Ian Mills has been studying for his A-Levels... 
but it hasn't stopped him watching Everton

 Royal Blue Mersey

It's been two months since I last blessed ToffeeWeb with "Royal Blue Mersey", due to A-Level exams in school, and thanks to the ToffeeWeb team, who have allowed me to concentrate on my exams.  Rather than deliver a column every two weeks at the expense of losing valuable revision and coursework time, they have allowed me to produce this column every time I have a school break, which is usually every 1 and a half / 2 months, its very much appreciated and since I have a week off from school, its time to deliver!

It's a cold but sunny Tuesday morning and as I think what to write, a few obvious things come to mind: Walter Smith, Injuries, Improvement to name a few.  But one think I'd like to talk about is Paul Gascoigne's appearance on "The Frank Skinner Show" 10 days ago.  

His burning passion for football was obvious for all to see, almost reduced to tears as he recalled the moment he found out he wasn't going to France for the World Cup just 3 years ago.  I think every true football fan who watched that segment of the show alone was touched by the amount of passion for the game he does have, and the burning desire to merely play regularly for Everton.

The man who graced football fields all over the globe, the man who was the inspiration for the likes of David Beckham, Michael Owen and Steve McManaman to name just three world-class players, and all he wants to do is play football regularly.  

I think Walter was right to leave Paul out on Sunday, playing game after game is too much for someone who admittedly struggles to keep himself fit on a regular basis.  As opposed to starting a game, sitting on the bench... starting, bench, starting, bench... I think Walter has it spot on and is taking it easy with someone who is still one of the best midfielders in the Premiership.  Also on Skinner, the ol' Gazza humor was their for all to see, from Cat Shit Pies to how he responded to someone asking him for an interview from The Sun, you didn't see it?  You missed out! 

Back to the Chelsea game, I was puzzled to see Steve Watson play up front with Joe-Max Moore no where to be seen.  Smith later commented that we needed a physical presence up front, but Watson is hardly Mike Tyson, and Smith's other comment that -"Tomasz and Joe are too alike to play together" didn't quite add up either. 

Coming from the man that played Duncan Ferguson and Kevin Campbell together for the first 7 games of the season and who no doubt will play them together again at some stage in the season what would happen if Wenger judged Wiltord and Henry were too alike?  Or Houllier judged, Fowler and Owen were too alike without even giving them a chance?  Come on Walter, Joe-Max deserves a chance.

Now I don't want it to sound like I am bashing Walter, because I'm not.  I've done enough of that in previous columns.  I actually appreciate the work he is doing and, since switching to the 4-4-2 formation instead of the five at the back, I actually like him and think he's doing a good job.  Now that's different to my last column in which he was making dodgy substitutions at Blackburn and we were getting beaten easily by our local rivals at Goodison Park, but I believe we are improving.  That's down to Walter: he spotted 5 at the back wasn't working and he changed it.  Nice one Walter.

I remember this time last year, two tough games against Arsenal and Chelsea, and we had injuries galore.  Nyarko, Gough, Ferguson, Jeffers, Alexandersson, Xavier, Gascoigne, and Gravesen to name a few.  One year later the injuries are still there, but not half as bad: only Campbell injured and Xavier, Pembridge, Ferguson who are not yet at 100% after their injuries.  Once again I think credit goes to Walter for that.  Ferguson, Campbell and Xavier are never going to be fit all season.  We had players out last season who have had good fitness records at previous clubs (Gravesen, Alexandersson, Nyarko).  This season Gravesen, Alexandersson and Nyarko have been fit and playing (apart from a 3-week break for Gravesen due to a horror tackle that no player could have withstood).  

Even Gazza, who had a spell at the beginning of the season when he was getting his fitness up, as been quite lucky with injuries: just the one so far and that only kept him out of the Ipswich game.  Now why is that credit to Walter Smith?  Well not many knew, but Walter introduced a new fitness regime in the summer, led by Mr Rob Styles.  The players now spend more time on fitness work and now for the first time in Smith's reign, the players warm down after matches, including our youth and reserve teams.  Credit to Walter again.

Steve Simonsen has been given a chance to show his stuff in goal and he has taken it with both hands a great save at Bolton to keep our 2-1 lead near the end (until the VERY end), followed by a great tip onto the bar from Zola's freekick on Sunday.  This shows Simo is on his way to becoming a fan favourite at Goodison.  Good luck to Tommy Myhre at Behsiktas also.

Improvement - yep, our once Route One football team is slowly showing signs of turning into a passing team.  Against Chelsea it wasn't there for all to see, but we did have some good spells in which we threw 9/10/11 passes together instead of the Route One option.  That was still there and it will be it's there for every team but against Bolton in the second half, some of the stuff we put together was phenomenal.  

For example, Pistone would pick the ball up at right back, give it to Stubbs; Stubbs would put it into midfield; Gascoigne to Gravesen, Gravesen to Unsworth, at left back... Now at this stage, we actually had a counterattack going, with Alexandersson and Co storming into space down the right.  Unsworth would then feed Naysmith who would put a cross in (on the floor) and one time, as we know, Gascoigne scored in a move not so different to that.  Good stuff.  It won't work all the time, namely against the likes of United and Arsenal and Leeds, but against the lesser clubs, I think this style of play will suite us perfectly.

Jesper Blomqvist has signed into Goodison on a 7-month contract with the option of an extension if he proves that his 2-year injury record is behind him.  Some people see it as a gamble; I don't see how.  He is a on a pay-as-you-play deal; if he does not prove his fitness, he will be searching for a new club in June.  If he does prove his fitness, we have a world-class winger to play on the left who once played for the likes of Parma and Man Utd.  Sounds simple to me.

Alot of people are complaining about Gary Naysmith playing left wing when he is a left back.  Well, Pistone is doing a great job at left back (when Watson plays right back that is) and he also has the most assists, so he's doing something right. 

Jeffers injured again and still only one goal to his name - I'm starting to think we were right to sell him...  Good to see Michael Ball playing well and scoring - that's two this season for Bally.

I passed the Everton shop last week.  After Christmas, all short-sleeved shirts from this season will be reduced to 20 in order to sell them before the three new kits come out in the summer. 

Happy 40th Birthday Dave Watson

Well that's it. Until Next time...

Take Care

Ian Mills

Breaking News - Just as I was about to send this column, my homepage ( loaded up and Duncan Ferguson is out for two weeks after having an operation.

20 November 2001


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