Impregnable Everton earn morale victory at City

A result that will probably prove more useful in terms of psychology for the second leg of the Capital One Cup than Everton's derailed charge for the top four but a hugely creditable draw nonetheless.

Lyndon Lloyd 14/01/2016 18comments  |  Jump to last

That Roberto Martinez has put his neck on the block to such an extent with regard to Tim Howard has, depending on your point of view, either been the epitome of faith or extreme managerial folly but the American vindicated his manager's decision to reinstate him to the team in the face of mounting crticism with a stellar display at the Etihad Stadium.

In concert with a captain's performance by the returning Phil Jagielka, indefatigable work by Ramiro Funes Mori and Leighton Baines and tireless patrolling by the likes of Gareth Barry and Muhamed Besic in front of them, Howard kept the Premier League's most prolific attack at bay as Everton earned a hugely creditable 0-0 draw.

It's a result that will probably prove more useful in terms of psychology for the second leg of the Capital One Cup than Everton's derailed charge for the top four a single point does us little good at this stage. Results on the League front may yet prove that the eight-point gap to the Champions League qualifying places is surmountable by a side that has won as many cup ties as Premier League fixtures but tonight's was a performance and a score that the Blues would grab with both hands in a fortnight's time.

It was a close-run thing, though, and the extent to which Martinez's men had to rely on the resilience of their defence, the reactions of their goalkeeper and the lenience of referee Roger East at the death made for an uncomfortable ride in the second period for those supporters who actually made it into the ground despite horrendous conditions on the M62. John Stones's rash slide on Raheem Sterling as he made for the byline in stoppage time was almost a very costly one but the match official waved away pleas from the City players that the Everton man had taken the winger's legs.

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Television replays would show that he clearly had but when weighed against the decision by Mark Clattenburg to penalise Stones for a similar challenge at the same point of the match against Stoke City at the end of December it was a quick evening out of such matters. Moreover, it went a small way to making up for the fact that City have beaten Everton at their place with the help of ridiculously soft penalties not to mention those not given in Everton's favour in each of the last three seasons. Let's just say it was a pleasant change in circumstances...

The second half may have been more or less one-way traffic until the home side seemed to run out of steam a bit in the last 10 minutes in truth, both sets of players were looking pretty leggy by that stage but the first had been hugely promising for Everton, not least during a 10-minute purple patch around the half-hour mark when Leon Osman came within inches of scoring a quite spectacular opener.

The midfielder, playing in the left-sided role in place of the injured Tom Cleverley, displayed wonderful technique by latching onto Romelu Lukaku's excellent clipped cross with a crisply-hit volley that flew inches wide of the far post. It would have been a stunning goal and a reward for the controlled way in which Martinez's side had gone about their business in the first 45 minutes.

Earlier, the teams had traded blows when Kevin de Bruyne stole in behind the Blues' defence but shot wide and Howard did brilliantly to push Yaya Toure's close-range, downward header away, while Gerard Deulofeu made two trademark bursts along the byline but was foiled by on both occasions by Joe Hart's out-stretched leg.

And though City stepped up their efforts as half-time approached, there was little to choose between the sides in terms of goal threat. De Bruyne easily ghosted around Stones, who had mixed evening as an emergency right back in Seamus Coleman's absence, but couldn't pick out a teammate in the middle and at the other end Lukaku accelerated away from Martin Demichelis but fired his right-footed shot from the angle narrowly over the crossbar.

Though Everton's early forays forward early in the second period suggested that the pattern established in the first might continue, Pellegrini's men soon established control of the contest. Lukaku had a shot blocked shortly after the restart while Stones was down at the other end of the pitch with a knock that looked certain to require his withdrawal from the game he was able to continue following treatment but it rapidly became one-way traffic towards Howard's goal.

Jesus Navas dragged a shot well wide in the 52nd minute, Stones let Sterling in when he allowed himself to be dispossessed near the touchline but wasn't punished and the centre-half then atoned a few minutes later by getting enough on a goalbound shot by the same player to allow Howard to safely gather. And when Sergio Aguero connected with one of City's 12 corners on the night in the 69th minute, the Everton 'keeper had to be alert again with a reflex save to bat the ball away off his goal line.

Indeed, that spell midway through the second half would be a busy one for the US international. Twice he intervened with crucial saves with his foot and then he came off his line quickly to save smartly from Aguero again as the Argentine bore down on his goal.

What few chances the Blues had going forward themselves to relieve some of the pressure were largely squandered by poor distributon or a wayward final ball and when Martinez moved to freshen things up a little by withdrawing the veteran Osman and the now ineffectual Deulofeu, his replacements appeared to be a nod towards ball-retention rather than pace or counter-attacking ability that could pick the hosts off on the break.

The introduction of Steven Pienaar to bolster the left alongside Baines and Arouna Kone up front did help the ball stick a little better and it meant that Everton now looked more productive down their left but when Lukaku was played in one last time on his favoured left foot, his shot was deflected behind by Demichelis for a corner. City, meanwhile still threatened, with Navas heading over from near the penalty spot and Aguero battling his through before being forced wide by Jagielka and clipping his shot over from an almost impossible angle but it was Stones's error with time ticking down that almost broke the Blues' stubborn resistance. Thankfully, he was not punished.

Having shipped a glut of goals at home either side of Christmas, Everton's greater emphasis on defensive solidity means they have now conceded just two since the turn of the year in four matches in all competitions. It has come at the expense somewhat of some of their attacking freedom (even if this wasn't a typical park-the-bus scenario) and, as a result, they've also only scored five (with two those coming against League Two Dagenham & Redbridge in the FA Cup).

The return to an almost Moyesian posture to stop the rot at the back as badly needed; the challenge now, of course, is to find the delicate balance between defence and attack so that the side can push on and get the victories they need on all fronts between now and May. As teams with genuine top-four aspirations continue to drop points or trade them amongst each other, the door still remains ajar for the Blues if they can get their act together.

It remains a big "if", though, particularly if injuries continue to disrupt a squad that is, in the eyes of the manager, in need of pruning but which is also still vulnerable in key areas, most glaringly at fullback, left midfield and up front. Martinez has hinted at a possible signing or two before the transfer deadline and Evertonians will retain their hopes that a real difference-maker can be acquired but past experience suggests they're desires that are likely to go unsated.

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Reader Comments (18)

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Rahman Talib
1 Posted 14/01/2016 at 08:40:25
In truth, everything went southwards when Stones got injured. Why in the hell didn't Martinez replaced him.

Plus, big mistake bringing in Kone to play on the right. Should have been Lennon. We could’ve won this damn match.

Christopher Timmins
2 Posted 14/01/2016 at 10:26:01
Lyndon, the performance last night just goes to magnify the bad run of performances up to and including the Christmas period;

Bournemouth 3 - 3
Norwich 1 - 1
Leicester 2 - 3 and
Stoke 3 - 4

We threw away 6 to 8 points during the course of the above games. If we could add them to our current total we would be 34 - 36 points and there would be people talking about us being title contenders

Jon Stones should be told that good defenders should not be doing last gasp stuff in the penalty area. Don’t give the official a decision to make! In fairness, Jags did the same in the corresponding game last year.

John Raftery
3 Posted 14/01/2016 at 11:14:14
Christopher - you are spot on about Stones. Defenders should stay on their feet as long as possible. Last ditch sliding tackles are an indication of poor positioning. If they come off the crowd love them but top defenders rarely need to make them. He is still learning.

One of the reasons the goals have dried up recently is that Deulofeu has suffered a drop in form. Much of his crossing was erratic last night. He is still learning.

Romelu was well marshalled by the City defence last night. At times he looked isolated. That is the price for tightening up the defence and not throwing eight or nine men forward every time we gain possession. As Lyndon says achieving the delicate balance between attack and defence is now the challenge but with a little more composure in the final third I believe the goals will come. For the time being I'll be happy with a few clean sheets.

Jim Bennings
4 Posted 14/01/2016 at 11:34:58
In a season that we have shipped some horrendous goals, we have managed to keep clean sheets at Tottenham, Southampton and Manchester City, all difficult venues, this tells me one thing, our concentration against lesser teams is not as good as it should be, and that is a result in too many of our players getting carried away with their own abilities.

I think John Stones comes across as a down to earth decent fella, but just lately he's maybe taking liberties with too many things, unnecessary Cruyff turns in our own box, gestures to fan's to calm down, the mad moments of sliding in when there's no real need, it should have been a penalty last night, if that was turned down at the Gwladys Street end we'd have been seething.

The clean sheet can so easily be spoilt by a moment of madness like that and I suggest Martinez has a quiet word in private with Stones.

We do need to attack Chelsea with more vibrancy and endeavour on Saturday, they themselves still look a team out of sorts.

I'm really looking for Deulofeu, Barkley to push on at Stamford Bridge and start doing it in big game's, I mean if you've got the likes of James McLean and West Brom troubling Chelsea, I'd be disappointed to see a limited attacking performance from us on Saturday.

Max Fine
6 Posted 14/01/2016 at 11:51:18
'Indefatigable'.... now there’s an adjective I’ve never before seen in a football report. And I buy the Sunday Times. ;)
Mike Oates
7 Posted 14/01/2016 at 12:15:45
As a one-off game, we did well; we defended like we should have done all season and, as someone has mentioned, we’d be 8-10 points better off and seriously challenging for a Top 4 place – but that’s gone now.

I’ve been harping in comments on other threads on the need for Martinez to demonstrate to the likes of Stones, Lukaku that we can compete with the likes of Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal etc and I was hoping for at least 4 points from last night’s and the Chelsea match on Saturday – so 3 points required on Saturday.

In saying that, City still should have won comfortably; Howard was fortunately brilliant! As was Jags and Funes Mori but, in the 2nd half, our playmakers, Barkley and Deulofeu, were non-existent; Lukaku again lost interest as he was on his own with very little support and, with nothing coming from the wide areas, he had no chance.

Realistically we are all wishing for something with this group of players, who whilst they have been the best we’ve had for years, they still aren’t good enough for a Champions League place.

Ian Hollingworth
8 Posted 14/01/2016 at 12:25:24
Happy as I was with the result, we should still be realistic. City should have won and it was a penalty.

Not being negative but this is only a good result if we build from it and start winning games. We have to beat Chelsea on Saturday. Howard has to perform like that every match.

The manager has some big selection decisions, eg, the central defence pairing. We need a lift like a top signing. Rom needs more support.

I still believe we need a new manager... In the meantime, COYB.

Jim Bennings
9 Posted 14/01/2016 at 12:28:41

I think if you had to sum up this Everton team in one sentence it would be along the lines of..

"Hard to beat, but don't win enough games."

We have had 10 draws, the most in the league, it seems like the same things that dogged the David Moyes era, a hard team to beat but don't posses the canny knowhow to turn some draws into wins.

Eddie Dunn
10 Posted 14/01/2016 at 12:31:16
All these refs watch other games and I wonder if Roger East was aware of how John Stones was unfairly punished for the slide on Arnautovic a few weeks ago, and as he saw a similar situation occurring, he thought that he would give the defender the benefit of the doubt?

Add to that, the plucky rearguard display throughout the second half, and perhaps he thought we were worthy of holding out!

Also, we must remember that Sterling has "previous" and, as they grew more desperate, both he and Aguero were looking for any kind of contact in the box.

Jim Bennings
11 Posted 14/01/2016 at 12:40:26
Unfairly punished against Stoke or not, Eddie, if Stones does that type of tackle on a regular basis, he’ll find himself conceding far more penalties.

A defender needs to stay on his feet and not recklessly dive in; by doing that, the first thing you do is give the referee a decision to make. Fortunately last night we dodged a bullet.

Frank Wade
12 Posted 14/01/2016 at 14:28:08
Great result last night but all that hard work could have been undone by one rash unnecessary challenge or by a different referee.

Slide tackles in the box should only be attempted as a last act of desperation to prevent an almost certain goal, as Stones did earlier when he got a half block on a shot by Sterling. Last night and against Stoke, he could have kept pace with Sterling and Arnautovic. In Sterling's case his touch was heavy and the ball was going out anyway.

On the concession of goals and the apparent tightening up we have seen recently. The key positions in our system are the two defensive midfielders. Barry does a great job in showing for the ball and keeping possession, sensing danger, my player of the season so far. McCarthy is not so good on the ball but is the all action trouble shooter, sensing danger, making that 'last ditch' interception around the edge of the box to prevent conceding goals. McCarthy played 67 minutes against Bournemouth, so wasn't on the field for that last flurry of action in our box. Since then, he has just played 27 minutes against Leicester. A key move by Leicester was Mahrez picking up a ball and driving unchallenged at our back four, before playing in Vardy for the 2nd penalty. This is exactly the area where McCarthy operates and often goes unnoticed. Cleverley is a very good player but doesn't have that same nose for danger that McCarthy does.

We have suffered as a result in conceding 'soft' goals in his absence and several more chances, similar missed chances by Ritchie of Bournemouth and Jerome (I think ?) of Norwich, where the ball is cut back towards our penalty spot to onrushing players. The arrival of Besic in the Tottenham game finally plugged this gaping hole. He carried that on in the League Cup v City and again last night. Our team have grown to rely on McCarthy doing this work and points were unfortunately dropped. I think Besic has shown an added composure on the ball to go with his abrasive style since he has come back. I didn't think he had that in his locker. If he can continue the form he has shown we may have a real player on our hands.

Jay Harris
13 Posted 14/01/2016 at 15:44:54
Totally agree re Besic Frank.

We now have a true box-to-box defensive mid with a bit of class which also allows Barry more time on the ball.

I was disappointed in Lukaku last night with his lack of aerial ability and failure to hold the ball up something that he seemed to improve on during the season but he may have been carrying that injury.

Also very disappointed that the manager sees it appropriate to bring Kone and Pienaar on in preference to Mirallas who is the only player that might have got us that vital goal.

Martin Mason
14 Posted 14/01/2016 at 20:26:37
Jay, Lukaku was playing against 3 defenders whose job it was to shackle him in the knowledge that he would otherwise have destroyed them. He was never going to be a stand out in such a lop sided situation but he still played a very important role in tying up those defenders, his touch and distribution were also exceptional. Had it just been a bad day at the office my response would be that he’s entitled to one anyway after his superb performances this season.

I also believe that Pienaar played well when he came on and we saw glimpses of that rapport with Baines that Mirallas will never reproduce. Kone is a bit of an enigma but including him regularly has seen a massive improvement in the link up with Lukaku. I don’t see him as being anything but a stop gap though and that the we already have potentially the best number 10 in the business in Ross Barkley, last night he was the link man, he was seen to be poor by some because he was very controlled in what he did and did it simply and well.

We were brilliant last night and we may even have a top four side in there. Besic was absolutely magnificent. Maybe our future started when we played the ball around City with 10 men but I still see our limitation as RM; the board and staff have done a magnificent job in the Academy and in transfers. I think if we could get Mourinho as manager he could win the title with this squad and that is not as crazy as it sounds, he may be finished at top club level.

Special praise for Jags last night, he was magnificent and it’s great to see him back and no it was not a penalty, that little shit makes an art form of diving and last night was no exception. The officials could see it clearly, a penalty would have been a travesty of a game ending and a reward for divers and the influence that the top 4 clubs have in getting late penalties to win games. The refs are having nothing to do with the theatricals of the Sterling’s and Deulofeu’s and that is correct.

No, Stones must not stop those brilliant slide tackles in the box, his success is high and it is top class soccer skill.

Great time to be a Blue and we genuinely could be going somewhere with this team if not with this manager. I’ve supported Everton since the late '50s and I see this as a very exciting times although very challenging given our financial weakness. Please, no American ownership, let’s keep our soul

Laurie Hartley
15 Posted 14/01/2016 at 20:58:08
Mike (#7) – Fair go...

Lukaku came back to help the defence out and much to my surprise at one point in the second half won the ball in the right back position with a tackle! Not a sign of a centre-forward who has lost interest in the game.
Jim Hardin
16 Posted 14/01/2016 at 23:40:24

As an American, I am offended that you think we either have no souls or are interested in stripping Everton's soul or history. I will admit the lure of the TV money is appealling however.

On your comments on Sterling, I too wondered if the reputation of Sterling and Aguerro of diving is catching up to them? I saw the same thing in the Chelsea game versus West Brom regarding Costa going over and trying to get Yacob a red card twice to no avail. Aguerro shamelessly threw himself down once in the first half once he had taken two steps after contact and reached the box, and then again in the second half at the top of the box when he was being doubled by Stones and Jags, just before the Sterling incident.

These players once they get to the box just go over. I applaud the refs in both games for not giving a penalty even if in this case, I thought it probably should have been given. I just hope DelBoy gets a lecture or a slap to the head to stop him from diving.

Oliver Molloy
17 Posted 15/01/2016 at 00:26:38

How you can say that was not a penalty is beyond me. Stones slides in, doesn’t get the ball and clearly makes contact with Sterling. It was 100% a penalty. I would put it to you, if the shoe was on the other foot, you would have a different opinion.

I said some time ago on here that I would have Mourinho in a flash but it will never happen.

Jim, Aguero for me is one of the most honest forwards in the Premier League.

Martin Mason
19 Posted 15/01/2016 at 10:11:42
Oliver, it wasn’t a penalty. 0-0 was the final result wasn’t it. How you can say it was a penalty is just beyond me. :-)
Oliver Molloy
20 Posted 15/01/2016 at 17:26:40
Very good, Martin...

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