Everton 1 - 1 Tottenham HotspurFriday was fervent in the office with that new season buzz. Everyone telling you about their fantasy team, everyone all of a sudden an expert on how the league will pan out. These 'experts' being the same who told me there was "no way" Ronald Koeman would leave Southampton to join Everton. Yes, many of these 'experts' are Reds.
I happened to be heading over to the game pretty early, and it was just as well I did, as I was able to catch up with a mate from the South who was up with a couple of his Tottenham Hotspur chums. They were having a few jars in The Winslow Hotel so I joined them for a couple before heading to the more regular surroundings of The Brick to catch up with Gary, Ste and Sue whilst watching the Champions, Leicester City, begin the defence of their crown with a surprising defeat to seemingly relegation doomed Hull City. What a turn up for the books that was!
We got the team news in the pub, which included six changes from the team which finished last season versus Norwich City, two of which are new signings in goalkeeper Maarten Steklenburg and midfielder Idrissa Gueye. Mason Holgate debuted in a three-man central defence alongside Ramiro Funes Mori and captain Phil Jagielka with James McCarthy featuring at right wing-back. Gareth Barry joined Idrissa Gueye in the midfield with Ross Barkley, whilst with Romelu Lukaku injured with a cut to the heel, Kevin Mirallas played just off Gerard Deulofeu in a somewhat untested attack. Tottenham Hotspur featured England quintet Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Harry Kane, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker. They possess quality throughout in Hugo Lloris, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Victor Wanyama and you knew that, with Tottenham's physical nature and high tempo game plan, we were to have our work cut out, especially with Martin Atkinson officiating.
We left the pub at the usual time (about 2:45pm) and if this is what it is to be like all season, we'll be making our way to the ground a shade earlier. The queues outside the Lower Gwladys were long. The game was a sell-out which didn't help, and as we got closer to the front we realised Everton had changed the ticket reading software which was causing a few issues, not least for myself when my card simply wouldn't work. The gentleman behind me, seemingly disbelieving of my ability to place a card on a scanning device, snatched my card from me to try doing it himself though it still didn't work of course. Eventually a steward came along and let me in, taking my card off me. It was all so Everton. We eventually sat down a few minutes into the game.
Everton had settled into the game nicely by this point and with Everton now pressing much more than in our previous few seasons the crowd were visibly and audibly more up for the game, especially once the ground erupted when Ross Barkley's free kick missed everybody and nestled into the net past the outstretched arm of Hogo Lloris. A great start by Everton.
The three centre-back partnership was emptying everything Tottenham threw at them with all three centre-backs emerging from the first half with credit. The whole team did in fact, everybody doing their jobs from the back to the front and on another day we would have been further ahead at the break with Phil Jagielka, Kevin Mirallas and Gerard Deulofeu all thwarted by Hugo Lloris or his replacement Michel Vorm. It was a fantastic first-half effort and we were good value for our half-time lead.
I spent most of the break catching up with some of the guys around us where we sit and before you knew it the second half was upon us. If ever you wanted to see the proverbial game of two halves this was it as Tottenham threw the proverbial kitchen sink at us after the break; despite our first half dominance, we were perhaps lucky to escape with a hard-earned draw.
The visitors equalised when Eric Lamella got in front of young centre back Mason Holgate to head past Maarten Stekelenburg on the hour mark. The defending was a little slack from our promising young defender, though I felt the efforts to the stop the cross from our more experienced duo of Leighton Baines and Gareth Barry could have been much better.
Tottenham gained momentum from this and, if not for two outstanding saves from our impressive new goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, we might have been licking our wounds from a punishing defeat. It's hard to tell which of the two saves was the more impressive. The experienced Dutchman showed great reactions to get down and stop Vincent Janssen's close range prod at goal, and then got up sharply to punch the ball out atop the resulting melee. His second save late in the game was equally smart when Eric Lamella's drive deflected massively off Mason Holgate. Stekelenburg again showed great reflexes to re-adjust and pop the ball over the crossbar.
Whilst the game was a real challenge and the result was one we would have taken prior to kick off, the mood was very positive after the game as we sunk a few beers in the city centre. We have to accept that the season is going to be a learning curve as we adapt from one style to the next and get the players fitness up to scratch.
We'll have to show patience along the way, though our newer style is making Goodison Park feel more like home again. I'm already grateful for that.
Maarten Stekelenburg: After the goalkeeper problems we had last season, it's great to have a goalkeeper who knows what he's doing. He comes for crosses and keeps hold of things well, and his two late saves literally won us a point. If he can stay at this standard, I'll be more than happy with him for a couple of years. My Man of the Match. 8
Funes Mori: Stuck to his task at the back well. 7
Phil Jagielka: Marshalled the back line well, particularly in the first half. 7
Mason Holgate: Though he was at fault for the goal, I was impressed with his defending and reading of the game. 7
Leighton Baines: He looked to me like he was perhaps carrying a knock as he struggled through the game, I thought. Maybe he isn't quite accustomed enough to the wing-back role? Regardless, the game was a struggle for Leighton, and he might perhaps feel a little culpable for the goal with his failure to stop the cross. 5
James McCarthy: Coped very well in a rather unfamiliar position. It will be interesting to see if he makes it into the middle once Seamus Coleman returns. 7
Gareth Barry: Nice to see him retained and he did pretty well breaking up play in the middle. 6
Idrissa Gueye: A very impressive debut from Idrissa, especially in the first half. He makes a lot of tackles and interceptions and keeps things simple. Dare I say it, he reminds me a little of Lucas at Liverpool. Looks like we've got a good player on our hands there. 7
Ross Barkley: Had a very good first half but showed frustrating moments of carelessness with the ball in the second half. Nice to see him start the season with a goal again (the third time he's done that!) and let's hope for a strong campaign from Ross. 6
Kevin Mirallas: Worked hard for the team and seems quite suited to the role up front. I predict a good season from Kevin. 7
Gerard Deulofeu: Did well first half but tired in the second and subbed before 70 minutes. It's not his most effective position up there, but he was required given our resources. 6
Arouna Kone (for Gerard Deulofeu): When the ball comes to him, he's pretty good at retaining it and keeping possession, but this is countered by lack of attention and not doing the basics right at times. Your manager shouldn't be having to tell you to show yourself for a corner, for example. We need another striker, two even if Romelu Lukaku exits. If Kone is to stay, he should only be third choice striker in my opinion. 5
Aaron Lennon (for Kevin Mirallas): He was lively but our team was drained once he entered play so his efforts weren't ultimately effective. 6
Tom Cleverley (for Gareth Barry): Got involved. 6
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