VIEW FROM THE BLUE
Having lost four of their number on transfer deadline day, most notably Mikel Arteta to Arsenal, and gained only two back, this was a day where Everton's players needed to display their character and demonstrate their ability to grind out another top-ten finish as a potentially weakened unit against mounting odds.
For the 32,000+ Evertonians in attendance, uneasily split as they may have been by opinions over Bill Kenwright and The Blue Union's peaceful march down Goodison Road before kick-off, the Blues offered spirit and desire in spades, and they looked to have secured another three precious points until the Villa bogey struck again.
In truth, though, David Moyes's side were let down by a momentary defensive slip in an otherwise gutsy and impressive display, conceding a soft goal late on to the kind of ball into the box that they've proved so susceptible at times over the last couple of seasons. Having dominated this game for long periods and twice gone ahead, to be pegged back a second time late made this feel tantamount to a frustrating defeat.
But there was much to admire about the way Everton went about their task today, even as Moyes remained true to his word and deployed Tim Cahill as the lone striker and leaving new loan signing Denis Stracqualursi on the bench alongside club captain, Phil Neville, to whom Tony Hibbert was preferred at right back.
His midfield of Leon Osman, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Jack Rodwell, Marouane Fellaini and the returning Seamus Coleman, established control early on, with the little Irishman slipping his marker sublimely in the first minute and slipping it inside for Osman who appeared to have been felled illegally in the box by Richard Dunne. Green-around-the-gills referee Michael Oliver, as he would do time and and time again all afternoon, sided with the visiting defence and waved play on.
Coleman wasn't the only one seemingly determined to show that the Best Little Spaniard We Knew didn't take all the flair with him when he walked out of the Goodison gates 10 days ago. In the first 20-odd minutes the faithful were treated to some lovely touches from the effervescent Leighton Baines, Osman and Bilyaletdinov. In one such moment, a beautiful dummy by Baines to commit his marker and a deft chipped cross by the Russian forced a corner from which Sylvain Distin's header was cleared off the line by Darren Bent. When the Villa defence failed to clear and the ball came back into the box, Osman's shot bounced off Shay Given's chest before a defender cleared the danger.
With a quarter of an hour gone, the Blues's threat from corners was evident again as Phil Jagielka stretched at the back post to meet Baines's centre but he could only steer a header agonisingly wide.
The goal, when it came three minutes later, though, came not from the air but the ground. Jagielka's ball forward took a deflection off Stilian Petrov's out-stretched leg and into the path of Cahill who drew his man wide before cutting it back to Osman and the diminutive midfielder picked his spot with a smooth left-footed finish past Given to give Everton the lead.
Though Villa finally started to come into the game for the first time midway through the first half and Bannan called Tim Howard into action to make a comfortable save from a well-struck effort from distance, it would be the only time the American was troubled in the first half.
Instead, the Blues regained control of possession and forced Given into another save at the other end, the Irish 'keeper diving to his right to gather Osman's curling shot before Fellaini despatched a rocket a foot over the crossbar and Rodwell's equally powerful drive took a heavy delection off Fabian Delph, sending the ball spinning an inch past the post.
Villa could only improve after the break and they seemed to respond to Alex McLeish's half-time team talk, carving out their best chance of the game thus far within two minutes of the restart but Bent made a mess of his shot and the ball dribbled behind for a goal kick.
At the other end, the home fans were on their feet in disbelief as Baines skinned Bannan on the Everton left and drove menacingly into the box, only to have his ankle clipped by the Villa midfielder and end up sprawling on the turf. Again, the referee refused to award a penalty, a decision that appeared to suck some of the belief out of the Blues players for a period.
Indeed, they increasingly ceded the initiative to the visitors and though Jagielka had a great chance to make it 2-0 just past the hour mark and really cement the Blues' advantage, Villa clawed their way back to parity with a goal out of nowhere just two minutes after that. Petrov picked the ball up 25 yards from goal and unleashed a superb shot that flew into the one part of the goal that Howard's despairing dive couldn't reach.
Instead of folding, though, Everton responded and within another five minutes they were back in front. Fellaini earned a fortunate corner when his speculative shot deflected behind off Petrov and when Cahill rose higher than anyone to power a header goalwards, Given was there again to parry the shot. This time, though, Petrov's clearance sliced up into the air and as Jagielka went to head the loose ball, he was flattened by a poorly-timed jump by Delph, leaving referee Oliver with no choice but to finally award a penalty. Up stepped Baines, who sent the 'keeper the wrong way... 2-1!
In an effort to seal the deal, Moyes turned to Royston Drenthe with 17 minutes to go, the winger making his entrance at the expense of Bilyaletdinov to a rapturous welcome from a home crowd that had been in fine voice all afternoon. And it didn't take the controversial Dutchman long to make his mark, mugging Alan Hutton of the ball with a burst of acceleration down the left flank and crossing to Osman but this time he took too long to shoot and was closed down.
There were just seven minutes left when Villa struck again, though. Time and again the pacey threat along the ground posed by the likes of Bent, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Charles N'Zogbia was closed down by the defensive duo of Jagielka and Distin but the Blues defence was undone in the air. The otherwise solid Hibbert failed to close down Albrighton on the Villa left, giving the substitute time to measure his cross and as Distin, apparently unaware of Agbonlahor behind him, tried to glance the ball on for a corner, the Villa striker had the simple task of heading past Howard from close range.
Cahill was immediately withdrawn, but it was Apostolos Vellios, not Stracqualursi, who came on in his place, a decision that almost paid rich dividends when the Greek youngster beat Given to a loose ball on the edge of the area but a quick left-footed attempt to roll the ball home slid the wrong side of the post with Dunne in attendance on the goalline.
A minute later, on the cusp of stoppage time, Ross Barkley, who had replaced Coleman nine minutes earlier, went on another of his rampaging runs forward and fed Vellios but the striker's ripping shot was turned over spectacularly by Given, the 'keeper's last and most crucial intervention to deny Everton the three points they clearly deserved.
So two points dropped in the final reckoning but plenty of positives to be drawn, most importantly from the attitude and performance of the players. Moyes will draw criticism from some quarters for electing to play Cahill up front but, in truth, the Australian performed as well as any natural striker could have done in what was one of his best displays in a blue shirt for a while. His awareness and touch to serve up the first goal for Osman was worthy of any attacker and there was another incident where he touched the ball neatly past his marker but then saw his shot closed down by another defender.
With Drenthe initially suggesting he wouldn't be ready until Wigan next week, the crowd got an early glimpse at the enterprising and speedy asset they may see this season, and there were promising ? if a little mercurial ? displays from Coleman and Bilyaletdinov, both of whom will be called upon to step up this season.
The manager will be mightily frustrated that his team couldn't secure the win but he will also be encouraged by the fact that they had the spirit to push on and do enough over the 90 minutes to have won this match ? but for one slip, they would have. As long as they perform like this, there's room for optimism that this season won't involve a scrap against relegation but, until there is a reliable source of goals, a European challenge looks beyond them.
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1 Posted 11/09/2011 at 02:13:21
Coleman was a real threat all day, and Barkley was superb when he replaced him.
Given and Dunne were the heroes for Villa unsurprisingly, after their performances in Moscow earlier in the week. And it was a superb strike from Petrov.
For us, it seems that Jagielka was looking more settled now that the transfer window is shut. And it was pleasing to see that Moyes was prepared to drop his skipper to give him a reminder that his place is not guaranteed.
There is plenty to feel confident about going into the next game.
2 Posted 11/09/2011 at 02:23:07
Also, Hibbert seemed a lot better than I remember him to be and certainly a good improvement over Neville. So, well done Moyes ? good decision! Suddenly the team looks younger, hungrier and faster with Arteta, Anichebe and Neville out of the team. I still think Jagielka & Distin do not work well together as a team even though they are great individual defenders.
Things are looking much better this Sunday morning ... COYB !
3 Posted 11/09/2011 at 09:20:55
The youngsters acquited themselves well, Barkley looked good, Rodwell gave the best performance in a blue shirt for a while, Coleman looked sharp and Fellaini bossed the midfield. I think now Arteta has gone, the shackles are off, this usually sparks Osman into life and Rodwell has already said he wants to cement his place in the Spaniards absence. Tony Hibbert had a good game and I was glad to see Neville is not beyond being dropped. He has had a slow start to the season and current form didnt merit a start. We should also be looking at bringing the average age of the team down, which I think Moyes is starting to address.
One final note, Drenthe looked full of promise, though he did drift inside a bit and left Baines exposed on the left, and I think this altered the balance of the team. Bily didnt do too much when he was on but he did give Baines a degree of support out wide.
4 Posted 11/09/2011 at 11:18:46
Particularly at times like this I really appreciate TWs various match reports, each with their own subtle take on the game.
Just waiting for Pauls Ts offering to round them up.
5 Posted 11/09/2011 at 15:16:04
The thing I fear is that we were up for it, this game, but we have a testing 5 game schedule after Wigan that will show exactly which direction our team is going to go. I hope Moyes plays an attacking side against Wigan and we score a lot of goals to give us some sort of confidence before we play City, Utd. Redshite and Chelsea not to mention Fulham away in the middle. Sadly I think it will be a 4-5-1 formation and we will get a draw, which would be good tactics against the next 5 matches but not Wigan.
6 Posted 11/09/2011 at 15:26:51
My main feeling walking away from the ground was that if Vellios had been brought on earlier then Villa would have been forced back and we might have wrapped up the game. I wasn't surprised that Moyes didn't do it because he rarely gets things like that right, but I was surprised that Neville was on the bench, and that Drenthe was given his very promising run out.
7 Posted 12/09/2011 at 02:10:50
Also, out of curiosity, would you prefer to play like we did against Villa (generally quite good) but not win ? or play like we did against Blackburn (utter crap) and win each week?
8 Posted 12/09/2011 at 02:40:28
9 Posted 12/09/2011 at 03:32:43
10 Posted 12/09/2011 at 04:32:50
11 Posted 12/09/2011 at 12:25:08
12 Posted 12/09/2011 at 13:18:01
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