VIEW FROM THE BLUE
There is no question that Everton's approach to games against the so-called Sky Four ? a term made anachronistic now by the "overnight" transformation at Manchester City and the rise as a consistent force of Tottenham Hotspur ? and their consequent record against them under David Moyes has been a very sore point among supporters for much of the Scotsman's tenure at Goodison Park.
While it's still true, almost 10 years after he succeeded Walter Smith, that no Everton side has won in the Premier League on any of the home grounds of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool, Moyes's teams are faring a lot better against the top flight's current elite at Goodison Park. Today, the Blues registered their second successive home win over top-four opposition and their third home League win in a row over Chelsea.
A Moyes team has played better football (though not much this season) and created more chances but the determined and unfailing defensive commitment and never-say-die spirit that has been his team's hallmark were there again in spades and they underpinned this hard-fought but thoroughly deserved victory.
That it began with a wonderfully-taken goal by Steven Pienaar on his triumphant return to Merseyside and was sealed by a first League goal for workaholic Denis Stracqualursi made it all the more enjoyable for Blues fans who can now again dare to look at the narrowing gap between their club and those heading the chase for Europe above them.
The teams had barely begun to size each other up before Everton, who were unable to hand a debut to Nikica Jelavic when the Croatian was ruled out with a stomach muscle strain, finally made good on the positive start they make almost every time they take the field these days. On countless occasions they have failed to press home their early superiority but Pienaar stepped in to underscore just how much the Blues have missed him since he left for Spurs last January.
The South African smartly intercepted Jose Boswingwa's throw-in with a header to Tim Cahill and then picked up the ricochet off Frank Lampard when the Australian's first touch got away from him. With his momentum taking him deep into the Chelsea area, he took the ball down on his chest and lashed it into the roof of Petr Cech's net. Five minutes gone, 1-0 Everton.
Having seen his side held at Swansea on their last road trip and then throw away a 3-0 lead at home to Manchester United last weekend, Andre Villas-Boas will have been coming under increasing pressure from his paymaster at Stamford Bridge. And his cause was not helped by Cech who despatched a routine clearance straight at Landon Donovan but the American fired a left-footed shot straight at the goalkeeper from 20-odd yards.
The Londoners regained their composure mid-way through the first half, though, and assumed control for a disconcertingly long spell, Tim Howard almost ending a spell of disarray in the Everton defence in the 20th minute with a poor punch but got away with it as the visitors spurned the opportunity.
Two identical Chelsea attacks down their right then threatened to carve the home side open, Juan Mata delivering dangerous crosses on both occasions but, thankfully, Daniel Sturridge's shot off the first deflected narrowly over the bar off Phil Neville and Lampard planted an unchallenged left-footer wide when he really should have hit the target.
Having weathered that spell, though, it was Everton who finished the first half as the more likely side to add to the scoresheet. A lovely move between Pienaar and Leighton Baines saw the latter pick up the former's backheel inside the area but he eschewed the shot and chose to play in Cahill in an offside position instead. Stracqualursi then intercepted Ashley's Cole's dubious pass across his own penalty area but the Argentine's attempted curler around Cech was weak and easily caught.
For the first 25 minutes, the second half was a surprisingly uneventul affair, with neither side really able to create anything. Howard's relative inactivity in the Park End goal suited Everton, of course, and Villas-Boas' frustration at his side's lack of penetration was no doubt building. Certainly impatience got the better of Fernando Torres who, booed throughout with just a couple of tame headers to show for his efforts, found his way into the referee's notebook when he scythed Pienaar down just before the hour mark.
The Blues for their part, managed to carve open a couple of decent openings down the left flank behind the opposition defence but increasingly erratic refereeing by Mike Jones denied them twice in quick succession when he blew up for non-existent fouls by Cahill and Baines.
All of that paled into insignificance with 19 minutes to go, though, when Neville came out the victor in a crunching 50-50 tackle on Cole down the right touchline and Donovan raced away with the loose ball. He drifted inside before flicking the ball forward to Stracqualursi who ignored Pienaar to his left and swept a shot home off Cech's glove to double the score and effectively put the game to bed.
The expected Chelsea onslaught never really arrived and a terrific sprawling save to deny substitute Lukaku by Howard with eight minutes to go was about as close as the visitors came to making a game of it. That allowed the Blues to see out the finale in relative comfort, Moyes giving the superb Pienaar a rest in favour of Royston Drenthe and then bringing Tony Hibbert and Shane Duffy on late on in place of Darron Gibson and Stracqualursi.
It may not have been a spectacle of flowing attacking football ? they had their moments though, most of them involving Pienaar ? but this was a tremendous team performance in a similar vein to that which toppled City here 10 days ago. Almost to a man, there were towering performances all over the pitch: Pienaar was the embodiment of invention and movement ? in addition to his goal, one delightful moment of silky ball control taking him past Bosingwa on the left flank stood out in particular; Cahill covered almost every blade of grass on the pitch and made two important blocks in his own penalty box in the first half; Fellaini was a rock in midfield; Stracqualursi's ceaseless effort was rewarded with another goal; and the defensive pairing of John Heitinga and Sylvain Distin coped with pretty much everything that was thrown at them.
Though Donovan had been curiously quiet in the first half, a victim perhaps of Neville's attacking shortcomings and the tendency to use the more effective Baines-Pienaar axis on the left, he noticeably moved up a few gears after half time, offering an outlet from defence with his pace and then laying on yet another assist for Stracqualursi's goal.
Only Gibson failed to reach the heights achieved by the majority of his teammates with a largely anonymous display that was let down by poor distribution and a general lack of presence alongside the far more effective Fellaini. It's early in his days at Everton, of course, but Moyes can ill-afford any passengers in such a crucial part of the pitch in the season run-in.
Above all, though, it was three crucial points against a talented team that they reduced to toothless ? and the re-injection of confidence they will bring after a limp performance at Wigan last week ? that mattered. The Blues are again on an upward trajectory and the win brings them to within nine points of sixth place. Still quite a gap, to be sure, but a run of victories, particularly against the teams above them, in the last 13 games could put them right into the mix for Europe come May.
Player Ratings: Howard 7, Neville 7, Heitinga 8, Distin 8, Baines 8, Gibson 6 (Hibbert -), Fellaini 8, Donovan 7, Pienaar 9* (Drenthe 6), Cahill 7, Stracqualursi 8 (Duffy -)Â
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200 Posted 11/02/2012 at 23:39:10
251 Posted 12/02/2012 at 03:02:18
But not just Gibson. I think the transformation of Everton also has to do with having speed merchants on the flanks (Drenthe, Donovan, and now Pienaar), having Heitinga at the back (no hoofball but measured passes mostly), and having a hardworking forward in Straq (as the first line of defence).
285 Posted 12/02/2012 at 08:24:38
But Lyndon I do agree with everything else, article and other ratings. Great report
287 Posted 12/02/2012 at 08:47:52
For home games he should be replaced by Osman/Drenthe/Barkley.
296 Posted 12/02/2012 at 09:04:20
Tim covered more ground by far than any player from both sides. I can only recall him making 2 bad passes. By his off the bal movement, tackling and tackling he had a very good influence on the flow of the game.
Some may throw their hands in despair when I say the great Alan Ball would not have bettered Tim's work rate. In every game Alan would make his full share of bad passes yet his overall contribution could not be denied.
Before you all get on your high horse you must admit that the sheer pace of todays game far outstrips that of the 60/70s. Changes to the laws have almost eliminated time wasting and vastly increased the fitness and stamina of all players.
Modern football demands a far higher technical ability and the skill to use it.
Anyone who stood on the terraces as I did would have to vouch for the truth of this.
I am not saying that Timmy is better than Bally yet I will say that without either of them plugging gaps all over the field we would be much worse off.
300 Posted 12/02/2012 at 10:17:21
Full marks for effort, but his football abilities just seem to be diminishing. He's lost a yard and rarely seems capable these days of causing problems in the penalty area.
313 Posted 12/02/2012 at 11:02:38
May sound like a broken record now, but it is so hard to believe that Heitinga spent the better part of two and a half years on the bench or out of position. If he keeps his place and his form until May, he would have to be a shout for player of the year.
Don't want to get ahead of myself, because I think the rest of the season is going to be tough, and we will lose to teams we should beat, such is the way this season has gone, but does anyone else feel like a win at Anfield might not be out of the question?
329 Posted 12/02/2012 at 12:09:47
362 Posted 12/02/2012 at 15:18:26
371 Posted 12/02/2012 at 15:37:46
373 Posted 12/02/2012 at 14:54:56
Gibson's contribution has been positive. Fellaini had far too much to do before he arrived and this pairing should develop and improve.
We didn't control the City and Chelsk games, but we did stop them from bossing us and playing as they wanted. That's not a negative approach, but a very positive one starting - as has been said - from the front and going right through the team. As both games went on we looked to be the more likely winners, and shouldn't every game be like that?
We have failed to do this against Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton etc. Every Prem side has good players, and if you let them do what they want they will hurt you - as Blackpool will do if our attitude is wrong.
We hurried them all over the park yesterday as John says, and we have to play like this against everyone, not just clubs we feel we need to 'respect'.
453 Posted 12/02/2012 at 18:20:27
Johnny, IMO stands out as the player of the season now and I vote (as if I had one) that he is made Captain for next season. He is transformed from the hot head card waiting to happen nutter of a few years ago. Never panicks, almost never hoofs it, quick. relaible and something we miss, he is a talker at the back.
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