Monday, February 27, 2006

Thank you Mr Linesman*

Newcastle 2 - 0 Everton

Two goals from Nobby Solano, the second an absolute peach, may have ultimately proved the difference between the two sides, and the Peruvian may have taken all the plaudits, but we were also indebted to a linesman. No, not one of the much maligned frequently myopic referee's assistants galloping up and down the touchline, but our very own Emre. Twice in the first half his diminutive presence on the line was just enough to prevent Everton skipper David Weir from giving his side the lead, providing Solano with the platform he needed to go on and win it.

The injured Bramble was replaced by Babayaro, returning from suspension, with Elliott moving inside to partner Boumsong in central defence. The only other change saw Luque pay for his listless substitute performance against Charlton, his place on the bench taken by youth prospect Matty Pattison.

We started brightly, and within two minutes Emre exchanged passes with Ameobi before bursting into the box and delivering a cross that Solano could only put into 'keeper Sander Westerveld's hands from an acute angle. In stretching for the cross, Ameobi had collided hard with the post - it made for an uncomfortable couple of minutes as we prayed we weren't about to lose another striker to injury.

The neat and tidy interchanges of the opening period came to nought, though, and Everton gradually came back into the game, helped no end by the fact that Boumsong looked intent upon gifting their forwards chances at every opportunity. His pairing with the tortoise-paced Elliott doesn't exactly inspire confidence. First Ramage and then Elliott were called upon to clear dangerous crosses into the area, and then Weir's header from a Mikel Arteta corner was hacked off the line by Emre. Given could probably have reached it, but it was a narrow escape all the same.

This should have spurred us into action, but instead Given continued to see more action, tipping a dangerous curling free-kick from Arteta over the bar. As if to illustrate that he cannot learn from past mistakes, Boumsong again allowed Weir a free header from the resultant corner and this time acrobatics were required of Emre with Given well beaten.

We were still sighing with relief when Babayaro outfoxed his marker upfield and pulled the ball back to the waiting Solano, whose close-range shot was superbly tipped over.

That was practically the last action of the first half, and the second saw us emerge more purposeful. Ameobi was unlucky to see a shot blocked, though at the other end Boumsong's less than limpet-like attention to Leon Osman allowed the midfielder to fire in a shot that flew wide.

It was fitting that when the first goal arrived our two best players on the night were both involved. Emre went on a run before feeding the ball inside to N'Zogbia who underlined his importance to the side by skipping past a flimsy challenge and squaring the ball for Solano to knock it into the net ahead of his marker Nuno Valente.

The crucial second came twelve minutes later, and will live long in the memory. Crisp, confident passing saw Bowyer advancing towards the area with the ball. He pushed it wide to Solano, who knocked it inside Valente with his first touch and stroked a gorgeous shot with the outside of his right foot past Westerveld with his second. Yesterday saw the incredibly tedious Winter Olympics come to an end - I could watch Nobby's type of curling all day long. "He scored an even better one in training on Friday", said Glenn Roeder later. I'd have liked to have seen that one.

That effectively finished the game off as a contest, Everton playing like they knew they were beaten, though James Beattie spurned a late chance. Emre was replaced shortly after the second goal and left the pitch to a standing ovation, while midfielder Pattison made his first team debut, coming on for N'Zogbia in the dying minutes. "Bellamy with a big wig on", according to my companion.

So, a splendid goal, another win and another home game without any dirty linen for Boumsong and co to wash. For that, though, they have Emre to thank. I just hope that after the game, while Nobby downed his man-of-the-match champagne, our defenders clubbed together to buy the pint-sized Turk a lager of equivalent stature. He thoroughly deserved it. Had things worked out differently in the summer, of course, both he and Parker could have been lining up for the visitors. I think they made the right decision.

* The report was going to be headed "Peru beauty!" until I noticed had beaten me to it. Bastards.

An Everton fan's perspective: Real Life Blues

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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