Rampant confidence and unrelenting optimism were dealt a
body-blow last week when Everton failed to convert their
unquestioned superiority into goals. Where does that
leave us this week, as a somewhat weakened team travels the
short distance to Bolton?
If we are to believe the pre-match hype, it gives Walter
Smith the opportunity to ring a few changes in what was a
football-playing team, if not exactly a winning team. Gerrard may make way for Simonsen to get a long-awaited
Premiership debut; Campbell will probably make way for a
chastened Duncan Ferguson to strut his dubious stuff on
Everton's front line; and Xavier will definitely make way for
Stubbs (surely not Unsworth?) to return to the back line
against one of his old clubs.
Changes that will in all probability presage a return to
the dreaded 5-3-2 formation, the lack of flowing football
along the ground, and the return to the mind-numbing
lump-it-up-front strategy that Ferguson's presence seems to
But what if Everton could for once play a system that
Ferguson could benefit from? What sort of goal return
might we see then? It's not really that hard, is
We have Watson and Naysmith who are both capable of moving
the ball efficiently out of defence and up the flanks; we have
Gascoigne and Gravesen, who both have the vision and skill to
play defense-splitting balls out to the wings, and we have
fleet-footed Tal, Radzinski, and Alexandersson, who can take
wide balls forward, beat their men, and swing driving crosses
into the box from advanced positions. All perfect fodder
for Duncan to feast upon, to power home fearsome headers that
should be his bread and butter...
Sadly, it hardly ever seems to happen that way any
more. Did it ever? Perhaps not. But each and
every game is winnable. Hopefully that is a lesson that
last weekend's disaster will have drilled home to our unlucky
team. There should be no reason for them to believe that
they cannot go out to the Reebok Stadium and win.
by Rob Burns
This afternoon's game at the Reebok Stadium had been billed
as a grudge match – an opportunity for Bolton's renaissance squad to exact
revenge on an old enemy as it steamrollers the Premiership. The goal that was
cleared from over the line (after Southall had been fouled!) has not been forgotten, although directions to the
Reebok, and the days when we used to play with a hoop and stick in t'street
certainly have judging by the size and quality of the home support. Everton
underwent their own miniature re-birth as they awoke from a slumber late in the
first half to dominate the match, falling only to a late bundled goal in injury
time that followed an aerial bombardment.
In recent history,
Everton's ability to match like with like when playing the more physical sides
in the league has been well documented – the 'Dogs of War' tag just wouldn't go
away. But today they went out to pitch passing football, guile and skill against
a side of heavyweight southpaws who simply wouldn't go down. The only 'safety'
measure from Walter was his decision to play 5 across midfield, introducing
Gazza as the extra man so that the centre of the park was packed with ability
rather than aggression. The other talking point was between the sticks, where
Steve Simonsen was given his first start after Gerrard's knockout blow to Abel
last week. Whether he would make the grade was open to debate, and much easier
to decide with hindsight.
Despite seeing the Trotters in various
highlights, the only time I have watched their 90-minute performance this season
was against Liverpool and, let's face it, you never really see what makes a side
tick when you're willing the ball into the net from every goal kick. So I was
interested to know how they had impressively taken the scalps of so many of the
'big boys' of the Premiership. This is an irony in itself as it is certainly
Bolton who are the big boys, and their style of counter-attacking heavyweight
football would certainly overrun any side who hasn't experienced 'mixing it' at
the basement of the league in recent times. Everton, in the unfamiliar position
of being the craftsmen, found it difficult at first to cope.
started assuredly, inter-passing and using each other well. Radzinski was the
lone outlet up front and Everton's early tactic was to get the ball forward as
quickly as possible – but not in an 'up to Dunc' style – instead low,
cross-field passes and attempts to slide the ball through the Bolton defence,
whose members were some distance from their feet and the floor, where Everton
strived to keep the ball.
The only deficiency was in the speed of reactions.
Pistone particularly was guilty on several occasions of missing good runs from
Gemmill, Alexandersson, Radzinski and Naysmith and giving the ball away. Gazza,
for me was in danger of becoming a zero – his eagerness to take the ball from
his team mates often led to inappropriate positioning and hurried and inaccurate
passing. Gravesen was largely anonymous, although he did make a couple of good
runs but again the speed of reaction and failure to run off the ball allowed the
whites to get men behind the ball.
Bolton packed out the penalty area and,
lined across the front of the box, were extremely difficult to break down.
of Whitlow, Charlton and Bergsson proving formidable. Equally as dangerous was
the whiplash breaks, as through Frandsen and Warhurst the ball was thrown
forward, the unorthodox but pacey styles of Gardiner and Ricketts providing a
speedy battering ram in response, Rod Wallace picking up the pieces. It was such
a break which led to the opener after 10 minutes.
Nolan was striding towards the
Everton box when Weir gave him one of those looks that you just can't help
falling for. The Bolton man certainly couldn't and Referee Andy 'Popularity'
d'Urso gave the free kick. Simonsen's first test and, as he shouted instructions to his wall Frandsen
quickly drove the ball past his left hand post – the 'keeper arrived later than
the 3.00 from Lime Street and Everton were a goal down.
deadened by the goal and were lucky to approach half time at 1-0, despite
Alexandersson's shot at the keeper. The unconvincing Simonsen did pull off a
good save from Warhurst but looked weak in the penalty area – nervous and
probably guilty of trying a little too hard. Even luckier for Everton was the
award of a free kick just before the break.
Gemmill teed up and somehow Stubbs
found a gap through the crowded area. His shot went like a rocket into the top
right corner of the goal. Like a massive game of 'What's my line?' as I looked
around me in the West stand there were hundreds standing letting out similar
shouts of joy and relief - we were all over this part of the ground. Such a pity
because the allocation of tickets was only half of the end this time around -
despite the numerous empty seats dotted around the Everton end it appeared that
given a few more tickets we could have sold that stand out on our own. Sold out?
The old boy Stubbs had given Everton a deserved lead, but I
hoped at half time Walter would introduce Tal for Gascoigne, who for me was
simply not at the races. Add to that his insistence on arguing every refereeing
decision, slapdash backheels and ill-considered dribbles, I felt that Gazza
looked lost in the Premier League. With the Bolton midfielders standing their
ground in every challenge the fresher year of our 'School of Science' was
bouncing off left right and centre.
Everton did buck up their ideas,
however - Geordie Boy included. Renewed confidence and a few passing lessons at
half time took effect. Alexandersson, Naysmith and Rad came into the game and
ran the defence ragged, with open movement, spread passing and intelligent use
of the ball. Naysmith was getting up and down the left at speed, and supplied
Unsworth whose low, powerful cross eluded Radzinski and then Alexandersson only
needing a touch to convert.
Again combining on 56 minutes, Naysmith worked the
ball down the left and crossed back for Radzinski - intelligently he held the
defender in place and let the ball run past. Gascoigne, in an excellent far-post
position, made no mistake from 12 yards and put the blues 2-1 into the lead.
One way traffic for some time. Bolton introduced Diawara for Charlton, who
was mysteriously injured in a clash with Alexandersson who found himself
surprisingly through on goal but hesitated without shooting. Diawara is straight
from the Wanderers mould - big and brutal. An over-the-top ball caused confusion
as his looping header went backwards - Radzinski, clean through, lifted the ball
over the bar and missed the chance to wrap up the game.
d'Urso was not at
his best and made decisions for both sides where the advantage would have paid
more dividends – including a pull-back on Gravesen from which Gemmill picked up
the ball. This was Diawara's first booking, the second came when he tried to
jump a box-car on the Unsworth express. As our own Rhino – who's game today was
controlled and mature, not trying too much but remaining involved and covering a
lot of ground – shot clear after a brilliant ball from Gazza that hung in the
air and seemed to drop to a timetable, the big defender threw his full weight
behind a sliding challenge. For a minute Davey looked hurt, but a ten-count
from the ref and he was back and shuffling again. Goodbye Diawara and ten-man
Bolton were surely buried.
Comedy, as the board went up to swap Gazza for
Cadamarteri. The charismatic number eight went to the court of appeal - surely
not me? No sorry Walter mistaken identity. As if giving in to a child the board
changed and the now exhausted Radzinski departed - keeping the peace again, no
doubt. Then it happened........
From the touch lines there was a rumble, a
crash, a roll of drums. A shadow took over the pitch, my view from above was
obscured by a great blackness. The apocalypse had arrived. I checked my
underwear - fearing that I would not be wearing Calvin Kleins on the day of
judgement as planned. The crowd gasped, and then entered the source of the
great commotion - a massive, inflatable Danny Cadamarteri!
Hall was commentating on Radio 5 today he would surely have felt at least a
touch of nostalgia as this giant 'It's a Knockout' figurine entered the fray.
is massive, and must have given up his Wade Smith storecard for something for
larger men. If anyone could provide the killer haymaker it was him, although
whether his striking of the ball would be up to quite as much is a quite
Bolton had something of an ascendancy, and provided an aerial battering for the Everton defence.
Holdsworth was introduced for Wallace,
and added another body to the box to give Simonsen more headaches. The young
goalie looked like a frightened Rabbit as the big men stood on his line. Weir
and Stubbs appeared a little low on trust as they frantically cleared their
Bolton kept coming. A goal – disallowed for off side.
passing had disappeared with the composure – I would bet a mirror image of the
scenes at Old Trafford last week – Gemmill, Alexandersson, Gravesen and Pistone
all guilty of wild passes. Cadamarteri loitered up front and did at least put
his weight about to try to hold the ball near the front. For me Tal was the
better option, as to add speed, control and urgency to Everton's case would
surely have been an improvement on a man lacking in recent experience.
no avail, however, as – with 4 minutes of added time almost counted down – a ball
hurled in to a panicked Everton box was headed down by Bergsson. Ricketts stood
in front of Simonsen, falling backwards into the goal, and his heel flick
was enough to send the ball in. No room for disappointment as it had been
Looking back on today's game, it was probably the wrong choice to bring
in Simo when we were certain to face such a physical threat. That said, another
Gerrard howler would have tried the patience of the travelling fans just as
much. Neither defence nor goalkeeper could be said to have looked comfortable
today and it will take a braver man than me to pick the 'number 1' in a
Everton are in a period of transition. Like a child
whose legs have grown an inch longer than its brain knows, the transforming side
probably do not yet know their abilities or their limitations. This afternoon
they had rolled with the punches from the heavyweight Lancastrians for 93
minutes. Sadly they were caught on the ropes at the bell and lost the crucial
advantage. Deciding whether to mix it or treat it with contempt is the choice
that we now have to make.
On some days, it will come off; on others, it won't.
The biggest regret is that we must still see an available squad with players
that we are happy to see included as a temporary luxury, as injuries will come
and we may regret the days when we dropped points at Bolton and Ipswich. But Walter
must be credited for this afternoon in his approach to the game and his tactical
aptitude in facing a style of play that was associated with the Everton teams of
the 90's, but is week-by-week becoming a distant memory.