Saturday, December 30, 2006

A spot of trouble

Everton 3 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Oh for this afternoon's game to have suffered the same fate as the Watford v Wigan game. Cricket may have been the last thing any of us wanted to think about of late, but there I was praying for the conditions to worsen and force abandonment.

And why? Well, as quickly as the water pooled on the Goodison Park surface our pre-Christmas optimism evaporated, Everton condemning us to a second successive defeat, our heaviest of the season. It was tempting to dismiss the Bolton game as a hangover, the consequence of a brave young defence being outmuscled by a more experienced and wily side. But this was very poor (not least because we took to the pitch with a stronger side - Shay Given, Nolberto Solano and Emre all returning).

And yet, as at the Reebok, it could all have been so different, hinging on not one but two fateful moments. Firstly, Peter Ramage picked up an injury and had to be substituted on 37 minutes. And then shortly before half-time Kieron Dyer won a penalty, going down under a challenge from Leon Osman. His strike partner Obafemi Martins took responsibility for the spot kick - but then proceeded to blast it hopelessly high and wide.

That would have sent us in level at the break, Everton's young Nigerian striker Victor Anichebe having given his side the lead within the first ten minutes. We had gradually worked our way back into the game, forcing a succession of corners, and Emre had seen a drive whistle narrowly past Tim Howard's post.

But the equaliser never came, and in the second period Martins was left to reflect on that dreadful miss as Everton punished us twice. Anichebe it was who grabbed his second on 58 minutes, and four minutes later we suffered the added indignity of conceding a goal to Phil 'Steptoe' Neville, bringing to an end four barren years in front of the net.

3-0, just over an hour gone and it was all over. We had the odd corner and shot from distance, but Everton remained in control and could easily have added to their tally and our misery, Andy van der Meyde in particular causing problems on the left. The seventh game this season in which we've fallen behind, and we've lost all of them - that indicates a serious and very worrying lack of mental resolve.

Glenn Roeder should shoulder some blame for the magnitude of the defeat. The injury to Ramage may have been out of his hands (and could hardly have come at a worse time given our current defensive crisis - Carr, Babayaro, Moore and Bramble remain on the treatment table), but the decision to replace him not with David Edgar but with Antoine Sibierski and to drop Nicky Butt back into an utterly unfamiliar central defensive position was curious in the extreme. Butt may not have been up against the tallest front pairing in the world, but surely a natural defender - even a rookie like Edgar - would have been a better bet?

Anyway, an instantly forgettable afternoon against a side we're more than capable of beating, on a ground fast becoming one of our least favourites in the Premiership. Certainly not the result we wanted or needed prior to the visit of the league leaders and their in-form w(h)inger Cristiano Ronaldo...

Other reports: BBC


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