Everton 2 - 1 Arsenal
As with any funeral, I'd had a pretty difficult day. I was never particularly close to my cousin John who had recently passed away, aged only 49, but a funeral does make you reminisce about the past, and certainly makes you think about the future.
As with many funerals, things get a little better after the ceremony when you get to the reception and relax a little over a few drinks. It was great to catch up with a few of my Irish cousins who had made the trip over for the funeral, and other family I rarely see from various parts of England.
A friend also offered me an opportunity to join him in the corporate facilities of the Dixie Dean suite for the evening game and though with a bit of rearranging I could perhaps have made it, I decided against it. As amazing as it is in the lounge, getting together with family whom I seldom see was something I wasn't going to pass up. Instead Gaz picked me up from the Town Crier pub just near Chester station and took me onward to Goodison Park. I'd just spent a sombre though uplifting day with my family, now it was time to spend time with my Blue family. "Lets win it for John" I said to my Dad on the way out. Yes, like me and you, John was a Blue.
Once parked up and fed we congregated in The Brick for a couple of pre-match jars with nobody in particularly optimistic mood. Though our moods were lifted by the sight on our phones that Enner Valencia was to begin the game, and hence we might be looking to attack a bit more than of late, you got the feeling that the team put out was done so by a man who really isn't sure of his best team. Perhaps unlike everyone, I was made up to see Phil Jagielka restored to the heart of our defence after our defensive horror show at Vicarage Road last weekend. Arsenal, until now imperious, arrived with an incredible array of attacking talent, though a defence you had to feel we could get at, something we would really need to do well to get something from the game. The referee, alas, was Mark Clattenburg. Everton won the toss and attacked towards the Park End in the first half.
At the beginning of the game the Goodison crowd was surprisingly flat, though as we are now aware became very vociferous throughout the game. We began OK. For the first 10 minutes or so we were at least matching Arsenal though our North London guests were soon in control and didn't take long to force us into mistakes, not least from Ashley Williams who was all at sea. In fact they were all, all at sea on 20 minutes when Arsenal got ahead. Had it been another team I'd have been sniggering at the defensive incompetence but I'm afraid it was us. I think it was first Enner Valencia who instead of booting the ball clear inexplicably decided to try and run it out from pretty much the dead ball line and through our own penalty area. I can't quite recall exactly how it broke to Williams though he too failed to clear his lines and it took Phil Jagielka to take down I think Alexis Sanchez just outside the penalty area to halt the nonsense though we still wren't done. Sanchez took the free kick, it deflected off WIlliams and wrong-footed Maarten Stekelenburg to trickle into the goal. I'd have to see it again but though he was wrong-footed, I thought Stekelenburg may have kept it out. Regardless, we were a goal down with hands on head all round, and once again staring down the barrel.
It is with immense credit that Everton for the first time since I can't remember when, battled themselves back into the game. I forget the exact moment, but a couple of bruising tackles by James McCarthy and some generally good pressing intensity from Aaron Lennon in particular really got the crowd onside and the volume went up a couple of notches. Goodison became the bear pit I remember and boy did the players respond, and on the 44th minute the crowd were rewarded with another headed goal from Seamus Coleman - a wonderful glancing header it was too. I'm not sure how many headers Coleman has scored for us, though then again, I'm not sure how many goals Leighton Baines has assisted with his right foot either! It certainly made Goodison Park a happier place going into the break and we felt good value for our leveller at half time.
Our vigour continued to impress after the break and we continued to fight Arsenal. We seemed determined not to give them an easy ride and when I say we, I mean all of us. The players and the crowd. You felt like we were in this together. We got a let off - we were going to need at least one at some point, when Mesut Ozil cleared the crossbar when set up by Alexis Sanchez but otherwise you would say we had the better chances in the game. A magnificent surging run by Romalu Lukaku almost resulted in a goal and we were in and around their penalty area on plenty of occassions but the ball just wouldn't quite bounce for us. On other days we might have accepted it wasn't to be our day before we equalised but you felt we weren't going to be denied. From a corner kick Phil Jagielka managed to get an effort at goal but Petr Cech did well to keep it out. Another corner. The crowd were buzzing, Arsenal were quaking, you could feel it coming. As Howard Kendall once said - "the Gwladys Street will suck one in for you" and you felt that this sort of happened. A good deep corner from Ross Barkley and Ashley Williams headed in unmarked before wheeling off in ecstatic celebration. Goodison erupted. We've all missed that feeling.
With four minutes plus injury time still to play you knew it wouldn't be straightforward and that it certainly wasn't. Captain Phil Jagielka was sent off for a second bookable offence. You could argue that he perhaps should have been sent off earlier in the game for his first yellow card offence, but though I'd have to see it again, I really didn't feel this was worthy of a second yellow card. I don't think anyone would have complained had Clattenburg kept his cards in his pockets this time.
The drama was far from over. With Petr Cech up from his goal there were a few scary moments at the back and you expected to see the net bulge and the Arsenal players run away celebrating but we denied them with goal line clearances from substitute Ramiro Funes Mori and Leighton Baines. As we broke away the Arsenal players were remonstrating with the referee. We continued and with Petr Cech still stranded up-field Romalu Lukaku worked the ball to Ross Barkley in the penalty area who might have shot but instead squared it to Kevin Mirallas but the two of them both kind of got it wrong and Arsenal could break forward one final time. It was breathtaking stuff and it all finished when I think Xhaka fizzed the ball out of play when trying to cross the ball. Mark Clattenburg's final whistle was greeted by a proud roar from the Goodison faithful. What a game and what a night.
Now that's the rot stopped. Let's do it again next Monday and turn this season around.
R.I.P cousin John. Everton did you proud tonight.
Stekelenburg: I'd have to see it again but I thought he could have done better with the goal and some of his distribution in the first half was wayward. When the going got tough at the end however he was excellent and contributed towards keeping Arsenal out at the end, particularly after taking a nasty blow when he collided with I think Sanchez. 6
Baines: Had a good consistent game. His block at the end just as important as his rare right footed cross which lead to to the goal. 7
Williams: Was all over the place first half but improved after the break and scored a great headed winning goal. Without Phil Jagielka alongside him next week he'll have to be prepared to roll his sleeves up and fight. 6
Jagielka: After a pretty horrendous spell all round when Arsenal scored he galvanised the troops well and had a positive impact on the game. May be a huge miss next week but at least Everton have a bit of time to work on it I suppose. 7
Coleman: Not the best distribution but his effort and work rate could not be faulted. Got on the scoresheet too. 7
Gueye: A typically combative display from Idrissa Gueye. What we've come to expect really. 7
McCarthy: He really got amongst them and his first half tackling really set the tone for both the players and the fans. A great effort. My man of the match. 8
Lennon: Particularly in the first half he was very good, perhaps our best players at one point. He stretched them before fading in the second half. A good effort. 7
Valencia: A brainless moment in the first half aside which contributed towards the goal we conceded, he was good. His pace, energy and movement can hurt teams. We really need to be utilising this more. 7
Barkley: I thought Ross had an excellent game. I don't know if Ronald Koeman is challenging him to do it but he seems to have the confidence to spray the ball around a bit more. He is the only one we have who can really pass the ball and he has potential to hurt teams. his confidence in possession exemplified that today and he also claimed an assist. Another effort like that next week and I, for one, will be satisfied. 8
Lukaku: Though not everything went for him he showed good fighting spirit and battled hard, especially in the second half. Hopefully he's saving his goals for next Monday. 7
Mirallas (for Lennon): Was busy, even if without seeing a lot of the ball. 6
Calvert-Lewin (for Valencia): Didn't see much of the ball but great to see a youngster get a chance. 6
Funes Mori (for McCarthy): Put on to fill a few holes at the back and made a goal line clearance to keep them out at the end so you would have to say that was a job well done. He'll have to work overtime next Monday however and he'll be getting a lot of stick from them lot after his red card and heinous crime of badge showing at Anfield last season. I hope he's ready for it. 7
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