Sunday, November 27, 2005

Webb of deceit

Everton 1 - 0 Newcastle

Ah, the not-so-sweet smell of injustice.

You may have caught a whiff of it round these parts last week, when we reported how John Terry got away with a blatant penalty area foul on Bowyer with the score at 0-0 at Stamford Bridge.

And this week, thanks this time to referee Howard Webb, we've again got the feeling that we've been cheated. But more of that in due course.

After circumstance and the calibre of the opposition induced Souness to opt for a 4-5-1 formation at Stamford Bridge, he reverted back to the more customary 4-4-2 for the visit to Goodison Park. That meant Bowyer dropping to the bench as a fit-again Shearer returned to partner Ameobi up front.

We weren't just slow out of the traps, we were still evacuating our bowels trackside while Everton raced after the hare. The Toffees' front men - James Beattie, Duncan Ferguson, Marcus Bent and James McFadden - could hardly be said to have terrorised opposition defences so far this season, but Beattie and McFadden ensured our back line endured a torrid opening period.

Gradually, with a series of free-kicks and corners, we worked our way back into the game. Ramage had headed disappointingly wide when well-placed from a corner, and Ameobi had already failed to really test Nigel Martyn with a shot when he played Shearer in behind a static Everton defence. Martyn rushed out to put our number nine off, but he still managed to hook a shot in from a tight angle that Beattie scrambled off the line for a corner.

At the other end Mikel Arteta came perilously close as our defence dawdled, but then came the moment on which the whole game turned. Ameobi fired in a goalbound shot from just inside the area which hit McFadden - stood on the line - on the hand and deflected round the post. Despite the protests, neither referee Webb nor his assistant saw anything amiss and play continued.

Now, I understand the notion of hand to ball being penalised and not ball to hand, and McFadden had little opportunity to get out of the way and even less knowledge of what happened. But the fact remains that, had the ball not struck his hand, it would have continued unimpeded over the line and into the net. A penalty was the very least we deserved. As it was, from the corner Emre's header fell invitingly at Shearer's feet inside the six yard area. The striker pivoted on the spot but saw his shot saved by the 'keeper's outstretched leg.

In the event, we could have gone in at the interval one down rather than one up, Given forced to make a decent stop from Andy van der Meyde as the clock ticked down. Babayaro and Tim Cahill can consider themselves very fortunate not to have been sharing an early bath after they both raised their arms in anger. Incredibly, neither was even booked.

So half-time arrived, and we were once again left to curse the referee under our breath. Still, the game was there for the taking, wasn't it?

It took Everton precisely 54 seconds to underline that they had been thinking in exactly the same terms. Given was forced to make up for the sluggishness of his teammates by turning McFadden's shot round the post, but could do nothing to stop Joseph Yobo powering a header past him from the resultant corner. If fingers were to be pointed, they would probably be directed at Ramage, but then that would detract from the sterling work he did throughout, putting out fires and plugging holes in a shambolic defence in which his elders - Messrs Boumsong and Bramble - were poor.

Souness took a gamble by replacing Babayaro with our lesser-spotted Spaniard Albert Luque, N'Zogbia dropping back to left-back and the formation changing to 4-3-3. But it had little impact. Luque looked rusty and opted to go for goal on at least one occasion when Shearer was better placed, while our creative forces in midfield Solano and Emre were virtually anonymous. Bowyer replaced Nobby for the last half hour but also failed to make an impression. Only recent star man Parker was showing anything like commitment to the cause, and manfully though he tried, he couldn't do it on his own. He should however have done better with a shot from twelve yards that he sliced wide.

Shearer, nevertheless, showed some fighting spirit - unfortunately, it manifested itself in the form of an elbow-in-the-face shove on David Weir. It would be hypocritical to overlook the challenge given our disgust at Grimsby defender Justin Whittle's assault on Shearer last month, and Shearer was lucky not to have landed himself in hot water.

In footballing terms, we were found wanting - wanting Michael Owen. Capitulating against a side that the previous week had been thrashed 4-0 by West Brom was as predictable as our second half collapse against Chelsea. Everton were much the better side in the second period, and the scoreline could have been more severe, had Beattie not blazed over from close range when unmarked and Given not pulled off a breathtaking triple save right at the death.

Hmm, death. Now there's a thought: Howard's end.

So, on Wednesday it's onwards to Wigan's JJB Stadium, the scene of another gross miscarriage of justice last month. But, hey, it all evens itself out over the course of the season, right?

An Evertonian's perspective: Everton Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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