Everton 3 Newcastle 0 (Echo)
Jan 1 2007 BY Dominic King, Liverpool Echo
THERE was an unmistakable glint in Bill Kenwright's eye when he was asked for his view on Everton's latest comfortable win. "I think we're nearly safe now," said the Goodison Park supremo before offering an impish wink that suggested he was far happier than he was prepared to let on. No wonder. His beloved club enter the New Year ready to shoot for the stars. Given the fortunes that will flood English football's top tier next season when the new television deal kicks in, it is hardly surprising the immediate aim of most managers and chairman is to ensure they retain their Premiership place. Safety, though, shouldn't even be entertained as Everton's sole goal between now and May. Rewind the clock 12 months and few would have disputed that was the overriding ambition as they started 2006 just outside the drop zone, but now things have changed. Handily positioned in seventh place and with confidence levels increasing by the week, there is no reason why Everton cannot mount a remorseless push for a European place between now and May. Newcastle United, admittedly, were poor and their brittle confidence was shattered when, trailing 1-0, Obafemi Martins nearly put a first half penalty in the upper tier of the Gwladys Street after Leon Osman had chopped down Kieron Dyer. But teams can only beat what is put in front of them and despite the fantasy conjured up by some Newcastle followers - one haggard individual was heard muttering "spawny Scousers" in the corridors of the Main Stand - Everton did so with the minimum of fuss. Having shown the strength of character to emerge from an autumnal blip with flying colours, the Blues have taken full advantage of a generous festive fixture list to grab on to the heels of the group that is attempting to cut away from the middle pack. Now is the time to push on, as the next month sees Everton face three more eminently winnable matches before playing host to Tottenham Hotspur on January 31 then facing Liverpool at Anfield. If a new face can be added in the mean time, all well and good.
Certainly, if any players are faced with a decision of joining Everton or Newcastle during the window - yes, you know who - the only thing they would need to look at is a video of this game to see which club is better placed to flourish.
With Mikel Arteta sublime once again, Joleon Lescott and Joseph Yobo immovable barriers in front of the increasingly outstanding Tim Howard, Everton also have a cutting edge now that was sorely missing during the most recent campaign.
Though Andrew Johnson suffered a frustrating afternoon, spurning a couple of chances before being substituted, that mattered little thanks to the efforts of Victor Anichebe and Phil Neville, who surprisingly popped up with a goal of the season contender. It would be easy to get carried away after 18-year-old Anichebe grabbed his first Premiership goals of the campaign, but David Moyes was understandably keen to voice a note of caution in the aftermath. There is little doubt that Anichebe has potential and has the physique to bustle up the most robust of defenders, yet he still has a lot to learn. Before grabbing his first of the afternoon, he wasted a glorious opportunity to play Andy van der Meyde in. "Victor's goals were both typical striker's goals, but I had to give him a rollicking at half-time because I didn't think he was doing enough," said Moyes, who handed Anichebe his first professional contract last May. "He is a young player and we hope that he will keep getting better. Victor's fortunate enough to be starting at a big club. "Now he needs to have the same attitude that Andy Johnson has, to play well in every game and work very hard for the team.
They're different types of players, but Victor can certainly learn from Andy's attitude to the game; his workrate, and what he puts in." Still, it is hard to quibble with what he has done so far and if he develops along the right lines, he will certainly be a useful asset for Everton in the coming years. After all, pilfering goals is an art form.
"I just swung a leg and lucky for me it went," was how Anichebe described the goal that broke the deadlock. "But they are the best ones for a striker to score. It was a poacher's finish, if you can call it that. I'm just delighted and it was all down to the team." No arguments there. Arteta may have orchestrated things in midfield, running rings around his black-and-white clad pursuers, but it is worth mentioning two unsung heroes, who rarely attract the limelight. Lee Carsley has played every game this season but even though he is creeping towards the veteran stage of his career, he showed the same kind of enthusiasm you would expect a fresh-faced novice to show on his debut.
Never wasting a pass or missing atackle, is it any coincidence that Everton look a much more robust side with him in the middle? Nuno Valente, meanwhile, was outstanding at left-back, covering acres and zipping plenty of dangerous crosses in.
His season has been punctuated by a number of niggling injuries, but it is clear to see when he is fit why he has a medal cabinet to rival the best in the business. He is a class act and his experience will be vital in the remainder of the campaign.
Onwards and upwards, then. Pick up another good result at Manchester City today and Moyes and his squad will be able to reflect on an excellent Christmas period - then dream of achieving something significant in 2007.
Man of the Match: MIKEL ARTETA
Had a hand in all three goals, oozed class and remains in prime form. Similar sentiments apply to Joleon Lescott, while Lee Carsley and Nuno Valente can be well satisfied with their efforts.
Manchester City 2 Everton 1 (Echo)
Jan 2 2007 by Dominic King, Liverpool Echo
EVERY picture tells a story. Paying little attention to the torrential rain that soaked him, David Moyes stood in his technical area, face contorted with a scowl and arms tightly folded. This, quite clearly, was not the way he envisaged bringing in the New Year. Some will say this was a bridge too far, that four games in nine days over the festive period proved to taxing on a small squad. Others will quibble that Everton – again – were denied two legitimate penalties. But whatever way you choose to dress losing to Manchester City, the conclusion can only be that Everton - for the first time since playing at Portsmouth on December 8 – were not at the races yesterday.
Lethargic for the majority of this dire affair, summoning up a late rally did not entitle the Blues to a share of the spoils. The damage had been done in a chaotic spell early in the second period and much of it was self-inflicted. How bitterly frustrating. From the great encouragement of performances at Reading and against Newcastle, from three consecutive clean sheets to this disappointment – few teams make you ride an emotional rollercoaster more than Everton. As they pore over the wreckage of their third defeat in four visits to City’s palatial home, the disappointments of the playing and coaching staff will be exacerbated the more it sinks in that this contest was there for the taking. Honest and hard working Manchester’s Blues might be, but it would take a generous stretch of the imagination to describe them as one of the remiership’s more formidable units. Even their manager Stuart Pearce appreciates their limits.
So despite them winning back-to-back games against Sheffield United and West Ham United, City were not looked upon as a home banker yesterday by any means and that shone through during a first half that bordered on woeful. It was during this periode that Everton could and should have turned the screw to keep the momentum ticking along nicely. With a bit more ambition and savvy, they could have wrapped things up before the break. Maddeningly, that never happened and for all the possession Everton enjoyed, Nicky Weaver in City’s goal never had a save to make – the closest he came to being troubled was when a Joseph Yobo header sailed wide after 11 minutes.
Had referee Uriah Rennie spotted Richard Dunne manhandle Andrew Johnson to the floor in the area shortly after, it might have been different but there is not much point sounding like a broken record and going over old ground. He is never going to get a penalty this season as everyone has given up appealing for them. Everton did appeal with justification for another in the second half, when Leon Osman was chopped down by Sylvain Distin, but again were denied. “There is no doubt that Distin doesn’t get his foot to the ball and so in my mind that’s a penalty-kick,” Moyes complained. “At worst it should have been a corner. “The linesman is standing 15 yards away but he doesn’t give anything. I don’t like criticising but when it’s like that we have to accept it. But we are getting pretty fed up with it now.” To identify those decisions as being the moments when the game slipped from Everton’s grasp, however, would be wrong. With Mikel Arteta surprisingly out of sorts, the orchestra was missing its conductor and much to the manager’s chagrin few wanted to pick up the baton.
How they were made to pay. The introduction of Georgios Samaras – Pearce candidly admitted afterwards he is just as likely to trip over his own feet than hoodwink a defender – should not have been the turning point but it was. Within four minutes of the restart and Samaras having replaced the anonymous Bernado Corradi, Everton had conceded a soft goal to the Greek international and found themselves on the back foot, at a time when they should have been pressing on to take matters by the scruff of the neck. “We had no problems in the first half apart one free-kick,” said a clearly exasperated Moyes. “But we came out in the second half and gave them the lead. Even at 1-0 I still felt we could score but we made it difficult by giving a second one away.” If the first goal was bad, the second was even worse. Tim Howard has been outstanding this season but erred seriously for the first time here, charging out of his goal to flatten Darius Vassell, as the striker was being challenged by Joseph Yobo. There were no complaints about the penalty from which Samaras scored.
That Everton staged a late rally – Osman firing in from close range after good work by Phil Neville – was as much down to City panicking, as the visitors producing moments of outstanding quality. Throughout, there were too many off the pace.
James Beattie came in for Victor Anichebe but was shackled by Richard Dunne. Johnson got little joy out of Distin. Simon Davies had an afternoon to forget, while Osman was only on the periphery until he sprang to life in the final 20 minutes. For that reason, there can be no arguments about the end result. Now, it’s a case of bouncing back in the best possible manner. Beating Newcastle last Saturday did not mean European qualification was guaranteed so this setback should not be a fatal blow to ambitions. That said, there is now something hugely significant riding on this weekend’s FA Cup clash with Blackburn Rovers. Win and everything should continue to tick along nicely – losing doesn’t even bear thinking about. If Everton allow all their good work to unravel, Moyes won’t be the only one scowling at Goodison Park.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2): Weaver; Onuoha, Dunne, Distin, Jordan; Trabelsi (Miller 85), Dabo, Richards, Beasley; Vassell, Corradi (Samaras 46).
EVERTON (4-4-2): Howard; Neville, Lescott, Yobo, Valente (Naysmith 46); Davies (McFadden 65), Osman, Carsley, Arteta; Beattie (Anichebe 65), Johnson.
Bookings: Howard (70), Arteta (75), Johnson (87),
Referee: Uriah Referee (Sheffield)
Everton 1, Blackburn 4 (Echo)
Jan 8 2007 By Dominic King
THE next time you hear someone talk about the romance and magic of the FA Cup, try your best not to laugh out loudly. Once rightly described as the finest knockout tournament of them all, the famous old pot has undoubtedly lost its sheen and Everton appear to have completely fallen out of love with a competition that at one time virtually guaranteed a trip to Wembley every May. If only the same could be said now. While this latest exit does not rank with ignominies such as Port Vale and Bradford, Tranmere and Shrewsbury, it will leave the majority of Evertonians feeling sick to the stomach for weeks to come. Betrayed by a catalogue of individual errors which gifted Blackburn Rovers the softest of leads that they never looked like relinquishing, it is inexplicable why so many players underperformed in what was Everton's most important match of the season to date. This could have been the game to give David Moyes' side a real kick start into the business end of the campaign, victory would have fired the imagination of supporters and given them something to get excited about.
It seemed, however, as if apathy was the overriding emotion going into the tie and that was reflected in the paltry attendance. Why did the powers that be at Goodison Park not make the entrance fee £10 or £15 to get the Grand Old Lady jumping?
Instead - with the exception of a gallant few, who can hold their heads up high - it proved spectacularly anticlimactic. True, the score may have slightly flattered Blackburn but it is hard to argue that they don't deserve a place in the fourth round.
Face facts: Mark Hughes' side travelled away from home, scored four goals, weathered the expected storm after they had built up an unassailable advantage and then restricted Everton to just one shot on target, other than Andrew Johnson's successful penalty. Those supporters who did stump up the cash for a ticket would have had every right to demand their money back, but it was to their eternal credit they raised themselves in the second half to give the Blues relentless backing.
Sadly, their encouragement from the stands never looked like paying off. With so many individuals having an off day, Everton's efforts to claw a way back into the contest were harum-scarum with no real method to the madness. Andy van der Meyde completed 90 minutes for the first time in his Everton career but it was infuriating that he never chose to run at novice full-back James McEveley more - the one time he did, the Dutchman turned him inside out before delivering a superb ball.
Yet more often than not, Van der Meyde persisted on cutting infield and crossing from deep, leaving Johnson and Victor Anichebe fighting for scraps. So much ability, so very frustrating. He, though, was not the only one to endure an off-day.
Tim Howard has been a model of consistency in goal this season, while Joseph Yobo and Joleon Lescott have shown they have the potential to develop a partnership at the heart of Everton's defence. Lescott, in particular, has been outstanding. Not, however, here. Perhaps the trio were unnerved as early as the fourth minute, when David Bentley was allowed to fire in a shot from 25 yards that the normally assured Howard inexplicably let squirm from his grasp. From Blackburn's next attack, they took the lead. Van der Meyde dithered and got caught in possession, Morten Gamst Pedersen galloped forward and shot from a similar position to Bentley and the same thing happened to Howard, only this time Matt Derbyshire bundled the loose ball in from close range. That mistake was exacerbated shortly after when Pedersen's free-kick sailed past Howard's flailing arm after the Norwegian had been tripped by Leon Osman. Like when Michael Ballack scored for Chelsea from an identical spot, his positional sense was poor. No blame could be attached to Howard for the third but there was no disguising it was a horrible goal to concede. Yobo and Lescott got in a tangle with the Nigerian kicking at fresh air before Paul Gallagher finished with aplomb. Benni McCarthy rubbed salt in the wounds late on with a thunderous drive into the virtually deserted Gwladys Street. "We defended really poorly early on," Moyes conceded. "But in the same breath, Blackburn only had five shots in the whole game and scored from four of those. We have had about 20 but hardly hit the target with any of them." Perhaps that is the aspect of this reverse which will have most worried the manager. Just as at Manchester City on New Year's Day, for all the possession Everton had, for all their huff and puff, never once did they threaten to blow Blackburn's house down. Impossible, then, not to feel sympathy with the tireless Johnson. He scored for only the second time in his last 16 games, rifling a penalty past Brad Friedel after Aaron Mokoena had chopped Mikel Arteta down, but how many chances has he had in that time? It would be a travesty to say he was out of form but would it be wrong to suggest some anxiety is creeping into his game? Maybe the imminent and much-needed return of Tim Cahill will see him in a better light.
Certainly Everton need something to shake things up. How a new addition to the ranks would be welcomed yet maybe having Cahill, Tony Hibbert and Sandro Pistone back in the ranks again will lift things. One thing, nonetheless, is for sure: the season cannot be allowed to peter out. A wonderful start to proceedings fuelled expectations but not much has gone according to plan since and it is not unreasonable to worry about the ramifications of this defeat. Some will fear that with little to play for, Everton will slide anonymously into the middle of the pack once again like they did last season, arguing the Blues have not been the strongest of finishers in recent years.
Others will see a glimmer of light that maybe, just maybe, with a full squad and slice of luck, that Everton can make a real push for Europe. That is where a Cup run would have been handy to generate momentum. That school of thought will be for the romantics to cling to, but, at present, there would not be too many dissenting voices if you said romance is well and truly dead.
EVERTON: Howard; Neville, Lescott, Yobo (Vaughan 78), Valente (Naysmith 43); van der Meyde, Osman, Carsley, Arteta; Johnson, Anichebe. Subs: Wright, Weir, McFadden.
BOOKED: Valente, Carsley
BLACKBURN ROVERS: Friedel; Ooijer, Khizanishvili (Henchoz 38), Todd, McEveley; Bentley. Tugay, Mokoena, Pedersen; Gallagher (Emerton 64), Derbyshire (McCarthy 70). Subs: Brown, Savage.
REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)
Everton 1, Reading 1 (Echo)
Jan 15 2007 By Dominic King
THE Rocky Horror Show was avoided but on the day Sylvester Stallone came to town, Everton were once again left looking for The Good Life. Come on - did you expect anything else other than an introduction crammed full of clichés? While PR chiefs at Goodison Park can rightly reflect on a wonderful afternoon for the club, contrary to what one imbecilic radio commentator thinks, manager David Moyes will be scratching his head for the next few days, wondering how his side can rediscover the Eye of the Tiger. Sorry. That's the last one. Stallone's visit to Liverpool was always going to be the main talking point, no matter what football Everton and Reading produced but it's a good job the positive image the Blues projected yesterday diverted attentions away from a disappointing performance. After taking seven points from nine over the Christmas period, Everton looked ready to make a statement of intent in the New Year but for some strange reason, their football has lacked zipped in the past fortnight. True, it would have been extremely harsh had Everton failed to take anything from this scrappy encounter yet likewise it is difficult to argue with great justification that they would have been worthy winners. Failing to build on a bright start, fuelled by the energy of a crowd hyped up by Stallone's memorable jig on the pitch before kick-off, it was left to Andrew Johnson to spare the blushes with a late header. Make no mistake, however, Everton were out of sorts. It would be far too convenient to blame the razzmatazz of Stallone's visit as the reason for Everton's lethargy, especially during an uneventful first half. These are professional sportsmen who are used to playing in front of millions of people. A new face in the crowd, albeit an incredibly famous one, should not have been a distraction. Quite the opposite. The presence of a Hollywood megastar might well have been the little something needed for Everton to raise themselves and put on a show for a worldwide audience. Think how far and wide pictures of Stallone will have gone of him standing on the hallowed turf. What a platform to promote the Everton brand. But unable to get into a flowing rhythm, Moyes will have been concerned that once again Everton failed to fashion a number of clear cut opportunities. The closest they came to troubling the scorers in the first 45 minutes was when Tim Cahill had a shot easily saved by Marcus Hahnemann after Johnson had skipped clear.Not good enough. With the forwards out of sorts, the one thing the manager needed was for his defence to stand firm and get through to half-time with a platform to build from. Maddeningly, the opposite was true, as Everton needlessly found themselves behind, as was the case against Blackburn and Manchester City.
Having conceded a silly free-kick, Reading took advantage of Joseph Yobo and Joleon Lescott retreating into their six yard area to pile pressure on Tim Howard. He may have made a terrific save from Stephen Hunt's header but the comedy of errors was completed when the rebound careered into Lescott then bobbled over the line.
"It was a poor first half performance," the manager acknowledged. "We gave away a shoddy goal. We just made a couple of wrong decisions and we lost a terrible goal.
"Obviously the goals change the game, and changed the way everybody sees the game, me included. Because of the nature of the goal it made it even worse. But I don't think Reading would have deserved to beat us."
True. That the Royals did not have an away victory to celebrate was down to Everton finding their fighting spirit after the break, chipping away until they finally had got the better of the erratic Hahnemann. Johnson atoned for a couple of earlier misses to convert Yobo's cross and register his eighth goal in as many games against Reading.
Moyes rightly praised his side's character after the game and one thing Everton could never be accused of is lacking the spirit for a fight but, as against Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers, there were too few candidates for the Man-of-the-Match award.
Cahill was one of Everton's better performers, making light of a nine week lay-off by running himself to a stand still. He also typically never shied away from the chance to improve his goals tally, Hahnemann needed all his agility to tip away one stinging effort in the second half. There is no question, once his match fitness improves, that he will be a tremendously important player between now and May, and it could just be that his return brings the best out of Johnson, who looked much more of a threat than he has done recently. The England international fully deserved his goal but he admitted later that he could and should have had a couple more. His pace caused Ibrahima Sonko trouble all afternoon and Reading's hulking defender will consider himself fortunate he ended the game on the pitch, after flattening Johnson in the first half while on a yellow card. Still, this was Johnson getting somewhere close to the levels he showed during his scintillating start to life in Blue and if the badly-missed Mikel Arteta returns at Wigan next Sunday, Moyes will be close to having his strongest starting line-up available. Perhaps then we will be able to fully get a chance to assess whether the last three games have just been a blip or the start of something serious. It shouldn't be the latter, as on paper Everton have a squad that is capable of holding its own in the top six. Yet, the sooner Moyes sees his players get back to winning ways, the better it will be for all. As Stallone knows, it ain't over 'till it's over yet if this indifferent run of form continues, those hopes of playing in Europe again will receive a knockout blow.
EVERTON (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Lescott, Yobo, Naysmith; van der Meyde (Beattie 71), Osman, Carsley, McFadden (Anichebe 46); Cahill; Johnson. Subs: Wright, Stubbs, Davies.
BOOKINGS: Cahill (foul), Anichebe (dissent).
READING (4-4-2): Hahnemann; de la Cruz, Ingimarsson, Sonko, Shorey; Little, Harper, Sidwell, Hunt; Doyle (Long 38), Lita. Subs: Federici, Sodje, Bikey, Oster.
BOOKINGS: Sonko, Hunt (both fouls).
REFEREE: Mike Riley
Everton Youth 0, Millwall Youth 1
Jan 18 2007 by Chris Wright at Goodison Park, Liverpool Daily Post
Everton tamed by young Lions as cup dream ends
EVERTON went out of the FA Youth Cup last night as Millwall’s Joe O’Rourke scored the only goal in a hard-fought fourth round tie. It will be the young Lions who now face a trip to Newcastle United in the fifth round, but Everton will be bitterly disappointed as they couldn’t take the chances that came their way. And despite plenty of endeavour they never really applied any sustained pressure until late in the match. But it was too late to save the tie as a powerful Millwall side held on. Everton coach Neil Dewsnip was naturally disappointed. He said: “We are very disappointed because we have done okay. We had a lot of the ball but probably didn’t create enough chances for the possession we had. We didn’t do too much wrong in the game apart from make one mistake and that has cost us. We think probably the minimum we deserved was to have taken it to extra-time.” He added: “Millwall had done their homework and all credit to them. They had John Paul (Kissock) man-marked for most of the game and it was very difficult for him. That is something he will have to deal with throughout his career. So that is a learning experience for him. But overall the team has performed and most of the players got to where they would have liked to in terms of their performance and I thought one or two of them were outstanding.
“Ultimately the job is to get the players to progress and it looked tonight as though we have got some players who could do that.” Everton began with the side who had beaten Macclesfield 3-0 in the third round 11 days earlier. With Everton manager David Moyes and assistant Alan Irvine plus a number of the first team squad watching from the Main Stand the game started slowly. Stephen Connor saw a 20-yard shot blocked by defender Charlie Read after John Paul Kissock had slid the right-winger in. Connor looked lively on Everton’s left. He was putting early crosses into the box, but found Millwall’s central defensive pairing of captain Ben Payne and Read repelling them. Everton tamed by young Lions as cup dream ends
Everton came close to an opener when Kissock teed up Ryan Harpur, but his fierce drive from 30 yards was palmed away superbly by Millwall keeper Tom Crowther at full stretch.
On the half-hour mark Everton keeper Jamie Jones did well to tip over David Amoo’s rising shot after the striker. That effort signalled a spell of pressure from Millwall and Everton were indebted to Irish youth international defender Darren Dennehy, who cleared inside his own six-yard box from Amoo’s header across goal. Just before half-time the generally well-shackled Kissock was off target after Kieran Agard had laid the ball back to him. Millwall took the lead seven minutes into the second half. Michael Noone sent the ball into Amoo inside the area and the big forward slipped it to O’Rourke on the right, who rolled it through Jones’s legs. Everton were frustrated as their efforts to restore parity fell down as they failed fashion too many clear chances. Tempers frayed and O’Rourke was booked after a challenge on Kissock caused a shoving match. Coach Dewsnip then threw on substitute Matty Elder to give Everton more physical presence up front. And the tall forward was immediately in the action, winning a free-kick on the right. And after Connor’s initial ball into the box was only half-cleared Elder couldn’t get a decent connection and the grateful Crowther saved. Agard forced an excellent low save from Crowther, while Elder saw another header saved. John Irving saw one shot blocked which he claimed was by Payne’s hand, but he had his penalty appeal waved away. Everton kept pressing and in added time Irving came close to grabbing an equaliser, but his header inside a crowded box was clutched on the line by Crowther. Another melee had to broken up by the referee with the clock ticking, but once it all died down Morrison fired his free-kick over and Everton’s hopes ended.
EVERTON YOUTH: Jones; Densmore, Rodwell, Irving (capt), Dennehy; Harpur, Connor, Morrison, Agard, Kissock (Spencer 89), Molyneux (Elder 70). Subs: McEntagart, McCarten, Codling.
MILLWALL YOUTH: Crowther; Sim, Payne, Read, Ebsworth; Noone, Fuseini, O’Rourke, Obersteller (Kilbey 77); Amoo, Palmer. Subs: Lisney, Noel, Jeffreys, Keen.
Wigan Athletic 0, Everton 2 (Echo)
Jan 22 2006 by Dominic King
THANK heavens for the vagaries of the modern football fixture list.
While there are still some traditionalists who hanker for a return to the 3pm kick-offs on a Saturday afternoon, the input of TV schedulers in the modern game means the days of every club starting at the same time are long gone. True, there are some ridiculous demands made. Bear in mind the 5.15pm meeting Everton have to look forward to with Watford at the end of next month and remember the absurd 11.15am start against Manchester City last season. On this occasion, though, the fixture planners may just have helped Everton relight the fires beneath their push for a European place when there were some suggestions the embers were starting to fizzle out. Having seen Bolton and Portsmouth lose, Spurs draw and Blackburn creep to within a point on Saturday, Everton started yesterday’s match against Wigan knowing that nothing other than a victory was acceptable. Happily, they did not disappoint. Although the afternoon was marred by a worrying injury to Andrew Johnson, Mikel Arteta’s double intervention ensured that David Moyes’ side did not miss a golden opportunity to put pressure on their rivals. A game for the purists this might not have been but, on this occasion, the result was more important than the performance – there will be plenty of other chances in the future to put on a show for those watching on the small screen. Hailstones, a howling gale and heavy pitch were hardly conditions conducive to free flowing football and, not surprisingly, this ensured the opening exchanges were scrappy, scruffy and short on excitement. That said, there was something admirable about the way Everton attempted to craft out openings against a side who have been conceding goals at an alarming rate and are now fighting for their lives. Leon Osman figured most prominently early on, neat and slick with his passing and floating into areas he thought would cause damage. Frustratingly, though, Everton’s sole attempt was Tim Cahill’s gently struck shot on 20 minutes. Another Blue who caught the eye with his willingness to run back and forth to help the defence and attack was Simon Davies, confirming Moyes’ opinion that he will continue to give his all for the club despite doubts over his future. Fulham are long-term admirers of Davies and have tried to sign him twice in the past six months, most recently in the last week. With Everton hardly overwhelmed with bodies, it would be madness to deplete the squad simply because another club have made an offer for a player who has failed to live up to expectations during his spell on Merseyside. Few will be more disappointed than the 27-year-old that he has struggled to make an impact but he certainly has not deserved some of the abuse to which he has been subjected from irate supporters. There are other players at other clubs – even some on Merseyside – who sulk, moan and disappear when things don’t go their way. Not Davies, who has done his best to turn things around. Chances are that the snub Moyes has issued to Fulham will only provide Davies with a stay of execution but until then – despite what many on the terraces feel – he will remain a handy body to have around the squad. His performance yesterday proved that. Despite the best efforts of Davies and his team-mates, however, there was no disguising this was a quite dreadful contest ruined by wretched weather. Cahill’s meek effort was the only time a player from either side had a shot on target in the first 45 minutes. Hopes that there would be an improvement in both the quality and the weather after the break were, initially, sadly misguided. Unforced errors rather than unguided missiles left the boots of those battered by the elements. Things looked to be going from bad to worse when Johnson was stretchered from the action, his left ankle heavily strapped following a collision with Kirkland and Emerson Boyce. Fingers will have been crossed and prayers offered that the injury is not as severe as it appeared. His replacement, nonetheless, could not have wished to make a better impact. Eyebrows may have been raised in some quarters when Moyes threw Victor Anichebe on ahead of James Beattie but how he repaid that act of faith.
Within minutes of his arrival, he found himself wrestling with the barrel-chested David Unsworth inside the area but showed incredible strength to lure the former Blue into a rash challenge. Howard Webb had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Makes a change. Following Keith Hackett’s admission over the weekend that Everton have been hard done by this season at least eight times, the referees’ chief will have breathed a huge sigh of relief that Webb did not err here.One man who can be relied upon never to err is Arteta and his kick was confidently dispatched past Kirkland’s flailing dive to provide Everton with an advantage they never looked likely to relinquish. If proof were needed as to how much more fluent the Blues are when Arteta is in the team, it arrived in spades here. Apart from playing the ball through to Anichebe that led to the penalty, the Spaniard kept things ticking beautifully once the lead had been established. There was one scare as the home side staged a rally, when Josip Skoko cracked a drive against the bar, but other than that, the only thing Tim Howard had to worry about was keeping warm and plucking the occasional cross from the darkening sky. Fittingly, victory was confirmed in the dying minutes when Everton crafted the best move of the match, which started at the feet of Davies and culminated in a wonderful Phil Neville cross being bundled in from close range by Arteta. Job done. Everton must now wait a fortnight for their next Premiership assignment and when they do reappear, the eyes of the world will be on them again for a Saturday lunchtime date at Anfield. What better venue, then, to put on a performance and have their rivals fretting before they take the stage?
Bournemouth 1, Everton 1 (Echo)
Jan 27 2006 by Dominic King
DID you know that visitors to Bournemouth will devour more than 90,000 ice creams between them on the warmest days of the year? Has that grabbed your attention? Good. Because if you are looking for something witty and interesting about Everton’s weekend sparring session with the League One side from this picturesque seaside town, you stand to be disappointed. With a gap in the fixture list to fill following the gut-wrenching FA Cup defeat against Blackburn Rovers, David Moyes was right to find a match to keep his squad ticking over ahead of some of the big tests they will face in the next few weeks. But given that Liverpool and Blackburn loom large on the horizon, Everton’s trip to the south coast was never going to be anything other than a glorified training session - and so it proved. The pace of this game was a far cry from the Premiership’s rat-a-tat-tat. It would, however, be completely wrong to say that this was pointless exercise. Quite the opposite. As he cranks up his preparations for the impending visit to Anfield, Moyes will be satisfied that a number of his squad are in much better physical condition than before. Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta sharpened themselves up by playing 45 minutes at the aptly-named Fitness First Stadium, Gary Naysmith will have benefited from staying on for the entire game, while it was pleasing to see Alessandro Pistone in a Blue shirt again. “We were trying to get as many in as we could,” said Moyes. “That was the most important thing. But also, we wanted to make sure some of the other lads got some match practice.
“We wanted the likes of Mikel and Ossie to get 45 minutes. “It was just keeping everyone ticking over. We didn’t play well enough to win but the boys got a run around. “Had we not come down we would have had to have a training game. It was more competitive than a reserve match would have been.”The biggest plus for the manager, though, had to be the return of Tony Hibbert to patrol the right-hand side of his defence.
Exactly 15 weeks after he ruptured his groin at Middlesbrough, Hibbert could not have wished for a more pleasing comeback.
Showing tremendous stamina to motor up and down the right flank, his tackles were invariably perfectly timed and packed plenty of bite, while he supplied the cross from which Bjarni Vidarsson - more on him later - scored Everton’s equaliser.
“He has not done an awful lot of football training, so for him to get 90 minutes I’m really pleased,” said Moyes. “For me, it has put him ahead of schedule now. It wasn’t the plan for him to play all game. I asked him at half-time how he was and he said he felt okay. “The plan was maybe to give him 60 minutes but he was on our side (of the pitch) and we kept asking him. “He said he was fine so we just let him carry on. Will he play next week? Who knows?” Fingers will be crossed that he suffers no reaction but if he is in contention to start, it will be one of the best pieces of news Moyes has received all season. Hibbert may not have a huge following on the terraces but his team-mates know he is worth his weight in gold. A man who never seeks any publicity and is quite happy to get on with his job while others take the limelight, it should not be underestimated how important Hibbert actually is to this Everton team.
Once he is up and running again, it should allow skipper Phil Neville to move in to his more favoured central midfield role and then Moyes can redeploy his favoured system; five in the engine room with Cahill bursting forward to support a lone striker.
In the likelihood that Andrew Johnson does not make a miraculous comeback at Anfield, 13 days after it looked like he had broken an ankle, who Moyes chooses to play up front in the derby is open to debate. Don’t, though, rule that possibility out.
Logic would say that the experience of James Beattie should lead the way but there is no other way of dressing this up: the one time England international and club record signing looks woefully out-of-sorts. Though his willingness to help out in defence was admirable, little went right for him up front here. He was either restricted to long range efforts that sailed wide or snatched at the one good opportunity that came his way in the second half. Victor Anichebe, meanwhile, was held back by a niggling injury but James Vaughan did his hopes no harm at all with an energetic display in the second half after replacing his close friend, always looking to cause problem.
Sentiments which apply to Everton’s goalscorer. Vidarsson has been prolific for the reserves in the past 18 years but opportunities higher up have been hard to come by.
He is still just a shell of boy and needs to strengthen up. That said, he has the priceless ability to pop up in the right place at the right time and he saved the day when bundling an effort past Gareth Stewart on 81 minutes, equalising Steve Fletcher’s goal which came shortly after the re-start. “If anyone is going to score a goal from midfield it is Bjarni,” said Moyes. “He got one and was unlucky when he got through another time and the ball got stuck under his feet. “He is progressing and we are pleased with the progress he is making. “He is probably due to go out on loan now. That’s what we will look to do. “He trains regularly with the first team and he is getting stronger as well. We will see which club is right for him. But he can certainly score a goal from the middle of the park.” Other than that, there wasn’t a great deal to get excited about, the only player worth mentioning was Anderson de Silva, who was neat and tidy on his debut but still looks some way off being ready for the Premiership.
If he thinks this is the speed English football is played at, he will see what it is really like across Stanley Park in six days time when normal service is resumed.
Now did you know King Edward VII built a house in 1877 for his mistress, Lilly Langtry, in Bournemouth?
BOURNEMOUTH (4-4-2): Stewart; Cooper (Broadhurst 32), Young (Samson 54), Gowling (Hollands 46), Lawson; Anderton, Browning (Fletcher 46), Cork (Sainsbury 77), Hayter; Vokes, Cummings.
EVERTON (4-4-2): Wright; Hibbert, Stubbs (Hughes 80), Lescott, Pistone (Vidarsson 66) ; Arteta (Osman 46), Cahill (Neville 46), de Silva (Carsley 66), Naysmith; Anichebe (Vaughan 46), Beattie.
REFEREE: J Singh.