup winner Noble. On Match of the Day Sam Allardyce talked about looking at his laptop and saying ‘Fucking hell son, look at this, you’d swear that was a lass wouldn’t you? The size of it! Any idea how you get rid of all these pop-ups?’ And then concluding that Noble won the ball.

He never. Noble got sent off.

Baines put the free-kick to the opposite side this time, almost choking the shot slightly so as to keep the ball from ballooning over the bar. It went in off the inside of the post, right in the top corner, and to mix goalkeeping metaphors here, two keepers, with stepladders – essentially the Chuckle Brothers – couldn’t have saved it.

An incredible amount of technique and subtlety were required to score that goal. And when it went in Alan Stubbs remained a twat.

That wasn’t the end of it though, oh no.

On 85 minutes Lukaku, uncannily reminiscent of another proud wearer of the prestigious Everton number 17 shirt, won the ball just outside the box, fed it to Mirallas and headed straight for the six-yard box. Mirallas, enjoying his best game of the season so far, twisted and turned before clipping a perfect cross to the far post.

Lukaku bravely buried the header, clashing heads with B movie monster Joey O’Brien in the process and appearing to get knocked the fuck out.

‘What a great way to go’ was one rather honest but unsympathetic comment as ‘the big Belgian’ lay motionless, perhaps dying, in the goalmouth.

Thankfully he recovered though and although seven minutes of injury time were added, it was only a question of whether Everton would make the scoreline even more emphatic. Obviously they never.

And with that the Blues are the only unbeaten side in the Premier League and reside just one point behind apparent Champions-elect Liverpool in the table.

You certainly have to hand it to Martinez, he keeps answering the questions asked of him. One lingering worry was that his teams are sort of predictable and bloodless at times and that his studied style would rob Everton of their indefinable elan and that inherent drama that we love and hate about them in equal measure.

Well, crikey, the second half here certainly put paid to that notion.

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West Ham Preview

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It’s all about the journey these days, isn’t it? It used to be about having passion, but now everybody has that, for everything, and so whether you are a sportsman, politician or talent-show tithead, what everyone wants to know about – or what you are going to bore them with anyway – is your journey.

And guess what, that’s right, with the appointment of a new manager, Roberto Martinez, it feels like Everton are on a new journey of their own. Please note here, the whole journey motif is meant tongue-in-cheek, because despite desperately trying to create the illusion of ‘momentum’ and ‘direction’ football clubs on the whole do pretty much the same things year in, year out and generally only make quite superficial changes. As institutions clubs are inherently conservative – after all, everyone’s getting paid fortunes just for turning up, why would they want to venture too far from where they are now?

Anyway, with Everton’s trying a different approach to their play and introducing some new players, the first few fixtures of this season have held the fans captivated. We have faced familiar opposition with more or less the same approach and a pretty settled squad for the last decade, so there is a curiosity as to how Martinez’s team will play against an unadventurous side like West Brom at Goodison, for instance, or one of the top teams like Chelsea, as they did last week.

This Saturday’s visit to West Ham is another test similar to the games away at Norwich and Cardiff City, but there is the added element this time of Martinez having pretty much all of his own signings to pick from – most notably Romelu Lukaka.

It seems like whoever we play, apart from Chelsea themselves, announces that they tried to recruit Lukaku in the summer, and it’s really no surprise that Sam Allardyce is an admirer of the Belgian big truck. Instead he has Carlton Cole hanging around like a bad smell, training with the Hammers and presumably pleading for a new contract every day like Bobby Chariot: ‘Come on Sam, I need this. I’ve been sleeping in the Jag.’

Before Lukaku has even played a game for Everton there is speculation and indeed Chelsea fans are ‘clamouring’ – there have been a couple of Tweets – for him to be recalled to alleviate their present crisis – they have lost a couple of games. Presumably there is some sort of provision in his deal with Everton that states that they can’t just do that, otherwise what would happen if he or Victor Moses at Liverpool were playing out of their skin and those clubs found themselves challenging Chelsea for the title (fourth place)?

Everton certainly need someone to stick the ball in the net. This season they have had more shots on goal than aynone else, but that statistic tells the story of two things. We have been dominating possession, which is clearly a plus, but struggling to open sides up cleanly – a lot of those shots have been from distance and as a result of frustration. ‘Speculative’ is the word that the commentators generally use.

Another fun football fact that always gets brought up is that Leighton Baines created more chances and slung over more crosses than any other player in Europe last season. Given that our highest goalscorer never made it into double figures, that would suggest we were one of the worst takers of chances around.

In short, this Lukaku character better head at least a couple of goals in every game or we’re going to be awfully disappointed.

West Ham, for their part, well, they are one of those sides who never finish above us but whenever you read previews on their fanzine-type websites always call Everton ‘the sort of team we need to be beating’ and end with a prediction of ‘2-0 to the Irons!’

As things stand though they haven’t beaten us home or away since 2007. Ally that to the performance last week against Chelsea, and the Hammers’ last game at the Boleyn Ground – a 1-0 defeat by Stoke City – and you would like to think we go into this one as favourites. In fact, anything less than a win will be quite deflating as we have a little bit of ground to make up following those draws in the three opening matches of the season.

Everton will be wearing rainbow-coloured laces for the match in support of the charity Stonewall’s anti-homophobia campaign. Anything that discourages cuntishness and makes anyone’s life a bit easier is to be applauded, although just reading this BBC article shows what a minefield the whole area is and how even when the message is essentially a positive one, the whole spectre of commercialism is never very far away.

The Premier League come out of it really well, don’t they? It comes to something when you are being shown up by Joey Barton.

One thing that always stands out is how professional football is always assumed to be this last bastion of unreconstructed male boorishness and the absolute last place where anyone would feel comfortable coming out. Are no footballers annoyed by that presumption, one that’s peddled in the press constantly? As well-travelled individuals who work in a more ethnically diverse environment than just about anyone else in the country, do no players get the hump at being automatically labelled as small-minded bigots?

And what about the fans? Would they ‘make life hell’ for a gay player? The supporters of their club almost certainly wouldn’t – fans continually show a willingness to ‘forgive’ anything of their idols – and as for abuse from the opposition, could that be any worse than the hot air that is hurled at players now?

Perhaps the tabloid press, who make so much of the lack of gay footballers while running salacious stories about sex lives of celebrities on their front pages, need to question their own role. Maybe there are gay players who, like their straight teammates, are simply loving their life as millionaire sportsmen and just want to be spared the media hysteria and intrusion of their privacy that would ensue if they no longer kept their sexuality to themselves.

West Ham and David Moyes and that

David-Moyes

Earlier in the week we thought that Sunday’s game against the ‘Ammers was going to be all about the prestigious ‘race for sixth place’, but it’s fair to say that events have overtaken us somewhat with the announcement that David Moyes is going to be the next manager of Manchester United.

We’ve said all along on this here blog that he would be leaving at the end of the season – his behaviour has made that crystal clear – but very few people will probably ever know just when he was sure he was going to land the big one. The timing of events does seem a little odd  – you get the impression that Alex Ferguson and United have been hurried slightly, either by the threat of a leak or, perhaps, simply because the Scot wanted to have one last home game in charge that will be a celebration of him and his career.

That all leaves Everton in the slightly unusual position of having a manager in charge for their final fixtures who is already betrothed to someone else. How you choose to view that is up to yourself really, and is probably coloured by your overall opinion of Moyes. It’s either a slight on Everton and makes us look somehow ‘smalltime’ or, maybe, it’s just a more grown-up way of handling things than we normally see in British football.

There’s no need here to go over just how important Moyes has been to Everton over the last decade or so – he’s transformed the club so completely that it’s actually got to the point where his work is taken for granted. He has shaped the club through sheer force of will at times and what is concerning is that his absence leaves us with Bill Kenwright on the verge of tears and talking about going home to have a cup of tea and see the dogs. Moyes has been the one leader at Everton and all the board have really done is keep him sweet and let him crack on – that’s worked, and it’s perhaps the ideal way to run a club, but it makes succession planning a prickly task.

And the key word there is ‘planning’, because surely to fuck they have known that Moyes wasn’t going to stay on beyond this summer. To hear Kenwright talking now about assessing candidates is frightening. You can only hope that it’s all a front – perhaps because we don’t want to act like United and be seen to be approaching someone already in a job – and that a new manager is already lined up. You know all the names in the hat already – do any of them fill you with any confidence?

Whoever it is faces a very different but maybe just as daunting a task as Moyes does in his new role. At least at Old Trafford Moyes will have tons of support from within – at Everton you get the impression that the new man will be given a pass for the car park, get told where the fire exits are and then all eyes will be on him with pleading looks of ‘Well, what do we do now then boss?’

Maybe that’s unfair to the Blues, but that’s the impression they give at the moment. Kenwright or even Robert Elstone needs to be ‘on the front foot’ here and projecting the image at least that some cunt is in charge, even if it’s just to give the next manager a chance. He has to look like the man they have had earmarked for ages, not simply ‘the easiest one to get at short notice’ like Walter Smith. He’s hobbled straight out of the gate if they do that.

There’s a time and a place for Kenwright’s homespun ‘luvviness’ and this is absolutely not it.

As for Moyes and United, well, they are getting an outstanding manager who will almost certainly be a success there. It will be interesting to see how he copes with instantly becoming one of the most famous people in the world and front page news, but he has shown while dealing with some big challenges at Everton that he is a very quick learner and brilliant at adapting. He’s certainly a far better choice for United than Jose Mourinho – Rafa in nicer knitwear – and why fans of any club, never mind a proper one like United, are so desperate to touch the hem of that poisonous little narcissist’s garment is a perpetual mystery.

There are certainly interesting times ahead for all concerned.

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.