Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Damage already done

Everton 3 - 2 Newcastle Utd

Another week, another loss by the odd goal in five - though this one, away to previously unbeaten Everton, was less ignominious than last weekend's defeat at home to Hull. Much like our last trip to the north west for a Monday night fixture, we had the misfortune to encounter a hungry, high-quality side who needed no encouragement to be rampant, but got it anyway. We may have come close to staging a very improbable comeback, but ultimately paid a heavy price for a truly abysmal first half.

The Silver Fox's team selection provided an early talking point. Dreamboat was considered fit enough only for a seat on the bench, Mr T taking his place, but more significantly Papiss Cisse's reward for breaking his scoring drought against Leeds in midweek was to be dropped. That meant Goofy started wide on the right, with Loic Remy handed the responsibility for spearheading the attack.

It was Remy's opposite number who stole the show in the first half, though, as Romelu Lukaku set about showing Jose Mourinho the folly of letting him go and giving a sharp reminder to the onlooking Jabba and JFK of the calibre of player that was available in the transfer window (albeit temporarily). The Belgian had a goal disallowed for offside within three minutes, but wasn't to be denied for long. Kevin Mirallas skinned Davide Santon and crossed for his unmarked compatriot to score. Tim Krul may well feel he should have done better, but he had been hung out to dry by his defence - and it wasn't to be the last time.

With Mirallas and attack-minded full-back Seamus Coleman, Everton were terrorising us down our left; Lukaku was bullying MYM and even the experienced Sideshow Bob into looking like nervous wrecks; and, despite the presence of both Mr T and Vurnon Anita on the pitch, Ross Barkley was profiting from the lack of protection afforded to our back four.

Barkley has stepped up a notch since arriving back at Goodison after a spell on loan at Sheffield Wednesday last season. He'd already fizzed a drive wide when he was bright and sharp enough to dart onto Lukaku's perfectly timed pass and finish smartly into the bottom left-hand corner of Krul's goal.

Worse was to follow before the break. A straightforward punt from Tim Howard split our central defenders, with MYM inexplicably running away from Lukaku and Sideshow Bob forced to try to cover. One powderpuff challenge from Krul (it must have been infectious) and one failed attempt at a slide tackle from Sideshow Bob later, and Lukaku was banging the ball into an empty net from a yard. The defending was so atrocious that it set Sky pundit Jamie Carragher off making improbably high-pitched noises.

Our only real shot of the half came from HBA, who tried his luck from a similiar distance to that from which he scored a winner back in September 2010, but it was comfortably pushed away by Howard and no one was following up.

To say we faced an uphill task at half-time would be understating the case. Not only were Everton unbeaten, but they'd registered eight consecutive Premier League clean sheets at home - and now we needed to score a minimum of three times to salvage anything from the match. But with getting a result practically a lost cause, we suddenly decided we were interested.

Just as Everton had benefited from our thorough awfulness in the first period, now we benefited from their contentedness and (perhaps) complacency. The Silver Fox deserves credit. Some will suggest that he was only righting the wrongs of his own team selection (I would disagree - he had sent out a perfectly capable side that played to the worst of their ability), but he chose to make two substitutions at the break. When Mike Williamson's the answer, then you've got to wonder what exactly the question is - but MYM's confidence had looked about as shot as his positional sense had been clueless, so unceremoniously hauling him off was a justifiable move. Likewise the decision to replace HBA with Dreamboat - the former had shown occasional glimpses of quality in the opening half, but not enough to compensate for offering Santon little or no protection from the marauding Mirallas and Coleman.

The changes had an instant impact, transforming us into a side that was suddenly bold and forward-thinking with the ball and tenacious without it. When Goofy was slipped in after neat work from Anita, he cleverly lifted the ball over Howard, only for it to bounce off the inside of the far post and to safety. Everton went down the other end and very nearly extended their lead, Debuchy just doing enough to foil Leon Osman after Mirallas' shot was pushed out into the danger zone by Krul.

Instead of stretching to 4-0, though, the winning margin was then cut to two goals, Dreamboat taking aim and firing an arrow of a 25-yarder into the top right-hand corner. The way he had assumed control of midfield almost as soon as he'd entered the fray gave us some encouragement, as did some timely interceptions from Williamson and the sight of Lukaku dropping deeper and wider to pick up possession.

The Silver Fox waited until the 69th minute before calling upon Cisse to add firepower, Anita somewhat surprisingly withdrawn ahead of Mr T. But the Senegal man was once again utterly anonymous, and it was Remy who turned up the heat on the home side with a close-range finish that smacked of quick thinking and opportunism.

There was only one minute plus four of injury time in which we could conjure up an equaliser - and we came extremely close to achieving the feat, too. Had Remy's volley flashed just under Howard's crossbar, rather than narrowly whistling over the top, we would have been toasting a very unlikely result. As it turned out, though, the deficit was just too great and the Toffees hung on for a win that, after 45 minutes, had looked the very definition of "routine".

The evening's lesson is clear: play like we did in the first half against Cardiff and we'll get stuffed again; play like we did in the second half and we could be returning home with three points in the bag and one over on a certain No-Necked Text Pest...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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