Sylvain Distin was declared fit but Rodwell did not make it and Yobo
is injured; Neill and Heitinga ineligible. Coleman and Gosling
were press-ganged into the side in dreadful wet conditions with a heavy
poor pitch. Tony Hibbert is making his 19th appearance for Everton in
European competition (tonite at centre-half), equalling the record
currently held by Colin Harvey and Brian Labone!
It was a bright start by Everton
and Dinyar Bilyaletdinov scored a nice goal off a ball from Jo
inside 7 mins, lifting the ball deftly with his left foot over he
keeper and into the roof of the net..
Gosling had to go off after just 10 mins, to be replaced by Jose
Baxter. Sylvain Distin looked to be suffering in the heavy wet
conditions and he went down at 15 mins and had to be carted off,
forcing Moyes to give a debut to 6-ft 4-in Shane Duffy, Everton's
18-year-old Northern Ireland Under-21 international, as Hibbert's
name went in the book.
Everton continued to attack smartly and Baxter cold, perhaps
should have done better off a good move. Makos was the next to fall
foul of the conditions, Manduca his replacement. Everton
attacked again and it was again Baxter with the shot.
Howard got booked in the second half for time-wasting.
A bit of a scare when a shot from Hersey clipped off Baines and the
outside of the post. At the other end, a great shot from Jo forcing
a great save that was awarded with a goalkick.
AEK were pushing with a little more conviction as the game wore
on. Jo went over on his ankle, possibly twisting his left knee, and
was carted off, Yakubu coming on to replace him for the last 17
Manduca looked set to score but Duffy intervened crucially to
prevent the equalizer. AEK were given Everton an increasingly torrid
time. Yukubu did get a good ball in for Baxter who fired in
brilliantly from 40 yards as the keeper came out but the goal was
disallowed for offside, and Baxter was somewhat ridiculously booked
Everton held out very well, and secured a victory that takes then
through to the knock-out stages in the last 32 of the Europa League.
It was Mission Accomplished for Everton in a drenched and eerily empty Olympic Stadium as they slogged their way through atrocious conditions, survived the loss of three more players to injury and held off late pressure from AEK Athens to book their place in the Europa League Round of 32. Benfica's 2-1 win over BATE Borisov in Belarus ensures that the Blues and the Lisbon giants will qualify as the top two in Group I — the final round of matches for this stage later this month will decide which club tops the group.
Already stripped of Jack Rodwell and Joseph Yobo through injury and ineligible duo, Lucas Neill and John Heitinga, David Moyes was forced to start Sylvain Distin in central defence despite a hamstring injury that the defender picked up in Sunday's Merseyside derby.
Tony Hibbert once again deputised alongside him and Seamus Coleman, who made an impressive debut at Estadio da Luz in October at left back, lined up in his more familiar right-back role behind Dan Gosling in right midfield. The Blues were otherwise unchanged from the team that started against Liverpool but the game was only eight minutes old when Gosling pulled up after stretching for the ball on the waterlogged pitch.
Clutching the back of his thigh in a visible amount of pain, it was clear that the teenager would be unable to continue and he was duly stretchered off to be replaced by 17 year-old Jose Baxter.
Thankfully by that stage Everton were already ahead with what would turn out to be the winning goal. A clearance from the back had been flicked on by Tim Cahill and collected by Jô who in turn laid it on for the advancing Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. The Russian took it neatly in stride before despatching a shot inside the post and into the roof of the net to make it 1-0 with six minutes gone.
Just eight minutes after Gosling's departure, though, it was Distin's turn to fall back on the turf grabbing his hamstring. He'd been gingerly approaching every run and clearance since kick off and it was no surprise that the heavy pitch took an early toll on him, enforcing his removal from the action inside the Olympic Stadium "Popemobile". Shane Duffy, also only 17, came on to make his debut on the European stage.
With the pitch boggy and puddle-strewn in places but slick and greasy in others, the match was as awful a spectacle as you'd expect and chances were at a premium as moves from both side repeatedly broke down. Pantelis Kafes headed over the crossbar and Panagiotis Taxtsidis forced really the only save of the match from Tim Howard just past the half hour mark when he pushed the midfielder's 25-yard effort away to safety.
For the Blues, Baxter fired across goal and wide when he probably should have worked the 'keeper and in between it was Grigoris Makos' turn in the Popemobile after picking up an ankle injury in a challenge with Steven Pienaar.
Half-time and so far, so good for Everton. The previously unrelenting rain even abated during the break, allowing for a fairly dry opening to a second half which continued in a similar vein to that in which the first had ended. AEK had more of the ball but Everton were largely comfortable, with Pienaar driving things in central midfield, Coleman putting in a man-of-the-match shift at full-back and Duffy not putting a foot wrong in a laudible debut display.
Evertonian hearts were in mouths, though, when Youssouf Hersi collected a pass in space on the right and unleashed a low drive from the corner of the area that grazed the outside of Howard's right-hand post.
A minute later, Jô latched onto a perfectly-weighted pass at the other end and when he unloaded a similar low shot that was destined for the far corner, Saja in the Athens goal finger-tipped his effort past the post. It was a save that kept the home side in the game but the officials missed his crucial touch and a goal kick was awarded.
Saja cleared the resulting kick downfield where Coleman was very harshly adjudged to have fouled Scocco but Duffy made a terrific intercepting header to stop the free kick.
As the game dragged into the final 20 minutes, Moyes was forced into his third and final change when Jô went down with what looked initially like cramp but ended up being a knee injury that precluded any further involvement from the Brazilian and the Popemobile made its third and last pitch-destroying journey through the quagmire to take him to the sidelines. On came Yakubu to lead the line in his place.
AEK's urgency increased in the closing stages and their star man Ismael Blanco was thrown on for the last quarter of an hour and after Marouane Fellaini had been robbed in midfield, it was the striker whose cross skidded its way across the Everton penalty area to Manduca on the far side. The substitute's shot was creeping inside Howard's near post but Coleman was on hand to bundle the ball behind and preserve the Blues' precious advantage.
Fellaini had two chances to atone for the error, though, first when his header from Bilyaletdinov's corner was saved low by Saja and then when he tried to catch the 'keeper off his line with a chip but his effort was poor and sailed over.
And that was pretty much it. AEK huffed and puffed in the dying minutes but, as they were at Goodison, they were strangely inept at trying to break down the Blues's back line and after three relatively trouble-free injury-time minutes, the players were able to greet the final whistle with joy and relief.
It was Everton's second win in 12 games but it could prove to be one of the most important of the season, booking as it does their place in the next round which won't require any commitment from Moyes's threadbare squad until the New Year.
Not a pretty performance by any stretch of the imagination — it couldn't possibly be in those conditions — but to a man the players deserve credit for a job well done. Special mention must go to the young trio of Coleman, Duffy and Baxter, all of whom performed admirably and belied their tender years, and Hibbert had another excellent game as a makeshit centre half. Onward, you Blue Boys!
Howard 7, Coleman 8*, Hibbert 8, Distin 6 (Duffy 7), Baines 7, Gosling 6 (Baxter 7), Cahill 6, Fellaini 6, Pienaar 8, Bilyaletdinov 7, Jô 7 (Yakubu 6)
Everton are in the richly storied surroundings of Greece's capital city this week looking to take a giant step towards the next phase of the Uefa Europa League by doing the double over AEK Athens. Having won their opening two games of Group I, the Blues suffered back-to-back setbacks against Benfica but victory in the Olympic Stadium would put them into the last 32 if the Portuguese beat BATE Borisov in Minsk.
David Moyes will have to overcome what is shaping up to be another selection nightmare, though, after Joseph Yobo was forced to remain on Merseyside because of a hamstring injury and Sylvain Distin was listed as a doubt with the same complaint. With Lucas Neill and John
Heitinga, both players who could deputise in central defence,
ineligible for this competition, it leaves the manager with precious few options should neither of his current first-choice centre halves make it.
Tony Hibbert played in central defence against BATE as well as against Benfica and he could find himself partnering Jack Rodwell or one of the untried
duo of Shane Duffy and Shkodran Mustafi at the back if the worst comes to worst. The 18 year-old missed the game against Liverpool but is back in contention for this one. Seamus Coleman, who made his debut in Lisbon, is included in the squad and it's likely to be between he and Dan Gosling at right back.
In midfield, Moyes has no new issues and he will be hoping that there is as much commitment in that part of the pitch as there was on Sunday but, depending on who is fit to play in central defence, he may be forced to play two strikers through a simple lack of numbers. Leon Osman has still not recovered from a foot injury and Phil Neville has just undergone surgery on his knee.
Plenty of incentive then for the Blues, then, but they are again down the bare bones. They'll take comfort not only from the ease with which they
dispatched the Greeks at Goodison earlier in the season but also their come-from-behind win against BATE away from home.
Not a pretty performance by any stretch of the imagination — it couldn't possibly be in those conditions — but to a man the players deserve credit for a job well done. Special mention must go to the teenage trio of Coleman, Duffy and Baxter, all of whom performed admirably and belied their tender years, and Hibbert had another excellent game as a makeshit centre half. Onward, you Blue Boys!
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