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Venue: Goodison Park, Liverpool
Premiership
 Saturday 21 Oct 2006; 3:00pm
Arteta (12'), Beattie (pen:32')
Half Time: 2-0
Davis (sent off:32') 
Attendance: 37,900
Fixture 9
Referee: Dermot Gallagher

Match Summary

With injuries starting to bite, David Moyes was faced with a lack of full-backs Hibbert, Valente, Naysmith and Pistone all out injured and limited options in Everton's lightweight midfield further reduced by yet another injury to Van der Meyde, who will also be out for six weeks.  So Lescott moved to left-back, with Neville already at right-back.  Davies got a start in the middle, ahead of Osman, while the ineffective partnership of Beattie and Johnson up front was given another opportunity to gel.

The game kicked off in front of a very healthy Goodison crowd, keen to witness a real "must-win" victory that would turn around Everton's recent slide, and send them shooting back up the table.  But the football did not look too promising with lots of lofted balls from both sides sending the action from end to end with limited effect.  However, a nice move started by Arteta, who still didn't look to be fully on his game, was finished by him in excellent style on 12 mins after he laid the ball wide to Neville.  The fullback crossed perfectly and it was Mikel Arteta's head that directed the ball well beyond Kenny for a very welcome first goal.

Everton visibly settled and began to play more of the now expected passing game.  The forward movement, however, was far too often stymied by limited opportunities and the fear the players clearly have of turning with the ball when receiving it from deep.  So hold-up back-passes were the order of the day, and forward progress was only forthcoming with the long ball over the top, for Johnson to chase.

And that was exactly what led, somewhat fortuitously, to the vital second goal with barely half-an-hour gone. As AJ chased yet again, he was harried then perhaps clipped by Claude Davis, and he sprawled into the six-yard box. The lad definitely has "the knack"; Dermot Gallagher had no hesitation in awarding the penalty and, somewhat harshly, sending off Davis for an early bath, him being the last man 'un all.  James Beattie once again grasped the moment firmly and executed the penalty with style, skill, panache, and supreme arrogance, belting an unstoppable drive high into the inside of the side netting in front of a very appreciative Gwladys Street End. 

Game Over?  Well, to understand what happened for the remaining hour of the match, I guess you had to be there: watching on TV from a few thousand miles away just became increasingly and maddeningly frustrating as The Blades were the ones to respond to the perceived injustice, while Everton utterly failed to respond to a superb opportunity to make a real statement of intent.  When everything pointed to an impending walkover, Everton just seemed to get worse and worse and worse with every kick.

Was it a case of just sitting back on the two-goal lead, confident that they had done enough for the win-bonus?  Or was it the classic difficulty of having to play against a 10-man team?  It's hard to say, but Beattie's lazy body language and lack of effort when challenging for the ball seemed to be symptomatic.  To give him some credit, he did run around a bit, and supported the defence to good effect a couple of times.  But this was not the sort of display we expect from an Everton centre-forward.

Indeed, Everton up front never clicked, with Johnson looking off his game, injured, or both.  He did get a golden chance to make it three just before half time when Davies  sent him through on goal but he blasted it onto the right-hand post, and eventually ended his first Goodison game in which he had not scored.

David Moyes detected the malaise relatively early (for him) and made a fair attempt to liven things up before the hour mark, with McFadden and Osman on for Cahill and Beattie.  Everton were a little more lively as result going into the Blades box, but both players introduced were also well off their games, and proved to be incapable of improving the increasingly dismal proceedings. 

The second half was dominated by Sheffield United and their raucous fans, both sensing that a bit of morale and physical strength could blow holes through Everton's lightweight midfield and makeshift defence.  It was acutely embarrassing to watch.  Two consecutive games without a single yellow card would normally be considered to reflect exceptional and commendable discipline, but you have to wonder if it actually reflects something missing collectively in Everton's game...

Midfield possession was basically farcical, with Everton players unable to penetrate forward, and forever passing sideways, backwards or to a man already well marked.  When they did get forward, usually as a result of the lofted ball, McFadden, Osman, Davies and later Anichebe were all guilty of profligate shooting Anichebe having come on for the last 12 minutes in another remarkable substitution this time for Neville, who looked to have been vital in a shakey defence staving off the goal that a slightly better team than Sheffield United would surely have scored. 

They indeed came very close, a miraculous point-blank save by Howard keeping the Everton goal intact.  If the last few games had shown a weakness and lack of backbone in the Everton team following a great start, this display (excellent result aside) demonstrated that David Moyes has a massive job on his hands if he is going to avoid his first back-to-back lower-half Premiership finish.  Don't even mention Europe on this basis!

Michael Kenrick

Footnote: In his post-match comments, David Moyes made reference to illness affecting a number of his players, in addition to the loss of at least six first-team players through injury. Are these mitigation for such a poor display? I'm not entirely convinced...

Back to Winning Ways

Everton returned to winning ways against struggling Sheffield United after a four-match winless run and temporarily moved into fifth place in the Premiership on the back of a performance that did the job but perhaps left the Goodison faithful feeling less than inspired.

Neil Warnock's newly-promoted side played almost an hour with ten men after Claude Davis was correctly but cruelly dismissed for bundling Andy Johnson over in the box to prevent a near-certain goal as the striker bore down on goal with just Paddy Kenny to beat. The resulting penalty put Everton 2-0 up but, far from being overwhelmed by the mountain they had to climb, the visitors acquitted themselves better with fewer men and asked a few probing questions of their hosts in the second half.

David Moyes was forced into changes in his back line after Tony Hibbert was ruled out with a groin injury that could keep him sidelined well into December and Nuno Valente was also passed unfit. With both Gary Naysmith and Alessandro Pistone also recovering with long-term injuries and Phil Neville dropping back to right back, that left the manager with no natural left back. So, Joleon Lescott was pressed into service on the left and David Weir partnered Joseph Yobo in the centre.

In midfield, Leon Osman was named as a substitute after missing the defeat at Middlesbrough through injury and Simon Davies kept his place even though Moyes elected to deploy a 4-4-2 formation with James Beattie up front alongside Andy Johnson. Both Beattie and Tim Cahill apparently played despite suffering from a virus.

The Blues certainly seemed to be under the effects of something in the first 10 minutes or so judging by the standard of football on display; indeed, the lack of a coherent passing game was glaringly apparent throughout the 90 minutes. That is not to say that Everton didn't have their moments of fluidity as evidenced in the 13th minute when they took the lead.

A well-weighted ball by Mikel Arteta to the right gave Neville time to measure a perfect cross that found the Spaniard and he steered a rare headed goal into the corner of the net to open the scoring.

20 minutes later, after Beattie had swept a left-footed effort narrowly over, another well-constructed move ended with Johnson being released into the clear and as he raced through to double the advantage he tumbled to the turf under contact from Davis. From the referee's perspective it was a clear penalty — TV replays suggest that AJ made the most of it — and that would have sufficed, but the rules state that the defender had to go for denying a clear scoring opportunity as the last man and referee Dermot Gallagher duly brandished the red card. Beattie stepped up and buried the penalty with aplomb and Everton were 2-0 up and cruising.

action photo
Selling it: Andy Johnson goes down perhaps a little easily under contact from Claude Davis

Sheffield, who had managed just a curled effort by Leigertwood in the eighth minute that missed by a distance, threw on Morgan in place of Quinn to bolster the defence and the new man might have pulled a goal back within five minutes of his introduction but missed the target with a free header at the back post.

Colin Kazim-Richards then forced a brilliant point-blank save from Tim Howard that exemplified the 'keeper's lightening reactions before Robert Hulse surged through on his own and fired a shot across goal that Howard tipped behind.

Having weathered that revival by the Yorkshiremen, Everton might have gone into the half-time interval with an unassailable three-goal advantage when Johnson again found himself in a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper but screwed a left-foot effort off the outside of the post. It was a gilt-edged chance and one that you'd have put your house on AJ converting.

2-0 up and with superior numbers, Everton were clearly in a comfortable position and their approach in the second half was a clear reflection of that. After 10 minutes of inactivity punctuated only by another chance for Leigertwood that he pulled across the goal and wide of the far post, Moyes, no doubt mindful of the midweek cup tie with Luton, withdrew Cahill and Beattie in favour of Osman and James McFadden. He went on to give Anichebe a run-out for the last 13 minutes in place of Neville, Davies dropping back to cover at right back.

All three substitutes had chances to extend the lead. Osman took advantage of great work by Johnson on the hour to engineer a shot across goal despite Davies being wide open at the back post and Anichebe had three chances but ballooned high and wide with the first, was denied by Kenny with a flicked header off Lee Carlsey's weak shot with the second and fired the third a few feet wide with a typical surging run late on.

The best opportunity fell to McFadden, though. Anichebe's touch to Osman bounced off the corner flag to Osman and he turned back before delivering an inch-perfect cross that met McFadden's leap but Kenny dived to his right to push the ball away in spectacular fashion.

In between, United earned plenty of credit for never giving up. Indeed, there were periods when they played the better football and carried sufficient threat to suggest that had they scored once, they might have had their hosts on the ropes in the closing stages in the same way Wigan and Manchester City did in the last two games at Goodison.

Tulse went close with a towering header from Michael Tonge's deep cross and Howard had to make a terrific stop from Webber after Bromby had sauntered in behind McFadden and squared invitingly for the midfielder.

In reality, Everton were never in real danger of dropping the points. If there was an air of dissatisfation about the match from the Blue point of view, however, it was due to the fact that Moyes's side appeared either unwilling or unable to press home their advantage and sweep Sheffield aside with the kind of display that destroyed Tottenham.

They were clearly superior but the standard of football was for long periods more reminiscent of last season's disappointing hoof-ball than the classier fare we hoped had been ushered in over the summer.

There plenty of pluses, though. Arteta was everywhere, buzzing with creativity and a desire for the ball, Johnson was very unlucky not to add to his tally for the season, and Lescott aquitted himself admirably at left back. And after last week's below-par outing, Howard was back on form to preserve a clean sheet with a couple of fine saves.

Of course, a much sterner test awaits in the next league fixture: a first visit to Arsenal's new Emirates Stadium in a week's time. Everton are going to need to be a lot more determined and clinical against the Gunners than they were today. Let's hope they rise to the occasion.

Lyndon Lloyd

The Two-Goal Cushion

It seems like quite a while since our last home game so it was nice to congregate in The Spellow for a few beers before the game.  It was also nice to see so many good-natured Sheffield United fans milling around as well, clearly out to enjoy their season in the top flight.

We sneaked another quick pint in before the game and hence missed the Z-Cars.  We were there nicely in time for kick off though, just as the teams swapped ends meaning that wed lost the toss.  Moyes decided to opt for 4-4-2 for this one with a few changes from the team which played so poorly at Middlesbrough.  The team was: Howard; Lescott, Yobo, Weir, Neville; Davies, Carsley, Cahill, Arteta; Beattie, Johnson.  The substitutes were Turner, McFadden, Osman, Anichebe and Boyle. Notably absent, or rather unfit I guess were Wright, Hibbert, Naysmith, Van der Meyde, Stubbs and Valente.  Quite a significant list of injuries.  For The Blades it was disappointing not to see Unsworth, Gerrard, Short or Li Tie in the squad whatsoever.

In the opening exchanges, not a great deal happened and nobody really got to grips with things.  Come to think of it, until Everton did make the breakthrough nothing really happened whatsoever.  The goal was an excellent one though which started when Davies battled well for the ball before feeding it to Arteta.  He played an excellent ball out wide to Neville who reached it before the Sheffield United full back.  His excellent cross was met by the head of Tim Cahill who placed his header nicely into the corner and then reeled off celebrating towards the corner flag.  Or at least thats what I thought.  It was only when he didnt start boxing the flag that I realised it was actually Mikel Arteta and not Cahill.  An excellent header by the Spaniard and it got Everton settled.

We started to dictate things after that and took control of the game.  Beattie had the next chance, which he fired over from about 18 yards on his left foot.  Not a bad effort at all.  Next out of nowhere Johnson found himself through on goal from an excellent pass by Arteta.  As he bared down on goal, the centre-back Davies collided with him and Johnson went over.  It seemed to me that he played for it really but I think the referee had to give the penalty.  With giving the penalty, the letter of the law dictated that Davies had to walk as well.  Johnson grabbed the ball and gave it to Beattie who seemed confident enough.  Sure enough, he stepped up and banged it into the net before getting mobbed on the penalty spot.  He then took a bow to the fans in the Gwladys Street, which was a nice gesture.

At this point you felt Everton could go on and score a hatful really, but as is often the case, we sat back with the confidence of a two-goal cushion against ten men.  This was a dangerous game to play, I guess, but you never really felt that Sheffield United had enough in them to bring it back.  Shortly after the penalty, substitute Chris Morgan headed wide and then Howard had to save from point-blank range to deny Rob Hulse.  At the other end, however, Johnson found himself with a great goalscoring opportunity but dragged his effort onto the post.  Just before half time, Rob Hulse burst clear and put his effort just wide.  We survived however and at half time we had a nice comfortable 2-0 lead against 10 men.  You cant really argue with that.

The second half was pretty much more of the same as Everton basically shut up shop.  Sheffield United had a great opportunity to make it 2-1 at the start of the half and had they have scored it would have made things a bit uncomfortable but we did enough really with David Weir having an excellent game at the back.  I think that, with Weir there, Yobo improves also and we were comfortable enough I felt.  Kabba came on for Sheffield United who was a bit of a livewire but Lescott dealt with him competently enough. 

Everton made their changes also with McFadden and Osman replacing Beattie and Cahill.  Even later Neville came off, surely with an injury, and Davies was forced to play in the unfamiliar position of right back for the last ten minutes.  Anichebe replaced Neville, forcing McFadden onto the wing. 

Towards the end of the game there were two more incidents of note.  For Sheffield United; somebody got into the box and cut the ball back.  Someone else hit it (apologies for not knowing the names of the United players) and Howard made a decent stop.  At the other end, an excellent ball in, I think from Davies found McFadden who forced a smart save from Paddy Kenny.

And that was that.  A relatively comfortable victory against a relatively poor team.  Everyone else seemed offended that we sat on a 2-0 instead of taking them to the slaughter house but for me when you have a 2-0 lead against 10 men, all you have to do is play it safe.

Player Ratings:

  • Howard: Commands well and made umpteen positive catches. 7
  • Lescott: Played well out of position. 7
  • Weir: My man of the match. An absolute rock. 8
  • Yobo: Improves when playing alongside Weir I think. 7
  • Neville: Another excellent assist from Neville. Had a good game before being forced off late on. 7
  • Arteta: One great header and a superb through ball that lead to the penalty for the second. Thats more like the Arteta we know and love. 7
  • Carsley: Quietly effective. 7
  • Cahill: Full of bite into the tackle in the first half. Forced off in the second half with a virus we're told. 7
  • Davies: Had a good game. Was full of vigour and running. Hell be pleased with that one. 7
  • Beattie: I was simply astonished to listen to the Radio City phone in on the way home and hear everyone, including Barry Horne, slagging Beattie off and saying he played poorly. I thought he had a good game, and of course scored the important second goal. Like Cahill, forced off with a virus. 7
  • Johnson: Had a lively first half but was not in the game much in the second such was Evertons tactics. He can have a rest now against Luton Town. 6
     
  • McFadden (for Beattie): Did OK I guess. Unlucky with that header late on, though 3-0 would have been a bit flattering. Will play on Tuesday. 6
  • Osman (for Cahill): Quite lively. Settled into the game quickly. 6
  • Anichebe (for Neville): Put himself about. May start on Tuesday. 6

Paul Traill

Match Preview

It had to happen sooner or later, of course, but Everton's first defeat of the 2006-07 season put a noticeable crack in the early season optimism which greeted the great start the Blues had made since the kick-off in August.

The hairline fissures in that faade of euphoria had started to appear with three consecutive draws following the demolition of Liverpool in games that David Moyes's side could and should have won, but it's arguably the manner of the defeat at Middlesbrough that was more troubling than the loss itself.

image action
Tim Cahill: a terrific goal was not enough to prevent the Blues' first defeat of the season at Middlesbrough last weekend

If Andy Johnson being marked and muscled out of the game wasn't troubling enough, the failure of the passing game — a brand of football for which many of us have been baying for years — and the flair of Mikel Arteta to find a way past the 'Boro defence will also be of great concern to the manager.

And the continued ineffectiveness despite full dedication to the cause on the part of Simon Davies will be troubling for fans already doubtful that the midfield contains enough quality to see Everton through to the goal of European qualification.  So, with four winless games since the derby, the visit of Sheffield United would appear to offer the perfect springboard from which to relaunch our campaign.

Of course, no one will be taking the Premiership new-boys lightly but a) they have yet to win away from home this season and b) there is the almost clichéed argument that if Everton are the team we believe them to be they should be beating the likes of Neil Warnock's team.

Of the team that started at The Riverside last weekend, only Tony Hibbert is certain to miss out with a groin problem that could keep him sidelined until Christmas.  Johnson and Phil Neville clearly came through the 90 minutes without much, if any, reaction to the hamstring injuries that kept them out of England action the week before.

With Neville moving back to right back, Moyes will have an extra spot to fill in midfield if he elects to stick with 4-5-1 and Johnson up front.  Leon Osman was injured for the Boro game but could return if passed fit. If so, he could well return with James McFadden also returning to first-team action in place of Davies.

Andy van der Meyde, who got a brief cameo at the end of the Middlesbrough defeat, will likely have to settle for a place on the bench again.  Iain Turner will replace Richard Wright on the bench after the former England international hurt his back in training.

The Blades bring three former Blues back to Goodison in the form of David Unsworth, Li Tie and Craig Short but with neither of the last two having played more than one game for them this season, they might not get the chance to run out onto the Goodison turf again!

Tim Howard, who had perhaps his worst game for the Blues last weekend, said this week that the players owed the fans a result and he's right.

Moyes's side have been profligate in front of goal — or, in the case of the Boro defeat, worryingly ineffective in the final third — in recent weeks, but this weekend is a good opportunity to put that right.

Lyndon Lloyd

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EVERTON (4-4-2)
  Howard
  Neville (78' Anichebe)
  Yobo
  Weir
  Lescott
  Carsley
  Arteta
  Cahill (56' Osman)
  Davies
  Beattie (56' McFadden)
  Johnson
  Subs not used
  Turner
  Boyle
  Unavailable
  Valente (injured)
  Hibbert (injured)
  Wright (injured)
  Pistone (injured)
  Van der Meyde (injured)
  Naysmith (injured)

 

SHEFF UTD (4-4-2)
  Kenny
  Bromby
  Davis :32'
  Jagielka
  Armstrong
  Gillespie (63' Kabba)
  Tonge :72'
  Leigertwood
  A Quinn (33' Morgan)
  Hulse
  Kazim-Richards (56' Webber)
  Subs not used
  Kozluk
  Nade
 
Premiership Scores
Saturday 21 Oct 2006
Wigan 4-0 Man City
Charlton 0-0 Watford
Chelsea 2-1 Portsmouth
Everton 2-0 Sheff Utd
Aston Villa 1-1 Fulham
Sunday 22 Oct 2006
Man Utd 2-0 Liverpool
Blackburn 0-1 Bolton
Middlesbro 1-0 Newcastle
Tottenham 1-0 West Ham
Reading 0-4 Arsenal

Premiership Table
Pos Team Pts
1 Man Utd 22
2 Chelsea 22
3 Bolton 20
4 Arsenal 17
5 Portsmouth 16
6 Everton 16
7 Aston Villa 15
8 Fulham 13
9 Reading 13
10 Blackburn 12
11 Liverpool 11
12 Middlesbro 11
13 Tottenham 11
14 Man City 9
15 Wigan 8
16 Newcastle 7
17 Sheff Utd 6
18 Watford 5
19 West Ham 5
20 Charlton 4
After 22 Oct 2006