VIEW FROM THE BLUE
Everton extended their unbeaten run to six games but missed a golden opportunity to move into the top six with a 2-2 draw at Blackpool.
The Blues twice came from behind to quickly cancel out the home side's lead but Louis Saha squandered one of the best chances of the game with 18 minutes to go when he dragged a shot wide with just goalkeeper Matthew Gilks to beat. It was one of numerous chances that David Moyes's side created in a game they for the most part controlled but the Seasiders were always in it, causing the visitors plenty of problems all afternoon.
As expected, Everton were unchanged from the side that beat Stoke City last weekend but they made an uncharacteristically slow start and Mikel Arteta was punished for trying to play his way out of trouble in front of the back four when a ninth-minute free kick was awarded against him for a foul on Charlie Adam.
The positioning of his defensive wall open to serious question in hindsight, Tim Howard left too much space between himself and his left-hand post and Neal Eardley capitalised superbly by swinging his kick around the outside of the wall and past the American to hand Blackpool an early lead.
The Blues were level within four minutes, though, when a one-two interchange between Steven Pienaar and the excellent Sylvain Distin ended with the central defender finding Yakubu on the left side of the area and when the Nigerian clipped an inviting cross into the centre, Tim Cahill rose in typical fashion to power a header in off Gilks' despairing fist.
It was the Australian's 50th top flight goal and the 28th he'd scored with his head, not bad for a player who stands at 5' 8" and made his name primarily as an attacking midfielder.
Everton were back in business but they didn't assume the kind of control to which they've been accustomed recently until the game was about half an hour old. By that time, Cahill had seen a decent chance deflect off Yakubu and into the 'keeper's arms and the Nigerian himself might have scored when latched into the ball after more good work by Pienaar, but he delayed his shot and it was deflected behind.
That would become a recurring theme throughout the afternoon; all too often, Everton tried to walk the ball into the area or waited too long to pull the trigger while Blackpool were apparently carrying out manager Ian Holloway's instructions to chase and harry everything that moved.
The Blues were playing some really nice football at times, though, and Seamus Coleman, playing at Bloomfield Road for the first time since his loan spell with Blackpool last season, was clearly enjoying the occasion. Nine minutes before the break, he tested Gilks with a right-foot volley after Phil Neville had cut the ball back to him from the byline but the 'keeper was equal to it, and another typically determined run a few minutes later ended with the Irishman flashing a left-footer inches wide of the far post.
The second half was just less than two minutes old when Blackpool re-took the lead with a scrappy goal that owed as much to some fortunate ricochets, an unseen handball by Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Everton's inability to hack the ball clear as it bounced around in the area. Eventually, after his first shot was blocked by Phil Jagielka, David Vaughan rammed the ball past Howard from about 10 yards out and it was 2-1 to the home side.
Once again, though, the Seasiders couldn't hold the lead and when Coleman profited from a lucky bounce of his own that set him free to surge unhindered into the Blackpool area, he eschewed the patient approach so often favoured by his teammates and shot early, rifling a low shot under Gilks and in off the goalkeeper's arms to level things up again.
That should have provided the catalyst to push Everton, as the superior side, on to victory but, as has so often been the case this season, their performance went into a lull midway through the second half. Moyes's customary conservatism didn't help either when it came time to introduce Saha ? instead of going for the jugular and playing with two top-class strikers at the same time, he withdrew Yakubu to retain the 4-4-1-1 formation... only to then throw on Jermaine Beckford in place of John Heitinga a quarter of an hour later.
To be fair to the manager, had Pienaar's finish at the end of a wonderful move where he collected a neat one-two pass from Cahill been stronger or had Saha not picked up the South African's pass a few minutes later but then fired wide with just the 'keeper in front of him, his caution may not have mattered.
Instead, the removal of Heitinga as the anchor in defensive midfield handed the late initiative to Blackpool and allowed the likes of Adam and substitute Matt Phillips to launch a series of attacks with driving runs straight through the heart of the Everton midfield. Indeed, the game became quite the end-to-end affair in the final quarter of an hour and after Beckford's shot after neat control was deflected behind for a corner, Howard had to be alert to tip Adam's searing drive over the bar after the forward had easily side-stepped Cahill's lazy, half-hearted attempt to tackle.
The home side were still not done, though and Marlon Harewood looked to have won it for the home side on the stroke of 90 minutes. In bringing a ball over the top under control, though, the substitute appeared to shove Jagielka in the back so his celebrations after planting the ball into the Everton net were cut short by referee Andre Marriner who chalked the goal off for the foul.
Finally, after Jagielka had picked up a yellow card for deliberately checking DJ Campbell, Adam's free kick was deflected wide and the last chance of the game went begging.
So, another point and another game without defeat but this was the kind of game that Everton, the team that before this season harboured hopes of Champions League football ? hopes that are still not fanciful while Arsenal continue to stumble and Spurs' domestic form is affected by their own European involvement ? should be winning. With better finishing and a bit more confidence to just put a boot through the ball early enough in front of goal they might have, but the question marks over whether Moyes has enough firepower linger.
They created chances but on too many occasions a hesitation or delayed cross was the difference between an opportunity in front of goal for a striker and a charged down pass that was deflected behind or out for a throw. Plenty to admire on the football side again but no win to show for territorial dominance and the lion's share of possession.
Howard 7, Neville 7, Baines 7, Jagielka 8, Distin 9*, Heitinga 7 (Beckford 7), Pienaar 8 (Bilyaletdinov 4), Coleman 8, Cahill 7, Yakubu 7 (Saha 6)
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