Looking up, not down

By Paul Traill 11/02/2018  12 Comments  [Jump to last]
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Everton 3 - 1 Crystal Palace

With Gaz not driving to this one Ste and I planned to make our way over and make a bit of an evening of it after the game, I was therefore very grateful for Dan who picked me up in Birkenhead while on route to Goodison Park.

With plenty of time we went to the Barlow Arms to catch the Tottenham vs Arsenal game, which wasn’t very good in all fairness. We arrived in the pub in time for kick off and got a cracking little spec to watch the game, it didn’t half busy up though and come about 2pm we were grateful we’d gotten there in time to get a good seat.

The team news, unsurprisingly, reverted back to a similar team to that which defeated Leicester City 10 days or so ago. Rooney back into midfield, Sigurdsson occupying the left hand side and Tom Davies linking between midfield and attack. The main change was the introduction of Eliaquim Mangala at the heart of defence alongside Michael Keane. Seamus Coleman returned to right back. Crystal Palace featured Christian Benteke, Yohan Cabaye and new signing Alexander Sorloth who made a very impressive debut in my opinion. I’ll look out for him, he looks more than handy.

As has been the current mood, the atmosphere was rather flat first half and the players didn’t do an awful lot to get you off your seat really. Two efforts from distance almost did it for us. Early on Gylfi Sigurdsson let fly, his effort flashing just wide of Wayne Hennesey’s right hand post; and, later in the half following a cleared corner kick, Idrissa Gueye hit one from distance, which was well saved by Hennessey.

Otherwise the half was rather frustrating and the Eagles did have us on the back foot at times when poor defensive errors almost let them in. Cuco Martina hesitated with a chance to head a ball clear, and the crowd let him know it. He seemed a bit shaken by this and shortly afterwards missed an opportunity for volley the ball out and it instead dinked behind for a Crystal Palace corner, which thankfully came to nothing. Michael Keane, separately, gave the ball away horribly when trying to find Seamus Coleman but thankfully recovered to rob the ball back from Sorloth. In fairness to Keane he was looking for a ball out and there was nobody really showing for it.

Mangala, who wasn’t doing too terribly by this point, got injured in the Crystal Palace penalty area and couldn’t recover to make it through until half time. Obviously I’ve no knowledge of the severity of his injury but I found it strange that he couldn’t make it through a further two minutes to at least get until half time and see how it was. Seamus Coleman managed to get there. “That’s the last we’ll see of him!” joked Duncan as he made his way off the field. It meant that with two minutes stoppage time still to play, an unprepared Ashley WIlliams was thrown in there and with the defence all over the place Benteke nearly capitalised when his header drifted just wide. It was a good opportunity and we may well have seen a different outcome to the game had Crystal Palace got their noses in front at the break. Come half time it had been pretty dismal at that point.

At the break there was a nice tribute to John Motson who commentated on his last ever game at Goodison Park at this game. He’s been very much the voice of football for me over the years and I still enjoy listening to his insight on Radio Five Live from time to time. He’ll be missed.

Thankfully Everton were much improved after the break and hit the ground running straight away when Oumar Niasse made the most of a poor James Tomkins header and rescued possession, feeding the ball to Gylfi. Our Icelander didn’t hesitate to and hit well from distance, the ball deflecting on the way through past Hennessey. I’m interested to know how significant the deflection was as none of the camera angles really told you. The shot didn’t wrong-foot Hennessey and seemed to be finding its way into the corner. Regardless, we were now ahead. If you think back to the Benteke miss effectively just a minute or two earlier, it goes to show how much fine margins can decide games.

Only five minutes later we were two goals to the good. Great work by Gylfi Sigurdsson ultimately lead to Cuco Martina finding space in the penalty area and he had the calmness to look up and play a ball in to Niasse who headed in to put us 2-0 up. The players celebrated quite near us and I don’t know who was happeri Niasse with the goal, or Martina with the assist. It was nice to see all the players celebrate together and that’s two left footed assists in two games for our right footed fill-in left back.

Crystal Palace tried to retaliate and Jordan Pickford had to make a couple of good saves to keep it at 2-0. Christian Benteke also headed wide with another good opportunity when perhaps he should have done better. Crystal Place were made to rue these missed chances of course when Oumar Niasse’s deflected effort was brilliantly saved by Hennessey. The Welshman will have been gutted to see SIgurdsson anticipating well and sweep the ball back from the by-line for Tom Davies to hook into the goal. I was pleased for Tom as he has come under a little bit of flack this season and it was good to see smiles all round as the lads celebrated putting the game out of sight. Tom’s first goal of the season and his first since that wonder-goal against Manchester City about a year ago. I noticed amongst the celebrations, Oumar Niasse and Cuco Martina were provided with energy tablets to keep them going for the final 15-20 minutes.

Everton of course tried to make it difficult for themselves when frantic defending from a corner kick eventually resulted in Ashley Williams handling in the penalty area and there could be no complaints when Jonathan Moss pointed to the penalty spot. Crystal Palace seem to have had a penalty every week this season and have missed plenty of them, but Luka Milivojevic made no mistake this time, even though Jordan Pickford almost managed to keep it out.

I was very disappointed with the booing of Morgan Schneiderlin when he took to the field. Morgan has suffered a lot of criticism this season, some of it justified given poor performances, apparent issues in training and a careless red card in Lyon, but I can’t justify him being booed onto the pitch and feel if we get behind him we are surely more likely to get the player back that looked so impressive last season. Some of the booing was probably aimed at Sam’s substitution itself. We’d all rather have seen Cenk Tosun get some minutes, but it was injury related, and give we conceded shortly afterwards it was probably useful having a defensive midfielder out there.

Thankfully we managed to get through the remainder of the game safely enough and collect the three points. We played very well for about an hour of the game against Leicester City in our last home outing, and also did well in the second half of this one. These periods of play have to be the benchmark for the remainder of the season, home and away. We’ve two away games coming up now and if we win them both we will definitely move up one place minimum. It’s a great opportunity for the players to bring this home form on the road, though I’d be gobsmacked if they achieved it.

Player ratings

PIckford: He made more impressive saves and almost saved the penalty. He seems pretty comfortable handling crosses, so I don’t quite understand why he seldom tries to hold on to shots on goal and prefers to palm them out. As long as he saves them I suppose it doesn’t matter, maybe he’d rather not take the chance but it does seem strange to me. Regardless, he’s certainly one of the big positives for this season…one of few of course. 7

Martina: Recovered from a shaky first half and did OK in the second half, including an assist. 6

Keane: Generally did quite well. I still think he alongside Phjil Jagielka is our best partnership. 6

Mangala: I hope his injury isn’t too serious and that we get to have more of a look at him to see if it’s worth signing him permanently or not, as he wasn’t doing badly for most of the first half following a challenging opening 15 minutes. 6

Coleman: Was doing well, probably more so defensively than offensively before injury ruled him out at the break. Hopefully he can recover quickly and be back soon. I really want him firing on all cylinders come the games against Manchester City and Liverpool at the end of March and start of April. 7

Gueye: I think playing as a lone defensive midfielder suits him better than alongside one. He covers the ground brilliantly and keeps things ticking along. Unlucky not to score also. 7

Rooney: Some of his passing in the second half was outstanding. It looks like we’ve found his best position and with games now separating out a bit he should get a consistent run of games. 7

Sigurdsson: A goal, an assist and a big part played in our second goal - you can’t ask for more than that really. He did very well throughout and was always a threat. Before the game I was championing the idea of playing Dominic Calvert-Lewin on the left instead, but it’s nice to be wrong with that one. My man of the match. 8

Walcott: He must be a full-backs dream. He’s always good for a pass, always works hard to get back and defend and offers great pace in attacking areas. He seems a really good pro and it’s great to have brought in a player offering a genuine improvement on what we already had. 7

Davies: Was busy and productive throughout and it was nice to see him get on the scoresheet. Well done Tom. He’s remained positive on the pitch throughout what must have been a challenging season for a young player. 7

Niasse: Certainly should remain in the team for now, if only for his selfless running alone. That’s seven goals this season for Oumar. He’ll likely make double figures for the campaign and that would be some achievement given how he has been in and out of the team an awful lot and began the season not part of Ronald Koeman’s plans at all. 7

Substitutes:

Williams (for Mangala): After a tough couple of minutes upon his introduction, he had a decent second half, though like everyone, was all over the place for the corner kick that led to Crystal Palace’s penalty kick. 6
Kenny (for Coleman): Came on and coped admirably and contributed to our attacks well. He played a role in our third goal and was solid defensively also. Well done Jonjoe. 7
Schneiderlin (for Gueye): Filled a few defensive positions. 6

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Reader Comments (12)

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Andrew James
1 Posted 12/02/2018 at 16:26:46
Paul - I thought Tom had scored a couple more since the City goal. Didn't he score against Leicester around Easter?

Anyway, good review as ever.

I didn't think we were that bad in the first half. Palace defended well and the ball just didn't fall for us in the box with them getting in blocks and deflections to stifle us. We also were guilty of going long too often.

Second half - once we scored, the players seemed to relax and play the ball on the deck throughout. By the third they were clearly enjoying themselves which is good to see.

Bringing on MS seemed like a wasted sub to me. As you alluded to Niasse having energy pills, he was knackered and giving him support with another striker would have kept the ball up top and stretched them. Instead we invited them on a bit but thankfully some sneaky game management with set pieces by Sigg and Rooney wound the clock down.

Steve Ferns
2 Posted 12/02/2018 at 16:41:30
Yes Andrew, it was Tom's third goal, not his second.
Terry White
3 Posted 12/02/2018 at 17:18:11
Andrew (#1), Gana was injured hence the need to bring Morgan on as his replacement rather than an alternative substitution which would have made most of the fans happier.
Si Cooper
4 Posted 12/02/2018 at 19:38:23
Terry, we all know Gana was injured. The question is was a like-or-like substitution necessary? Tom Davies could have assumed the defensive midfielder role instead, giving the manager the option of putting an attacker on. There was no explicit ‘need' to use Schneiderlin.
Dave Williams
5 Posted 12/02/2018 at 20:40:09
Just remember the Niasse substitution v West Ham chaps and how the midfield caved in and we lost. Priority had to be to secure the points- hopefully we will be safe in a few weeks and then we can give Tosun a try and see if he is up to it.

That said, we all wrote off Niasse for months til he started scoring for the Under-23s and he is a cult hero now who also scores and makes goals, so we need to give Tosun some time, I guess.

Andrew James
6 Posted 12/02/2018 at 20:42:29
Agreed but our manager will always consider being over defensive than defending from the front by changing the shape and having an "out ball", even for 10 minutes.

But he's learned what many fans think so we might not see Schneiderlin starting for a while.

Gaute Lie
7 Posted 12/02/2018 at 22:32:37
Paul,

I agree with most – except for your comments regarding Niasse "and began the season not part of Ronald Koeman's plans at all".

Koeman did not have a plan at all.

Jerome Shields
8 Posted 13/02/2018 at 10:51:33
I think your assessment is right. The worry is our defence that, when put under any pressure, looks vulnerable.

Playing higher up the pitch relieves this pressure at home, but when Big Sam gives his video talk on defensive tactics (no playing up the pitch and hoofball to the isolated forwards), before away games, pressure on our vulnerable defensive unit is assured with a performance to match your assessment.

Andrew James
9 Posted 13/02/2018 at 14:19:42
Gaute,

Agreed, he was desperately just rolling the dice with different line ups, back 4 one week, back 5 the next.

Unfortunately, we've witnessed similar behaviour from Allardyce.

Does this stem from an unbalanced squad or managers who aren't good enough? Or both?

John Keating
10 Posted 13/02/2018 at 20:58:06
Paul,

it's great we are looking up and not down. However, I hope we don't look any further upwards than 8th. I think if we go any higher we may get involved in the nightmare of the Europa League.

I think just for the foreseeable future we should just take the close season to take stock, get ourselves in order without the distraction of another European calamity, and concentrate on a good strong full uninterrupted pre-season.

Mike Gaynes
11 Posted 13/02/2018 at 20:58:30
Paul, excellent writeup... thank you.

I will differ only on Mangala, who committed two catastrophic errors in those "challenging opening 15 minutes" and did nothing that I saw to redeem himself before he was injured. A 4 would have been generous in my eyes.

Andrew #1, your recollection is correct... Davies scored 32 seconds into the Leicester game last April. This was his first goal since then.

Liam Reilly
12 Posted 14/02/2018 at 15:30:09
Good summary Paul.

You're correct in your 'fine margins' assessment because if Benteke had been on form, we'd have been chasing the game which may well have had a different outcome.

The difference in quality between the top 6 clubs and the rest is becoming more and more apparent each week and we're fortunate that there are some really piss poor sides in the Premier League this season. To still be in the top half with our performances this season is scandalous and a Indictment against the sides below us.

Look at Tottenham at Juve last night and put Everton in that position at 2-0 down after 10 minutes. My money would've been on another good thrashing!

It's a huge gulf in class that's going to be mighty difficult to bridge.

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