Everton 1 - 1 Tottenham HotspurAt last our season starts and the Room of Nonsense is soon abuzz as matchday friends meet up and discuss the goings on of the close season. The majority of opinion is: let us let the dust settle and see how the squad looks after August 31st and how we are shaping up by Christmas. Appointing a new manager is always somewhat of a gamble but it would have been an even bigger gamble not to... It seems to be a three-year project so making the first observation of any discernible sense of the direction we are headed is best left to the first check mark of Christmas and then how we are looking during the run in.
The Stones transfer was on the agenda and the popular thought was that he had not been playing for us since he put his transfer request in and had it turned down; also, he did not seem to relish receiving advice on defending from the Park End.
Friday night games were discussed and mixed views on those. Crystal Palace (H) is our first one so a reminder to you to beware of flying roof slates in Goodison Road. It seems to be always windy when we play them at home.
It was how we would line up and start the season that was uppermost in most conversations; if we had formed a selection committee, it would have been chaos as so many permutations were put forward. We had to wait for official confirmation of the starting eleven and subs and believe me, you didn’t need a clock or watch to know 2:00pm was almost upon us as heads went down to palm of hands in eager anticipation of our team being electronically transmitted to those hand-held appliances that would tell all. At first glance, it was noted no Lukaku or Coleman, which was a blow, but most agreed the line-up was the best we could muster; so, until reinforcements can be acquired, we go with what we have got.
The walk up was carried out in good spirits with a warm glow both inside and out. On reaching Goodison Road, the familiar outlets were all back and thriving: the Fat Van heaving but still no bacon; Blue Dragon had a queue. A quick glance at the stadium and work is progressing with the facelift, as indeed it is inside the stadium, the walls were that white, sunglasses should be provided.
We all had our new season ticket cards and determined what picture was on the back. They also had new card readers and apparently these were malfunctioning and queues quickly built up. Still into the ground and Z-Cars rang out. For the players’ handshake, new music accompaniment this season and to me it was more suited to a funeral than a footy match. Each player got a grand ovation as his name was called; then the new way of kicking off was demonstrated by Spurs.
From the off, we looked to be at it and last season’s 3rd-placed team was being pressed, harried and bullied. "How long they can keep this up?" I mused. Within five minutes, Mirallas was making ground at pace and was impeded by Wanyama; our Ref, Mr Atkinson, awarded a free-kick outside the area on the Bullens Road side. Barkley delivered a cross that had players rushing toward the goal but it just floated on and into the net and goal. It was such a goal that there was a split second between ball hitting our brand new white net and the roar. (White nets are better than those dark blue ones!)
No sitting back after the goal as we continued our pressing game and, with just a further 10 minutes passed, we almost had the second. Wanyama felled Mirallas once again. It was further out but Jagielka got his head to it and looped the ball goalwards but the Spurs keeper turned the ball over the bar. Our new man, Idrissa Gueye, was catching the eye more and more with his seemingly tireless chasing, harrying and tackling and, along with Barry, Spurs were not getting things their way. Walker did on a couple of occasions give us a glance at what damage he could do with speedy marauding runs but Baines coped rather well again with some help from Barry and Gueye. When a Spurs man did get through and threaten, Jags was strong and resolute and blocked his run, well-timed tackle that.
During the odd Spurs breaks, it was fascinating to observe our back line as it seemed to go from a flat back four to a three or even a two-and-two as the type of threat evolved. The half moved on with Everton causing the most trouble but Spurs needed marshalling on the break. They had one good effort but our man Stekelenburg handled well. Mirallas and Deulofeu were always a thorn in their side and some speedy movement was getting them where Spurs did not want them to get and a Mirallas shot had to be turned around by the keeper. Toward the end of the half, the Spurs keeper Lloris had to go off with what looked like a hammy and be replaced by Vorm.
As the half was almost done, a poor backpass by a Spurs defender had Deulofeu pounce and go in on goal one-on-one with the stand-in keeper who came to narrow the angle but Deulofeu, who had time on his hands to try to move away to create an angle, chose to shoot but straight at the keeper who blocked his effort away. "Oh, we could have done with that." I thought as the half shortly ended.
The half-time chat was almost exclusively regarding the difference in philosophies between the Dutch man and the Spaniard. People were liking what they were seeing but were agreed we are a long way from the team he wants to build — but a start is being made.
Second half and it was to be quite different to the first. Spurs straight out of the blocks probably with sharp words ringing in their ears. We were being pushed back but that desire to work, tackle and press was still there and a breakaway was sought whenever possible. The Spurs manager had seen enough and on the hour mark our ex-player, Dier, was replaced by new signing Janssen. He started in bullish mood and looked for a healthy tackle whenever he could. He cut one back for the nark Dele Alli to entertain the crowd by skiing it rather high.
In Spurs' next attack, though, disaster struck for the Blues when Walker made one of his runs, Baines didn’t get close enough to him, and he was able to flash the ball across the 6-yard box; Lamela got in front of Holgate and directed a header expertly into the corner of that white net. "Damn and blast" came to mind! This took the wind out of our sails somewhat and we were getting a little ragged but great effort was put into trying to keep pressing and tackling and trying to fashion breaks but it was at this point you understood our manager's comment that the players are only 70% fit enough for his tactics. Where Barry, Gueye & McCarthy had been tireless and determined, the load was taking its toll and Spurs were now with the upper hand.
Where last season, we probably would have folded, our players soldiered on and our new keeper, Maarten Stekelenburg, took centre-stage with two huge saves. Spurs were gaining corners and from two of these he made excellent saves. First, a close-range shot from Janssen was blocked by his body; from the scramble ,the ball went up in the air and he was up and after it and palmed it away. He then showed excellent reactions when an incoming missile was diverted over the bar.
We were under the cosh and, with some extremely tired players, our manager lent a hand by making subs that would help. First, on 70 mins, Deulofeu was replaced by Kone (not the Sunderland one); then on 75 mins Lennon replaced Mirallas, and finally on 85 mins Cleverley replaced Barry.
The subs were of value as they helped the duo of McCarthy and Gueye do their best to stem the Spurs tide; even though those these two were on their last legs, they dug in and helped see out the game with three added minutes. Just after our last substitution, Barkley was seen lying on the ground but, after a word with Mr Atkinson who was enquiring after his health, he got up and carried on. Whistle went, we all cheered and people were leaving the stadium with smiles on their faces as bright as the L4 sun.
MotM: Jagielka. A rock from start to finish and didn’t flag.
A good day out and a game that left this fan quite optimistic that an upturn in fortunes is a possibility with this new manager.
Of our new signings on view, Gueye was a bundle of energy and showed terrier-like tendencies. He was a little like Bracewell, who earned the nickname ‘dog shit’ because he was everywhere, and so was Gueye today. With a few games under his belt, I can see him becoming a firm favourite with the faithful.
Stekelenburg had a tidy debut. His kicking with either foot was fine; he came and caught crosses; and when required showed excellent reflexes. It was said that Joe Hart’s agent was at Goodison today so, if any truth in that and something happened, the England man would have to earn his place on today's form.
The walk back to our watering hole was pleasant today as most seemed happy and thought we could progress. I sincerely hope so.
WBA next. Hope Lukaku is fit. See you there...
UP THE BLUES
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