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European night... a real winter warmer

By Gareth Cooper :  06/12/2007 :  Comments (8) :
After a few weeks without a chance to get to Goodison, I jumped at the chance to see my first ever Everton performance in Europe. It proved to be a good choice, as we have now charged into the next round and guarenteed that we will play a 3rd placed Uefa Cup team by cementing top spot in the group.

I managed to get to Goodison a couple of hours before kick-off, as I beat the traffic across the Peak District. This allowed me to watch the atmosphere in and around Goodison grow. As kick-off approached and every seat was filled the feeling about the place was electric. There really is something about Goodison under floodlights that sends a tingle down the spine. It must be said that the atmosphere was added to very well by the Russian contingent who were vocal throughout and well behaved from what I saw.

As the Blues kicked off I was taken aback as we took the fight to Zenit early. Taking every set piece quickly, in what seemed like an attempt to catch the Russians off-guard. This tactic worked well as Everton had by far the best of the first 15 mins. There seemed to be a real danger down the left flank with Pienaar and Baines linking up really well. Some slick play between these two plus interlinking with Cahill, the flankswitching Arteta, and both the top two saw an exciting start to the game.

After a few half chances and numerous corners, the pace seemed to slow a bit and although Everton remained on top the Russians began to get into the game a bit more and have a few half chances of their own. In fairness the defence looked solid (lead by the exceptional Lescott), and snuffed out all the nice flicks Asharvin and his technically gifted attacking unit could muster.

On the half-hour a decent Blues attack saw Tim Cahill loop the keeper with a controlled header before scissor kicking the ball towards goal. A great clearance... and I started to think it might be one of those nights. But hang on... Corner?!.... No... PENALTY!! The Gladwys St errupted. I can tell you even from the back of the Upper Gladwys it was never a penner. Not a single player or member of the crowd claimed! But that was that, a huge slice of luck! Up stepped Mikky, but hoofed it over the bar. Agonising, but after the poor Zenit defender was sent off (very harsh!) Goodison was still jumping in light of the man advantage.

The game then seemed to continue in similar vain with Everton dominating the posession. A lot of nice build up, but the final balls either weren't there, or more often neither Johnson or McFadden were in the right positions. With around 10 mins of the half left Everton found themselves 11 against 9 men as Dominguez was stretchered off for the Russians. As they tried to treat him, Everton were rampant in the lead up to the HT whistle.

There was a real feeling in the crowd that this was when we needed to push for the first goal. As the crowd roared the boys forward, the ball fell to Carsley on the edge of the box. His shot was beautifully curled onto the inside of the post and it rolled across the gaping goal with the keeper floudering. Neville linked with McFadden from the free ball but he shot(!!) from a very acute angle as about 3 players in better positions could have been picked out for a simple finish. As the break came, I felt more and more like it was going to be one of those games!

No changes at half-time for the blues and we continued to plug away for the start of the second half. As the half went on the Russians began to keep posession better and were teaching Everton a lesson they need to learn quickly. For all our decent build up play, we should have much better exploited the gaps in the Zenit backline (beleive me they were huge). Zenit showed us that with a little more composure, drawing in the men then passing round them, the gaps could be found. Asharvin really was a class act, although in the circumstances he had few chances, his hold up play, movement and eye for a pass were outstanding. Take note blues!!

With the extra man Everton seemed fairly comfortable in defence, bar one good save after Jagielka was beaten for pace by Pobgregnyak. It was looking like for all the hussle and bussle, Everton might only come out with a second 0-0 on the spin.

In the closing scenes McFadden and Johnson made way for Anichebe and Vaughan. Changes that were a bit too late in my opinion as both tired considerably after the hour, and in all honesty were pretty ineffective throughout. The two youngsters brought a little more strength and determination as we began to pin them back as the last 10 minutes came.

On 84 minutes it really was a case of cometh the hour... Lescott a few minutes earlier decided to take the game by the scruff of the neck dragged Everton's attacking impetus back from lethargy. He met an umpteenth Arteta corner with a header which was blocked only as far as his left boot. His second effort was well saved but the follow up by Cahill was smashed into the roof of the net. A few seconds of uncertainty, but YEEEEES!!! Cahill had secured the victory. Cue the boxing celebration and the whole ground was rocking.

Everton then saw out the game well looking solid to the Russians last few efforts to force the ball forward. After the whistle many of the crowd stayed long enough to cheer the boys off the pitch. It was great to see them so happy, and for them to acknowledge the fans, every one of them clapping us too.

A great night and a wonderful baptism of European football on a personal note. The drive across the Peak District home was a long one but the trip was well worth it. 9 games unbeaten, and i'll be there to see the 10th against Fulham at the weekend. Come on you blues!

Player ratings:

  • Howard- 7: Didn't have a lot to do all game. Made one important save and claimed all the high arial balls well.
  • Neville- 6: Saw too much of the ball for my liking. He hasn't got the attacking threat of Baines, and wasted many balls forward. However these were better placed than Hibbo's punts.
  • Lescott- 9: Outstanding marshall at the back. Lifted us at a vital time of the game, a class act!
  • Jagielka- 6: Looked comfortable on the ball and worked well wit hLesctt and Neville. Only worry was a lack of pace on Zenits best move.
  • Baines- 8: Had a better 1st half than 2nd, but links really well with pienaar. Also overlaps wel and has a great cross.
  • Carsley- 7: Solid, but understated as always. Good effort first half was unlucky to miss.
  • Cahill- 8: Looked good in a 4-4-2 tonight, showing he can be included in this formation. His passing was noticably on-form. ALways there right place right time to keep us progressing!
  • Arteta- 6: Some good interplay, but made a few mistakes and missed the penalty. Still class, just not up to his best.
  • Pienaar- 7: Had my doubts early in his everton career, but he is getting better and better. Very slick with the pass and move we are beginning to play.
  • Johnson- 6: Was OK to begin with, but tired and wasn't very effectual. Needs to play with more intelligence sometimes.
  • McFadden- 5: I was disappointed to be honest. I like Jimmy but I'm not sure his heart is in fighting for his place anymore. Nothing seemed to work for him.
  • Anichebe- 6: Brought some strength to the attack, but seemed a little lazy.
  • Vaughan- 6: Energentic as always, but didn't hold the ball up that well
  • Reader Comments

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    James Elworthy
    1   Posted 06/12/2007 at 15:35:20

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    The bench didnt have many defensive options last night with Stubbs and Yobo being injured, but I was surprised Boyle was on the bench.
    Was Valente injured?
    I dont suppose I should say why wasnt Hibbert on the bench because I moaned on Saturday he was, but with 7 on the bench I thought he would of been on it.
    Fosu Gharban
    2   Posted 06/12/2007 at 16:02:11

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    Harsh on Neville and Jagielka, generous on Baines and I don’t think Johnson was better than McFadden.

    Defensively Neville was a rock, quite a contrast to Baines - I’d have given Neville an 8 and Baines a 7 because he was good going forward. Jagielka admittedly made a few defensive errors but he’s bound to be a little rusty having sat the bench alot this season, and given his distribution, that for me is better and quicker than Lescott’s, he deserves a 7 in my book.

    What did Johnson contribute exactly? At least Fads got involved and beat defenders.
    Ben Jackson
    3   Posted 06/12/2007 at 17:06:16

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    Obviously, the result last night was great and I?d have taken a 1-0 win before the game without a doubt. However, I think it once again proved that we?re so much stronger when we use Cahill in the hole with just Yak upfront. I like Johnson but I think he?s going to have to get used to life on the bench at the moment. We tried to play 2 strikers when we signed Beattie and time and time again, the 4-5-1 formation has proved to be so much more effective.
    Also, I really got the feeling that last night could have been one of McFaddens last games...
    Mark Culbert
    4   Posted 06/12/2007 at 13:36:30

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    I was slightly surprised yesterday with forward line up, and the 4-4-2 formation... I just dont think we're strong enough in the middle with 4-4-2 yet!,

    I know some might think 4-5-1,is negative but look at the stats and our last home game. I know that gives the added headache of only playing one of our 5 forwards (5 forwards... Wow!), with Cahill lurking behind. A couple of times last night there looked that there was a a little to much space in the middle of park for the Russians, and if they would have still been 11 men, who knows...

    The lads did great, and Moyes is building a great squad. Just would like to mention Phil Neville at right back, thought he had a very good game, and is our best right back by far> I also think we should cash in on McFadden in January.

    vin bleu
    5   Posted 06/12/2007 at 19:19:01

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    Howard I thought did what he had to do well without any fuss. Neville was solid with the odd mistake and sometimes showed his lack of pace. The question is - good enough for a constantly improving side. Both him and Hibbo are now too "average" - a classy right back should be on the shopping list with the money from offloading McFadden who had a terrible game. Carsley continues to surprise me with his consistency, Lescott is class and Jagielka showed the versatility that every teams needs. Pienaar goes from strength to strength, Cahill invaluable and Arteta, although class and irreplaceable, needs to practice his crosses and set pieces (so infuriating!) Johnson needs more time to get his form back while the two youngsters Anichebe and Vaughan look like two of the best prospects in the Premiership. Yakubu is settling nicely, combining strength with excellent passing and eye for goal. All in all a good time to be a blue. Lets really enjoy watching the team develop. I’ve got the same feeling I had just after Inchy scored that equaliser against Oxford.
    Colin Smith
    6   Posted 06/12/2007 at 20:29:28

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    From where I sat, McFadden had a better game than Johnson...sure he made a few bad choices, but he still looks capable of making something happen. AJ, with the best will in the world, just ran and ran to no great purpose. Given the likelihood of Anichebe & Yak going off to the African nations Cup for a few weeks, I don’t think McFadden will be going anywhere, unless he makes a big fuss & asks for a move.
    At the back Lescott was superb & had to be because Jagielka was very shakey. I never thought I would say this either, but I thought Neville had a better game at full back than Baines. Baines’ use of the ball was poor, maybe because he was rusty due to being out of the side for a spell.

    Like everybody else I applaud Cahill’s instinct when it comes to smacking the ball ijn the back of the net, but I do not think he looks the part in a 4 man midfield. Cahill’s at his best floating behind a main striker, I also think Osman’s ability to link the play was missed against Zenit. Pieneer is looking better with every match & Carsley again proved there’s nobody better at the club in his holding role.

    Anichebe again came up with a great little cameo role. He must be horrible prospect for a tiring centre half, quick, strong as a horse & totally committed.

    Overall, the Zenit game will not be one that last’s in the memory, but at the risk of using a tired old cliche, its a sign of a good team to not play well & still win. If one of the so called Big 3 had got that result over Zenit, the talk would have been about professionalism & adapting to European football.

    I’d settle for the same again against Fulham & West ham twice!

    John-Paul Wilkins
    7   Posted 07/12/2007 at 06:28:47

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    "It must be said that the atmosphere was added to very well by the Russian contingent who were vocal throughout and well behaved from what I saw."

    Apart from my new collection of Russian coins and the smell of shit.
    Patty Beesley
    8   Posted 07/12/2007 at 15:01:07

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    I think you will find that Valente has a ham string and Hibbo has a back injury but apart from those two, fingers crossed, the rest of the squad are ok except for Stubbs - who, I have a feeling, is being groomed to take over the reserves.

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