With no regognizable or effective striker apparently available (except Beckford, who's reversion to a League One player so far this season has seen him relegated to the bench), the largely ineffective Anichebe led the line in what should have been a relatively strong team, although Bily, back from suspension, was only named on the bench.
But a dreadful half of Zombie anti-Football ensued, with only Dunn's effort coming close when he hit the post, with absolutely nothing from Everton.
Things got worse after the break, if that was possible, In the first minute, Barkley gave away a soft penalty that Howard saved and 5 mins of solid Blackburn pressure ensued with chaos in the Everton defence,, Moyes hauling off the youngster, fearing for his confidence, and bringing on Cahill.
The first half-decent shot from Everton came from Baines, cutting in from the left with nearly 70 mins played. Anichebe laid in a perfect cross for Fellaini to slam home but he shot poorly over the bar, a golden chance missed. Bily then tried something spectacular from the angle of the penalty box and got it shockingly wrong as Everton finally started to play some half-recognizable as football.
Playing Cahill as striker with Anichebe back out wide left, with Fellaini coming through from deep, made them look briefly more fluid in the final third, but Bily was having his usual enigmatic game.
But it was short-lived and the defence was still at sixes and sevens when Goodwilly would surely score but contrived to clip his open goal shot off the Everton bar.
Formica cleverly played for and won another penalty and this time incredibly Formica slammed his spot kick into the base of teh post! Astounding!!!
Beckford came on in place of Heitinga far too late to make any impact. And in the last minute, from a throw-in, Samba and two others crumpled Fellaini, and amazingly, Lee Mason awarded a penalty to Everton. 92nd minute and Arteta smashed it home, sending Robinson the wrong way. Simply Astounding stuff to give Everton a rather undeserved win to put them up to 10th: they were dreadful.
The footballing gods can be brutally cruel at times. Having enjoyed the greater share of possession despite losing two midfielders to injury in the first half, created the better chances, twice hit the woodwork, and been awarded two second-half penalties, Blackburn boss Steve Kean will be staring plaintively skywards this evening, mystified at how he is picking up the pieces from a third straight defeat and not just ruing a frustrating home draw.
His counterpart, David Moyes, should be kneeling in thanks because gifts like these are rare for teams that play as badly away from home as his charges did at Ewood Park today. Thoughts that the three-goal haul that Everton managed as they comfortably saw off Sheffield United in midweek would provide the springboard for a return to the kind of form this team has shown at times over the past couple of seasons quickly evaporated amid the plodding forays forward and generally sloppy play in almost all areas of the pitch that characterised this display.
But the combination of Tim Howard — who a little over a year ago trudged off this pitch in the knowledge that an uncharacteristic error on his part had been the primary cause of the Blues's defeat on the opening day of the 2010-11 season — poor execution from the penalty spot by Blackburn, a fortuitous injury-time penalty award and the composure from 12 yards of Mikel Arteta helped the Blues to three precious points that only those with the bluest of tinted spectacles could say they deserved.
Moyes's post-match comments centered around his belief that Mauro Formica dived in the incidents that led to both of Blackburn's penalties, a view he may change once he's seen the replays from all angles, but there wasn't slightest acknowledgement of just how poor his team was for periods of this match. Perhaps, like the fans, he's finding it hard to pinpoint the reasons for the malaise that's infecting his Everton players right now.
Both he and captain, Phil Neville, alike insist that the team is not affected by the club's off-the-field problems and, with the exception of a chronic lack of goal threat up front, this is more or less the same team as the last two seasons. Victor Anichebe's largely ineffective outing leading the line for the majority of this match was not surprising given his record over the same period but this was an Everton display littered with mistakes, poor judgement and abysmal passing in almost every department over the course of the 90 minutes.
So often the team's rock, it's rare for Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin to both have bad games, but they were all over the place at key moments and were very fortunate not to get punished. Skipper Neville made some crucial interventions but looked badly off the pace in patches, Leon Osman started brightly enough but had faded into near total obscurity by the time he was substituted in the second half, and if John Heitinga's brief was to anchor the midfield, it was a role he mostly failed to fulfil.
Mikel Arteta and Marouane Fellaini both started their first Premier League games of the season but neither looked remotely near match sharp, the Spaniard looking for the most part like he was playing in concrete boots and the Belgian looking at times disinterested and bereft of the hunger and quick-thinking that he displays when he's on song. Ironically, one of the key complaints the visiting Blues fans would have had of Fellaini — namely his frequent refusal to jump for aerial balls — was what earned his team the controversial spot kick that won the game.
In rising to meet Neville's 92nd-minute throw-in, Christopher Samba, the man mountain who helped make Anichebe's afternoon so unproductive, jumped all over the 6' 4" Fellaini, pole-axing the big-haired one and prompting referee Lee Mason to point to the spot for the third time in the game. [It was the kind of challenge that would have been an automatic free kick anywhere else on the pitch — its controversy had more to do with the fact that so few penalties are awarded for similar incidents.] Arteta stepped up and the rest is history.
Save for three moments in the second period, such a gleeful outcome looked a remote prospect for Everton prior to that surprise conclusion, even early in the first half when the proceedings were fairly even. Ross Barkley had again looked the most lively and productive outlet for the Blues, working nicely to engineer space on the edge of the area before forcing a comfortable save from Paul Robinson and then providing an inviting cross that Osman couldn't steer under the bar with a free header.
But Blackburn had the more dangerous moments before the interval. Baines had to make a terrific sliding tackle on Junior Hoilett as early as the second minute to finally kill off a quick Rovers counter-attack, David Dunn jinked smartly past Jagielka before slamming a shot off the inside of the post seven minutes later, and Howard made his first crucial intervention in the 12th minute with a perfectly-timed sliding block on Jason Roberts.
The second half was barely a minute old, though, when Barkley scuffed a routine backpass towards Howard and Formica latched onto it, racing towards the Everton area. Barkley chased back and got goal side but as the Argentine nipped past him, the youngster left his foot in in a vain attempt to block the ball and Formica made sure to throw himself over the outstretched leg.
The referee awarded the inevitable penalty, Hoilett took it and Howard, dancing on his goalline, guess right and dived to his left where he parried the kick and the shot off the rebound richocheted off Arteta and behind for a corner.
Undeterred, Blackburn embarked on a spell of territorial domination for the next quarter of an hour during which Everton were penned into their own half for worryingly long periods. Martin Olson had two direct free kick attempts, the first cannoning off Anichebe in the wall and over, the second, coming after a spell of complete chaos in the Everton defence, fizzing narrowly above Howard's crossbar.
Howard just about blocked a loose ball as Roberts tried to prod it home, Formica then smashed a balf-volley down the keeper's throat, and it wasn't until the 67th minute that Baines forced the first meaningful save from Robinson when he cut inside and unleashed a beltimg shot with his weaker right foot that the Blackburn stopper beat away two-handed.
A couple of minutes later, Anichebe broke free down the left flank and did superbly to square a low pass into the path of the onrushing Fellaini but he blazed his side-footed shot narrowly over to spurn what was arguably the Blues' best chance of the game.
A look at the Everton bench as the second half wore on inspired little confidence that there was a match-winner lurking among the subsitutes. Cahill, whom Moyes had introduced in place of Barkley, had certainly given Samba and company more to worry about than Anichebe and, though Diniyar Bilyaletdinov showed a few decent touches and ideas after coming on for Osman just past the hour mark, nothing much came off the Russian.
Instead, it was Blackburn's second-half intoduction who threatened to make the breakthrough and David Goodwillie almost did just that when he clipped the crossbar under pressure from Jagielka with 16 minutes to go. Five minutes later, the Scot ended another Rovers counter-attack by cutting the ball back to Formica in front of goal but Howard foiled him again by saving superbly with his legs.
With seven minutes left of the regulation 90, disaster again struck the Everton defence. Jagielka initally intercepted Emerton's one-two return to Formica but then allowed himself to be immediately dispossessed by the Argentine and then caught the opponent's ankle as he stepped past him to line up a shot on goal.
Referee Mason signalled the second penalty of the afternoon and the Blues' luck seemed to have run out. Miraculously, really, Formica crashed his spot kick off the base of the post and the ball was hacked away to safety.
That appeared to be that; it just didn't look like it was going to be Blackburn's day and Everton hadn't really looked capable of scoring. Frankly, with the exception of Baines, they looked unfit, lacking cohesion and movement, and any ingenuity in breaking down a team that has been struggling for form for months.
A point would have been a steal; the win, thanks to Arteta's cool injury-time penalty conversion, was tantamount to daylight robbery but we'll take it and, hopefully, the players will use it as a Neville-tackle-against-United-esque turning point that will lift their form out of the doldrums. One thing is certain: very few teams will allow them off the hook the way Blackburn did today.
With a Carling Cup upset safely averted in midweek, Everton look to put the memory of the defeat to QPR further behind them and build some momentum in the Premier League when they make the short trip to Blackburn this weekend.
Ewood Park, of course, was the scene of the Blues' opening day defeat last season on the back of a performance disconcertingly similar to the one that earned David Moyes and his team a chorus of boos at the final whistle last Saturday — a decisive lapse in concentration at the back, Jermaine Beckford struggling for service up front, and a struggle to create enough clear chances going forward to make the breakthrough.
The comfortable cup win over Sheffield United, though, will have gone a long way to settling the nerves among players and fans alike and with Mikel Arteta, Marouane Fellaini, and Louis Saha getting more playing time under their belts the Blues will certainly feel they're in better shape going into this weekend's encounter.
Blackburn have made a poor start to their League campaign themselves and will go into this fixture a place off the bottom of the table but they were buoyed themselves with a 3-1 of their own over the other Sheffield team on Wednesday night.
Having shuffled his midfield around in the last two games, Moyes will have some decisions to make if Tim Cahill is well enough to be eligible for selection. The midfield quintet that comfortably got the better of the Blades probably did more than enough to deserve another run out and there's one more player to add to the equation as Diniyar Bilyaletdinov returns from suspension.
Though an increasingly large section of the fanbase are unconvinced that the Russian is a winger, he does have experience of playing out wide but his erratic form in his time at Goodison probably means that he'll have to bide his time with some substitute appearances before he'll get the chance to start a game.
Up front, Victor Anichebe made his case for starting at Ewood Park with a goal on Wednesday and if Beckford doesn't recover in time from a knee strain, it will probably be between him and Saha for the lone striker spot; no matter how many believe he should be give a chance, Yakubu is unlikely to get the nod.
Clearly, a win would be a fantastic a filip for a team that needs confidence in its own ability and despite winning in midweek, Rovers' own lack of self belief could be there to be exploited by the Blues if they can get into some sort of rhythm. It's unlikely to be a classic on a ground that hasn't always been kind to Everton but this will be a case of the result being all important.
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|2011-12 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Other media reports|
|4 the Game||Report|
|Dunn (34' Formica)|
|Pederson (34' Petrovic:45+1')|
|Roberts (72' Goodwillie)|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|West Brom||-||Stoke City|
|12||Queens Park Rangers||3|
|18||West Bromwich Albion||0|