VIEW FROM THE BLUE
Everton 2 - 1 Wolves
Everton recovered from the concession of a soft first-half penalty with what many would consider one of their own seven minutes from time to make their domination of Wolves pay in what, for long periods, another frustrating encounter. In the closely-packed environs of the Premier League's bottom half, the victory was enough to elevate the Blues from 17th to 12th
The visitors had upset the apple cart when David Edwards expertly earned a 36th-minute spot kick by tripping his trailing leg over Marouane Fellaini out-stretched foot just inside the area and Stephen Hunt made no mistake from 12 yards. But a swift equaliser from Phil Jagielka leveled matters going into half time and that paved the way for a second half in which the Blues laboured to carve out the winner their superiory demanded and, thankfully, eventually did.
Forced to do without injured duo Jack Rodwell and Sylvain Distin, David Moyes selected Leon Osman to partner the returning Marouane Fellaini in central midfield, with John Heitinga alongside Jagielka, patched up again with a pain-killing injection in his fractured toe, and Tim Cahill deployed up front with Louis Saha.
And that forward partnership almost combined for the opening goal after 16 minutes when Seamus Coleman's deep cross was headed back across goal by Cahill where Saha's half-volley looked destined for the top corner until Wayne Hennessey palmed it at full stretch over the crossbar.
Earlier, the lively Royston Drenthe had hammered a low cross across goal but the 'keeper smothered it, and a similarly hard, low centre from the byline by Baines after the Dutchman had released him on the overlap with a perfectly-weighted pass was also intercepted by Hennessey before a defender prodded it behind to safety.
Either side of the half-hour mark, Saha saw two shots, the second created by lovely footwork that allowed him to sidestep a challenge on the 18-yard line, charged down as Everton pressed but found Wolves the defence in obdurate mood.
The resilience of Mick McCarthy's back line was only part of the story, though; Everton were getting plenty of balls into the box but simply weren't getting enough men forward to support their numerous attacks. That left them noticeably outnumbered by gold shirts in the Wolves area and some tempting crosses from the left went to waste and, in the final reckoning, it wasn't surprising that both of their goals came from dead-ball situations.
Given the pattern established already this season, the anxious home faithful probably weren't surprised to see their team go a goal down but they'll have been pleased with the fact that it only took them seven minutes to restore parity. Cahill was fouled midway inside the Wolves half on the left side and when Baines swung in a dangerous free kick, Jagielka met it with a determined run and leap, powering the ball home off the back of his head.
Energised, the Blues pushed for a second in the closing stages of the first half and the home fans were on their feet as Drenthe raced through the opposition defence around the halfway line and sprinted towards the Wolves goal but Christophe Berra did superbly to catch up and then deny him with a last-ditch sliding challenge just as he took his shot.
Then, in stoppage time, Jagielka got his head first to Tony Hibbert's deep free kick from the right flank but Fellaini's shot from close range was blocked. From the resulting corner, Cahill appeared to be pulled back by the neck by Karl Henry but referee Jon Moss was unmoved by his protests.
The second half was by and large frustratingly pedestrian by comparison to that rousing conclusion to the first half and there were long spells where it looked as though Everton had just run out of ideas beyond increasingly ineffective long punts downfield. In the space of 35 minutes, they had just two efforts on goal to show for their dominance, both ballooned efforts by Fellaini and Drenthe when arguably better options lay in playing in a teammate.
The crowd's displeasure escalated as a succession of boots forward by Tim Howard, a virtual spectator over the 90 minutes, Jagielka and Heitinga sailed uselessly through to Hennessey and though there was a gnawing desire for change, a look at the bench viewed in the context of which players Moyes would be likely to use ? Barkley and Gueye, not so much, unfortunately ? didn't inspire much confidence that the answer lay there.
With 20 minutes left, though, the Blues did carve out their first genuine chance and it was one of those "how did it stay out?" moments. Coleman burst past Elokobi and pulled it back to Saha who heel-flicked it on to Cahill barely two yards out but a combination of a desparate lunge by Ward and the prostrate Hennessey denied the Australian his first goal in 2011. It would be Cahill's last real involvement; in the 73rd minute he was withdrawn in favour of Apostolos Vellios.
The game tilted decisively in Everton's favour as it entered the final 10 minutes of regulation time starting three successive corners, the third when Saha saw yet another goalbound effort deflect behind, this time off Elokobi's backside. As the third corner came into the usual melee, the referee blew the whistle and pointed to the spot. Elokobi appeared to be holding Vellios and Saha tumbled to the turf under Ward's challenge. The official would confirm after the game that the spot kick was awarded for the push on Saha, one of those challenges that are rarely given these days but should be more often.
Baines stepped up and coolly sent Hennessey the wrong way, and though Wolves were stung into finally trying to trouble Howard in the Everton goal, the Blues had a fairly comfortable job of seeing the game out. An injury-time free kick by O'Hara that swung a foot the wrong side of the post was as close as McCarthy's men would come.
Given Everton's recent run of results and position in the table, the result was the most important thing today. Victory was paramount, but it was hard not to ponder as you watched them stuggle going forward how this team is going to fare when the more difficult fixtures roll around again.
At the heart of their problem is, obviously, the glaring lack of a driving force in midfield that can pull the strings, be relied upon to pick a devastating pass ands also weigh in with crucial goals but there appears to be work that could be done on retaining the ball and better supporting the man in possession that could help compensate. Too many times there were Blue jerseys ambling or slowly jogging forward while a teammate was driving forward and moves consistently brokw down because of a dearth of options in the area.
Hopefully some of these issues can be worked on with the help of the confidence that will come from the Blues' second home win of the season. We'll know more at the Reebok Stadium where Moyes can deepen Bolton's gloom if he can lead his team to another win.
Player Ratings: Howard 6, Hibbert 6, Jagielka 7, Heitinga 6, Baines 7, Coleman 7, Fellaini 6, Osman 6, Drenthe 7 (Bilyaletdinov 5), Cahill 6 (Vellios 6), Saha 7 (Stracqualursi)
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1 Posted 20/11/2011 at 08:13:35
2 Posted 20/11/2011 at 16:24:05
Just hope we can get a few more points on the board and hopefully play with a bit more confidence.
3 Posted 21/11/2011 at 00:52:50
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