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Venue: Stadium, City
Premier League
 Saturday 21 March 2009; 12:45pm
Crouch (21', 74')
Half Time: 1-1
Baines (3')
Attendance: 20,388
Fixture 30
Referee: Peter Walton

Match Summary

Lars Jacobsen made his debut at right back but Cahill was ruled out. Baines scored a cracker from an early free-kick and Everton looked imperious for a while... but Kaboul went in very heavily behind Pienaar, kneeing him brutally in the lower back, amazingly avoiding a card from Peter Walton.  And that tackle seemed to change the game.

Pompey fought their way back into the game, winning a dubious corner that eventually led to a cross that Crouch buried, piling into Lescott and barging him down to head past Howard.  It was nothing more than their feisty comeback into the game had promised, and Everton had no real response.  J� got into a good position on the edge of the area and should have done far far better, screwing the ball well wide with the goal at his mercy, summing up a profligacy that would cost Everton the game.

Howard did well to stop Nugent after he had dodged the offside trap as a both sides looked for the advantage in the second half.  A great delivery from a Baines free-kick looked worth a goal but Crouch got his head on it and nothing came of the corner.  

At the other end, Crouch had plenty of room to run through the Everton defence and head a second goal past and impeded Howard � right where a defender on the post would have been.  Everton had it all to do from that point but the only thing Fellaini  seemed to be doing with any effect was upsetting Hreidarsson.

Osman, with a fantastic opportunity to power in a free kick, delivered an utterly woeful, absolutely atrocious ball behind the goal from a perfect wide position. What a total waste of space and effort this player has become! At the other end, a Davies shot smacked in to the base of the post beside Howard.

Everton sadly looked poor and lacking in ideas for much of the game... certainly lacking the players who could make the difference.  Dan Gosling replaced Jacobsen with 5 mins left.

Jo, who had really been appalling, collapsed in a heap near the end after a kick on the knee and Moyes threw on Rodwell in the 90th minute � 3 mins added.  But it was never going to be enough for a decimated Everton squad that has finally reached it's limit after a very long good run of results.

Michael Kenrick

Match Report

Everton's hopes of unlikely Champions League qualification took a serious dent with only their second defeat in 19 games as two goals by Peter Crouch turned this match on its head by erasing Leighton Baines' fourth-minute strike with two headed goals in either half.

Having drawn disappointing blanks at Manchester United, Newcastle and Blackburn in their previous three away games, the writing was perhaps on the wall for the Blues and their cause was not helped by the loss of Tim Cahill who failed a fitness test on a calf strain and became the latest star player to be ruled out of David Moyes's squad through injury.

The Australian's absence doesn't tell the whole story of this first loss since the end of January, though; having roared into an early lead with Baines' peach of a free kick, and given their impressive defensive record, Everton looked well placed to ride out this game and perhaps add to their tally.

They hadn't reckoned on Pompey's response, however. Spurred on by a raucous home crowd whose voices filled the pokey little south-coast ground, they chased the game, hunting the Blues down like a pack of wild dogs and then won it thanks to two crucial interventions by a giraffe.

Everton, shorn of Cahill's industry and talismanic influence, Mikel Arteta's artistry, and Yakubu's deadly finishing, huffed and puffed in response at the other end but to little effect and crashed to a defeat that probably ends their participation in the race for fourth place.

It had started so well, though.  Louis Saha, starting a game for the first time in 2009 and partnering Jô up front, was chopped down by Silvain Distin as he tried to accelerate past him on the edge of the area and referee Peter Walton awarded the free kick with less than four minutes on the clock.

Baines stepped up to take it and picked his spot through a wide hole in the defensive wall, whipping a shot in off the upright to the delight of the traveling Everton fans.  It was an early reward for an impressive start by the away side but having controlled proceedings for the next 10 minutes or so, they allowed the pendulum to swing back in Pompey's direction.

The home team weren't causing the Blues' defence many problems, though. Niko Karnjcar's curling effort from outside the box that sailed over after 13 minutes was their only effort on goal until Glenn Johnson sliced horribly wide, so much so that the referee assumed it had flicked off Baines' boot and erroneously awarded a corner.

Jô got his head to the resulting ball in from the Pompey left but his clearance went only as far as Kranjcar who swung a cross back into the area.  Johnson headed back across goal giving Crouch all the invitation he needed to power through Joleon Lescott and head home.  The approach may have been preventable but Crouch is impossible to defend against in that situation; he leapt into Lescott, leading with his arm across the defender's back and barging him out the way.

Everton were clearly knocked out of any rhythm they had developed in the early going and they struggled to make inroads into a home defence that had shaken off its early jitters and settled into a pattern of rapidly closing the Blues down before anything significant could develop.

The hole in which Marouane Fellaini operated last weekend in the first 45 minutes and the closing stages of the win over Stoke had proven to be a sweet spot then.  Today it was more of a black hole, such was the Belgian's inability to get into the game at all.

In Cahill's absence, it needed someone to take a position of leadership going forward and Fellaini was found wanting.  Steven Pienaar assumed the mantle once more but very little went right for him today, though it wasn't through lack of effort,. while Leon Osman's performance again betrayed either a player battling despite not being fit or one who has simply lost whatever it was that had his manager touting him for England last season.

Up front, Saha was also conspicuous by his absence from proceedings and only Jô was really involved in the first half, even if he too was a bit hit-and-miss.  The Brazilian had the best chance of the first 45 minutes when he found himself in a glorious position in between Distin and Sol Campbell but perhaps through lack of belief he eschewed the opportunity afford by the space to take another couple of touches and fired lamely wide from 18 yards.

Everton began the second period in a similarly purposeful mood to that with which they'd started the first but, again, there was a lack of fluidity and guile and they consistently let themselves down with the final ball.  The insistence on trying to pick out the forwards with angled punts downfield was understandable given the vacuum in central midfield but once they'd won the second ball there was a frustrating tendency to run down blind alleys rather than find either Jô or Saha with a telling ball.

Jô did have a shot from an almost impossible angle saved in the first minute after the restart, though, and caused palpitations in the hearts of the home defence when he gloriously skinned Younas Kaboul for pace down the left but Pienaar wasted the attack by chipping a wayward cross onto the roof of the net.

Pompey for their part were still not really troubling Everton at the other end and it wasn't until an hour gone that Tim Howard had his first save to make.  Crouch had cleverly clipped a ball forward that released David Nugent in on goal but the American 'keeper raced off his line to close the angle and stopped his shot brilliantly.

15 minutes later, though, they got the winner from another corner.  Not so much the 800lb gorilla in the room as the the 6'7" giraffe on the pitch, Crouch was left unmarked by Lescott and Fellaini as the cross came in and he had the routine task of burying his second header of the game into Howard's goal, the 'keeper completely taken out of the situation by Kanu's pre-meditated barge.

It was now Everton's turn to chase the game but, again, it was with the final ball that they kept letting themselves down.  It wasn't for lack of effort and debutant Lars Jacobsen was showing every sign that he could be the answer to one of Everton's longest unresolved weaknesses — namely an old-fashioned overlapping full-back on the right flank — but three of his crosses were all met by a wall of blue Portsmouth shirts and Saha and Jô remained starved of opportunities.

A late, last throw of the dice by Moyes when he took Jacobsen off and threw Dan Gosling reaped no dividends and it was Portsmouth and not Everton who almost added to the score tally when Sean Davis thundered a volley off the outside of the post.

In all, another fairly impotent display by the Blues away from home and clear evidence that there is a point where too many key injuries provide the straw that breaks the camel's back. On another day without someone with Crouch's almost unnatural height, Everton might have held out for a slender 1-0 win or, with some of those vital missing players, gone on to increase their advantage.

Moyes will now be hoping that the fortnight's break for internationals allows Cahill the time he needs to recover and him the time to refocus his players on the final eight games. Arsenal hitting form again probably means that the Champions League dream is gone but fifth is there to be claimed from Villa and there's always the likes of West Ham lurking behind us to take advantage of any collapse in form.

Player Ratings: No one really covered themselves in glory but Fellaini and Saha were virtually anonymous... though how much you can really blame either is up for debate seeing as the ball was usually being launched in their direction rather than fed into space where they could cause some havoc.

Jo tried hard for the most part and seems to have stepped up his efforts off the ball but chasing long balls this isn't his style either.  Pienaar was perhaps the most industrious going forward when he and Osman weren't being kicked all over the place but the players to emerge with arguably the most credit were the fullbacks, Baines and Jacobsen, with the former edging the Man of the Match award for a terrific goal and some nice attacking moves down the left.

Lyndon Lloyd

Match Preview

Everton's quest for surprise Champions League qualification continues this weekend with a trip to Portsmouth while their rivals for that coveted fourth spot, Aston Villa and Arsenal, both four points above the Blues, are also on the road. Villa have, on paper, the toughest assignment with their visit to Liverpool but David Moyes won't be expecting an easy ride at Pompey this weekend.

Though he enjoyed three successive victory at Fratton Park at the start of his Everton reign, Moyes's side failed to win on the south coast on their last two visits but he'll be on a mission of more immediate revenge after the Blues's horrible 3-0 reverse at Goodison Park at the end of August, their worst defeat of the season so far.

While the list of injuries going into this weekend is worse than that which plagued Everton back then, they are clearly a very different team now. Beaten just once in their last 18 games — an incredible run of form given the high-profile absentees — the Blues have made themselves incredibly difficulto beat and will ride a wave of confidence to Pompey for a televeised lunchtime kick-off.

Joseph Yobo is the latest heachache to disrupt Moyes's plans, the Nigerian pulling up in training this week with a hamstring strain that is expected to keep him out of action for a month. That, the consequent need to move Phil Jagielka back into central defence and Phil Neville's form in midfield, should lead to a long-awaited debut for Lars Jacobsen at right back.

Tim Cahill, withdrawn at half-time against Stoke with a slight calf strain last Saturday, appears to have won his fitness race and it's likely that the Blues will be otherwise unchanged. That would mean Jô continuing up front with Marouane Fellaini dropping off the front line and Louis Saha again starting on the bench.

Portsmouth have improved since Tony Adams was sacked and installed as his replacement. In the last six weeks they've run Liverpool and Chelsea close, losing by a single goal on both occasion and beaten Manchester City, but they remain vulnerable and are beatable if the Blues can rise above their recent impotence on their travels.

Lyndon Lloyd

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  Kaboul :80
  Campbell {c}
  Hreidarsson :67
  Nugent (74' Kanu)
  Subs not used

EVERTON (4-4-2)
  Jacobsen (86' Gosling)
  Osman :32'
  J� (90' Rodwell)
  Subs not used
  Cahill (injured)
  Anichebe (injured)
  Arteta (injured)
  Valente (injured)
  Hibbert (injured)
  Yobo (injured)
  Valente (injured)
  Van der Meyde (injured)
  Vaughan (injured)
  Yakubu (injured)
  Ruddy (loan)
  Turner (loan)
  Jutkiewicz (loan)

Premier League Scores
Saturday 21 March 2009
Portsmouth 2-1 Everton
Blackburn 1-1 West Ham
Fulham 2-0 Man Utd
Stoke 1-0 Middlesbro
Tottenham 1-0 Chelsea
West Brom 1-1 Bolton
Newcastle 1-3 Arsenal
Sunday 22 March 2009
Wigan 1-0 Hull
Man City 1-0 Sunderland
Liverpool 5-0 Aston Villa

Premier League Table
Pos Team Pts
1 Man Utd 65
2 Liverpool 64
3 Chelsea 61
4 Arsenal 55
5 Aston Villa 52
6 Everton 48
7 Wigan 41
8 West Ham 41
9 Fulham 40
10 Man City 38
11 Tottenham 38
12 Bolton 34
13 Hull 33
14 Sunderland 32
15 Portsmouth 32
16 Stoke 32
17 Blackburn 31
18 Newcastle 29
19 Middlesbro 27
20 West Brom 24
After 22 Mar 2009


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