Sometimes you just have to acknowledge you are beaten by a better team.

Due to the BBC weather forecast doom-mongering, I played it safe and caught an earlier than planned train from Euston. I didn’t have to worry. A bit windy and the rain starting to come down, but I don’t understand why we suddenly think it is a shock being a group of islands facing the Atlantic Ocean that it can get a bit wet, cold and windy in winter. I am convinced that since the forecasters started naming storms, we are whipped into an Armageddon-type panic.

Anyway, I arrived at Lime Street. As I had time to kill, I decided to have a stroll around the City Centre. If I thought the weather in London was bad, the “fresh” breeze coming off the Mersey and temperature was a bit cutting. When will I learn and wear a coat when I go to the match?

On to the Saddle Inn to meet with Pete and friends. Travesty. Their usual spec had been taken, which confused me until I looked left and spotted them in the adjacent corner. They went to make a claim when “their” spot emptied, only to be gazumped by a few punters who moved swiftly from the bar to put their flag in the sand. Out-manoeuvred.

Onto The Brick to meet with two former Army colleagues. I hadn’t seen them in years and met with their grandchildren. Am I now at the stage of life where friends and peers have grandchildren? We chatted on the street before they headed to the ground.

I caught up with Rob and the gang inside the establishment before making the short walk to the ground ourselves. She might be an antique of football stadiums, but there is something special about looking up at the Main Stand from the outside on a winter evening match when she is lit up in Royal Blue.

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I met outside the turnstile with Graham. In we went. Just in time as they say, Spirit of the Blues ringing out as we made our way up and for once, I actually made Z Cars. Thank you, John and Graham, as always and the lady I sit next to was entertaining as always! I almost wish she could have but I am also glad she couldn’t get near the officials or Jack Grealish!

We played well in the first half without looking spectacular, and as is standard for this team, we didn’t have much possession. But the difference with this Everton side is that when we go forward, we do it with purpose and intent and look dangerous. You always think something can happen. And it did as we went one up. Dare we believe? Too right.

I was concerned that Patterson was continuously being targeted and looked exposed. But it seemed like the tactic was to stay compact and go out to counter the wide threat when necessary, not commit too early. Having played and coached, I understand that. The alternative is to leave gaping holes in the middle. That said, City are very good at stretching the pitch and creating space. They are masters of playing a patient game. 

Tarkowski was leading as it started to become Alamo-type stuff. Mykolenko was solid. Beto, still only 25, gives opposition defenders something to think about as John Stones found out, not that I condone a player getting injured. It was nice to see him get a decent reception as he left the pitch. Certainly from where I was sat.

We go in at half-time leading. This can happen and we can get something. Previous anxiety was replaced with tentative optimism on the concourse. Then City come out and show their quality, moving through the gears. For me, they remain the best footballing team in the league.

We are definitely missing Doucoure and Gueye.  No guarantees in the unpredictable game that is football but had they both been on the pitch last night, it could have been a different game and outcome.  That aside, we were a Calvert-Lewin sitter and a Harrison going close chance away. I was convinced Dominic had scored and leapt out of my seat. It was in surely? Alas no. That’s how close we were from getting something. Ifs, buts and maybes. I’ll come to Branthwaite shortly. Onana was a pedestrian in the second half.

I was torn on our man of the match. I don’t want to be too harsh on Pickford and missed whatever it was he done as I’d momentarily turned to the person next to me to comment on something else. Next thing, I look up and the ball is curling into the net. But he made about 4 great saves as I counted that kept us in it. 

The accolade must go to young Branthwaite. He oozes class, defensive anticipation and composure on the ball. He doesn’t panic. I don’t know if it is my paranoia, but looking down from the Main Stand, I felt that I could almost sense Guardiola watching him and now Stones is likely to be out. Anyway, let’s not go there for now. I am not sure what went on between Patterson and Grealish at the end. A bit of handbags? I don’t know what it was about. 

Their supporters were loud but irritated me. I understand a bit of banter but that constant chant of “Cheating bastards, you know what you are” got a bit tiresome. Try your 115 alleged offences versus one “crime” of an overspend equating to the price of a decent fullback. I suppose we’ll have to get used to it. It actually put me off going to the Arkles as I’ve been there on a few occasions when we’ve played City and they can be a pretty sinister bunch. Ironic given there were probably at least 100 of them in a now Liverpool FC pub.

Although as I watched, it did dawn on me that last season’s triple winners, who have equalled our 9 titles and are now world club champions, were minutes away from remaining in the 3rd tier of English football only in 1999. I hope we never get that arrogant when we start competing and winning trophies again. Anything is possible, even in the depths of despair.

Back to The Brick, but it was heaving and I didn’t want to risk missing the last coach. There was a private hire taxi on County Road, so I chanced it and asked if he could take me to Canning Place. By now, the weather was appalling and I was grateful when he agreed as his booking hadn’t showed, so he told me to get in. Then a young man approached, asking if we were going into town. Yes, jump in me and the driver responded.

I think I travel to watch Everton. He was over from Auckland, New Zealand. Probably not just for this match, but respect. I didn’t catch his name, but his family and he originate from Waterloo (the Crosby one) and moved to North Devon before he relocated to New Zealand. For those West Country Blues reading, he used to travel up on the coach for home games so was sympathetic on my impending overnight 6-hour coach trip.

The Evertonian taxi driver was very entertaining. We discussed Everton, global conflicts, a bit of politics, 777 Partners, takeovers and Bramley-Moore Dock, which we drove past. And more Everton. The young lad insisted on paying, so I thank him for that and wish him well on his next trip to see Everton, be that at Goodison or the new stadium.

The Everton Stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock looks magnificent. I’ve not been past there in a while. A few discussions throughout the evening with various people in different groups, I raised the statue dilemma. Because I remain torn, I’ll keep asking the question: Do we take Dixie and the Holy Trinity with us or leave them close to the sacred ground they graced? I really don’t know the answer.

Time for a statue to reflect the '80s team. It would be a difficult selection, but I’d go for four. Ratcliffe holding the FA Cup. Peter Reid carrying the league title around Goodison. Big Nev, although it was suggested that would require a lot bronze! We’d probably have to use an '80s picture when he was carrying less timber. Maybe that save at Sheffield Wednesday. Less symbolic than the one at Tottenham, but for me a better one. And then the one and only in the middle of them all. I don’t suppose we’d get away with his two-finger “salute” to the Kop.

On the takeover discussions, it was interesting hearing differing views. Many are nervous about 777 Partners, but I think generally we all agree that something has to happen. Whoever comes in needs to capitalise on the stadium, build the brand, and sort out our marketing, which has lagged behind for decades. That is being kind. Let’s call it what it is: atrocious in comparison to our then competitors.

A long coach trip home, leaving Liverpool just before midnight. I was expecting to have to go in central London and make my way back out, but woke up to an unexpected stop at Heathrow, which is not far from where I live. Also convenient as there is local bus, which ironically goes through the Stockley Park commercial park. Home by 6:30 am and straight out with the boy dog for therapy and fresh air.

Interesting post-match interviews from Dyche and Pep. Different themes, but both in agreement about the rules being wrong.  Hoddle was vocal, but the most interesting one I read this morning was from Roberto Martinez. Not a quote but suggesting that any football person could see that wasn’t a penalty. I was sat there hoping we could clear the corner that had been given. Next thing I know, after much shouting in the ear of the official, it’s a penalty. 

Football people. Well said, Roberto. That’s the issue. The standard of officials and ridiculous rules. Forget the technology. His performance wasn’t great, but how Onana is supposed to get out of the way of a ball kicked at him at pace from less than a metre away is questionable at best. And although not relevant to this match, add the ridiculous current situation with the offside rule. Let’s hope this gets reviewed. But let’s not hold our breath.

Anyway, Wolves next and then on to Crystal Palace for the FA Cup. There are still a lot of points to play for. And that’s before the appeal. I can see Fulham, Brentford and Palace getting pulled in. Despite their good result against Newcastle, Forest will be in the mix. Brentford in particular seem to be in freefall right now.

So, a disappointing result, as is any defeat, but we gave it a go. We march on and focus on our own results. That one doesn’t define our season. Still a lot to be positive about. We are far from down and out.

Reader Comments (19)

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Peter Mills
1 Posted 28/12/2023 at 19:47:35
Danny, I also sensed Guardiola would have been watching Branthwaite very carefully.

In Nathan Aké and John Stones, he bought 2 defenders who were comfortable on the ball but suffered from some defensive frailties. He has made them better defenders.

He and his team would have less work to do on Branthwaite, who has pretty much got the lot. I'm sure they will be very interested in him, unfortunately.

Rob Jones
2 Posted 28/12/2023 at 19:51:39
Good write-up as always, Danny.

As for an interest in Jarrad, that's fairly inevitable.

Two things in our favour – the length of his contract, and the fact that Jarrad seems a very cool character, with good people around him, if all I've read on here is true.

If the cheating bastards want him, they can pay through the nose. Otherwise, they can carry on relying on Rodri getting nothing for assaults, and the fact their players referee their matches. Because it's certainly isn't PGMOL, from what I saw last night.

Andy McNabb
3 Posted 28/12/2023 at 21:26:00
Thanks again, Danny. Always enjoy your references to the whole match day experience. The weather, journey, meeting other supporters etc.

When we have a City player juggling with the ball at Goodson the other year and nothing is given, the handball situation needs to be sorted, as it's a farce.

We also need to sort the surrounding of the referee by a posse of players demanding a result to go their way. I thought they were clamping down on that this season? Oh sorry, we're talking about Man City, aren't we? Silly me …

Ant Purcell
4 Posted 29/12/2023 at 00:07:17
Danny O'Neill,

Brilliant, brilliant report — I always read yours, my friend.

I went to see the new stadium today, it took my breath away… it looks something else.

Dave Williams
5 Posted 29/12/2023 at 09:01:07
Nice one, Danny, and for heaven's sake, take your coat next time!!!
Tony Abrahams
6 Posted 29/12/2023 at 10:16:10
You are definitely one of those football people, Danny.

I had to give my Man of the Match to James Garner simply because the player you gave it to had some help whereas our young midfielder was trying to fight City's excellent midfield without any real help from his midfield partner.

Danny O’Neill
7 Posted 29/12/2023 at 13:40:28
Good call, Tony.

Branthwaite had Tarkowski. Garner, 22 years old, was largely on his own against rather best side and midfield in the league.

Dave Williams
9 Posted 29/12/2023 at 19:09:28
I agree, Tony. Jarrad has been getting all of the plaudits whilst Garner is quietly working his socks off with no little skill too!

I have opined before that he reminds me of Paul Bracewell in his style of play and Brace too was a hugely underrated player by everyone apart from his own teammates.

If Onana is being talked of in terms of £60M or more, then Garner must be similar?

Derek Thomas
10 Posted 29/12/2023 at 21:23:03
Anybody whose footballing knowledge starts and ends at your local street or school playground level knows 'Ball to Hand' from Hand Ball. If I'm not mistaken, it used to be enshrined in the rules – is it still?

A very cursory check seems to show a whole mish-mash of self-contradictory rules and examples.

And this...

Is there a ball-to-hand rule?

'The way the law is currently written, there is no ball-to-hand rule.

This often goes hand-in-hand with intent, as the idea of "ball to hand" being unavoidable for a defensive player lends itself to a lack of intent to handle the ball.

As the law is written, a defensive player assumes the risk of their arm's unnatural position, and therefore ball to hand does not apply. A defensive player's risk assumption predisposes him to the ball potentially being kicked into his arm without time to react, and therefore it would be a penalised offence regardless of their ability or inability to react in time.'

Total dog's breakfast of an explanation.

Thus, referees and VARs are free to take what suits them as suits them, from the above mish-mash - and boy do they ever.

Tony Abrahams
11 Posted 29/12/2023 at 22:10:13
Thank you, Derek. Defenders putting their arms behind their backs is very unnatural imo, and defenders looking to charge down the shot, like Onana did the other night, are doing something very natural.

The laws have got everyone kidded and, in the modern game, it is seemingly natural to give penalties for a lot of handballs, at the discretion of the referees and VARs, of course.

I remember people used to talk about skill, but now it's mostly just all about listening to ex-referees talking about controversy.

Brendan McLaughlin
12 Posted 29/12/2023 at 22:35:42
Tony #11

I think there's a certain logic.

If a player makes a reckless tackle, even if he gets it spot on, he's booked.

If a defender throws himself into a last-ditch tackle with absolutelty no consideration where his arms are... why should the handball be denied?

Michael Kenrick
13 Posted 30/12/2023 at 10:13:00
Derek @10, you call it a mish-mash but to me, the text you quote is perfectly clear and provides the exact reason why Onana's intervention was correctly deemed a penalty under the current rules.

I don't agree with the rule, and would love to wind the clock back to some former era when things were different and ball-to-hand was actually relevant to the decision-making process. But sadly it just ain't so in the here and now.

Dave Williams
14 Posted 30/12/2023 at 10:31:55
Michael is right- read the above and it has to be a penalty.
That said the inconsistency amongst qualified and professional referees is appalling.
Tony Abrahams
15 Posted 30/12/2023 at 11:00:16
So when you played football Brendan, and threw yourself towards the ball to try and block a shot you used to consider where your arms were? And I honestly don’t know how anyone can get a reckless tackle spot on.

Interesting to see what you write Brendan, because I’m sure it’ll definitely open up another debate because if a player is making a reckless tackle (I’m sure we all have different opinions of what is reckless) and gets it spot on - then this sounds like he’s succeeded in really hurting his opponent to me, even though he’s probably got more chance of injuring himself?

Two instances came into my head this morning when I was thinking about a game that is getting tampered with beyond recognition whilst thinking about the headline I read where Dermot Gallagher said Onana’s was a penalty in this modern game of football.

Anthony Gordon at Anfield, goes past the last defender, who is possibly surprised by the kid’s sharpness and takes him out - No penalty. Michael Keane running towards the bye-line at Anfield this season, cross strikes his arm - penalty.

This is modern day football, and I think it’s got a lot of modern day fans, up and down the country, very confused, very frustrated and very angry, whilst leaving many with feelings that the game might even be corrupt.

I think there is also a certain logic to this Brendan, and it’s not sitting pretty with me mate, because it’s definitely starting to ruin the enjoyment I have always gained from watching the game of football.

I think you are correct when you state why it was a penalty the other night Michael, but I think what Derek says is also 100% correct, because of the very inconsistent nature of what is supposedly the letter of the law?

Dave Abrahams
16 Posted 30/12/2023 at 12:05:02
Nice post, Danny, and no matter what the result is, you always have a very interesting day, I hope you have another interesting day at Wolves, Danny ,and a win to leave you with a happy journey home.

Brendan (12),

Do you think referees use logic when making their decisions when they give or don't give penalties for handball, on the field or in the studio – and not just about Everton's games?

Brian Williams
17 Posted 30/12/2023 at 12:15:02
Nice one, Danny.

I just hope the panic merchants read your piece before coming on here post-match (should things not go well) trying their best to make everyone as miserable as they are.

We've had two seasons of very, very close calls but this season is only half-way done. Save your negativity and whinging and try a little positivity. Believe it or not, it actually helps!


Kevin Molloy
18 Posted 30/12/2023 at 12:52:47
We actually want Man City to be interested in Branthwaite; that way, we don't have any funny business over the fee.

It's Spurs we don't want to have a free run at him.

Paul Hewitt
19 Posted 30/12/2023 at 12:56:42
Why would he want to go Spurs?. He's destined for bigger than Spurs.
Brendan McLaughlin
20 Posted 30/12/2023 at 13:15:43
Dave #16,

Not quite sure I fully understand your question but referees apply the rules of the game to what they see playing out before them... so yes they use logic.

Didn't get the "and not just about Everton games" part.

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