Following three consecutive defeats (two in the league), Everton
had to pick themselves up and show what they were made of.
Both league defeats have been thoroughly undeserved and just one
point in each of them might still have been seen as an
injustice. Nevertheless, the fact remained that both games saw
us gain no points and we slid from third to fifth. With a
small in-form pack breathing down our necks, of which Southampton
was probably the surprise package and Blackburn the enigma, we could
afford no mistakes.
Blackburn are an enigma because the Ewood Park club would seem to
have star players all over their side, with keeper Brad Friedel one
of the Premiership's most reliable and spectacular goalies —
penalty saves a stock in trade; the likes of rising stars David Dunn
and Damien Duff able to turn games in a moment; and old stagers Cole
and Yorke up front liable to knock in a few at any time.
Boyhood Toffee fan David Thompson has also shown that he has the
makings of a useful midfield contributor. Yet they
consistently struggle to find both guile and goals, so are probably
further down the league than they might otherwise be expected to be.
However, Everton still had to perform like the team that went on
that recent extended unbeaten run as Blackburn were expected to want
to avenge their recent 0-1 loss to Everton at Ewood Park. A
start for Wayne Rooney was to be the unexpected team news.
The game started off as it was continue throughout —
frantic. Blackburn managed the first attack, but it was easily
broken up by the Everton defence. Such was the overall
openness of play by both sides that there appeared to be a distinct
lack of anybody in midfield who could turn themselves to defensive
On 90 seconds, Everton could have gone ahead but a cross from
Carsley that was headed goalwards by Campbell was well saved by
Friedel. In these early stages, as throughout the game, it was
end-to-end stuff but, after that first foray by Everton, it was
Blackburn that looked the more likely to score. Three times
the Everton defence left too much space in the box, space that
Blackburn failed to take advantage of, but you can't keep on giving
good opposition chances and expecting to get let off the hook.
Such it was when Blackburn were presented with another opportunity
and this time, after only five minutes, Andy Cole duly obliged to
send a header beyond Richard Wright's reach.
Everton continued to show that they don't take going behind
lightly. Despite a fragility and hesitance in defence, the
midfield began to get something of a grip of things. After 12
minutes there was a move down the right, which resulted in a cross
into the box. Campbell diverted the ball into the path of
Rooney. The 17-year-old swept the ball beyond Friedel, but it
hit the inside of the goal post and rebounded back out across the
Blackburn goal. First on the scene was Lee Carsley who calmly
prodded the ball into an empty net.
The rest of the half was a tale of opportunities at both ends,
only one of which was converted. A corner by Thompson for
Blackburn was again poorly defended by Everton, but Yorke could only
manage to knock the ball over the bar. From the resulting
goal-kick, Richard Wright launched the ball up-field. It
bounced in front of the Blackburn defence, which stood rooted, just
looking at the ball. Amongst all this was a "man" on
a mission... Wayne Rooney darted into the space where the ball
was destined and nodded it beyond the defender, chased it and
drilled it across Friedel into the far corner of the Blackburn
net. 2-1 and back from the dead again!
Blackburn refused to be down cast and they continued to
press. Thompson, who was lively throughout, danced into the
Everton box and went down under a challenge, in the box. The
away fans screamed for a penalty and so did the Blackburn player,
but referee Barber waved play on. I have to say that I thought
a penalty would have been a fair decision, but in all honesty
Thompson's dive to the ground, after the event, probably convinced
the referee that there had been no contact. We got away with
that one, as we did when Cole hit the post with the goal at his
As the clock ticked on towards half-time, we could have increased
the lead. A free-kick from wide on the Everton right was met
in the box by Alan Stubbs, but it came back off the post, the second
time we'd hit the woodwork in the half, after Rooney's effort that
had been converted by Carsley.
The second half started off as a replica of the first, with the
game swinging from end to end, neither midfield on top, and neither
defence looking sure footed. Everton again had the better of
the chances, Carsley hitting high and wide with only Friedel to beat
after a stunning cross-field ball from Rooney. Rooney was
again in the thick of things when he managed to take the ball to the
by-line (how!?) and drove it across the middle of the six yard
box. Campbell, quite simply couldn't get forward fast enough
to tap it into the net.
Another ball from Rooney started off a move that saw Gravesen hit
the stanchion behind the goal; other chances were parried by Friedel
and kicked away by the defence. It wasn't all one way,
though. Wright had to pull off an exceptional reflex save to
push the ball over the bar at a Blackburn corner.
In the end, the game turned on two decisions. The first was
the substitution of David Weir for a tiring Li Tie. We moved
to five at the back; a bad decision. After that, we always
looked exposed down the flanks and Gillespie and Duff began to get
into the game. The second was the sending off of Blackburn
defender Neill. He had been booked for a clumsy challenge on
Naysmith (I think) in the first half and in the second he pulled
Tony Hibbert back after the Everton player had beaten him and was
charging towards the box.
The second yellow saw Neill get his marching orders. A
quick switch by Souness saw David Dunn go into an attacking midfield
position at the expense of a more defensive one. After that it
was almost one way traffic as Blackburn piled on the pressure.
We looked like the 10-man side that was hanging on. Wright
made another breathtaking full stretch save that pushed a goal-bound
header wide of the post during this spell. Even Friedel
applauded that one.
In the end it finished 2-1. Overall we probably just shaded
it, but Blackburn played their part in an excellent game.
Man of the Match: Without any close challenger (Stubbs was
the leader of the chasing pack) Wayne Rooney.