Swansea City 0 - 3 Everton
Having earned just one point from six available in the previous two games, smarting from refereeing injustice, and their prospects seemingly dented already by injuries to two key players, Everton could have been forgiven if anxiety had started to creep into the squad as they prepared for this trip to Swansea.
If they did harbour any self doubt, though, there was no sign of it as David Moyes's men established a vice grip on the game from the first whistle and refused to let go, sweeping to a superb 3-0 victory. Frankly, had the Blues scored six it wouldn't have flattered them and with better finishing, from Marouane Fellaini and Victor Anichebe, in particular, they would indeed have put that many past the hapless Michele Vorm.
Both of Moyes's forwards did get on the scoresheet though, and there was a first Premier League goal for Kevin Mirallas, so no one will be quibbling over missed chances after a 3-0 win away from home against a team who hadn't lost on their own patch since March.
That Everton so dominated this encounter, particularly during the first half hour where the Swans were penned into their own half and under almost ceaseless pressure, will have come as a shock to Michael Laudrup. Starting the day on the same number of points as Everton, there was genuine buzz starting to build around the Dane's fledgeling Premier League career but his depleted defence was torn apart at will at times on what was a superb day for Moyes.
It owed less to the second-half dismissal of Nathan Dyer for a second bookable offence — the score was already 2-0 by that stage — and more to an irrepressible attacking display from Everton that yielded over 30 attempts on goal and was underpinned by excellent performances all over the pitch. Anichebe deputised impressively for the injured Nikica Jelavic and scored in successive games for the first time while Tim Howard atoned for his suspect goalkeeping on Monday night with some absolutely key saves to snuff out any hope the hosts had of staging a comeback.
The match wasn't even five minutes old by the time the visitors had registered four efforts on goal, Vorm spilling Anichebe's header in the second minute, Mirallas testing the goalkeeper twice with a side-foot shot and a header, and Fellaini seeing a chest-and-shot blocked.
Illustrating his impact on proceedings, Steven Pienaar was constantly being fouled as he pulled the strings down the left with Leighton Baines but the South African was again wayward when going for goal himself, shooting tamely wide after a neat 1-2 exchange with Anichebe on the edge of the area.
The key for the Blues was, of course, to make all that attacking pay off which it did half-way through the first half shortly after Anichebe's turn and shot had been saved by Vorm. A raking diagonal ball from Baines picked out Fellaini in the box to bring the ball down in familiar fashion with his chest and nod the resulting unfavourable bounce on for Anichebe. The striker duly buried the chance with a left-footed shot into the corner and Everton were 1-0 up.
The goal had an element of fortune about it: with Adam Tate's high boot about to connect with his face, the Belgian had sensibly pulled his head in and knocked the ball forward with his arm but neither official spotted it, a foot to the head might have yielded a penalty anyway, and after Monday's "floodlight robbery" against Newcastle, the Blues were due a break.
It was the least Moyes's men deserved for an energetic and dynamic first 30 minutes during which they harried, pressed, pressured and attacked Swansea, tenaciously winning the vast majority of 50-50 challenges and a good deal of the 25-75 situations as well. Fellaini with his height and determination and Anichebe with his physique and running were unplayable at times and Mirallas was keen to attack with speed an invention drifting in from the right flank.
But while the lead was just one, the hosts were never out of it and having really only had one prior opening when Pablo Hernandez volleyed wide following John Heitinga's poor defensive header, they finally managed to break free of Everton's stranglehold in the last quarter of an hour before half time.
Phil Jagielka was forced into emergency action in the 34th minute when he headed Hernandez' attempted lob off his own line. Howard had been stranded well off his line as he went to close the ball down on the far left side of his area, and Phil Neville threw himself in front of the rebound to charge the subsequent shot down from eight yards out and complete the defensive stand.
Jagielka was on hand again three minutes later to deflect Wayne Routledge's shot behind and, thankfully, Michu powered the resulting corner narrowly over the crossbar, and Ki later curled a superb shot inches wide of the upright.
Crucially, though, Everton landed a devastating blow on the counter-attack two minutes from the break. Fellaini released Pienaar down the right flank with a perfectly-weighted ball and the midfielder swept an early pass behind the retreating back line to Mirallas who had artfully checked his run to stay onside. Vorm looked to have made an excellent stop when his contact diverted Mirallas' shot into the underside of the crossbar but the Belgian had continued his run and beat the 'keeper to head the rebound into the empty net.
The Blues were still not home and dry into the interval, though. Angel Rangel flashed a cross/shot across the face of goal, with Danny Graham an inch away from toeing it in. Then, Ki's slide-rule pass put the Spanish full-back in behind the flat-footed Pienaar but Howard got enough on it to deflect his shot over the bar. And, finally, Routledge returned Heitinga's clearance with interest, again to Rangel on the far side, but the defender's cushioned ball back across goal found no white shirts anywhere in the vicinity.
So, half time and Everton were sitting pretty in terms of the scoreline but more sloppiness at the back in the early minutes of the second half threatened to spoil the clean sheet. Neville's decision to be too cute and bounce a poor pass out to Seamus Coleman at right back rather than belt it clear conceded a 49th-minute corner that came to nothing. And when Howard cleared the ball straight to a white shirt and Jonathan de Guzman had put Michu into the clear in a one-on-one situation, the American had to parry the forward's effort away smartly for another corner.
Everton were a constant threat on the breakaway throughout the game, though, and Moyes will have neen wondering how 2-0 didn't become 3-0 with 52 minutes gone. Anichebe had charged forward on a quick counter and sent Fellaini into the clear but the Belgian's lack of pace meant he had to check inside and lay it off awkwardly to his compatriot Mirallas in the box. With quick feet, Mirallas engineered a shot, though, one that cannoned off the bar and back to Anichebe who eventually found space for his own effort but Vorm beat it away.
A minute later at the other end, Rangel was at it again, teeing up Ki in too much space in front of the Everton defence but Howard made a terrific save with his arm, once more sending the ball flying over the bar with a crucial touch.
Though the Swans had tried to rally with 11 men, once they lost Dyer for flying in on Baines, the game was effectively up and it was a matter of time before the Blues scored again. Fellaini could have done when Anichebe's teed him with a great center from the left but he sliced his effort high and wide of goal; Anichebe should have done 11 minutes later when Baines raced into the box on the overlap to collect Pienaar's pass and put his cross right on the money on the six-yard line but the burly striker glanced his volley wide when a surer contact would almost certainly have yielded his second goal.
After Anichebe's volley had been parried by Vorm, the third did arrive, though, with seven minutes to go. A Baines free kick from the left found Fellaini all too easily in the area and when his header deflected off Ashley Williams, it gave the 'keeper no chance and the net bulged again.
As if to confirm that it wasn't the home side's day, De Guzman rattled a stoppage-time free kick off the bar and excellent defending by Jagielka prevented the follow-up shot from being turned in, preserving a clean sheet for Howard and ensuring that the Blues would take pride of second place in the overnight Premier League standings.
Given how frustrating Everton were to watch for much of the first half of last season, it's an absolute pleasure to watch them when they're firing on all cylinders going forward as they were today. Right now, they're proving that last season's nine-game run-in was not a flash in the pan and that they really are capable of cracking the top six this season if they can avoid a serious pile-up of injuries and suspensions.
That they so comprehensively put Swansea to the sword on their ground with Jelavic and Gibson sidelined, an unfulfilled talent leading the line, and the controversial Neville-Osman partnership in the midfield retained speaks volumes for the confidence and the assuredness coursing through the team at the moment.
Yes, there a few sloppy moments at the back and they had Howard to thank for keeping the Swansea side of scoreline blank, but the victor was never really in doubt and this was a performance and result to savour. Onward to Elland Road and then back to Goodison for the visit of Southampton next weekend.
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650 Posted 24/09/2012 at 14:32:52
One thing I have to keep reminding myself. The current team, in the attack, hasn't really played that many games together. Hate to be the poor opponent when the lads are hitting on all cylinders. Saturday was really just an inkling of our potential. And Fella has to stay forward unless there's some emergency. He's unplayable and teams having to keep players back to deal with him is what's allowing us to push the whole team forward.
The flip side, as we've seen, is that some adjustments will be required in our defending. Which adjustments I think we'll make. Exciting times.
And keep up the reports. I always look forward to them.
675 Posted 24/09/2012 at 15:53:17
We play a lot better when Coleman is on the right as he gives us another option, Hope he keeps him in when Hibbert is fit. We are on the Tele again on Tuesday, seem to be getting a lot more air time this season which hopefully will increase our revenue.
691 Posted 24/09/2012 at 16:44:59
How many of us have realised that the same 5 fixtures last season garnered us ......... 10 points also. Does this mean another 7th place finish, or can we be rightfully more optimistic given the style of play and the faster start to our season? If we compare the Saints game coming up to the QPR game last season (both promoted as championship champions) or the Bolton game -a promoted team for a relegated one - (both of which we lost) then we could obviously be 3 points ahead of the curve by next Saturday night. We shall see.
Incidentally David, don't you mean "in spite of the chairman" rather than "support of...". If not can you be a bit more specific?
717 Posted 24/09/2012 at 19:14:12
I've found that people get too hung up on the marks so I've decided to bin them! It's all very subjective and without a baseline that we all agree on, it becomes the main talking point rather than the game itself.
Suffice to say there would be a lot of 8s in there this time!
769 Posted 24/09/2012 at 22:31:46
The average punter would not have a clue as to what pre match instructions each player carries onto the pitch.
At the same time I am yet to see what our manager sees in some that make them undroppable.
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