David Unsworth was the hero for a desperate 10-man Everton when his
shot in the last throes of stoppage time cannoned off the post and
deflected into the net via Kenny Cunningham to preserve the Toffees'
unbeaten start to the season.
Birmingham looked to be heading to their first win in the Premiership
after the match had turned on a 47th minute of madness that saw Alan
Stubbs harshly sent off for a professional foul and Stern John convert the
resulting penalty to give the visitors the lead.
After a fairly even first half in which Steve Bruce's Birmingham had
shown plenty of resilience, Everton, playing with another attacking 4-3-3
formation, had made a bright start to the second period.
But, when Thomas Gravesen's horrific back pass left John bearing down
on goal, Stubbs was adjudged to have been the last man when he brought the
striker down in the area. Referee Riley pointed to the spot and gave
Stubbs an automatic red card. John made no mistake from the spot,
firing in off the post past Steve Simonsen who was deputising for the
injured Richard Wright.
Birmingham's response was to pull all eleven men behind the ball
challenging the depleted home side to break them down. In the first
half, Kevin Campbell had come closest to breaking the deadlock when he hit
the post 20 minutes after Grainger had brushed the woodwork with a direct
free kick for Birmingham.
And despite plenty of effort and determination, the ten men in blue
were unable to carve out many clear-cut opportunities in their search for
an equaliser. Li Tie and Tomasz Radzinski both shot narrowly wide
and Wayne Rooney had a tremendous shot blocked by Darren Purse, seemingly
with his hand but the home fans' appeals for handball were denied.
With time ebbing away and Birmingham threatening on the break, David
Moyes withdrew Naysmith for Rodrigo as he made one last ditch attempt at
salvaging the draw. Radzinski had another shot deflected for a
corner which in turn was narrowly beaten out by the visiting defence but
Everton's baying fans were rewarded in the third minute of stoppage time
with a last-gasp equaliser.
Everton 4-1 Birmingham
No-one expected them to get promotion � they did. No-one
expects them to stay up � will they?
After the recent success of Bolton, Fulham and (ignoring last
year!) Ipswich, teams that come up cannot be readily
dismissed. This year Man City are likely to be the team that
carries the argument against the gap growing ever wider between the
Nationwide and the Premiership. Will Birmingham (and West
Brom) support them?
Well come on � hardly likely is it!!
2 games, no points, no goals. Not the start that Steve
Bruce will have wanted.
Looking at their team, it shows a lack of true class. Their
big signing was Robbie Savage. So far he has been banned and
hence makes his delayed debut at Goodison � are we worried about
him? Well considering the shock when we thought we might buy
him, I guess not. Aliou Cisse? Clinton Morrison?
Morrison could actually be a good signing but he may take time to
settle and the lack of creativity in Brum's midfield means he is
likely to be starved of chances.
At the back Darren Purse was last year rated as one of the best
centrebacks outside the Premiership and the signing of Kenny
Cunningham is astute but overall the back line still has a feeling
of fragility about it.
What of us?
Simonsen may be set to take his place between the sticks as
Richard Wright has a badly bruised arm. With no disrespect to
Simonsen, I hope Wright does not miss the game as he obviously needs
a good run of games and after his match-winning penalty save at
Sunderland was likely to get a good reception.
Yobo is unlikely to be rushed into 1st team action so the
backline will stay constant with a chance that the Nigerian could be
on the bench.
The midfield which is showing some promising signs will
definitely include Pembo, Gravesen and the v promising Li Tie.
Whether Moyes goes 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 will probably be the factor as to
whether Alexandersson or Rooney start. If Rooney doesn't
start, we will see him again later on.
Rads and Campbell will continue upfront � until Dunc gets fully
fit (!), then we should get used to this partnership. It works
and is unlikely to be altered
Overall, we should have far far too much for Birmingham.
The midfield needs to dominate and I expect Gravesen and Li Tie to
do so. If they do then Campbell will score again and let's
hope Rads gets on the score sheet again. Icing on the cake
would be for Rooney to come off the bench and add a sparkling
3-0 to the Blues and 7 points from 3 games.
A Deserved Point
A disappointing result in the end when there was so much more
promised. Much will be made of the performance of the referee,
which was less than consistent, but there is an argument which says
that in spite of what appeared to be both a territorial and
possession advantage, we just didn't create enough where it mattered
in front of goal. But that's a summary too soon, what of the
Early on, probably the first five minutes it looked as though we
might have taken the game to Birmingham, but the 4-3-3 formation
didn't really suit the game with the four in the middle for
Birmingham getting stuck in and giving us no space in the engine
room where it mattered. As a result Birmingham took over and
ran the game for a twenty minute period. Nevertheless, all
they created in reality during this period was a free header from a
corner that Simonsen pushed over and a free kick outside the box,
which beat Simonsen but clipped the top of the angle of cross bar
and post. After that they were fairly anonymous, with lots of
graft and no particular craft. By comparison Everton were
adventurous and more creative down the flanks, but were lacking the
cutting edge down the middle.
The 4-3-3 will never suit Rooney or Radzinski, in my opinion, as
both are forced out wide when they are far more dangerous down the
middle. Campbell, try as he might, just hasn't got the leap to
make a decent target man and being forced wide by his flicks as both
Rooney and Radzinski are, when he does win it, means that as the
ball is available to be driven across the box, Campbell hasn't made
up the ground and the other striker is still trying to get back in
from a wide position on the other side. But when he is in the
middle and he gets a chance to strike he can make a chance from very
little. One opportunity that fell to him followed a move down
the right and a bit of pin-ball in the middle. Eventually the
ball fell to Campbell, who swivelled on it and drove it wide of the
keeper, destined for the goal. But it hit the post and came
straight back at him, hit the back of the keeper and bounced beyond
the waiting Rooney and off to safety. Had that gone in things
later might have been so much different.
Rooney, too, saw a goal bound shot skew across the goal, after
the keeper got fingers to it and again there was nobody to
pounce. But at half-time the teams went in level at 0-0.
The second half saw Everton take more control of the game as we
tried to get forward at every opportunity. But every time
there seemed to be a handball, stopping a through ball or defender's
arms around the challenging forwards, the decision seemed to go
against Everton. Yet despite the propensity of the referee to
not blow up when he was toppled under three challengers at some
points, Campbell never gave up. He was always short of pace
and his flicks never quite came off, but he gave his
Sadly his all wasn't really enough as from such one broken down
attack Birmingham threw the ball forward, Gravesen controlled the
ball and sent it back to Simonsen, but it was tragically short and
Stubbs found himself exposed, chasing an on-rushing forward.
Always short of pace he fell under the effort, I'm not convinced
that he threw himself at John, but for once the referee decided to
make a decision and it was a penalty and Stubbs was off.
It was unbelievable in the context of everything else that had
gone on, but it was the application of the rules, to the
letter. Of course a penalty was the right decision if the
fall/foul was inside the box and from my angle I wasn't sure it
was. But at the other end of the pitch from the incident I can
only assume that the referee had abetter view than I. From the
penalty, which went in from the inside of the post, Birmingham took
the lead, entirely against the run of play.
From that point on there was only one team in it. It was
Everton going forward at will, with Li Tie leading the charge.
Unsworth had dropped back to replace Stubbs in the back four and we
moved to Gravesen and Li in midfield and suddenly there was space in
abundance. Rooney and Radzinski dropped back a bit more to
give them early options and Naysmith and Hibbert pushed up. We
ended up with a five man midfield at times and Birmingham couldn't
Chances fell our way as we released our forwards down inside
channels rather than down the wings. Radzinski had a couple of
chances with one in particular going just wide of the post as he
tried to bend it round the keeper and Li Tie hit a rocket from
outside the box. Rooney was denied by a couple of lunges and
one blatant hand, missed by the referee. Yet the ball wouldn't
go into the Birmingham net and as time ticked away a defeat looked
more than likely.
But still the Toffees pressed forward. The referee had
signalled for three minutes of added time when Rooney chased down a
ball and won a corner. He raced after the ball and took it
himself. The ball was flicked backwards and went outside the
box. It was chipped back in and again flicked out, this time
to Unsworth, who drove the ball into the net, albeit off a
Birmingham defender. 1-1 and we were still chasing a
win. But it didn't come and a deserved point was the end
Everton met their Waterloo tonight in a pitch battle with newly
promoted Birmingham City. There was one casualty but Everton's
ten could claim to have been shorted on their just rewards as City
held on to a draw.
Moyes reverted to the attacking 4-3-3 formation, bringing in
Unsworth to add competitive weight to the midfield, Pembridge the
loser, and restoring Wayne Rooney to the side in place of
Despite Everton's numerical advantage in attack it became clear that
a war of attrition was likely. Steve Bruce's side were lively
from the off, plenty of running in the forwards and much weight at
the back. The best thing about Robbie Savage's return to
Goodison was that he was in another team's shirt, though by now
every toffees fan must surely have enough faith in David Moyes to
realise that this was never really on the cards.
One of the first to show himself for the battle was Tony
Hibbert. The youngster, who has looked somewhat in at the deep
end in previous matches, was every bit as good as the challengers
and showed strength in the tackle, getting forward on the right and
delivering crosses. His link up play with Radzinski is
improving, and his ability to run at the right time shows true
potential. Gary Naysmith complimented on the left, although
his replacement late in the second half was timely.
City showed early promise, a Grainger free-kick coming close, Stern
John forcing a save from Simonsen with a long range header, although
it was their ability to crowd out their half and stifle Everton's
three forwards that was the strength in their game.
Everton did break them down, though, and Kevin Campbell in
particular looked sharp as he interrupted a Radzinski move to strike
hard and low onto the post. Rooney found spaces and perhaps
his greatest quality is his incessant hunting for opportunity.
Twice it came in the closing of the half, a fierce curling shot just
pulled away as it reached the far post, keeper Vassen stranded.
Birmingham went off delighted with the level scoreline, and the fact
that their manhandling tactics, repetitive hand balls and leading
arms had gone relatively unpunished. All except Savage, of
course, whose mum will hopefully have watched as he remonstrated
over his booking.
Continuing at a relentless pace, the second half began with
incident. Gravesen's rather flustered performance in midfield
(contrast to Lie Tie, increasingly looking to be Everton's first
truly world class midfielder for many years) included a series of
looping headers and mistimed passes, one of which unfortunately
played in Stern John beyond the defence. John looked to have
little control or composure, but Stubbs had only one thing on his
mind as he gripped the striker's arm tightly. Despite fluffing
the shot, whilst endeavouring to remain on his feet, the referee had
no option but to cry foul and dismiss the 'last man'. Stubbs
experience, and familiarity with his own inadequate pace, should
have caused a better reaction. There was little sympathy from
his manager as he trudged past the bench.
A textbook penalty past Simonsen, faultless throughout, and Everton
looked forlorn. The battle so far had been for supremacy, and
with the massive effort so far proving fruitless it was surely
unlikely that we would find a way back.
As Gravesen's head dropped, enter Li Tie. Showing for the ball
at every opportunity, he was a breath of fresh air. Always
available for the simple pass, working tirelessly to relieve the
pressure and laying on opportunities for the forwards. Kevin
Campbell played a Captain's game � all over the park, tackling,
winning headers, neat lay offs and inventive balls to left and right
for Rooney and Radzinski.
The Everton side showed a team spirit that has returned after years
of absence. An understanding is developing, but their
continual encouragement for each other - applauding delightful balls
from Ti, maisy runs from Rooney and crunching, last ditch tackles
from Weir was a delight to see. If ever there was condemnation
of recent management this was it.
The home side came into the ascendancy, Birmingham, reliant on
breakaway moves, threatened. Introducing Carter for Bryan
Hughes they attempted to pin Everton back with width. But with
Unsworth solid at the back, now alongside Weir, and Rooney beginning
to show some individual flair that could change the game, Moyes left
things unchanged. Fitness never looked a problem, the running
was shared as they covered for the missing man and looked the better
side in all areas. Gravesen was clearly rattled by his earlier
error, his set pieces became woeful, his corners wayward. The
blues kept coming.
Rooney's enthusiasm got the better of him as he pinched a quick free
kick from Unsworth, firing into a crowd of players to little
effect. Campbell was repeatedly bundled to the ground - real
aggression, nothing would put the man down tonight. Radzinski
stole in after a slide rule pass from the number nine but his touch
let him down. Rooney took a turn too many in the penalty area
and lost the ball to the keeper. Rodrigo was introduce with
five minutes to go for Naysmith and was keen to get involved.
Turning on the left edge of the penalty area and making space his
shot went a foot over. Li Tie blasted an effort wide from
outside of the box.
The visiting support was sickeningly enthusiastic, and a rousing
climax ensued as the board showed 2 minutes of extra time. And
then, a corner, taken by Rooney picked up on the right by Hibbert,
whose cross was superb. Unsworth did everything right as the
ball dropped, a low powerful shot into the left of the goal, Jeff
Kenna directing it inside the post. The relief was
phenomenal. And Li Tie still looked to press for the
Thousands departed, shellshocked. They had finally done it,
and not undeserved. The blues are developing week by
week. They are growing an understanding and a team
spirit. They do not give up. With real finesse their
football could be Arsenal-esque. Moyes's influence is showing
more and more and the players appear to be showing a hunger for the
next game not to make amends, but to get back into the field and
keep on fighting.
Man of the match � Kevin Campbell, lively, strong,
enthusiastic and showing the type of form that made Franny Jeffers a