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Late heroics turn the tide for Everton

By Lyndon Lloyd   ::  09/12/2012

Everton 2 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur

Without a one win in nine Premier League games coming into the weekend and having slipped six points behind third-placed Chelsea and into seventh behind Arsenal following the Saturday programme, Everton knew that this encounter against fellow top-four hopefuls Tottenham was vitally important if they were to maintain any momentum in that chase for Champions League qualification.

Up until five seconds from the end of the regulation 90 minutes, however, it was a game that had threatened to provide the latest, and perhaps the most jarring and lasting, of the succession of reality checks that the Blues have been handed over the last few weeks. Frustration, a watchword for the campaign thus far, was again the prevailing emotion as David Moyes's side tried in vain to break down Spurs' stubborn back line.

Over the course of the match the Blues only shaded the share of possession but they created the greater share of the chances only to then fall behind, seemingly catastrophically, in cruel fashion via a deflection off Clint Dempsey's speculative 76th-minute strike. That was that, then. Dreams of the top four temporarily shelved. Tottenham, too, would move six points away and Evertonians would be forced to concede, having seen Kevin Mirallas forced off prematurely again after feeling twinges in his hamstring, that there just isn't sufficient depth, quality or, perhaps, even belief in the squad to carry them on to Europe's elusive gravy train.

But then suddenly, incredibly, magically, in the space of two of the game's dying minutes, Moyes's men wrenched victory from the jaws of defeat and three points from their stunned London visitors with two goals. There can be no better way to win a match — that lightning transfer from dejection to elation really has no equal and it ensured that Everton leapt back into the top-four, displacing Spurs and West Bromwich Albion on goal difference.

With Mirallas back in the starting line-up, Moyes was able to name what could well be his strongest starting XI. Fans could no doubt debate Tony Hibbert's defensive merits over those of the less experienced Seamus Coleman and argue which duo permed from Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and John Heitinga is the best but this was a strong side facing a Tottenham outfit that really appeared to have found their stride in recent games.

Indeed, Andre Villas-Boas exhibited no small measure of confidence by deploying a two-man strike-force of Jermaine Defoe and Emanuel Adebayor and the Portuguese's side enjoyed a comfortable amount of possession in a goalless first half. For all their passing amongst themselves, though, they offered little threat to Tim Howard's goal.

Instead it was Everton who made the better of their time with the ball, signalling their intentions early on with some inventive, probing moves that might have seen them open the scoring during the first 45 minutes. That they didn't, though, owed much to the all-too-familiar final ball with which they would themselves down time and again over the course of the game.

That wasn't true early on when Steven Pienaar cushioned a header to Leon Osman in the box but his shot was blocked by a defender or when Jagielka released Jelavic with a perfectly-weighted through-ball but Hugo Lloris raced off his line and pushed the ball away as the Croatian tried to take it around him. But when Jelavic got round the back of the defence to cut the ball back from the byline, he couldn't find a Blue jersey. And when Mirallas raced onto an excellent ball over the top a minute later that caught the visitors out-numbered at the back, his attempt to set Jelavic up right in front of goal fell behind the striker and William Gallas scrambled it behind.

At the other end, Moussa Dembele's ambitious effort from distance was comfortably gathered by Howard and later Marouane Fellaini charged down a shot from the edge of the box by Sandro as Spurs were restricted to long-range efforts by an Everton rearguard that looked in particularly obstinate mood. Indeed, Distin and Jagielka were excellent throughout in the centre and Coleman barely put a foot wrong all afternoon himself.

So it was left to the home side to finish the first half the stronger, with Osman flashing the ball agonisingly across the face of goal when he looked a good bet to perhaps creep it inside the far post and then seeing a potentially goalbound shot blocked superbly by Caulker. In between back-to-back penalty claims were waved away by referee Kevin Friend — the first, correctly as the ball hit Dempsey on the shoulder; the second should arguably have been awarded as it struck Gallas' arm — and Mirallas ended a mesmerising run across the penalty area (an exertion that probably ended his afternoon) with a weak shot as he ran out of steam.

The Belgian was replaced by Steven Naismith at the interval and the difference in quality was starkly apparent, although the Scot could have made himself an instant hero when a scuffed Leighton Baines shot arrived at his feet just a couple of yards from goal but he couldn't react quickly enough and his contact was a mere glance that helped the ball on its way past the far post.

Jelavic's quick feet then engineered space for a shot that was blocked and Fellaini planted a header off Darron Gibson's deep cross straight at the goalkeeper but, in the main, the openings that the Blues had been crafting in the first half became fewer and farther between as the second period wore on. Nevertheless, Osman twice came close to breaking the deadlock but was denied by a low, one-handed save by Lloris before he despatched a side-foot effort from Baines' cut-back narrowly over the bar.

Spurs weren't offering much more themselves, though Sandro gave the Blues a brief scare when his heavily deflected shot looped wide and Vertongen stung Howard's hands with a fierce free kick, and you got the growing feeling that the two teams were going to cancel themselves out to a 0-0 draw.

That all changed, though, with 15 minutes left and Dempsey unleashed a hopeful attempt from 25 yards that took a decisive touch off Distin's out-stretched boot and looped ominously over Howard's desperate palm before nestling in the back of the Everton net.

Moyes responded by withdrawing Osman in favour of Apostolos Vellios and, with one of the midfield link men now gone and the desperate Blues seemingly out of ideas, it became a case of just pumping it forward and hoping for something to break. Even then, the game was very nearly put to bed with five minutes to go when substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson tried to curl an excellent shot under Howard's crossbar from the edge of the area but the ball thumped off its face and was cleared.

When the Tottenham defence failed to deal with one of those hopeful balls forward by Jagielka in the 90th minute, however, Naismith nipped in to knock the ball out to meet Coleman's run into the box from the right flank. The Irishman seemed to have taken the wrong option by clipping his cross behind all the Blue shirts descending on goal, but Pienaar was alive to the opportunity and came steaming in to meet it with a rare header that took one bounce and flew past Lloris' hands to level the game up in dramatic fashion.

Four minutes of additional time offered hope of an improbable winner and when Coleman cleared his lines with a punt towards Vellios which Caulker rose to head into touch, the Goodison faithful raised the volume in support of one more push towards victory. Gibson collected Coleman's throw-in and didn't even look up before arcing the ball into the box where Vellios provided the crucial knock-on with an overhead kick and Jelavic sneaked between two white shirts to sweep it home in one fluid movement before racing off to be mobbed by supporters at the front of the Gwladys Street stand.

A thrilling conclusion to a match that for so long looked as though it was going to encapsulate the frustrations of the season so far.

The goals were sweet for their scorers for differing reasons. For Pienaar, it no doubt offered some personal vindication after his unsuccessful stint at White Hart Lane where he never did get the chance to show what he is capable of. Tottenham's loss was Everton's gain once more and though the South African still wasn't at the top of his game today, he is still performing better than was the case a few games ago.

Jelavic, meanwhile, has come under a fair degree of criticism, much of harsh and undeserved to these eyes; like a succession of strikers before him, most notably Yakubu, the Croatian has had to shoulder the blame for the lack of goals despite suffering from a chronic lack of service. Today he worked his backside off chasing defenders down, scampering into space and when his one clear-cut chance arrived in the dying embers of a closely-fought game he buried it with a trademark first-time finish.

What he sometimes lacks in approach play is more than compensated for by the kind of instinct and movement in the six-yard box that you just can't teach. Analysis of the replays of his winning goal, one that ends a four-match barren spell, shows that he is gliding behind two markers and preparing to steal between them into the anticipated path of the ball before Vellios even makes contact; his quick-footed finish executed with a split-second's notice as it dropped in front of him.

Like the Sunderland game before it, one that was turned on its head in similarly quick fashion, this could prove to be a massive result for Everton. In terms of points and league placing, its effect is obvious but the injection of confidence it could bring might also be just as important as the Blues continue through a tricky December programme. Stoke City's stingy defence will prove an enormously tough nut to crack in their next outing but, as they showed to day, Everton can produce match-winning quality when they need it no matter who the oppposition is.

Man of the match: Nikica Jelavic (with a nod to Darron Gibson who was excellent)

Reader Comments

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Matt Traynor
337 Posted 10/12/2012 at 08:36:48
Without a win in 9? Shurely shome mishtake. We did beat Sunderland, to make it one win in 9! Revisionist!

There's something oh so sweet about smash and grab raids like that. The result was more important than the performance in some regards, as it was obviously starting to affect the morale of everyone, fans included. We've now got a run of 6 games that will define our season - where we are at the end of January, and where we can hope to finish, which should help with who we are able to bring in.

Chris James
340 Posted 10/12/2012 at 09:27:41
Jelavic Man of the Match? Man of the last 3 minutes maybe... but didn't really see him do too much apart from that aside from not making more of half chances and not being in a dangerous position when we came forward.

Don't get me wrong, the man clearly has class, but I'd say that form has been patchy to say the least recently.

Nick Entwistle
345 Posted 10/12/2012 at 09:59:20
My mind's gone back to the mid to late 90s, listening on the radio Spurs scored two goals in the last couple of minutes to beat us by the same score. Feel all the better about this now.
Stoke, no problem.
Barry Rathbone
352 Posted 10/12/2012 at 11:09:14
Only just watched the Sky extended highlights and it looked like we deservedly won. Importantly we continued playing the "good stuff" as well even when all seemed lost.

Saw Moyes smiling as well – remarkable stuff.

Lee Courtliff
354 Posted 10/12/2012 at 11:18:27
Nick - Do you mean the game in '93 where they beat us 3-2? The legend that is Darren Caskey scored the winner I think.

I was convinced we would win yesterday. So much so that I decided to put £50 on it.

I finished the nightshift at 8am, went to the gym for an hour or so then decided to go to the bookies on my way home.

It was closed. The first time I've ever seen it closed.

When I got home I couldn't access my Sky Bet account.

No big deal.......I will sleep for a couple of hours then nip out before the match starts.

Woke up at ten past three.

Eventually found a stream and watched the game.

89 minutes gone and my only consolation was saving £50.

2 minutes later.........ecstatic and gutted at the same time.

Nevermind..........yesterday was a MASSIVE win for us. Well done boys. COYB.

Ian Allaker
355 Posted 10/12/2012 at 11:13:16
I don't get the chance to get to many games, but I finally had some free time on my hands and my brother and his kids were going so I decided to get down there too.

I can't remember the last game I have been to when we have lost. I felt that this could be a huge game in the season so I needed to get down there and bring any luck I could with me.

I walked to the game as I decided I needed to burn some calories before I stuffed myself over Christmas; I sat in the Lower Bullens. I couldn't believe we were 1 - 0 down on 89 mins. How could it be? I was there, Gibson was playing, it just didn't make sense.

My brother decided to leave 5 mins before the end as it would have been difficult getting his kids out through the crush at the end, he asked if I wanted to leave with him, I said "No" because, while Gibson was on the pitch and I was there, there was still a chance. I'm glad I stayed — the scenes were priceless at the end. A tremendous victory!

Seamus McCrudden
357 Posted 10/12/2012 at 11:38:40
I have to agree with the comments of Gibson as Man of the Match. His defensive anchor-type role really gels the whole team together and his range of passing especially to the wings is excellent. I see him as our 'Scholes' pinging the great passes that benefit incisive attacks time & again; exciting times ahead!
Matt Traynor
360 Posted 10/12/2012 at 11:38:11
Ian #355 "I cant remember the last game I have been to when we have lost."
I think we should use a bit of crowdsourcing here on TW and buy a half season ticket for you!

I forgot to mention in my initial reply to this thread, I wonder how many people left early to "beat the traffic"... It's understandable when you've young kids I guess, though I doubt they'll let your brother do it again!

I remember last day of last season, the Citeh fans were streaming out when it was 1 - 2. Then when Dzeko equalised, they all turned around and legged back in - only to be refused entry. So many of them give it the big "I was there", but I actually grilled one guy recently when out in Manc and he admitted, that in fact, he was outside when the winner, and the trophy presentation happened!

Tony J Williams
364 Posted 10/12/2012 at 12:01:40
Never leave before the final whistle, I have only done it once to "beat the traffic", as I was going on holiday and needed to get to the airport. The game was Bolton, we were one down and Beckford scored that screamer.......never again.
Ian Allaker
367 Posted 10/12/2012 at 12:20:35
To be fair Matt we haven't won many when I have been there either, it's normally a draw. :-)
Dave White
374 Posted 10/12/2012 at 12:31:22
Great report Lyndon and good point re Jelly, I'm not sure I agree he was Man of the Match but you're quite right that he does work his nads off.

And very good point regarding the second goal, there's no way in a million years that was a pass from Vellios yet Jelly's movement was superb. As you say he shows the instinctive opportunism of a poacher you just can't teach.

Brent Stephens
377 Posted 10/12/2012 at 13:26:57
Liked the report Lyndon, just reliving the emotion! A few say Jelli isn't doing anything. But I agree with you, he's working his socks off. One incident in the second half when he chased down a defender on the Bullens Road side just inside their half and then sprinted across the line of their defence in a wide arc right to the Goodison Road side. He gives us that every week. I think his best place is in the wee box instinctively glancing in those quick crosses with a first time touch, but I don't underestimate his contribution elsewhere.
Lyndon Lloyd
390 Posted 10/12/2012 at 15:14:36
Thanks for pointing out the error, Matt. I got it right in the Preview but clearly had a brain lapse when writing the report.

Regarding the Man of the Match award, Gibson would probably have got it for the balance of play alone. Pienaar was the official man of the match but I felt as though he played a few too many stray balls in the final third. Coleman, meanwhile, was excellent and the central defensive pair played blinders as well.

But I gave it to Jelavic for the combination of his workrate up front and then actually winning the game. As Naismith showed with his chance earlier in the game, lightning-fast reactions and pure instinct can make all the difference and Jelavic's did.

Nick Entwistle
393 Posted 10/12/2012 at 15:29:19
Lee, may well have been that game.

Darren Caskey? Oooph, up there with the likes of Paul Draper! Legend indeed.

Jamie Sweet
463 Posted 11/12/2012 at 00:57:03
Jelavic gets man of the match purely on the basis that he stole some blokes hat during his celebration! You can clearly see it on the replays. Lovely work Jela!
Russ Quinlan
495 Posted 11/12/2012 at 12:22:19
I loved the high fives he gave to everyone on the bench when he came off, brilliant! Just hope that's the confidence booster he was looking for coz it certainly looked like he'd cheered up!!

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