COLUMNIST PAUL TRAILL
I phoned the Box Office and with tickets still available I drove down and was actually there before it opened. A Brazilian and a Chilean were waiting outside also, quizzing me about Everton, and getting tickets for the game. The Chilean actually supports Colo-Colo, the team the Chilean version of Everton beat to win their respective league. Nice fellas.
The shutters came open and I got a seat in the Lower Gwladys. Surprisingly there were tickets available which weren’t obstructed view.
A couple of hours later I met Gary, his mate Colin (a Man Utd fan) and Ste in The Spellow for a few early jars before the game. I certainly wasn’t confident of any sort of result at all, though the others rather hopefully predicted a draw, except for Gary that is who bafflingly stated “we’ll either win 1-0 or lose 5-0”.
We walked down in time for kick off and my seat was actually a bit better than I thought it would be, row D near the corner flag. I was very surprised I could get a seat like that on the morning of a Man Utd match. We’d heard the team news in the pub and it was good to see we’d gone 4-4-2 with Yakubu and Saha up front.
Man Utd looked threatening from the outset with Rooney, Berbatov, Ronaldo, Giggs, Ferdinand, Vidic, etc, etc. Clearly we had our work cut out today. I couldn’t believe it when I heard the referee was Alan Wiley. I don’t rate him anyway but I can’t understand how he’s now officiated this exact same fixture for the last three seasons. It makes me think something’s going on here and I feel a bit backed up by that on his performance today. We attacked the Park End in the first half.
Everton settled into the game pretty well in the initial stages – matching Man Utd for application and generally using the ball quite well. As the half grew, so too did Man Utd, who had Everton on the back foot for a good five minutes before they scored. This was aided however by countless decisions given in their favour by Wiley.
Whilst Man Utd were certainly outdoing us with class it became more and more difficult for Everton to clear their lines as we kept getting decisions given against us, seemingly in every possible opportunity for Whiley. The goal came when Darren Fletcher slotted home coolly after being played in by Giggs. He ran over to the corner flag straight ahead of me and celebrated. Rooney ran over to join in the celebrations but thankfully resisted the urge to rub our noses in it.
For the rest of the half we struggled badly with Man Utd really pressing home their advantage in class, though Everton, thankfully, managed to keep them out. In the five minutes proceeding half time we got a bit more into our stride, led more so than anyone by Fellaini and Neville. Despite the way the half had gone, and even though I was happy to accept being 0-1 down at half time given Man Utd’s dominance, these last five minutes of the half gave me hope. The whistle went for half time with the ball both out of play and in an attacking area for us — two mistakes in one by Whiley. I really don’t think he knows the rules.
I went to see Ste at half time and he felt the only way we could get something here would be with a dodgy penalty or something like that. I told him we wouldn’t get a dodgy penalty from this referee and the only way we’d get anything from this game would be with a different referee. As it turned out, the way we got something from this game was from a fantastic, battling second half Everton performance. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
With no changes at half time we got into Man Utd a bit more and attacked much better. We had a lot more possession and showed a lot more positive intent. The equaliser came when I didn’t really expect it, with Fellaini climbing high and nodding in a Neville cross. I haven’t had that good feeling for some time now, and it's one I’ve certainly missed. I think we all have.
Man Utd were visibly rattled after that and Yakubu really should have put us ahead when Ferdinand missed the ball, allowing the Nigerian to dart through. He opened up his body and tried to place it past Van der Sar, only for the big Dutchman to make a smart save as he tipped it onto the post… just!
We continued to battle well after that albeit without testing Van der Sar too much, though Man Utd seemed unable to offer much down the other end themselves due to some excellent rearguard action by Everton. Rooney got himself booked for a challenge I think on Arteta. As the inevitable “fat little knobhead” songs emerged Rooney pointed to his Man Utd badge before gesticulating to the Park End. Sir Alex Ferguson had a word and then hauled him off. Will the lad never learn?
We had a few openings and with a bit more composure in and around the box or maybe a less biased referee we might have nicked this one. For me Wiley’s bias was encapsulated when Brown brought down Saha whom would have been through on goal… only to get a yellow card. Vaughan came on late on for a clearly knackered Yakubu. His enthusiasm was useful and made you wonder if he should have been on earlier.
Wiley, although thankfully I must admit, blew his full time whistle instead of giving Manchester United a corner, again ignoring the ball having to be in play and not in an attacking position rule. Perhaps he didn’t want to see the consequences of a late Man Utd winner and so didn’t take the risk.
I was delighted with Everton in that second half. They were absolutely fantastic. Hopefully that can be the catalyst we need to climb that table.
Just a different ref next season please!
- Howard: Pretty helpless with the goal and dealt with crosses / backpasses etc competently. 7
- Lescott: He looked very short of confidence in the first half and though nowhere near his best in the second, showed a few signs of the Joleon we know. 6
- Jagielka: One potentially hazardous lack of communication aside in the first half when he and Yobo both went for the same ball, he did very well at the back. Now looking very settled. 8
- Yobo: Looked a little nervy but grew into the game as it went on. 6
- Neville: Had a fantastic game. Of course set up the goal but put in some superb tackles on Ronaldo. 9
- Arteta: Not really in the game in the first half but caused a few problems in the second. His decision making was not always great but he certainly had the Man Utd defence worried. 7
- Fellaini: Took his goal brilliantly and had a fantastic second half. I think he’ll progress nicely this season before storming on next term. Certainly his best performance so far. Well done. 8
- Osman: Not one of his better days though he worked hard. I thought he struggled a bit in the middle. 6
- Pienaar: Not everything worked for him but he certainly put the work in today. 7
- Yakubu: He got himself into some good positions, often pulling out wide to receive the ball but then would sometimes appear to go off the boil a bit. A little unlucky with that chance I guess though I reckon a confident Yakubu would score that all day long. 6
- Saha: Looked different class to me at times and if he can stay fit will only get better. My man of the match. 9
- Vaughan (for Yakubu): Put himself about and should have been put on earlier I reckon. 7
- Anichabe (for Saha): Not on long enough. Can’t judge.
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