1, 2, 3, 4, 5!!! 5 Consecutive wins! 15 points out of
15. The last few years have seen us take nearly half a season
to get that many!
Another superb victory over a very good Blackburn side at Ewood
Park has really set the pulse racing. I am more than happy to
admit that I thought a stung Blackburn side would bring us back down
to earth but Yobo and Wright were having none of it.
Whilst Wright is still prone to the odd fumble, he is certainly
showing signs of improvement and his shot-stopping and
decision-making (not to mention penalty saves) are improving all the
time; they were a key feature of our last four clean sheets.
Yobo is world class � must stay.
Now we welcome West Brom to Goodison. Just like a fortnight
ago against Charlton, the major concern must be complacency.
We also have to cope with a new aspect � we are in form and
perceived to be a quality side. Teams will start coming to
Goodison happy to leave with a point; WBA will be delighted to do
so, and hence a rigid back-four with defence-minded midfield is
likely to face us.
Can we break it down?
Of course we can! 12 goals have been reaped by Radz and
(once again) Super Kev. Although WBA have a decent back-line,
it will be a surprise if they can keep those two quiet. Young
Rooney has also missed out on the headlines recently and will be
hoping to make another impact soon.
Injury means that Pembridge will be missing again so expect
Naysmith to start in his place. I'm looking forward to seeing
Pistone return but that would mean moving Unsworth who most
definitely deserves his place at the moment.
Elsewhere the boys will be same again.
WBA have late fitness tests over Gilchrist and Andy
Johnson. If Johnson fails then Jason Koumas may get the chance
to torment us again and show that Moyes should have splashed his
cash at Prenton Park rather than on Rodrigo... but Moyes has been
shown to have got nothing wrong so far and Koumas is yet to show
Premiership class (I DO hope I don't regret that statement).
Jason Roberts is their one player of true quality � watching
how he copes against Yobo will tell you a lot about him. I for
one would love to see him join us at the end of this season - him
allied with Rooney in the future could be an England strikeforce.
WBA have not won in 8 games and they should not stand up against
us. The right attitude and application should be enough to see
them off and I think we all know that Moyes will demand it.
Anyone who slips up loses his place � ask Weir how difficult it is
to get that place back!
3-0 to the Blues and an outside bet for Hibbert to open the
As the stewardess demonstrated how to don an oxygen mask in case
of loss of cabin pressure, flying in from Spain on Thursday night, I
was minded to think of the giddiness that's been prevalent around
Goodison Park of late. Getting to fourth place was a minor
achievement, compared to the task of staying there. Yet,
against the odds we'd walked away from Ewood Park with all three
points, after a fourth successive Premiership win, a third this
season away from home and yet another clean sheet.... and we were
still fourth. By the time we kicked off today, thanks to
the scheduling that goes on at Sky, we were down to fifth, but the
hope was that we would make this a purely temporary state of
The game against West Bromwich Albion, as a result of recent
performances, had taken on special significance. As we tried
to stretch both our unbeaten home run and our winning streak, the
game had become a sell-out � all 40,120 tickets had gone.
Now whether that would mean a full house remained to be seen.
Did we sell a fixed number of tickets to the Baggies on a
non-sale-or-return basis or had they sold their entire
allocation? The fact was they'd sold all of their allocation,
so it was to be a full house.
With the on-field improvements that we've seen, there was the
added attraction of this being the first of the season's
"Founder Games", which are being given special status as
we celebrate our 100th top flight season, taking on co-founder
members of the Football League. The celebrations looked back
at the 1968 FA Cup Final between the two sides, which the Baggies
had stolen 1-0, thanks to a goal from the late Jeff Astle, so
pre-match we had communal singing "� la Wembley" and
flags waved by 100 school children.
The West Brom squad contained two players often linked with a
move to Goodison during Walter Smith's reign at the club.
Whatever the truth in Everton's interest, neither has yet to set the
Premiership alight at West Brom and of the two only Sean Gregan
(ex-Preston) started. Jason Koumas (ex-Tranmere) had to
satisfy himself with a place on the bench. West Brom were
under the control of former Everton player Gary Megson.
Everton were expected to go into the game unchanged from the side
that started against Blackburn last weekend, with Mark Pembridge
still sidelined through injury. There had been talk of Li Tie
being rested after a poor display last week, as David Moyes put the
lapse in form down to him playing non-stop for nearly 18
months. But the manager resisted the temptation to change a
winning formula. With quality on the bench (I wouldn't have
said that last year!), he has the time and the players available to
make changes when he needs to.
The game started at a brisk pace with both sides keeping the ball
moving, but neither making too much of any possession that they
enjoyed. West Brom looked comfortable on the ball, a fact
which belied their lowly league position. In fact the first
strike of the game came from the visitors, but it was a tame effort
from outside the box, that gave Richard Wright no problems
As the half progressed, Everton gained the upper hand with
Unsworth going close from a superb Gravesen cross; Naysmith was
denied by a last-gasp tackle in the box, after neat interplay with
Campbell; and Radzinski smashed a drive into the top corner of the
net only to see Baggies keeper Hoult pluck it spectacularly from the
air before it got there.
Around the half hour mark, the improved passion in the team
delivered a goal. Li Tie intercepted a pass out of the West
Brom defence, knocking it forward on the volley to Radzinski.
The Canadian took it high on his chest, knocking it back into the
path of the advancing Li, whilst immediately spinning into space at
the edge of the box. The Chinese midfielder moved forward and
delivered a perfect ball into Tommy's path. He took it forward
a couple of paces and drove an unstoppable drive past the keeper at
the near post. The first half was near perfection, with the
inexplicable booking of Gravesen for 'simulation' � he fell over
and didn't ask for a penalty, yet he was booked � the only
The second half started with West Brom looking more menacing but,
for all of their endeavour, they never really troubled the Everton
defence. Their only real chance fell to Jason Roberts who,
with only Richard Wright to beat, tumbled over in the box and looked
up for the penalty. The referee waved play on but did nothing
about the 'simulation' as he had with Gravesen. He lost the
home crowd completely at that point and no matter what he did that
was right, everything that looked marginal was greeted by boos and
catcalls. He got what he deserved.
Everton again enjoyed the best chances with Naysmith seeing a
header saved at the foot of the post, Campbell falling over as the
goal beckoned him, Radzinski drifting across the goal and seeing a
shot saved by the keeper and Li Tie driving a shot wide from
distance. But, for all the possession, we couldn't add a
second. That just invited late pressure from the visitors and
they duly obliged.
But that's all they obliged with. In another season, we'd
have conceded a goal; but, with the majestic Yobo sweeping up almost
everything up that came his way and with Stubbs having returned to
the form he showed early last season, there was nothing that the
West Brom forwards could do to create a chance. Even a mis-hit
clearance by substitute Pistone was dealt with by the unflappable
Yobo with consummate ease. The man is a colossus. His
influence on the rest of the side cannot be over-emphasised.
The moment of the match was left until three minutes from
time. Tomasz Radzinski had left the pitch to a standing
ovation and was replaced by the prodigy that is Wayne Rooney.
Rooney's impact was almost immediate as he controlled a high ball
with a single touch, in the fashion of his goal against
Arsenal. This time, though there wasn't a direct channel to
goal, so he ran down the line and stopped... and stood � with
hands on hips, motionless � teasing the defender, daring him to
dive in. Then he was gone and all the defender could do was
pull him back. Poetry! He's composed, he's assured, he's
arrogant. What he will be like when he's fully developed I
daren't consider... I can't wait!
In the end it was 1-0. It could have been more, but it
wasn't. Whatever the score, we got three points and, with
Bolton taking the point against Chelsea at the Reebok, that allowed
us to climb to third; I might just need that oxygen mask.
Man of The Match: Difficult; the whole defence played
well. Of the midfield, Li Tie and Thomas Gravesen were immense
and both Campbell and Radzinski had good games up front. In
the end, I'll give it to Yobo because of his influence as well as
Another special day at Goodison. A 40,000 crowd, the team
and fans on a high, and an eminently winnable game against the
bottom side in the Premiership. It was set up to be a
celebration. Recent history would have this down as a huge
potential banana skin; this current side seems to have risen above
There were no surprises in the team selection � why should
The first half was strikingly similar to that of the Charlton
game. We dominated possession, played some nice stuff, but
didn't get the goals we should have done. We looked utterly in
control at the back; West Brom were reduced to a few long range
shots; the midfield was seeing plenty of the ball; and Campbell and
Radzinski were looking lively up front. It was all there to
win in comfort but it never quite happened.
To be honest, despite all the good things we were doing,
clear-cut chances were few and far between. A Stubbs header
from a corner, which was actually blocked by Campbell, was about the
closest we came. Until, that was, the 34th minute when we
finally got it right. Li Tie volleyed a pass to Radzinski,
Radzinski chested it back to him and span away from the
defender. Li Tie took it on a few paces before putting a
perfect pass into Radzinski's path. Radzinski hit it first
time, emphatically beating Hoult at his near post.
We arrived at half-time with a deserved lead but with the feeling
that it really should have been more.
The second half followed a similar course. We looked solid
and compact but seemed incapable of extending our advantage.
We forced a number of corners; we had periods of almost total
domination. I was screaming at them to "make it
count", but they didn't. Clear-cut chances were few and
far between and none were struck with enough conviction to test the
excellent Hoult. Campbell spurned the best chance: Gravesen
played him in after good work in the box but Campbell completely
missed his kick. Hoult's severest test actually came from his
own player, a farcical mix up following an Everton cross ended with
Hoult making an excellent reaction save.
As was shown at the Charlton match, at 1-0 the opposition is
always in the game; they always feel that they have a chance.
To be fair to Everton, West Brom only had one real chance. For
once, Jason Roberts eluded Joseph Yobo and was left one-on-one with
Wright. Wright did brilliantly, closing him down very quickly
and making himself "big" in the process. He forced
Roberts to make a decision and Roberts let the opportunity drift
away. Other than a few corners, this was as close as they got.
So, we had a few anxious moments, but this was another deserved
victory. We could carp about the lack of goals and there's no
doubting we should be scoring more, but that would be the icing on
the cake. I'm quite content with things as they are.
A final mention, though, goes to the crowd. I haven't felt
Goodison buzz quite like that for a long time. In the second
half, as the latest scores went up on the board and we realised that
everything was going our way, the noise made the hairs on the back
of your neck stand up. It must be something to play in front
- Wright 8 Faultless display. Not called on
to do too much, but he did everything with massive assurance.
- Hibbert 7 Continues his development into the best
Everton right back since Ian Snodin.
- Unsworth 7 'Ave it.
- Yobo 8 Imperious, yet again.
- Stubbs 7 Another excellent performance.
- Carsley 7 Hard working and useful as ever.
- Gravesen 8 Always gives us that something extra
going forward. One of his best displays. Still has
the ability to infuriate though. A blatant dive for a
penalty and the subsequent booking was just sheer
stupidity. Also, his long range shooting has to be
improved; three decent openings he had � not one of them hit
the target � that's not good enough.
- Li Tie 8 The sublime pass for the goal was only
one part of his game. He worked hard, as he always does,
and is showing more signs of genuine craft � including one
neat little back-heel by the corner flag which sent Unsworth
running towards the box.
- Naysmith 6 Looked a little out of it and
definitely the weak link today. Never stops, though, and
he'll have better days.
- Radzinski 8 Yet another top display crowned by an
- Campbell 7 Apart from his miss and blocking
Stubbs's header, didn't do much else wrong. Rejuvenated
- Pistone 6 On for Naysmith for the last 5 minutes
or so; surprised it wasn't earlier. Did OK at left back.
- Rooney 6 A three minute cameo where he almost won
a penalty after a bullocking run, and where he did his now
famous hands on hips routine.
Team 7 You've got to mark them down a little for not
finishing West Brom off with more conviction. I'm not going to
quibble at 1-0s but it would be so easy to lose out during a late
onslaught. Criminal when you should have been 2 or 3 goals
Man of the match The immaculate Joseph Yobo.