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COLUMNIST JOE JENNINGS

The Dark Arts

By Joe Jennings :  13/04/2009 :  Comments (0) :

“Tim Cahill is the master of the dark arts” was the comment — if not compliment — Sam Allardyce made in the media prior to his side’s game with Everton only last month.

Safe to say however, there is nothing ‘dark’ about the way in which Tim Cahill goes about his game. For me, it’s a charm that he has about him; intelligence, gamesmanship, situational management… a nudge here, a push there… a moan at the referee.

After yesterday’s sorry surrender, I can say with some certainty that we have too many nice boys within our rank, who rely upon the brain in their legs as opposed to the brain in their heads. We have an honest bunch of lads at Everton but, Cahill aside, they seem to lack nous. Those bunch of players, in going 2-0 up, should have been capable of taking the sting out of the game when we were under the cosh. They sadly didn’t, and we ultimately paid the price.

We can take pride in what turned out to be a “thriller”, “a great game for the neutral”, “typical when Everton meet Aston Villa”, or we can strive for perfection. David Moyes seemed pretty irate at the goals conceded during the game from the dugout — particularly the second — but seemed suitably tranquil come his post-match interview. Was he masking his anger?

Phil Jagielka is one of the best centre backs in Europe, Joleon Lescott is an England international and Tim Howard is usually quality. But rest assured, they need to be raged at and told what is expected of them after a shocking showing, not told “never mind, you’re usually good”.

Having the right frame of mind, coupled with a real mental toughness, is often what detaches the winners from the losers at the very top, just at look at Manchester United, and, whether we care to admit it or not, Liverpool. We need to be taking that sort of approach into games.

What angers me most is at times during the game, we exposed Villa for what they truly are — dross. They are so bad, defensively at least, but in the second half we made them look like Barcelona, with Tony Hibbert making Ashley Young seem like Lionel Messi. We played right into their hands. Making it so easy for the opposition, it felt like we had regressed back three years.

Given Villa’s league position, it’s easy to say that they’re a good side, but look at the defence they put out, we should fully expect to go and get goals against that. Letting in three at the other end though, when we are at full strength, is not acceptable.

Tim Howard was terrible but we made it too easy to get at him. I have not seen our defence look so nervy in a long time. While we did, admittedly, play some really good stuff, it’s no use knocking nice little triangles if you can’t retain general possession and draw the sting. We’ve seen that all before against physical sides haven’t we?

Look at our third goal. Baines finds Jo, some 40 yards from goal, and the Brazilian returns the ball back to the feet of our left-back. Leighton then knocks it down the line for Jo, who despite being surrounded by two Villa players, worms his way out and finds Baines again. Neville gets it next and he drills it into Osman, who dummies delightfully, allowing Steven Pienaar to slam home from some 18 yards to send the Evertonians into raptures. The passing, movement and interchange was little short of spectacular, School of Science stuff. That is what this side is capable of, and that is the standard we should be setting ourselves each week. Nil Satis Nisi Optimum and all that.

It’s the one we’ve all been waiting for next, and given we look more solid defensively, who’s to say some of our players won’t atone for their Villa Park misdemeanours? Belief is everything. Fear United and watch them tear us to pieces; stand toe-to-toe with them and maybe this team can come of age. Maybe, just maybe, they can all become acquainted with the beauty of the dark arts…

Seeing is believing. Up the Toffees.

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