Everton 2 - 1 Stevenage (aet)
Everton's increasingly worrying lack of cutting edge threatened to expose them to the lottery of penalty kicks as battling Stevenage almost took them to the wire before Marouane Fellaini came off the bench to edge the Blues through to the third round.
A team featuring no fewer than eight changes from the one that had ground their way to a goalless stalemate against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday dominated their League One opposition but, in what has become a feature of Roberto Martinez's reign so far, they could not find the killer instinct in the final third to press home that superiority.
In truth, they should have been comfortably into the next round well before the end of the regulation 90 minutes and surely would have been were it not for dogged defending by the visitors, some questionable decision-making by Everton in and around the penalty area, and some wasteful finishing by Arouna Kone.
The Ivorian made his first start since joining the Blues as Martinez's biggest signing of the summer thus far but he looked for all the world like was still in pre-season mode. An 11th-minute opportunity less than a yard from goal that somehow stayed out set the tone for his evening and though he would get the entire 120 minutes to stake his claim to a regular starting role, he couldn't convert the goal to spare Everton's blushes.
That honour fell to the man who, if Manchester United and the press get their way, might not even be an Everton player this time next week and he underscored how much he would be missed by being in the right place at the right time to steer home the winner.
The Blues had already looked more potent when he replaced Ross Barkley six minutes into injury time, the youngster's early string-pulling influence having waned considerably in the second half of normal time, and after he narrowly missed with a bullet header from a corner in the 112th minute, he would make no mistake when the ball bounced fortuitously to him off Steven Naismith eight yards from the Stevenage goal.
It was tough luck on Stevenage who had worked tirelessly to close Everton down and keep them at arm's length for much of the contest. As they has been on Saturday, the Blues were full of neat passes and probing balls around the penalty area but the final ball was again lacking quality.
The brightest moments of a first half that seemed to be going to plan until Luke Freeman crashed home the opening goal in the 36th minute came from Everton's two 19 year-olds. Barkley was everywhere for most of the 45 minutes, water-carrying from defence to attack one minute, unleashing a stinging drive from 20 yards the next as he did when he combined with Deulofeu just outside the area in the seventh minute.
The Spaniard, meanwhile, was keen to display his box of tricks down the right flank. Initially it mostly consisted of knocking the ball past the fullback Deacon and skinning him for pace before crossing from the byline which he did to great effect to serve up that first chance for Kone. The striker could not stab home the ball as it bobbled around by the back post, though, and Stevenage escaped.
10 minutes later, another piece of magic by Deulofeu further in-field almost produced the opener when he took one touch wide of his marker and bent a lovely shot that narrowly missed the far post, before another low cross from the right after Deacon had been left for dead again went begging.
And the Barcelona teenager's efforts were for nought just past the half hour when Chris Day flapped at his cross and the ball fell invitingly in front of Leon Osman. The veteran midfielder – who should have controlled this encounter against a lower-division side but, instead, served up more fuel for those detractors who feel his best days are well behind him – made a mess of the chance, though, with an awkward mis-kick with the goal gaping.
Stevenage hadn't threatened Joel Robles much in the Blues' goal but the home side did escape in the 13th minute when Doughty's shot struck a defender before it could trouble the Spanish 'keeper. That proved to be a warning for Everton, though, because when Tounkara was allowed to chase down a long ball forward unimpeded and cut the ball back across the box, Gray knocked the ball on towards Freeman who took one touch before hammering into the roof of the net to make it 1-0.
Everton resumed their patient control of proceedings and probably should have leveled in the 45th minute when Kone was set up nicely by Osman but he ballooned his shot wildly over the bar. On this evidence, the wisdom of spending the bulk of precious transfer funds on the 29 year-old is highly questionable.
Thankfully, Deulofeu's precocious self-confidence kicked in in first-half stoppage time and, taking one more run at the Stevenage defence as they backed off, he turned his man around the 18 yard line and stroked an inch-perfect shot in off the inside of the post.
The second half promised much in the early going but eventually offered up nothing but more frustration for an increasingly uneasy home crowd. Barkley forced a good save from Day who pushed away his excellent shot at full stretch and a wonderful cross by Deulofeu almost put Naismith in at the back post but, on the stretch, the Scot couldn't get decent contact on the ball to turn it home.
Then, Naismith profited from a fortunate bounce of the ball and surged forward, slipping it into the path of Kone who tried to clip a shot past the 'keeper but Day foiled him to deny ano almost certain goal. If the Ivorian had been sloppy with his finishing before, this was much better and he was unlucky not to notch his first goal in Everton colours.
And the visitors' goal appeared to be living a charmed life as first Barkley's low ball flew across the face of goal with Kone a yard too far behind to try and slide it home, and then a chance opened up for Osman in front of goal but his strike cannoned off a defender and bobbled behind.
But that early Everton momentum started to ebb away as the half progressed, with some of the distribution of the ball becoming increasingly erratic. Barkley's influence had more or less evaporated by the midway point and Deulofeu was increasingly becoming a marked man, both in terms of numerical attention focused on him and the kinds of cynical challenges on him aimed at throwing him out of his rhythm.
Bryan Oviedo, who played the full game at left back, betrayed some inexperience and profligacy in possession and showed that he isn't yet ready to take over from Leighton Baines and even Seamus Coleman, who came on for Tony Hibbert after 65 minutes, had limited impact on the other flank. John Stones was hugely impressive as part of a back three, though, alongside John Heitinga and, first, Phil Jagielka and then Sylvain Distin.
An unwanted 30 minutes of extra time beckoned, though, as Deulofeu shot straight at Day with five minutes left and was then denied in full flight when Gray got a toe to the ball to force a corner, the defender benefiting from sharp eyes by referee Keith Shroud who waved away claims for a penalty.
It would take an intervention from Robles, though, to prevent Stevenage grabbing a dramatic winner with almost the last kick of the 90 minutes. Greg Tansey let rip wit a dipping shot from 20 yards that might have crept under the bar but the 'keeper tipped it over the bar.
To be frank, most of the extra time period was desperately poor and sluggish fare from Everton who retained parity in the 93rd minute when Freeman waltzed through unchecked again but his shot was stopped by Distin.
Heitinga bobbled a shot disappointingly wide at the other end a few minutes later before Deulofeu came to life again with another bursting run down the right to latch onto Osman's pass down the touchline. The Spaniard's low cross caused panic in the home defence as Gray slid crotch-first into the near post but although Kone was eventually able to fashion a chance from the loose ball, he scuffed his boot over the top of the ball and it was hacked clear.
Either the number 9 or the equally up-and-down Naismith could have been withdrawn for Fellaini as the third and final substitution but it was Barkley who had given way and the Belgian made the difference. First he forced a corner with a low shot that the sprawling Day pushed behind, then he despatched that header just wide before he pounced four minutes later to send Everton through on a wave of relief.
Few will have been more relieved than Martinez who finally notched his first competitive win as Everton manager. Though none of the players he started were huge gambles, the number of changes arguably was but the eleven he sent out had enough of the ball and fashioned enough half-chances to have won the game comfortably at the first time of asking.
That they didn't, that they again struggled to score the goals they needed, will keep the boss busy in the coming weeks as he implements the changes he wants to make to the squad and approach he inherited from David Moyes. What matters is that Everton are in the hat for the third round but with the transfer window still open, the evidence of this close call suggests that Martinez might still need to add some quality to a team lacking a real cutting edge.
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185 Posted 29/08/2013 at 09:19:14
Even during preseason, I thought it was evident that we will be in trouble up front with lone striker and no body close to him. We were frustrated with Moyes but even he used Cahill or Fellaini as support for striker, now we don’t have that under Martinez.
Additionally to this I think best position for Mirallas is just behind center forward. He is very dangerous, quick and goal minded and he could score a lot of goals, but he needs to be pushed up front.
If Fellaini goes, we need defensive midfielder and I would say right winger in order to move Mirallas more centrally. Ideally we should sign new center forward but since we just bought Kone (that transfer is a mystery – 5 mil for 30 years old, who is nothing better than what we already have) and our standard lack of money.
201 Posted 29/08/2013 at 10:09:15
I posted on this site before Kone came to us that we should never even consider signing him...my opinion based on watching him regularly for two seasons in Spain...how right I was....he is awful and it will get worse believe me
228 Posted 29/08/2013 at 11:26:29
234 Posted 29/08/2013 at 11:44:53
The only thing you can say in mitigation is that strikers are all about confidence and he is over-anxious to please. However, with Jelavic also short on that substance, we could be really struggling for goals. As others have noted, Oviedo for all his pace, also showed he is not an adequate substitute for Baines; whilst Stones does inspire more confidence as a back-up and eventual replacement. Though the team will look different against Cardiff, the midfield, striker limitations will still be there.
237 Posted 29/08/2013 at 11:31:14
It's early days yet, and we are still adapting to a different blueprint, under Roberto, when all said and done, we have not lost, been outplayed, or humiliated, although hopefully not, there's time for that to happen against some of our cash rich opponents.
I think after Saturday, we will be able to guage things better; if Cardiff play with the fervour and tenacity they showed against City, we are in for a duel.
I think as Everton fans, we have had a lot of speculation regarding our two best players, the shenanigans from Moyes, the lack of support from the board to our new manager, and all the rest. So a knee-jerk reaction, is understandable, but let's give Roberto, and the players, a bit more than two league games and one cup tie, before coming down like a ton of bricks.
253 Posted 29/08/2013 at 12:58:46
254 Posted 29/08/2013 at 12:59:06
Kone I believe will come good as he got himself into goal scoring positions but his touch was off – first full game only. Heitinga not god enough, quick enough for any central role, defensive or midfield.
Barkley will become the PL Player of the Season and Deulofeu won't be far behind once he learns to take his knocks.
255 Posted 29/08/2013 at 12:25:11
In his case, he's from the Ivory Coast which I'm guessing has no REAL affinity with any English club (let alone ours) so once the deal is done, there's no real reason for him to kill himself on the park.
The Yak (imo) had the same type of attitude - no doubt happy when we won and even happier when he scored, but I also got the impression that if we lost, his weekend wasn't (like ours?) fucked.
And it's not just African players by the way. I felt exactly the same about Bilić and John Collins.
Professionals for whom the most important thing was getting that contract signed.
Once that was done, unless you were playing for a team you'd loved since a kid - just do enough, no point knocking yourself out.
Most of the players I'm thinking off have/had a lot of talent, but I get the impression once they stopped playing for fun (ie: for free) and got involved in the putrid business of the pro game, it became a joyless exercise and so simply about amassing cash (seriously - have you ever seen more joyless people than PL footballers?)
It is natural that when we are linked with players, we (me included) give our opinions - "he's great/shite" etc - but the player I feel we REALLY need probably doesn't look that good on paper.
I don't know what position he plays, or who he plays for for, or even what his name is, but our scouts NEED to search for a fucking big-mouthed, hard case nark who, no matter what you pay him, he'll still run over his own nan to get to a ball.
A natural leader who will drag everyone around him with him.
Everton imo have never needed such a player more than we do right now.
Doesn't have to be a genius footballer, just a genius leader.
Until we find one, I feel our performances will be as they have been in the first three games.
Some intelligent entertaining football, too many chances not taken, daft goals conceded.
256 Posted 29/08/2013 at 13:00:21
260 Posted 29/08/2013 at 13:07:33
I agree, Oviedo was erratic and left back is not his position but he still needs games and would probably be a good bench player used in midfield to help Pienaar.
Osman, alas has now lost whatever other people may have seen in him and also his confidence looks shot after last night's woeful performance. I cannot believe he played 90 minutes.
Koné could have scored a bagful but didn't have the foresight to capitalize on some speedy work by Deulofeu although the keeper somehow kept out one goalbound effort. I still think however Koné will come good.
277 Posted 29/08/2013 at 14:37:30
281 Posted 29/08/2013 at 14:30:29
We will really miss Fellaini when and if he goes. The young Spaniard should start with Barkley and Mirallas.
lso I would pick Stones as he is much better than Heitinga now and has more potential than Duffy. If Baines leaves then Stones should slot in at left back.
319 Posted 29/08/2013 at 15:24:03
370 Posted 29/08/2013 at 17:00:01
381 Posted 29/08/2013 at 17:28:23
387 Posted 29/08/2013 at 17:52:29
Perhaps someone would like to give an answer to that one, now we've seen Kone in a blue shirt? And the answer can't be because he is better than Jelavic (who isn't) or he bossed Heitinga (who didn't?).
574 Posted 29/08/2013 at 23:28:12
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