|Venue: Crew Stadium, Columbus, Ohio||Friendly||Wednesday 26 July 2006; 7:00pm|
|Rosenthal (14')||Half Time: 1-1
|Attendance: 10,259||(Friendly no 5)||Referee: Grajeda|
It was back to the USA for David Moyes and his pre-season preparations, with the first at the home of Columbus Crew, who are coached by Bob 'the Pole" Warzycha.
Billed as an International Exhibition game, this was carried live on TV across the USA by ESPN2.
Everton started in front of a small crowd with a very strange-looking team that feature Victor Anichebe partnered with trialist Delron Buckley up front. And they all seemed jet-lagged during the first half-hour when the football was tentative and disjointed. The Crew, however, did manage a couple of good moves and showed some of their intent with good runs in on Richard Wright's goal that did not trouble him.
But on the 14th minute, a good cut-back to Sebastian Rosenthal was finished off with power and the benefit of a slight deflection, putting the hosts ahead. Everton started to get forward a bit more, winning a few corners that Delron Buckley delivered with reasonable competence, but not world-shattering impact. Cahill came close, being in the right place at the right time on more than one occasion but he was unable to fnish.
Then, out of the blue, Kilbane dispossessed ___ on the left wing, and powered a great ball forward to Buckley, with Everton moving ahead three on two. Buckley fed Anichebe a nice ball to meet his overlapping run on the right and the big Nigerian slotted a perfect shot between golie and post to level the scores. It was a nicely executed opportunist goal and it livened things up for at least the half-hour around half-time.
Anichebe had been having a lot of trouble shaking loose from the attention of blond Elvis look-alike, Chad Marshall, but switching sides with Buckley just before the goal seemed to give him added space to work with and he looked well up for it, almost repeating the move with a second shot that just grazed the post.
After half-time, David Moyes rang the changes, as did the hosts. Beattie took over from Anichebe and you would have expected he would really get into this one. He was abysmal. As the game wore on, it became increasingly clear that not much was going to happen, despite Arteta coming on and doing some nice things on the right wing. although the Crew did rally late on and actually tried to win the game.
A good work-out. But still one hell of a lot of work to do.
Everton began their two-match tour of the US with a draw against Major League Soccer side, Columbus Crew on the Ohio team's home turf. 18 year-old Academy alumnus, Victor Anichebe, continued his pre-season scoring form with the Blues's only goal, a well-taken effort that cancelled out Sebastian Rosenthal's cracking 14th-minute opener.
For David Moyes, in the halfway stage of a full pre-season programme, this was an opportunity to get some more playing time for his players and potentially improve their sharpness against a team that is midway through a competitive season. The MLS, like baseball, pauses mid-season for the All-Star break, with the best players from the league lining up against Premiership Champions, Chelsea, in a few days' time.
No surprise, then, that Columbus began the game the sharper of the two teams, with former Goodison trialist and US hope for the future, Danny Szetala, co-ordinating things in midfield for the home side. Thomas and Hendrickson both saw similar efforts blaze not far wide from the angle in the first 10 minutes, but it was Everton and Anichebe who actually had the first effort on goal. The Nigerian-born striker, playing up front with trialist, Delron Buckley, set off on a good run before driving into the side-netting inside three minutes.
"The Crew," as they are known, took the lead, though, after a quarter of an hour when ex-Rangers midfielder, Rosenthal, found himself in space outside the area and with Alan Stubbs backing off, had time to fake like he was going to shoot left-footed before unleashing a right-footed drive that glanced off Joleon Lescott's shin and flew past Wright into the top right corner.
Everton responded by upping the tempo a little and getting forward a little more, looking to get Tony Hibbert and Kevin Kilbane into crossing position down the flanks. A series of blocked centres by Hibbert earned the visitors a flurry of corners in the first half, one of which found Tim Cahill at the far post but he could only guide his diving header wide of the upright.
Anichebe, always looking to muscle his way past defenders, then flicked the ball over his marker but ballooned his shot well over from just inside the box. He was rewarded for his efforts after 33 minutes, though, when Kilbane smartly intercepted a loose pass by defender Marshall and fed Buckley who spotted Anichebe as the man over in a 3-on-2 attack and the youngster swept a shot across the 'keeper and into the far corner to level the scores.
Anichebe almost doubled the Blues' tally two minutes later with a nearly identical shot but this time he brushed the outside of the far post from a little further out. At the other end, meanwhile, Jason Garey's speculative drive flashed just over as Columbus tried to regain the initiative.
Instead, the Blues had two more chances to take the lead before half time. First, Kilbane picked out Buckley dead center of goal but the South African steered his header straight at the 'keeper. Then, on the stroke of half time, Anichebe was gifted an opportunity by more slack distribution by the Columbus rearguard but with the goal gapingh couldn't lift the ball over the two defenders in front of him and the 'keeper had enough time to scramble back into goal and smother the shot.
1-1 at the break and Moyes changed things up by removing Anichebe, Leon Osman, Stubbs, Wright and defender Patrick Boyle and introduced James Beattie, Mikel Arteta, David Weir, Tim Howard, and Alessandro Pistone.
If Everton's first half performance had been pedestrian, the second was positively sluggish, perhaps not surprising given the fact that the squad had only been in the country two full days and had spent the morning in a training session. Columbus also made a host of changes and after Szetala left, they were also pretty shambolic.
Nevertheless, Garey half-volleyed into the side-netting for the hosts before Beattie headed over the bar with Cahill better placed behind him and Buckley fired high and wide trying to find the top corner from the edge of the box. For Columbus, Coiner had a shot deflected wide for a corner, Gonzales headed Gaven's corner wide and Knox Cameron curled a good effort inches wide of the angle of crossbar and post as The Crew tried to steal the win in the closing stages of the game.
Everton's only meaningful contrubution to this stage of proceedings was to substitute out Cahill for Davies and Hibbert for Naysmith, while Arteta picked up the game's only booking for kicking the ball away after being correctly adjudged to have taken his man's legs.
The first rule of pre-season friendlies is that they're not really a reliable indicator of anything, except perhaps the sharpness and fitness levels of the players. Nevertheless, it's tempting to try and read into what lies in store for the coming season and assess if there have been improvements on the last Premiership campaign.
If you were looking for evidence that Moyes's Everton have turned into a free-flowing passing outfit, there was precious little of it. In fact, in terms of playing style, this looked every bit like the Everton of 2005/06 at its most mediocre, but, again, it would be churlish to judge a meaningless friendly featuring two Academy players and a trialist mixed with players who are obviously some way from full fitness.
In terms of personal performances, Wright showed a pleasing comfort on crosses, Kilbane was industrious but with mixed end product, Boyle showed glimpses of his potential, and Buckley did enough to demonstrate that he is worthy of signing on a free transfer. Although the impression when he was first taken on trial was that he might be more useful to us playing wide left, he was deployed up front for the first half and then more withdrawn when Beattie came on for the second half. After an unspectacular start, the South African grew in stature as the game progressed, exhibiting a nice touch, good distribution and a willingness to move forward towards goal when the opporutnity presented itself.
Beattie, by contrast, did almost nothing for 45 minutes. He wasn't helped by mostly playing up front on his own but he didn't look interested in exerting himself at all. If he's saving himself for the real deal on 19th August, then that won't matter a jot, but he looked well short of fitness.
Not surprisingly Arteta showed that he remains the chief source of creativity and inspiration and the lack of similar ability elsewhere in the midfield is worrying, as is Moyes's apparent lack of urgency to make further injections of flair into this part of the line-up. Of course, the transfer deadline is over a month away, but the signs are that Moyes is more or less happy with the squad he has. Time will tell...
Joleon Lescott got another 90 minute workout as he bids to dispel concerns over his knees that complicated his transfer to Goodison and it was definitely a case of reserving judgement on the defender. It was hard to form an opinon on him either way apart from the fact that he will need time to adjust to whichever defensive partner he finds himself playing alongside.
The highlight for Everton, though, was, unquestionably, the promise shown by Anichebe. He instinctively tries to take the shortest route to goal, whether that means muscling his way past his marker or flicking the ball over him and he seems to be a good finisher. On this evidence, he could save Everton a lot of money and he should find himself involved a lot more this season than last.
Overall, another good workout for the squad and another step towards full fitness ahead of the new season.