And so to Stoke; what joy ...
Well, Happy New Year to all Evertonians!
If the last fortnight hasn't convinced you that a winter
break is a good idea for football then nothing will.
Do you know I have been dreading writing this
preview. I have always maintained an optimistic outlook
to the Blues despite all their efforts to defeat me
and up until Charlton I had managed to. But how do I
stay positive now?
The litany of players out of position, players making
mistakes, players showing no commitment, players being injured
and players being downright crap has brought this club to its
knees. Watson upfront, Unsworth in midfield, JMM on the
bench and Cadamarteri starting his first game for months when
it is a must-win situation. Gravesen wanting out and
then, against Boro, three more injuries before we have got to
the 50th minute.
What the hell did we do to deserve this? Support
Johnson's success in buying us?
What is so galling to the Optimist in me is that, only
three weeks ago, we were in a solid 9th position, looking up
the table, talking about InterToto positions and stupidly
harbouring hopes of a European place by merit.
Then we met Fowler and Leeds. A 3-2 loss away to
Leeds is not an embarrassment particularly as they sit proudly
at the top of the league. Unsworth gifted Sunderland
their goal and United arrived in the middle of their best
league form for 12 months and we held them for 77 mins
just long enough for us to begin to believe that a point was
there for the taking (which it was) but there went the
three consecutive defeats the fixture list had surely
It was the effect of those three defeats that shows the
fragile confidence of the team, squad and perhaps more
importantly the support. It's almost as if we have all
been waiting for this crisis and indeed certain sections
of Goodison are delighted to scream "knew it, knew
As Radzinski limped off which I must admit I only heard
over the radio as family demands had called the game was
up. "Goal at Goodison" five minutes later
could only be followed by "Graham Stuart gives Charlton
the lead". I never believed for a minute that we
would come back... and neither did the team.
And so, expectedly, the calls for Smith's head began
well, became louder anyway.
Shall I bother defending him when the jury has already
wholeheartedly condemned him? Very difficult after the
Watson and Unsworth decisions.
What of his buying record? Well Materazzi, Dacourt,
Weir, Campbell, Gravesen and Naysmith are all in the credit
column, as was his rejuvenation of Barmby. I suppose
anybody who is forced to sell and then rebuy his team every
summer is eventually going to buy a Nyarko and, should Barmby
run and now Gravesen show himself to be disenchanted with the
lack of funds, do you blame the Manager? Some
would. I call it human nature to want to play at the
highest standard and anyone without blue-tinted glasses can
easily see that without the funds to even purchase Brighton's
young striker Everton are going nowhere.
Desperation has been the result of few funds and gambling
the reaction. Gazza, Ferguson, tying Campbell to a
long-term deal when Villa were sniffing these have all
been gambles that have frankly failed. Blomqvist is the
final gamble that has not yet played itself out and frankly is
unlikely to do so with Walter at the helm.
On New Year's Day we went to Boro. Oh the human
nature of the League's fixture machine. We worked
hard. We started with Dunc and Danny another front
line partnership that was to be broken up by injury. The
right-hand side of the team (Alexandersson and Watson) both
injured before 49mins are up and before Hibbert can find his
feet a corner and then goal conceded down his flank. And
that was that.
And so to Stoke.
One defeat in their last 18 games leaves them sitting top
of the 2nd Division in their very impressive Britannia Stadium. Would you believe that they are favourites to
repeat the feat of their near neighbours, Port Vale, and knock
us out? Of course you can, because you expect them to.
Their 2-2 draw at Prenton Park will have allowed the Scouts
a comfortable journey to watch them but what will they have
learned? Nothing. Stoke will just go for it.
They will fully believe that they will beat us and claim top
spot on The Premiership. After five blank games, can we
do anything about it?
Well, let's look at our team: Watson, Pistone, Gravesen,
Gazza, Alexandersson, Pembridge, Cadamarteri, Radzinski and
Campbell would make a decent fist of the game... apart from
the fact that they are all out injured.
Dunc and JMM upfront? A midfield central partnership
of... Gemmill and, well, who? Oh, of course,
Unsworth! At the back...? Ah, a slice of sunshine and
perhaps the one area that I can cling to: Weir, Stubbs,
Xavier, Naysmith. Simonsen in goal. Hibbert will
probably play right-back to one of the first three.
If the midfield work hard and match Stoke's midfield in
workrate, then we really should come away from this game
undefeated. I ignore the Charlton game as a blemish:
just one of those games. I ignore Leeds and United as we
did compete but were beaten by better teams who are now 1st
and 2nd in the wealthiest league in the world.
Against Boro and Sunderland we lost 1-0. They are
both better than Stoke.
Dunc is getting fitter and JMM just loves the Cup!
WE CAN WIN THIS GAME. Of course we blinkin' well
can! We've beaten Villa and battered Newcastle, hammered
West Ham, trounced the Saints and gave Leeds and United damn
If the players can rise above the media campaign to damn
us, and Walter can somehow ignore the frenzy to sack him, then
this is a game that we can pinch 1-0 and use as a new start as
Sunderland come to Goodison next week.
We will still have a batch of internationals on the pitch,
some of whom will be going to the World Cup later this
year. I harbour hopes that Gravesen will play and Watson
has often come back from injuries that have caused him to be
substituted. Dunc must score in open play soon and this
should be the game that he does it.
Please believe that we can win! A hint of
desperation? Of course, but not without basis. The
FA Cup is magical. Many fightbacks have begun with it as
the starting point. We were worse when Royle began his
journey and Kendall was hanging on when he eventually arrived
at Wembley. If I offered you our players against Stoke's
man for man you would choose ours every time (...almost!).
1-0 and Walter to stay.
How Walter thinks
by Jolly Martin
The day was horrible - mist swirling around and blowing into the ground all
match. The pitch was extremely slippery on top, presumably having
defrosted completely since last week. The blues were down to their last 8
fit players.... well, those that Walter bothers to pick anyway. No doubt
about it, Stoke were clear favourites to walk it. But somehow,
somewhere, it all went awry (thank goodness!).
Gascoigne, Ferguson and Blomqvist clearly were nowhere near fit.
Despite my efforts to get Walter to read my mind, he chose to ignore the likes
of Hibbert at full-back and play four central defenders strung across the
back. Blomqvist started on the right with Naysmith on the left, the 2G's
in the middle and Joe-Max starting a game for once.
Stoke started predictably they flew at us. Amazingly, Gascoigne got
injured within about 20 seconds of the kick-off honest. It took him a
good 10 mins to run it off and another 20 to really begin to spray the ball
around. Xavier looked completely out of it at full back and got caught
numerous times early on.
We looked scared of what Stoke might do to us and consequently they looked
far more likely to score. But they didn't and, as the half wore on, we
came more and more into it. By half-time things were reasonably even
Duncan had hit the post with a good shot and Blomqvist had put a shot just wide
but neither keeper had been unduly troubled.
Then Walter decided it was time for one of his total reshuffles: Blomqvist to
the left, Naysmith to centre midfield (?) and Gemmill to the right.
Amazingly, we suddenly looked much better going forward. Blomqvist is very
one-footed and was pretty average down the right but on the correct side, he
looked totally different.
Suddenly, Duncan goes down like a sack of potatoes just outside the box, the
wall disintegrates and Stubbs belts it into the net - and at our end as
Walter quickly panicked at this example of flowing Blues football and
switched the midfield back to what it was before. Blomqvist still saw a
lot of the ball and could have had a couple. Gascoigne and Joe-Max
combined beautifully to set Gazza through but the keeper saved well.
Stoke had a lot of the ball but actually rarely threatened Simonsen in goal
the ball flashed across the goal a couple of times but I can't remember him
making a serious save all game.
Stoke actually disappointed me top of the second, I expected them to be a
lot more of a threat than they were. Playing one up front and flooding the
midfield was a big mistake by them I suspect 3 or 4 in midfield would have
competed equally well and they would have posed more of a threat.
Simmo had nothing to do; Xavier looked out of it
at right back; Stubbs and Weir were solid as was Unsworth at left back (is he
the new Mike Lyons? He's played at least four positions this season
watch out for him in goal at some point...).
Gemmill was as industrious
as ever; Gascoigne played some lovely passes but tried to elaborate too much at
times. Naysmith is great going forward and cutting in towards the penalty
box. He looks a much better at wide midfielder than as a
Dunc did little; Joe-Max ran his heart out all game
without too much effect. But my man of the match was Blomqvist.
First time I've seen him and he looks to have bags of skill but, at the moment,
little pace. Whether the pace comes back is doubtful. I don't see
how you can be out for that long and pick up the pace of a league that gets
quicker every year. However, I'd have him in the team every week for what
he can do now with the hope that more will come.
So, overall, a much
better performance than I'd expected I really did think we'd lose.
Orient in the next round shouldn't be a problem.... I'm away in the States
so I'll be glued to my mobile for the text messages!
interested me towards the end of the game - when Duncan was so clearly
struggling with his fitness, why not take him off with, say, 15 mins to go and
put Chadwick on for a game? We were 1-0 up, Duncan was hardly moving by
then (as if he ever moves very far!) and, given the state of our strike force at
the moment, he's likely to be unfit come next week. So why not give the
lad some more experience?
But then, we've no idea how Walter
The Jolly Martian
Stubbs throws Smith a
by Julian Cashen
The Brittania Ground. Of all the new stadia, surely the coldest, most
soulless, most characterless... and stuck out in the arse end of
nowhere. Researching my route to the ground it appeared that a major
landmark was the Waste Incineration site - how appropriate this was; I only
realised on my arrival, when it became apparent that the whole ground should be
carted off to Waste Incineration.
Still, there was a pretty good atmosphere in the ground, and not many empty
seats. Stoke fans in good voice in confident anticipation of an
'unexpected' victory over supposedly superior opposition. Evertonians in
good voice to conceal their nervousness at the prospect of another humiliating
early exit from the Cup at the hands of a Nationwide League outfit.
For the line up, with so few to choose from, no real surprises. Papa
Smurf at right back replacing Watson with Stubbs at centre half alongside
Weir. Rhino at left back. A start for Gazza alongside Gemmill with
Blomqvist on the right and Naysmith left, Dunc and Joe-Max Moore up front.
Much as my heart always drops to my boots at the sight of Unsworth on the pitch,
it's probably the line up most fans would have picked given the resources
For once the shock team selection came not from Wally but from his opposite
number, an unpronounceable Icelandic gentleman, who elected to go into an
eminently winnable cup tie against goal shy opposition short on confidence, with
just one up front.
The First Half
Memorable for not a lot, rather to my relief. I think players and fans
alike were expecting an early storm, which never really came. Certainly
Stoke had their share of territory and possession, but Simmo and the back four
remained remarkably untroubled. For us, Duncan was unlucky in hitting the
woodwork for the second match in succession, while Blomqvist hit a daisy cutter
It would be an exaggeration to say the game exploded into life after the
break, but certainly the boys in Blue came out with a lot more purpose, perhaps
actually believing that the game was winnable. Whatever; after God knows
how many goalless minutes in over four matches, we finally got a
Dunc collapsed in the D under a powder puff challenge - TV showed there was
no contact made, but Evertonians will take all the lucky breaks they can
get. We take an age arguing about who is going to hit it. They take
an age lining up the wall. A little tap to Stubbsy who belts it low to the
keeper's right, through some hapless defender's legs, into the bottom
And really from there we should have gone on to win comfortably. That
we did not was due to some half decent saves from their keeper, but mainly to
rank bad finishing. Gazza in particular will have been disappointed after
really rolling back the years with a surge into the box, that he gave the keeper
a chance to save with his legs.
Towards the end Blomqvist ought to have done better. But come the final
whistle the overriding feeling was relief at not slipping on the ceremonial
banana skin, and delight at being in the hat for the next round. Next up,
Leyton Orient at home surely we can beat them?!? and then one more kind
draw in the 5th and we can be through to the 6th round, when suddenly the dreams
of a trip to.... er... Cardiff, begin to seem a lot less fanciful.
What does it mean?
Although the match itself wasn't a lot to write home about I don't think
I've left anything meaningful out in the two brief paragraphs above the
result just could be a significant one. To base a manager's sacking on one
result is absurd, but on the other hand, the drip drip drip of bad results, like
Chinese water torture, eventually becomes unbearable. An early cup exit,
effectively ending the season other than the perennial struggle to achieve the
safety mark of 40 points, would however valid the excuses of injuries and
lack of cash have tried the patience of supporters and board alike.
Instead, there is the genuine feeling that the players in the dressing room have
found some real determination to see things improve a pity it needed a
'crisis' to bring this about.
On the field, Blomqvist has been a revelation and can give us the best
penetration down the flanks that we have seen since the days of Kanchelskis (or
am I being unfair to John Oster? ...only joking!) The belated
establishment of Simmo between the sticks has also effectively strengthened the
team at no immediate cost.
Xavier and Pistone at the back have both performed excellently (until the
latter's injury), as has the ever-dependable Weir. If we can just get the
forwards fit and Smith uses the money supposedly to be made available, to get a
decent midfielder or two, I do think we are an upper mid table side.
We are by no means the only team short of cash. No surprise that Derby
and Leicester are on their uppers but even a team like Newcastle cannot spend
money, and this despite or perhaps because of their 50,000 seater
stadium of just the kind to which Blue Bill aspires...!
Blackburn, despite their recent purchase of Cole, lost £31M last year....
£31M!!!!! So being one of the first to learn to work within a budget may
stand us in good stead in the longer term. Where Bill's £9M is to come
from remains a mystery, and though it is the price of one or at most two decent
players, it will be welcome if it proves more concrete than the fabled media
Let's not kid ourselves that we have turned any meaningful corner. But
we seem to have acquired a determination to turn things round and this of itself
ought to avoid any repeat of the insipid performance against Charlton.
Could we at last be showing signs of some limited progress?
Next up - The Black Cats
Peter Reid will have been kicking cats of every colour following his team's
recent form a 5-0l reverse at Ipswich followed by a humiliation in the
Cup. Here's a man many supporters would like to see in the hot seat at
Goodison, having a torrid time at the hands of his own supporters an
underachieving team and a manager with apparently no cash despite a
state-of-the-art 50,000 seater stadium of just the kind to which Blue Bill
We either slaughter them to compound Reidy's misery, or suffer the backlash.
Sunderland, against Ipswich, were by all accounts a disorganised
rabble. I don't see them picking themselves up, and go for us to win and
Blomqvist to get his first for the Blues!!!