Liverpool 0, Everton 0 (Echo)
Feb 5 2007 by Dominic King
LISTEN . . . Can you hear that? Somewhere across the other side of Stanley Park today, the sound of toys being thrown out of a pram are still clearly audible.
But while Rafael Benitez tries to regain his composure after stamping his feet like a spoilt toddler that naughty Everton did not lie down and let Liverpool win, do not expect to detect the noise of champagne corks still popping inside Goodison Park.
Of course, taking a point from the 205th round of English football's oldest local squabble was a superb achievement for David Moyes and his players. Yet it is not the be all and end all of a campaign that continues to grow in promise. Far from it.
If the Blues were to call time on the season now and feel they had done enough by winning once and drawing once with their local rivals, Benitez's ludicrous claim that Everton are a "small team" might have the slightest shred of credibility. Small team? How many clubs would pay double a king's ransom to have nine league titles, five FA cups and a European Cup Winners' Cup proudly displayed on their list of honours? Three-quarters of the Premiership, and many more besides. Anyone thinking that Everton will now put their feet up and relax will be as misguided as the tantrum-throwing Spaniard, who would do well to concentrate on the failings of his own players rather than pick holes in the tactics of the opposition. For Everton, this is where the season must really start to take shape. Had Liverpool run riot as they threatened to in the first 10 minutes, it might have been hard to bounce back from a demoralising defeat soon after a calamitous exit from the FA Cup. Now, surely, Everton must have the confidence and belief to build on a display that was crammed with spirit and tenacity by mounting a sustained challenge on the top six. A place in next year's UEFA Cup is certainly attainable for this group. Some may quibble that Moyes lacks strength in depth, meaning Everton will be undone by a shortage of bodies on the run-in. But, for the first time all year, the squad is nearly at full strength - only James McFadden is significantly injured. Added to that, there is a determination in the ranks to ensure the platform they have given themselves is not wasted. After all, what would be the use of holding Liverpool if they fail to follow up against Blackburn Rovers next Saturday? Last year, Everton's ambitions unravelled in spectacular fashion when they lost at Anfield on March 25 and won only one of their final seven games, while four matches passed without a victory following September's drubbing at Goodison Park. Take a look at the fixtures on the horizon now and the Toffees could not wish for a better opportunity to press on. Blackburn, Watford and Sheffield United are on the agenda - games where maximum points must be the only thing on the agenda. Moyes must know, though, his squad could not be in much better heart. Once they had weathered the early storm, the defence only had to deal with a succession of balls hoisted to the ineffective Peter Crouch. So, for a defender with more than a decade of experience in the top flight under his belt, this played right into the hands of the outstanding Alan Stubbs, who marshalled Everton's rearguard with tremendous authority. Not for the first time since returning 'home' last January, this teak-tough son of Kirkby didn't put a foot wrong. Every challenge was made with precision timing, no passes were wasted and he was never threatened by Craig Bellamy's searing pace. Alongside him, it was no surprise to see Joseph Yobo enjoy his best performance of the season. When he has an experienced head alongside him, he exudes class and moves effortlessly through the gears. This led to Bellamy's impact being negligible. Then there was Joleon Lescott. It is difficult to keep finding new ways of praising this 24-year-old, so perhaps the highest endorsement he can be given is that he will fulfil David Weir's claim of becoming an Everton great if he maintains this progress. Whether asked to play in the centre or at left-back, it doesn't make the slightest difference to Lescott. Jermaine Pennant was the latest right winger to find the door to opportunities down this flank slammed shut. A word, too, for Tony Hibbert and Tim Howard, both of whom played their parts. Hibbert's display, in particular,was all the moremeritorious considering it was his first taste of top flight combat in 16weeks. With so many playing so well, it should come as no surprise that Everton have the fifth best defensive record - they have conceded just 23 in 25 matches - in the Premiership. Howard, meanwhile, has kept five clean sheets in his last seven matches.
Don't be fooled, however, into thinking this was simply a rearguard action.
It was to be expected that Liverpool would have more possession, but they hardly did much with it thanks to the breathless efforts of the midfield. Everton, on the other hand, had the best chance of the game - if only Andrew Johnson had managed a session in front of goal at Bellefield in the run-up to the game, while they could have been two up in the first half had Leon Osman and Hibbert not directed excellent openings straight at Pepe Reina. The foundations are in place to see Everton become an established member of the top six once again, as few could dispute there is an outstanding spine to the team or disagree with Moyes' statement that he has "four, five, six players" who would not look out of place in the top four sides.
With the right investment in personnel over the summer,the next stepwill be so much easier to take and ensure the days of shuffling around in mid-table are banished
Now, if DIC are looking for a club with a proud history and potential in which to invest ...
LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Agger, Riise; Pennant, Alonso, Gerrard, Kuyt; Bellamy (Fowler 85), Crouch. Subs: Dudek, Hyypia, Zenden, Gonzalez.
EVERTON (4-4-1-1): Howard; Hibbert, Stubbs, Yobo, Lescott; Arteta, Neville, Carsley, Osman; Cahill; Johnson (Anichebe 80). Subs: Wright, Naysmith, Fernandes, Beattie.
BOOKINGS: Stubbs, Neville (fouls), Arteta (time-wasting).
REFEREE: Alan Wiley.
Everton 1, Blackburn 0 (Echo)
Feb 12 2007 by Dominic King
A MASSIVE summer looms for the ‘small’ club.
With the dust having finally settled following the furore of Rafael Benitez’s churlish Merseyside derby comments, Everton ensured all post-match chatter this weekend was happily centred on their merits as genuine European contenders. Having brushed Blackburn Rovers aside, the Blues continue to occupy eighth place in the Premiership and remain well poised to mount a telling challenge to qualify for the UEFA Cup, now that the top six is tantalisingly within grasp. Judging on the evidence of their fluent opening 45 minutes against Blackburn, when Andrew Johnson fired Everton into a lead they never really looked likely to relinquish, it seems there is ample quality at Goodison Park to achieve that objective. With each game they play, David Moyes’ side are looking more and more confident and have emerged from an autumnal blip in style. Should the form that has seen them keep six clean sheets in eight matches remain, Reading and Portsmouth will be overhauled. But what then? As he approaches the fifth anniversary of his appointment, it has taken Moyes time to stabilise things on the pitch, but at last has the foundations of a team capable of keeping Everton were they should be – among the Premiership’s leading lights.
Surely, then, summer must be the time when a couple of brave, bold additions to the squad are made? The manager and the board have cut their cloth accordingly in recent years, but with a new television deal about to kick in, they must be ready to invest.
Of course, that is easier said than done. Who, though, would argue that the likely identity of Everton’s first three signings when the transfer window re-opens will be those who played prominent parts in this victory over a well-organised, hard-working Blackburn team? It has been said before and doubtless it will be said again before May 13, yet the fact needs re-emphasising. Tim Howard has enjoyed a terrific spell between the posts since joining on loan from Manchester United and was exemplary against Blackburn. Though he never had a great deal to do, thanks largely to the efforts of the imperious Alan Stubbs and Joseph Yobo, when he was called upon, not once did Howard look like conceding. His display was capped by two outstanding saves either side of the break. One acrobatic block from Zurab Khizanishvili’s dipping volley on the stroke of half-time ensured Everton’s profligacy was not punished, while he surpassed that with a fingertip save from Paul Gallagher just after the re-start.
When you consider that Howard’s body clock was completely askew – he only arrived back in England on Friday after flying to Mexico for a friendly with the United States – his efforts were all the more impressive. As Sir Alex Ferguson already has Edwin van der Sar and Tomasz Kuszczak at Old Trafford and England international Ben Foster set to return from a loan spell with Watford at the end of the campaign, chances for Howard down the M62 would seem limited. Howard, on the other hand, is enjoying life on Merseyside and it is no coincidence that the Blues have the fifth best defensive record in the league. Nothing has been said so far on what the future holds, but it would be madness to let him slip through the net. “Tim had a few things to deal with and made a great save from Gallagher,” Moyes noted. “He’s playing behind a defence that has kept a few clean sheets and you have to give them all credit.”
The beauty of loan signings is that if things don’t work out as all parties had hoped, once the deal is complete, the parting of ways is easy. Should they do well, however, pressure from supporters intensifies for the contract to be made permanent.
Such a scenario could easily happen with Manuel Fernandes. While he did not feature as prominently as was hoped in the second period, his first 45 minutes in Everton colours were crammed with promise. Energetic, technically gifted and prepared to put a foot in, what the young Portuguese lacks with inches he more than makes up for with heart and quality. With a bit of luck, he could well have celebrated his debut with a couple of goals. Fernandes may have arrived at Goodison as something of an unknown, but in his native country he is bracketed alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma, while Jose Mourinho has compared him to his midfield general Claude Makelele. Figures of between £10m and £12m have been quoted for what it would take to prise him away from Benfica but, if he impresses in the remaining 12 games, would it be really so much of a gamble on an outrageously talented 21-year-old? “When he played well we were at our best,” Moyes agreed. “Manuel was a bit unlucky himself and maybe with a bit more match practice and match fitness he might have done more in the second half.” The third ‘signing’ that all supporters will be hoping for is Mikel Arteta to put pen-to-paper on a new deal. Volumes have already been written on his talent and if he is to keep performing at such a high level, they will be added to ten-fold. At times, Blackburn found him completely unplayable and how the diligent Johnson failed to celebrate his 26th birthday with a second goal after Arteta had bamboozled a posse of defenders on 52 minutes, only he will know. No matter. One goal was all it required to keep the push for sixth spot firmly on course and while there are sure to be many more twists and turns before the end of the season, Everton are starting to look well placed.Should they achieve that target, though, only then will the hard work really begin.
EVERTON (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Stubbs, Yobo, Lescott; Arteta, Carsley, Fernandes, van der Meyde (Beattie 55); Cahill; Johnson. Subs: Wright, Naysmith, de Silva, Vaughan.
BOOKINGS: Cahill and Fernandes (both fouls).
BLACKBURN ROVERS (4-4-1-1): Friedel; Khizanishvili (Todd 83), Samba, Nelsen, Berner; Emerton, Dunn (Roberts 15), Tugay, Gallagher (Jeffers 66); Bentley; McCarthy. Subs: Brown, Henchoz.
BOOKING: Todd (foul).
REFEREE: Rob Styles (Hampshire).
NEXT GAME: Everton v Spurs, Barclays Premiership, Wednesday, February 21 (8pm)
Sheff United Res 2, Everton Res 1
Feb 14 2007 Liverpool Daily Post
EVERTON RESERVES went down to a late goal against Sheffield United at Saltergate as the visitors included a couple of familiar faces in their line up.
Former Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard and Chinese midfielder Li Tie were on duty for the home side while Everton played Anderson De Silva along with Gary Naysmith and Alessandro Pistone at the back. De Silva started lively and saw a shot go just wide in the early exchanges, James Vaughan too was busy keeping Gerrard alert in the home goal. Ahmed Fahti tested Iain Turner and Luton Shelton also went close.
Everton started the second half well but they found themselves a goal behind after first Christian Nade had hit a post and then Dean Oliver finished inside the box to put the home side in front. Substitute Kieran Agard combined with John Paul Kissock to allow Victor Anichebe to finish and put Everton level on 78 minutes but just when it looked as though they would earn a point Nicky Law sent in a corner and Lee Bromby cracked home a goal worthy of winning any match.
SHEFF UTD: Gerrard, Bromby, Sommeil,Fahti, Morgan, Davis, Li Tie (Gayaki 58), Law, Nade (Binnion 90), Shelton (Oliver 46), Donnely. Subs: Roma, Annerson
EVERTON RES: Turner, Pistone, Naysmith, Irving, Dennehy, Molynuex, Phelan, De Silva, Kissock, Anichebe, Vaughan (Agard 78). Subs: Jones, Densmore, Downes, Elder
Everton 1, Tottenham 2 (Echo)
Feb 22 2007 by Dominic King
HOW bitter is the irony that a game officiated by a man named Rennie is followed by everyone connected with Everton suffering from indigestion? But, as the playing and coaching staff try to banish the memory of a goal from Jermaine Jenas which has left them feeling sick to the stomach, it seems the majority of supporters have found a remedy to their ills – sack the manager. At this point, it might be worth taking note of a few key snippets of information Before last night’s contest at Goodison against Tottenham, Everton had lost only once in eight league games and kept five clean sheets in the process. Occupying eighth spot in the table, Everton had the best goals against column outside the much-vaunted top four and have managed to hang in contention for a European spot through the winter, despite having to contend with a terrible injury list. Things could and should have been better – some results from earlier in the season still exasperate – but, in the main, things have not been too bad. Certainly, a good half-a-dozen of their Premiership rivals would be happy to swop positions with Everton. So, what happened to provoke the reaction that greeted defeat at the hands of Tottenham? Judging by the boos and abuse hurled at David Moyes as he made his way down the tunnel, it was as if his team were clinging on grimly to preserve their lives. That is not the case. Everton still have 33 more points to play for and, once the squad is back to full strength, are more than capable of securing a UEFA Cup spot in May. Yet it would seem that Moyes’ decision to take the midfielder, Manuel Fernandes off, and replace him with Tony Hibbert, a right-back, in the dying minutes of a game hanging in the balance at 1-1 is the straw that has broken the camel’s back for many. Negative. Outrageous. Disgraceful. Lacking ambition. Losing the plot. They are all arguments that the dissenting voices have formed and they intend to use it as a stick with which to beat Moyes. Why did he not put James Vaughan on earlier? they cry. There has been an undercurrent flowing around for a few months – even when results have been good – that suggested some groups of fans are far from happy and events against Tottenham finally gave them chance to vehemently voice their displeasure. Football is a game of opinions – that is what makes it such a magnificent spectacle – but when the dust settles on this result and the anger subsides, it would be worth asking the following: Is getting shut of David Moyes honestly the right thing to do? The answer to that must emphatically be ‘no’. How can a man who was championed for masterminding such a wonderful performance at Anfield just over a fortnight ago all of a sudden find himself as Public Enemy Number One? Ridiculous. How can a man who has guided Everton to their highest league position in two decades and exorcised the spectre of relegation that used to perennially hang over this famous old club now be cast as some kind of buffoon? Crazy. Yes, it was disappointing that Vaughan was not pitched into battle for 25 minutes to give Tottenham something to think about. But those who left the ground thinking Everton would have won had he been introduced are letting emotion cloud their judgement. Contrary to popular belief, Everton did not play well. They may have had a lot of possession in the second half but apart from two snatched chances from Leon Osman, there was no goal threat. For much part, only one team mattered and they wore white. Also, before Moyes made that fateful change, Tottenham should have scored twice in the space of 60 seconds, but Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane wasted glorious chances. These incidents certainly set the alarm bells ringing in the home dug-out. “I didn’t want to lose the game and Manuel Fernandes was very tired towards the end so we made a simple change, pushing Phil Neville into midfield,” Moyes explained. “A draw wouldn’t have been the worst result. I am paid to make decisions and it didn’t work out as well as I had wanted it to.” Moyes is often accused of being too negative and, heaven knows, setting your stall out for a draw at home is not the best way to silence the critics. But on this occasion, did he really have any choice?
Consider the players who were unavailable – the absence of Tim Cahill and Andrew Johnson is like Chelsea losing Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, while other injuries meant Moyes was down to 16 first team professionals. Having trailed to a superbly taken Berbatov goal, Aaron Lennon capitalising on a mistake by Osman to set up the Bulgarian after he sped away from Joleon Lescott, Everton battled hard to restore parity thanks to Mikel Arteta‘s superb free-kick. The system Moyes started with, nonetheless, did not work early on and it was undeniably the right thing to replace the ineffective Victor Anichebe with Gary Naysmith at the break. It was no coincidence the shape was better from that point. Such a shame, then, about the stamina, hence the reason Moyes tried to stiffen things in the final few moments. Unfortunately, that plan failed and for an irate few, that was enough to start thinking Everton should be filing for divorce. That, though, would be lunacy. Moyes is not faultless. Who is? But he is a first rate coach, his tactics are usually spot on and, above all, he is desperate to take the Blues back into the big time. Now, surely, isn’t that what every Evertonian wants?
EVERTON (4-4-2): Howard; Neville, Stubbs, Yobo, Lescott; Arteta, Carsley, Fernandes (Hibbert 86), Osman; Anichebe (Naysmith 46, Vaughan 90), Beattie.
TOTTENHAM (4-4-2): Robinson; Chimbonda, Dawson, Gardner, Young-Pyo; Lennon (Malbranque 80), Zokora, Jenas, Tainio; Berbatov, Keane.
GOALS: Berbatov (35), Arteta (42), Jenas (89).
BOOKINGS: Anichebe (13), Neville (16).
REFEREE: U Rennie (Sheffield)
Watford 0, Everton 3 (Echo)
Feb 26 207 by Dominic King
PILLORIED on Wednesday, plaudits on Saturday – four days in Everton’s season perfectly capture the fickle nature of Premiership football. With no sign of the protest that some had apparently planned against the board, Everton could not have wished for a more straightforward assignment to quell any fears that their season was in danger of falling apart at Watford. Defeat against Tottenham had caused stress levels to increase among some groups and another setback at Vicarage Road would have been intolerable. Happily, though, bouquets, rather than brickbats, were the only things thrown at the players here. Crazy. Perhaps events the other side of Stanley Park contributed to the volatile reaction the evening Tottenham triumphed at Goodison and it’s quite possible that a routine dismissal of the Premiership’s worst side will not satisfy certain dissenting voices. It is, however, worth re-emphasising a couple of key facts. Everton have only lost two of their last 10 Premiership matches, are still firmly in the race for Europe and – when all are fit – have a powerful starting line-up.
The picture is not as bleak as some paint. Barracked for being too negative last week, few could argue that David Moyes shed his cloak of caution here – all his most creative, attack-minded players were given the nod – and that approach ensured it was generally plain sailing. Admittedly the standards of opposition were at differing ends of the spectrum – Everton will not be returning to Watford’s antiquated, ramshackle home next season – but the presence of Andrew Johnson and Tim Cahill vastly improved the goal threat. Add in the fact that Manuel Fernandes and Mikel Arteta were given licence to thrill, while James Beattie battered Watford’s central defenders into submission, it all contributed to helping the Toffees register their biggest away win in seven years. Yes, it really is that long. The last occasion Everton triumphed by three clear goals on their travels in the Premiership was against Wimbledon in February 2000. In reality, this should have produced an even more emphatic scoreline.
If they were a little anxious in the early stages – the passing was too hurried and too many players tried to do too much – a double salvo in the space of 66 seconds eased the panic on the pitch and in the stands. Having threatened to poke their noses in front when a flowing move that involved Phil Neville, Arteta and Cahill resulted in Richard Lee tipping a bullet header from Johnson over the bar, they did just that when Manuel Fernandes pounced. Arteta – operating on a level that many other players can only dream of – created space to shoot and with Lee spilling his effort, Fernandes just edged out Johnson in the race to fire the Blues in front. Despite the fact that he has not had long to settle and he is still striving to obtain peak condition, this Portuguese Man O’ War has made a deeply impressive start to life in a Royal Blue shirt. No wonder so many fingers are crossed he will stay beyond May. Tough in the tackle, precise with his passing, it is becoming all the more apparent why Fernandes played such a pivotal role in helping Benfica win Portugal’s Superliga for the first time in more than a decade while still a teenager. Celebrations from that effort had barely died down when Johnson was sent sprawling by Jay Demerit and Adrian Mariappa. The England international emphatically drilled in from 12 yards after referee Lee Mason had pointed to the spot. There were suggestions that Johnson – who was terrific throughout – had gone to ground too easily and television replays proved inconclusive as to how much contact had been made but if this was a generous award, so what?
Johnson has been denied at least seven clear penalties this season and if officials are awarding spot-kicks for intent, Demerit and Mariappa can have no complaints as they had tried for 20 yards to chop him down. The second half would have been rendered meaningless had Beattie not ballooned a glorious opportunity to score from six yards over the bar following some first-rate play by Johnson and, for that reason, this performance cannot be given top marks. For 20 minutes after the re-start, Everton were sloppy and substitute Tamas Priskin was a particular nuisance; Tim Howard raged at his defenders after the Hungarian had gone worryingly close with a thumping drive, then a header. No matter. Once that storm had been weathered, Watford were always being held at arm’s length and it was no surprise when Leon Osman gloriously put a seal on the victory with a thumping left-foot drive after fine work by Beattie.
A word on him. Though he missed that wonderful opportunity to score a first goal in 11 months from open play, his work-rate and commitment were first class and anyone doubting his commitment only needed to see his reaction when Osman netted.
He should get an extended run in the starting line-up now and perhaps the attacking partnership that so many were excited by at the start of the campaign may yet blossom when it is needed most. Nearly £15m was lavished to pair Johnson and Beattie yet Watford was only the ninth time they have started a game together. Everton’s record in that period? Five wins, two draws and two defeats. Should that sequence be replicated between now and May 13, that would give Moyes and his squad every chance of securing the place in Europe everyone craves so badly. With that in mind, one wonders what all the fuss was about. Time to move on.
WATFORD: Lee, Mariappa, DeMerit, Mackay (Doyley 46), Stewart, Smith, Francis, Mahon, Bouazza (McNamee 78), Henderson (Priskin 46), Kabba. Subs: Loach, Williams.
BOOKINGS: DeMerit, Smith.
EVERTON: Howard, Neville, Yobo, Lescott, Naysmith, Fernandes (Osman 81), Carsley, Cahill, Arteta, Johnson (Vaughan 77), Beattie. Subs: Wright, Hibbert, Anichebe.
REFEREE: Lee Mason (Lancashire).