Everton 2 - 3 Manchester City
Whatever will be, will be. With the dilemma that dominated the thinking of many an Evertonian in the lead-up, that really was the only way to look at this game. The thought of wanting Everton to lose for any reason – in this case, to potentially deny Liverpool a first League title in 24 years – just doesn't sit well and though our Champions League hopes were hanging by a very thin thread, while the possibility was still there, surely you had to pull for the Blues to win regardless of the implications for the title race.
After all, the continuaton of Everton's hoodoo over Manchester City and a victory over Manuel Pellegrini's men would have reduced the gap between ourselves and Arsenal to a point and anything short of a win for the Gunners tomorrow would have taken the chase for fourth place down to the final day of the season. Football is a funny game; anything can happen. But the point is, of course, moot now. Thanks to defeats for Manchester United and Tottenham, Everton were assured of qualification for the Europa League but a push for the big one will have to resume in August.
Those results in the earlier kick-off might have tipped some, for whom securing that last point that, coming into this weekend would have guaranteed Europe, was paramount, towards either apathy about today's game at Goodison or possibly wanting to see City win. But once the match had kicked off, that deeply ingrained desire to support your team to victory took hold. Granted, it wasn't the bearpit that greeted Arsenal and Manchester United in recent weeks when the stakes felt that much higher but there was a lively atmosphere that erupted in the 11th minute to laud a moment of pure magic from Ross Barkley.
If the 20-year-old's performance last week – in a team display that plumbed the depths relative to what has been an excellent season – was poor, today was a marked role reversal and a superb individual showing was exemplified by his opening goal. Steven Naismith, playing off Romelu Lukaku at the spearhead of a 3-4-1-2 formation, laid the ball off to Barkley outside the opposition penalty area where he swept an audacious, arcing, first-time shot over Joe Hart and into the City net from 25 yards out. Any notion that Everton's players were going to roll over were dispelled by a stunning strike from one of the biggest Evertonians on the pitch.
City needed to respond and did. And after Yaya Toure had scooped over the crossbar from around 15 yards out with a quarter of an hour gone and Barkley had, probably correctly, seen penalty appeals waved away at the other end, the Ivorian was the architect of the visitors' equaliser midway through the first half. He sucked Antolin Alcaraz out of the Blues' back line before slipping the ball to Sergio Aguero and the Argentine drove into the area and drilled a shot between Tim Howard and the near post.
If that felt as though the feldgeling three-man defence had been breached a little too easily, City's second a couple of minutes before half time was just as bad. Howard had done well to deny Edin Dzeko from the angle but when the ball came back out to James Milner and he swung the ball back towards the penalty spot, Dzeko rose unchallenged to head past the American with a well-directed effort.
An injury-time chance for Lukaku was served up by John Stones but he blazed high over the bar with a first-time shot.
If there was a pivotal minute or so in the match, it came immediately after the restart from the half-time interval. Barkley went on one of his scintillating charges straight through the centre of the opposition and played Naismith in on the edge of the area as he nipped in ahead of Pablo Zabaleta. The Scot seemed odds-on to score as he side-footed towards the bottom corner but Hart finger-tipped his shot past the far post.
The resulting corner was wasted and a minute later it was 3-1. Nasri collected a neat ball over the top of the Everton defence and the profited from the space afforded him by Stones to deliver a low cross that Dzeko side-footed home from a central position in front of goal.
Pellegrini's strategy of retreating into a game of containment when Everton had the ball and then hitting them with quick movement on the counter-attack was proving to be highly effective and it was one with which he persisted as the second half wore on. Their resolute back line and disciplined shape made for a difficult barrier for the Blues to break down and it took an excellent cross from Leighton Baines to make the breakthrough.
The England international delivered the ball behind the City defence and Lukaku launched himself towards it, crashing a header in off the post to make it 3-2 with 25 minutes left.
Both teams had chances to add to the scoreline in what was an increasingly fascinating and more even half. Zabaleta powered into the area but Howard foiled him with an outstretched foot and Leon Osman got a crucial block on Martin Demichelis a minute later to stop his goal-bound shot.
The moment that had City hearts in mouths, though, came in the 86th minute when Barkley, exhibiting yet more sublime poise and balance as he wriggled away from David Silva and Dzeko and drove to the byline. He forced a tackle from Gael Clichy that handed possession back to substitute Gerard Deulofeu and the Spaniard embarked on one of his own dazzling runs that ended with Hart making a vital save that diverted his shot into the side-netting.
Thanks to a bizarre injury incident involving Dzeko where he was booked by Lee Probert for lying prone on the Goodison turf and not going off for treatment, the visitors were forced to endure six minutes of injury time but they would see it out safely. By that stage, in your heart of hearts, you knew that if the Blues weren't going to win it – a point was more or less useless – then maybe it was time to hold up your hands and accept a defeat that has a good chance of robbing the rabble from across the Park of the Title. Que sera and all that.
Everton had contributed mightily to an entertaining contest but were undone by charitable defending against a team that exhibited all the purpose and drive their own supporters would have wanted to see given what was at stake for them. Roberto Martinez and his team duly bathed in the warmth of rousing appreciation from the Goodison faithful during a lap of honour after the final whistle to celebrate an impressive first season under the Spaniard's management.
The Blues can now go to Hull City knowing that a fifth place finish is guaranteed and that they can finish the campaign on a high with 72 points if they can pick up three points in their last match. The Champions League proved to be just beyond out reach but Martinez has built a terrific platform on which to build towards that next season... on both the domestic and European fronts.
Reader Comments (30)
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1 Posted 04/05/2014 at 08:05:34
Jagielka looked rusty, Stones at times had his inexperience exposed and Alcaraz did lose his discipline and break ranks to let them back in it.
Jags "ll be back, Stones will become a giant of a player and if Alcaraz can stay injury free, he ll prove hes better than this.
Glad this ones out of the way. I usually dont sleep well when we ve lost, but the thought of all those Kopites wringing there hands in frustration, wondering if they will ever sleep again, sent me of like a baby
2 Posted 04/05/2014 at 09:11:04
3 Posted 04/05/2014 at 09:05:02
Great to see Barkley back at his best. We look so much more threatening when he is on song, which sadly he hasnt been for quite a while.
Back in Europe then, looking forward to next season already. Dont forget Ossies testimonial, all you that have a chance to get there!
4 Posted 04/05/2014 at 09:32:17
5 Posted 04/05/2014 at 09:51:39
Its been a thoroughly enjoyable season, watching Everton play really good football with a great blend of youth and experience.
I couldnt be there yesterday; but if I was Id have been part of that rousing reception for Mr Martinez and the players.
6 Posted 04/05/2014 at 10:29:55
7 Posted 04/05/2014 at 10:22:52
I was prepared to give Martinez a year to bed in, with a top 10 finish - that we are now back in Europe and respected for our football again is some achievement.
Id be happy with more of the same next season - if we can get some consistency and bully some of the lower sides perhaps we can sneak in ahead of Arsenal and United this time.
That said, the top 4 is going to look crowded if United can get a decent manager and core of players - some silverware may be more realistic.
Pointing out the bleeding obvious - Martinez needs to bolster the squad, replace Barry (difficult), Deulofeu (moderate) and Lukaku (very difficult).
Make sure Coleman, Stones, Barkley and McCarthy are here for the long term and happy days.
8 Posted 04/05/2014 at 10:45:33
Our style in the past was more blood and thunder, now we are used to keeping the ball, it wont have such an adverse effect on the energy levels.
We have to play a qualifying round to make the competition proper, who wont want to see European football back at Goodison?
The winners also go into the C.L. and I think it gives us more of an idea of how we are progressing. It gets a little old watching us play the likes of Stoke, or other bottom half sides, so I for one cant wait.
9 Posted 04/05/2014 at 11:06:49
10 Posted 04/05/2014 at 11:12:23
11 Posted 04/05/2014 at 11:12:11
Only if Arsenal win the FA Cup. The FA Cup winners dont have to qualify, the 5th and 6th enter qualifying.
However if Hull qualify as runners up rather than FA Cup winners the non qualifying place goes to the 5th place in the league.
12 Posted 04/05/2014 at 11:15:29
13 Posted 04/05/2014 at 12:22:48
The thing about the previous management regime was that they constantly lowered our expectations positioning us as plucky little Everton, punching above our weight and we should be thankful for 7th.
However, what Martinez has set about is changing our perceptions. We aren’t punching above our weight at all. We are one of the top teams in the country and we, as supporters, need to change too.
We should recognise that we have progressed as a team and, whilst we can appreciate a good season, we shouldn’t accept 5th as being good enough. The fac
14 Posted 04/05/2014 at 13:06:03
15 Posted 04/05/2014 at 13:10:26
He is just not up to it at this level.
Sadly not everybody watching did pull for the team last night and the anti-Liverpool obsession of quite a few meant a lack if tangible support at key moments. I’ve never been to a game where a significant number of those attending were comfortable with us losing a match!
You can spend team thinking of the if only’s and how opportunities are spurned, Two very winnable games v Palace and Southampton recently showed that we aren’t quite ready for the CL level yet, so Europa League it is.
Thursday Nights & Sundays for a lot of games next season which is the downside of the EL. Let’s hope we don’t suffer like Newcastle did last season. Think we need at least 4 new players to cope with the workload. More if the loanees can’t be retained.
Que sera indeed.
16 Posted 04/05/2014 at 14:09:01
17 Posted 04/05/2014 at 14:45:38
For me, there will be a clear out of a few, Barry meandered through the last few games, lukaku has looked dreadful in general play but can finish, Del boy is still learning and needs a few more tricks in his locker, I love McGready, reminds me of Dave Thomas.. I suppose we has seen the last of Hibbo, perhaps a final outing against Hull? Oman too?
Nice to look forward to next season though...
18 Posted 04/05/2014 at 16:27:54
I couldn't believe all the hype about would Everton do the dirty on Liverpool and let City win. I think that is very disrespectful to the professionalism of our team.
Various posts on the site have stated that the injuries were not to blame on us not getting into the top 4, it was down to the players and the manager, especially picking the wrong formation against Palace.
I'm sorry but that is a load of tosh. I can't think of many players from the first team squad that have not been injured at some point this season often for several months at a time.
We have a very small squad compared to other teams and do not have the resources to cope with missing key players all the time.
We lost yesterday as too many players were on the pitch that were not really match fit. Jags being the main one. It was odd as we knew after the losses by MU and Spurs that 5th was ours as even a loss at Hull for us and a win for Spurs would make no difference due to our superior goal difference. A lot of players were either thinking of their hols or Brazil.
For next season we need to;
Make an early decision about Barry-either give him a short contract or let him go elsewhere. They missed him yesterday
We are OK in midfield and on the flanks but need 2 strikers, Kone is old and injury prone
Need about 5-6 additional players to cope with Europe.
Let fans know early about the loanees and what is happening
Make a wish that we had all our bad luck with injuries this season and next will be easier
Sign all our young ones on senior contracts
I heard the City manager interviewed on the radio and he thinks if we keep the spine of our team we will be there or there abouts next season.
19 Posted 04/05/2014 at 18:36:16
For me, only the threadbare squad kept us from qualifying for the Champions League (and maybe a couple of bad mistakes, at Palace etc). All credit to club and players as we are actually entertaining again.
I watched the Man City game in Dennehey’s yesterday and most of our American supporters seemed baffled that it didnt bother me at all that we lost!!! I guess not growing up in Bootle doesnt make them as bitter as me!!
Any news on pre-season? Anybody looking forward to next season with great enthusiasm?
20 Posted 04/05/2014 at 19:35:03
Looking to next season, I don't really agree with us having some sort of injury curse, every team in the league gets injuries. Ours are just highlighted a bit more as our squad depth isn't the same as the other sides. So next season we will suffer injuries again, just like all the other sides.
One big achievement by RM this season is to have gotten rid of almost all the deadwood (least all the ones on a high wage) so we can at last focus on purely getting players in rather than waiting for and trying to push players out.
Assuming that most of the first team squad stays (presume the likes of Vellios and Geuye will be moved on), we don't really need that many players, even though we'll be in Europe. An extra 2-3 players of first team quality should be enough.
Need to sort out the striker position as a priority (Lukaku or a surprise someone from Europe), back up for Coleman and sort out Barry (either keep him or get someone else in as Gibbo can't be relied on). If Distin can still play next season then we'll have 4 CBs so not sure that position is a priority.
In saying that, the likes of Barkley, Stones, Oviedo and McCarthy should all be better next season, so that's a plus. Osman and Pienaar are both getting near retirement so probably need to bring in one new (younger) AM – would love to see us get a quality no.10 tbh. Jury's still out on Kone and McGeady, fingers crossed they can play well next season.
All to be hopeful for as this season has certainly been much better than most of us expected. Now the season's over, can now look forward to the WC.
21 Posted 04/05/2014 at 20:50:22
All I would say, given my experience, is Evertonians should hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
Maybe have a bag of ice ready – there is nothing more painful than a kick in the plums
(They've been hoofing mine for 54 years, believe me, I know.)
22 Posted 04/05/2014 at 20:54:15
The Prem, like it or not, is a 'loads of money' league and pity for us were a poor relation, fact as it stands now. We have had a storming first season with Martinez in charge but how next season will pan out I haven't really a clue!
My opinion, for what it's worth, is that our manager has almost got the max out of the situation, he's made some mistakes... of course he has in hindsight... but who doesn't.
Although he won't admit it, a spare £100m (don't laugh) would make a hell of a difference towards what we achieve next season; without it, I think we're going to struggle to match or improve on this one.
Hope I'm totally talking cobblers, but I don't think so.
23 Posted 04/05/2014 at 21:47:05
24 Posted 04/05/2014 at 21:54:40
People say every season that next year will be harder, but with new managers(if?) at United and Spurs, I would not fancy them featuring in the top 4 again. We will be closer, possibly harder to beat and more offensive. As for that lot, it does remind me of the year Arsenal won with the last kick of the season. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes shit happens to them.
25 Posted 04/05/2014 at 23:00:12
But how else will we know if they're any good? If they're not given a chance at home to some barely known team.
Best thing about Europa League I think is it's enough football to keep all the squad happy. While also making sure the first team players are kept on their toes. That's with the presumption the league is priority at least until the knock-out stages should be get there. COYB
26 Posted 05/05/2014 at 01:31:49
We have no reason to not be anything but blue skies optimistic for next season and the next window...
Can you imagine a bunch of Blues boozing on Gods jucie Stella saying "Flip, we are so worried about next season coz Spuds might get a new gaffer"!!! — AFTER THE LAST 2!!!!!!!
Why the fuck worry about Spurs and anyone else — including post-Moyes Man Utd?
The future is bright blue. We have one of the three best 40-ish gaffers in the whole wide world!!!! Oh but lets worry about gaffer appointments at Spuds and Man-Utd!!!!!!
27 Posted 05/05/2014 at 12:46:39
We have the most class in the division, CL or not - Liverpool winning the title or not.
There's no point winning anything if you have no class (vide Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea).
28 Posted 05/05/2014 at 13:17:59
Oviedo broke his foot and was off on a stretcher quicker than Dzeko, who appeared back on to the pitch without any semblance of so much as a limp. If a player is booked for feigning injury, then he should be made to stay off the pitch for as long as he delayed the game.
There has been nothing mentioned in the media detrimental to the player and his tactics. There should be an official protest from EFC and some punitive action taken against the player other than a derisory yellow card. The game was drawn into disrepute and opens the door to other teams employing similar tactics.
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