VIEW FROM THE BLUE
Everton notched back-to-back victories over the Premier League's top two by taking down Champions Manchester United with another superb come-from-behind win that firmly re-establishes David Moyes's side as contenders for European quailfication and, perhaps, dark horses for that much-coveted fourth place.
United came to Goodison Park on the back of a famous triumph of their own in the San Siro in midweek, with the pundits hailing Sir Alex Ferguson's side, and Wayne Rooney in partiuclar, as now being in top gear as the home straights approach in the domestic and European competitions. Everton, meanwhile, might have felt they'd lost to Sporting on Tuesday, such was their manager's anger at the manner in which they handed the Portuguese side a lifeline in their Europa League tie, and with Tim Cahill joining the equally influential Marouane Fellaini on the treatment table, few Evertonians could be blamed for quietly hoping for a draw from what has historically been the least profitable fixture on their calendar.
Everton had beaten United just three times in the Premier League era before today but, having beaten Chelsea here 10 days ago, Goodison Park was again vibrating to the sounds of unbridled joy at full time having witnessed their side magnificently put the title favourites to the sword with two goals in the last 15 minutes.
As had been the case against Chelsea, there were few signs of the thrills to come in the opening quarter of an hour. The visitors looked assured in their passing and dangerous coming forward while Everton struggled to get into any kind of rhythm of their own. Indeed, the void left by Cahill seemed to be keenly felt in the early going, with none of the midfield quintet of Leon Osman, Mikel Arteta, Steven Pienaar, Landon Donovan or Diniyar Bilyaletdinov bridging the gap to Louis Saha on a consistent enough basis and it was hard to imagine at that point how the Blues were going to set about breaking down the United defence.
Osman almost provided a quick answer to that when he danced through the opposition defence in his now-familiarly fleet-footed style but, having done the hard part, he screwed his shot well wide of Edwin van der Sar's far post. Then, after Darren Fletcher had ballooned United's first chance high over the bar and Bilyaletdinov's hook back into the six yard box at the other end had yielded a corner, Johnny Heitinga was shoved down in the box by Rooney but referee Howard Webb waved play on. Another instance of those inconsistent decisions that would have been a nailed on free kick anywhere else on the pitch.
Saha, who seems to get faster and sharper with every game now, was again causing lots of problems against his old club and when he unloaded with his right foot from 30 yards, Van der Sar couldn't hold his shot and a defender hacked it clear before Pienaar could latch onto the rebound.
Two minutes later, though, that all-too familiar feeling that Everton fans get playing United returned. Antonio Valencia was given too much room to attack down the right again and when his low cross was touched on by Sylvain Distin's out-stretched leg and fell straight to Dimitar Berbatov, the Bulgarian had time to control it and hammer the ball high into the goal off the underside of the bar and make it 1-0 to the visitors.
The Blues' response needed to be swift lest this match follow the pattern of so many games against Manchester United before it and it arrived less than three minutes later. Saha challenged a long ball with a Johnny Evans and when it dropped off the defender's head in the path of Bilyaletdinov, the Russian took one touch forward before firing a swerving bullet past the motionless 'keeper from 25 yards.
It was a wonderful strike that encapsulated the talent that Bily possesses when he has the confidence to use it. And after Pienaar had struck a direct free kick disappointingly into the defensive wall, Bilyaletdinov could have put Everton into the lead. Leighton Baines, who was just superb going forward all afternoon, nipped to the byline and crossed low, Saha dummied but Bily could only turn the ball over the bar from six yards out.
In the same minute, Rooney really should have restored United's lead when the home defence was caught cold and he was put clean through in a one-on-one with Tim Howard. Though he rounded the goalkeeper easily enough, his next touch was too heavy and it opened the door for Phil Neville to step in and usher the ball out for a corner.
Everton were in far more confident and cohesive mood now, the old adage of attack being the best form of defence starting to hold true; the better the Blues played going forward and the more they held possession with some neat passing, the less threatening their better endowed near-neighbours from along the M62 looked. But they missed another gilt-edged chance to go into half time ahead when a cross clearly bounced off Wes Brown's hand and dropped in front of Donovan but, surprised, he snatched at the chance and mis-kicked in front of goal. Of course, no penalty award from Mr Webb — Everton haven't been awarded a penalty against United for 20 years, so why start now?
The second half was similarly deceiving of the excitement to come. Indeed, for the first half an hour after the restart, the proceedings had the disctinct air of 1-1 about them, with both sides seemingly in recovery mode from a first period that had been played at a fast pace. Osman won a fortunate free kick right outside the United box but Baines fired the free kick over, Fletcher arrowed a shot that flew half a yard wide, and Rooney put his first real shot on goal into the Park End from a tight angle.
As the 70th minute approach, thoughts turned to what Moyes would do to change things up. Saha clearly needed more suport up front because Everton just weren't getting enough bodies forward when they attacked but instead of introducing Yakubu, the manager threw on Dan Gosling in place of Bilyaletdinov who had lost his way a little in the second half.
If there had been any doubt about the wisdom of Moyes's decision, it was removed within five minutes of him coming on. Pienaar and Donovan exchanged passes down the left, the return ball by Donovan picking out the South African's run towards the byline and when he cut it back across the six yard line, Saha appeared to leave it and Gosling, having expertly moved off his marker, stabbed the ball past Van der Sar. 2-1 and the goal had arrived at almost the same point as Saha's winner against Chelsea.
Predictably, United came back to life as they searched for an equaliser and Distin atoned for an erratic first-half display with a superbly-timed tackle on substitute Olbertan but the visitors never really looked like leveling the game until two minutes from the end of normal time when Osman caught Rooney just outside the Everton area, setting up a free kick in a very dangerous position. In a pivotal moment in the game, though, Rooney's seemingly goalbound shot nicked off the jumping Distin and whizzed inches past Howard's left-hand post.
In between, Pienaar had spotted Arteta running into space towards the edge of the box but though the former's pass was pin-point, the Spaniard, in a moment that summed up how much sharpness he lost with such a long layoff from the game, mis-kicked horribly.
Jack Rodwell was then sent on to shore up the midfield by man-marking Paul Scholes but his impact on the game would be in an altogether more attacking fashion. Osman, who had had a sterling game in central midfield, came out the victor in a tackle with Rooney and Arteta picked up the loose ball. He in turn fed Rodwell near the centre circle in United's half and with space in front of him he surged towards the last line of the defence. Taking the ball wide of Evans, he powered into the area before picking his spot past the 'keeper and then wheeling away to remove his shirt and bury his head in the Gwladys Street End crowd.
3-1 and the four minutes of stoppage time passed without real incident. United were soundly beaten and Everton had registered a victory over the Red Devils for the first time since 2005. Goodison was alive with song, a truly fantastic atmosphere that the players richly deserved for another handsome win.
True, it was not the best they've played this season but by winning so impressively against arguably the best team in the country without two of their best players, they rendered their more tentative moments redundant. They created more chances than their supposedly superior opponents, scored three goals (only Fulham have done better this season by beating Sir Alex's men 3-0) and restricted United to precious few genuine scoring chances.
That should provide the perfect platform of belief on which to start the second leg against Sporting on Thursday. Everton are once again a force to be reckoned with, but the key will now be keeping this head-turning run of form going through the end of the month and into the next where less glamourous fixtures await.
Howard 6 — in truth, he didn't have much to do
Neville 7 — better going forward but still not great; dogged defensively when it counted, though
Heitinga 8 — hasn't missed a beat by missing the Sporting game last week
Distin 7 — still has the air of liability about him but had a really good second half
Baines 8 — excellent going forward but might have allowed Valencia a little too much room in the first half
Osman 9 — perhaps his best performance of the season
Arteta 7 — still looking ponderous and lacking sharpness but that's to be expected
Pienaar 7 — hasn't really played at his peak since Arsenal (a) but showed again he's capable of creating a goal
Bilyaletdinov 7 — A terrific goal and some nice touches but flagged in the second half
Donovan 9* — Always busy, always looking to make something happen, regularly tracking back
Saha 8 — Didn''t score but put in a very good shift today
Gosling 8 — Got straight into the game, scored a goal and helped retain possession afterwards
Rodwell — Really not on long enough to warrant a rating but scored a fabulous goal
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1 Posted 21/02/2010 at 07:06:07
2 Posted 21/02/2010 at 09:27:50
The key moment for me was Bily’s goal so soon after Utd’s opener. It really galvanised the team and stopped any chance of 'heads going down’. Let's hope that we can play at this level for the rest of the season... COYB.
3 Posted 21/02/2010 at 09:52:01
4 Posted 21/02/2010 at 10:08:39
* Osman can’t play against the top 4
* Our game is based totally on hoofball
* We can’t recover from going a goal down
* Moyes and the team bottle it against the top clubs
* Moyes can’t make effective substitutions
Haven’t enjoyed a Man Utd game so much for a long time. COYB!
5 Posted 21/02/2010 at 12:20:34
Great substitutions. (But why do Moyes have to make them so late?)
Finally we seem to know how to hang on to a lead and kill a match.
But what is the point of taking the shirt off? It’s an automatic yellow, witch eventually lead to suspensions. There is no reason doing this, and Moyes must have told them this a couple of times by now, as it is not the first time this happens.
As I said before. If it’s not funny, then why do it? Taking the shirt off, should only be allowed when there is some humour around it.
6 Posted 21/02/2010 at 14:18:44
Dan Gosling... now here is a conundrum. What is his future position? I don’t think he’s a right back for a start. Right midfield? Maybe, but I don’t think he’s been brilliant there. Perhaps the advanced midfielder in the Cahill role? He has an eye for goal (as witnessed before) and straight from the word go he was timing some lovely runs into the box to support Saha.
7 Posted 21/02/2010 at 15:27:30
8 Posted 21/02/2010 at 17:36:50
Don’t think Fergie expected that, and Neville & Evra suffered as a result.
9 Posted 21/02/2010 at 18:31:01
10 Posted 21/02/2010 at 21:04:32
The better team won yesterday. No fluke or accident. Now, no let-up the rest of the way and up the table we go.
America’s turning Blue.
11 Posted 21/02/2010 at 22:53:03
I’ll be honest — when I saw them line up that way and Donovan slice that early cross behind with his left foot, I did wonder aloud what Moyes was up to. It became clear, though, that he wanted to deploy Landon’s pace against the ageing Neville and as a counter to the speed of Valencia.
With both players’ ability to cut in, it worked out pretty well as a strategy, particularly with that wonderful equaliser, so kudos to Davey!
12 Posted 21/02/2010 at 23:04:12
Why do they do this nonsense? Their ’story’ has nothing to do with the reality of 90 (+4 !!)minutes, as we know. The lunch time o’boozer journalists also have the ’£30k kid - SAF must have him at any cost’ story on the go. Just part of that?
13 Posted 21/02/2010 at 23:20:01
14 Posted 21/02/2010 at 23:42:10
Howard - 6; still not commanding enough of his 6 yard box as I’d like, couldn’t do anything for the goal
Neville - 7; better game for the skipper than recently, just wish he could cross like his bro
Heitinga - 7; decent game for the Dutch maestro
Distin - 7; unlucky with their goal, pretty solid otherwise
Baines - 7; player most at fault for their goal, but was excellent in attack
Bilyaletdinov - 7; great goal, unlucky not to score a second, and great overhead pull back which Brown cleared away from Saha’s bonce, faded in 2nd half
Arteta - 6; slowly regaining his fitness, can’t wait til he’s fully fit
Osman - 8; great game, and about time too that Ossie is delivering cos I love the guy
Donovan - 8; please keep him! gave G Neville a torrid time, linked up well with others
Pienaar - 8; all over the park, playing in the role I believe he plays for S Africa? part of everything good we did
Saha - 7; worked the centre halves all day, and deserved a goal
Gosling - 7; great goal, and worked hard
Rodwell - 7; as above, though for a lot less time!
15 Posted 22/02/2010 at 00:25:12
16 Posted 22/02/2010 at 01:30:06
Some people take off their shirts, others dive to the ground, and yet some would smack the shit out of the corner flag. COYB
17 Posted 22/02/2010 at 10:13:49
And not only that — we got a glimpse of the wonderfully named ’Neville Neville’...
On the pitch, the fluidity of Pienaar Donovan and Billy reaped rewards... some of the neat triangles we seen were the stuff that football is about... mostly orchestrated by Arteta —- who (in contrast with the author) I thought was superb.
Osman had a pretty good game [not a climbdown — but an honest appraisal]; however, I think people have a tendency to overplay his contribution due to the strong dichotomy that exists about him — but it was a very strong performance.
I was surprised when Bily was hauled off as he seemed to be instrumental in most of the clever linking play... but hey what do I know — both subs got on the scoresheet...
This one will live long... and as Michael’s perfectly rational article suggests — we have the playing staff to do this week-in, week-out....
18 Posted 22/02/2010 at 10:29:32
19 Posted 22/02/2010 at 10:19:22
But if that sudden rush of euphoria was "akin to anticipation for copulation", it would be much more logic and explainable if he took his pants of.
I still get your point though... but nevertheless, it generates a booking. It could be costly...
20 Posted 22/02/2010 at 13:01:38
21 Posted 22/02/2010 at 13:14:13
I have to say it really annoys me when a player does it — It’s a basic matter of disresepect.
Now, I will give young Jack the benefit of the doubt, that it was spontaneous. But the Pienaar one was particularly annoying, as it his little marketing campaign for god was clearly planned... so, he effectively showed complete contempt and disregard for the good of the club.
22 Posted 22/02/2010 at 13:19:32
He plays the role for South Africa and it basically gives him the freedom of the pitch, and outwide we now have enough quality to not worry about losing his presence outwide.
He was coming short, making angles for our centre midfielders and there was far more passing options available, I think it’s the difference between playing with an attacking midfielder and in Tim’s case, a second striker. Cahill’s isn’t a player who’s going to drop in and link things together, his aim to to always get in the box.
I agree with Ciaran on Arteta aswell, he had a shaky 10 minutes but once he got into the the game he was brilliant. ’Simplistic brilliance’ is the word I’d use, nothing that really catches your eye, but the way he moves, passes and understands the game is superb. Osman played really well, a real box to box performance, but everything comes through Mikel.
23 Posted 22/02/2010 at 13:45:42
24 Posted 22/02/2010 at 19:40:49
When goals are scored, the ensuing celebration footage gets used on News idents, back pages and replays. If the focus of said attention, the goalscorer, is topless, apparently for the shirt sponsor, this is bad for business. So FIFA created this rule to pacify these big-money investors — talk about the tail wagging the dog!
As regards Pienaar,I fail to see any disrespect in intention, or reality. The gesture itself is both famous, and iconic. Although pre-Christian in origin, it is a symbol of man’s mystical connection to God,and is used in da Vinci’s "Last Supper."
Cynics might regard the use of it by modern-day athletes as narcissistic; I don’t. I’m pretty sure Pienaar simply does it to recognise a Higher Power, and to demonstrate gratitude. He’s gone on record, discussing his childhood, and how lucky he feels he is. Personally I think it’s lovely... deliberate yes; out of context, possibly; but he’s a good guy — and there is a church inside our ground, not far from where I sit! If the shoe fits..!
Secular people don’t like having religion "rammed," down their throats. That’s fine. But those of a religious persuasion shouldn’t feel or be intimidated out of briefly showing their allegiance, IF THEY WANT TO. (Take a bow, British Airways...) Particularly in instances like this, where the emotion is inherently good, characterised by joy.
So I see nothing wrong with it, and am baffled as to how it could be regarded as showing "complete contempt and disregard for the good of the club." I must have missed that meeting..! Yet speaking as a former Catholic Church altar boy, I’ll admit to more than a little bias!!
25 Posted 23/02/2010 at 10:10:55
The merits of the rule is different from the mertis of a player knowingly breaching it in detriment of the club.
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