I'm currently recovering from my third bout of tonsillitis within a five-week period so my initial plans of enjoying the corporate facilities at the Dixie Dean Suite with Ste were out of the question. As too were any pub plans. Whilst you can drink when on antibiotics it's generally not recommended and, in an effort to really nip this in the bud this time, I'm laying off the alcohol entirely until I feel 100% again.
Earlier in the week I wasn't going to come along at all but feeling rather better than I was I decided to go the game... four days of home-confinement will do that to you. With pubs out of the question then, particularly in very warm weather, I donned my shorts, packed some lunch and drove over to Goodison Park...even, without a hint of envy, dropping Ste off at the ground before parking up.
With the best part of three hours to kill before kick off and armed with lunch, radio and newspaper and with the sun shining, I headed for the park. The obvious destination would be Stanley Park, but I instead marched on along Walton Road and up St Domingo Road towards Everton Park. It made me wonder what life used to be like in this area.
Everton Library, though dilapidated, still stands. Everton Park itself replaced a terraced, close-nit community in the 1960s when the 120,000 people who lived there were bulldozed out and forced to live in areas on the outer limits of the city. If you go to the park today, it's incredible to imagine how it once was.
When trudging back from Anfield last Saturday we stumbled upon Everton Park and were quite blown away by the wonderful view of the Liverpool city skyline. I hoped to replicate this and enjoy the warm weather, however my best laid plans didn't quite materialise as the sun clouded over making the view not-quite-so-spectacular, and the temperature dropped while the wind picked up, making a mockery of my summer attire. I was relieved as the clock ticked on towards kick off... though a great view, my plan required warmer weather.So back I walked, the area around Goodison Park now buzzing with pre-match anticipation, Goodison Park looking splendid. I grabbed a quick coffee from the Fan Zone and was in the ground in comfortable time. The teams came out, Goodison Park in good noise. Two changes from the late collapse at Manchester United –- Matthew Pennington in for the suspended Ashley Williams, and Morgan Schneiderlin returning to the starting line up after injury and replacing Graeth Barry.
Leicester City, who have a big game at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday rested several players, with Kasper Schmeichel captaining their side. You somehow fancied goals in this one and it turned out to be one for the hipsters... with a goalkeeper captain, a goal within the opening 30 seconds, plenty of young players on show, six goals, little scraps in the game, goals from centre backs, a terrible referee and even an after-the-full-time-whistle chip into the net from Kevin Mirallas...the game had everything!
One of the lads arrived slightly after kick off, about 15 seconds in, and I was half-greeting him/half watching Kevin Mirrallas surge forward when Kevin was pulled back by Daniel Amartey. The referee will say he played the advantage though given his inconsistencies throughout, I'll say he didn't want to know. Anyhow, the ball ran on to the alert Tom Davies who did brilliantly to bamboozle the defender before placing into the net. Everton ahead in around 30 seconds!
Well you can't ask for more than that, can you? Well only if you then protect your lead. The supporters were screaming for a foul, I forget on whom, when Leicester City broke away. Nobody was able to stop a brilliant surge forward by Demarai Gray as he pelted towards our goal. Our defenders, notably, Matthew Pennington, backed off a little too hesitantly and he was able to put a ball through for Islam Slimani to poke through the legs of Joel Robles to level the scores.
If Matthew Pennington was somewhat at fault for Leicester City's equaliser, his muddled thinking was definitely at fault for Marc Albrighton's beautifully hit free kick to put the reigning Champions ahead. Jamie Vardy caught him out dwelling on the ball and in his panic to win it back, Matthew gave away a free kick from what seemed a useful crossing position. Albrighton had other ideas of course and bent in a great free kick. At least that's my take on it. On the way home, on BBC Radio Merseyside, Joel Robles was getting a bit of stick for conceding from this. I haven't seen it since but, though you wonder how he got beaten from that angle, the accuracy seemed quite brilliant from Albrighton who does get wicked curl on the ball.
So inside 10 minutes we'd gone ahead and now behind. Already we had quite a game, soon made better when a sublime delivery from the right by Ross Barkley was effortlessly headed in by Romelu Lukaku. If you can put a ball in like that, no striker worth his salt should miss. This led to a bit of a debate amongst us on Romelu's performances these last couple of games at Anfield and Old Trafford. I argued he needed to do more, but it was hard to disagree with another comment that if he gets the service he scores the goals, and where was his service in those aforementioned games? Anyhow, Ross Barkley rightly got the adulation from the Gwladys Street for supplying such a fantastic ball.
Goodison Park really came to life and the crowd began to expect in what was a wonderful tempo to the game. Credit to Leicester City for making a darn good game of it. With Atletico Madrid on Wednesday it would have been easy to pull out of tackles and play within themselves a bit, but they were full-blooded and gave it a good go. It was Everton however who edged ahead before the break, and probably deservedly, when Phil Jagielka rose, yes, like a salmon, to land a textbook header into the net from an excellent Kevin Mirallas delivery.
Prior to that, it looked for all the world that Ross Barkley was to score, and he should have, but credit to Kasper Schmeichel for making a quite brilliant recovery save. The Danish goalkeeper will have been disappointed with his team-mates' defending from the resulting corner, I assume. All credit to Phil Jagielka, though, who has really shone brightly since returning to the team.
Everton really stepped it up a gear in the second half and pressed for some daylight between the two teams. Kevin Mirallas and Phil Jagielka were again both involved with our fourth goal when Kevin's corner was flicked on by Phil Jagielka, the ball breaking to Romalu Lukaku who finished well, smashing it into the goal with his right foot. Perhaps excited about another hat-trick, Romelu really upped his game in the preceding 10 minutes or so but alas that wasn't to be. Nevertheless, four goals from corner kicks in the last three games suggests we are at least practising these, something we didn't do under Ronald Koeman's predecessor.
There was still plenty of time, and life, left in the game as Leicester City wouldn't go away, and it took some brave blocks and one masterful goal-saving clearance from just short of his own goal line by captain Phil Jagielka to preserve our two-goal advantage. Had it got to 4-3 with time still on the clock we'd have gotten twitchy... it's not as if we haven't seen such defensive meltdowns at Goodison Park before.
We were able to see out injury time fairly comfortably in the end, Kevin Mirallas even tormenting Kasper Schmeichel with his distance lob over him and into the net after the full time whistle had gone. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, even with my mid-life crisis afternoon park chill-out. With a 10-point advantage on West Bromwich Albion in eighth, plus a wildly superior goal difference, you have to expect that seventh is the minimum position we will finish, and baring an abnormality, such as Leicester City winning the Champions League, we can start getting our passports ready for next season.
Nothing that unfortunate could happen to us... could it?
Robles: Beaten through his legs and supposedly at fault for the free kick. The general consensus is that we need a new goalkeeper. I've done my very best to get behind Joel and he has shown what he's capable of in plenty of games; however, I struggle to overlook his mistakes in our recent trips to White Hart Lane and Anfield to name but two. It's hard to disagree when people say that we need to get a new goalkeeper in the summer. 6
Baines: Did well down the left and worked well with his team mates on that side of the field. 7
Jagielka: Helped coax Matthew Pennington through the game and lead by example. His renaissance of late suggests his future at Everton is far from over. 8
Pennington: After a poor first 20 minutes or so he recovered and put in some great blocks, tackles and clearances. Basically he stopped trying to do the fancy stuff and did the defensive basics. This served him well. He's somehow found himself under a bit of pressure so quickly after coming back into the team. He's been under the microscope and people have focused on his mistakes. We have to overlook that and remember that he did very well at the end of last season when everyone else seemed to have downed tools and has since had a lengthy injury. You have to give the lad a chance to show what he can do. He certainly did that this afternoon. 7
Holgate: Did well at right back. 7
Gueye: He had a very busy and tenacious game and provided good and steady skill on the ball at times also. Showed Leicester City perhaps exactly what they missed out on when they lost N'Golo Kante. My Man of the Match. 8
Schneiderlin: He is very good at doing a lot of the scrappy work in there. Has been missed in our two big games of late and he showed us what we've been missing today. A great player to have in your team. 7
Davies: Did ever so well to squeeze home the early goal and was as busy as ever throughout. He had a few sloppy moments as we got into the last quarter of the game and I thought it might be worth taking him off and giving Joe Wlliams a bit of playing time. However, he recovered well and regained his composure to finish the game strongly. Shows what I know. He's a great little talent and a real joy to watch. 7
Barkley: Back where he enjoys playing the most and back doing what he does best - making goals, or goal, in this instance. His cross for Romalu Lukaku was perfection and he had a busy and productive game which was pleasing given he's come in for some flack these last couple of games. 7
Mirallas: He always seems to enjoy playing against Leicester City and his three assists suggest he was well up for this one also. He carried the fight from the start and I like his aggression. Following his tantrum when he was substituted on Tuesday evening I thought we might not see Kevin in the starting line up for a little while but credit to Ronald Koeman, he put him straight back in and certainly got his reward. 8
Lukaku: League goals 22 and 23 for the season for Romalu (he would have had 24 also if not for an untimely slip) shows what a key role he has played this season. How would we have got by without his goals? If he goes, or perhaps when he goes, he will take some replacing. It's going to be an interesting summer. 8
Barry (for Schneiderlin): Filled a few holes and settled into the game nicely, if not spectacularly. 6
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