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Venue: Ewood Park, Blackburn
Premier League
 Wednesday 4 March 2009; 8:00pm
BLACKBURN
0-0
 EVERTON
Half Time: 0-0
Attendance: 21,445
Fixture 28
Referee: Alan Wiley:

Match Summary

No-one expected much from Everton without Arteta. And Blackburn under Allardyce are nothing to write home about as they struggle to avoid the drop.  Perfect ingredients for an utterly awful game of football.  Highlights: An early shot from J after just 100 seconds that was deflected wide. A snapshot by Pienaar that deserved a goal but was just too close to stand-in 'keeper Brown... and a drive form Cahill that was unfortunately straight at Brown. Oh, and Blackburn somehow managed to hit the bar with what looked like a cross... oh and Tim Howard did brilliantly to stop Jason Roberts one-on-one. 

Other than that... two hours of our lives we'll never get back.  Simply horrible fayre from both sides.  And that bastard Allardyce smirking in the knowledge his disgusting pre-match slating of Tim Cahill paid dividends in the form of plenty of highly dubious decisions that went against Everton's talismanic Aussie wonder player.

I suppose we should be grateful for a point... but that was painful in the extreme. J was a Jke; Fellaini was no better, neither was Saha... and Osman just makes me want to strangle my cat.

Michael Kenrick

Match Report

The dream may be gatecrashing the top four for the second time in four years but the reality, foreshadwoed by the failure to beat 10-man Newcastle 10 days ago and underscored on a cold midweek evening in Blackburn with this tedious 0-0 draw, is that fifth is as good as Everton can hope for this season.

Lest it be forgotten, that in itself would be a Herculean feat. After the miserable start they made to the season, where they managed just two wins from their first 12 fixtures, were knocked out of two cup competitions at the first hurdle and then saw their forward line decimated by injury, it was hard to see how the Blues would qualify for Europe at all, let alone challenge the dominance of the Sky Four.

In the final reckoning, though, if indeed the Champions League does prove to be a couple of bridges too far, it's nights like these that David Moyes may come to rue. Perhaps it was a little too much to expect from a badly-officiated midweek tustle against a relegation-threatened Blackburn side — whose transformation into Bolton mk II under Sam Allardyce appears complete on this evidence — with the injury crisis that continues to plague the squad for Everton to come away with a win.

And yet many Blues will have come away from Ewood Park mightily frustrated, not only because Aston Villa, currently in fourth, stumbled again, losing 2-0 at Manchester City and we failed to capitalise, but also because Moyes's side did themselves few favours this evening and allowed themselves to be drawn into a pitched battle of mortar shells being lumped forward from both defences.

On the few instances where they got the ball down and played, they very nearly scored and earned the win their loftier status demands.

If the first half was anything to go by, the blank scoreline looked to be a depressing inevitability. Jô had got the game off to a flying start with a half-volley that might have been destined to sneak past Jason Brown in the Rovers goal had it not delected off Ryan Nelsen after just 10 seconds.

But things deteriorated rapidly after that, with both sides electing to launch the ball forward seemingly at every opportunity. The home side seemed to profit from it early on and half a dozen opportunities for shots presented themselves but a flourescent yellow Everton jersey — please can we stop it with these disgusting colored change strips? — lunged in front of the each shot and stopped them before they could trouble Tim Howard. Most notable was a terrific block by Jack Rodwell, who returned to central midfield in place of Marouane Fellaini, as he denied Andrews from 16 yards.

Defensively strong they may have been but going forward, Everton were awful to watch for all but the last 10 minutes of the half. Punt after punt forward by the likes of Howatd, Phil Jagielka, again asked to play out of position — and obviously so — at right back, and Joseph Yobo. Even though Tim Cahill was hopelessly outmatched against the man-mountain that is Christopher Samba and Jô clearly isn't suited to the hoofball game, Everton persisted with the tactic.

Moreover, Allardyce appeared to have got his own stratgey, both pre-match and on the pitch, spot on. He ruined Cahill's evening with that strategically timed bombshell in the press calling on referees to keep an eye on the Australian "playing the man before the ball." The upshot was that he was persistently called up for fouls by referee Alan Wiley, who even went so far as to give a free kick to Blackburn when Samba flattened Cahill in the second half and looked to have ended his evening prematurely in the process.

Fat Sam had also correctly identified Steven Pienaar as Everton's chief threat and the South African often found himself surrounded by three shirts. But as Moyes's side finally found some rhythm and the confidence to pass the ball around a bit on the deck, Pienaar almost broke the deadlock in the 39th minute.

Jagielka crossed low from the right, Cahill appeared to be illegally upended in the area as the ball skipped through and Pienaar struck a sweet shot from around 15 yards that Brown did superbly to push behind for a corner.

Finally, Everton were coming forward with some purpose and intelligence and Pienaar unloaded from a little fiurther out three minutes before the interval but when his shot clearly struck Andre Ooier's arm on its way to goal, referee Alan Wiley didn't bat an eyelid and play continued.

The half ended with a chance for Jô but, having done the hard work in easily wrong-footing Samba and creating space for the shot, he side-footed lamely straight at the 'keeper.

That little spell of promising pressure had clearly highlighted the path to victory for Everton but they didn't heed the signs, preferring instead to continue their mind-numbing reliance on hoofed balls from the back. Blackburn weren't much better, even after Tugay was introduced at half time, but they had the first clear chance of the second half when Rocque Santa Cruz drove wide from 12 yards when he really should have done better.

At the other end, Pienaar's deflected cross sat up nicely for Cahill but he could only steer his header straight at the 'keeper. After his collision with Samba which left him lying in agony on the turf for much longer than was comfortable for the anxious traveling support, he did eventually manage to run off the knock to his hip but he was hampered by the need to keep leaping for high balls when his teammates failed to adjust their tactics accordingly.

Wiley, having driven the home crowd to frustration in the first half, continued his erratic evening in the second and reached new levels of farce when, after Givet had collided with Leon Osman in a nasty-looking clash of heads which forced the dazed Frenchman off, the referee allowed Rovers to bring on a substitute while insisting that Osman stay off the pitch while the free kick he had won was taken.

Blackburn's chance to nick the points came midway through the half, though. First, after Baines had needlessly fouled Samba wide on the Blackburn right, Stephen Warnock crashed a free kick off the crossbar. Then, after the successive Everton attack had failed with another long punt, Jason Roberts was put into the clear behind the defence as Joleon Lescott hesitated. Thankfully, Howard did brilliantly to close him down and stop the ball with his leg as the Blackburn forward tried to poke it under his body.

The Blues sensed the chance was there to win the game themselves if they could step it up in the final 20 minutes and Louis Saha was duly introduced for Rodwell at that point. And within a couple of minutes, the Frenchman had a hand in what might on another day have been a penalty for Everton. A quick interchange between Jo, Saha and Pienaar ended with the midfielder being felled illegally in the box but, again, Wiley waved play on. Lo and behold, though, no sooner had Everton reverted to playing football than the chances started coming again.

Jô was withdrawn a few minutes later in favour of Fellaini but although the Belgian brought some much needed passing ability to the midfeld, there were still just too many mis-placed balls from his teammates. Osman, Pienaar, Jagielka, Neville and Yobo were all guilty of gifting possession to the opposition all to easily.

Nevertheless, Cahill was still able to warm Brown's gloves with a terrific 25-yard strike that he probably struck too well as it went straight down the 'keeper's throat, and Lescott almost sent the traveling Blues away in ecstacy but his volley off an 89th-minute corner flew an inch above the bar and into the stand behind the goal.

So, in the context of the talent that we know exists in the Everton line-up and the fact that they were playing poor, albeit well-organised and physical, side, this should be regarded as another two important points dropped. As they illustrated in patches this evening, they can still play good football and create chances on the deck even without Arteta and the other key absentees in the squad.

The sort of aimless route-one stuff they threw at Blackburn will not get them into the top four this season, nor will it win them the FA Cup. Hopefully that fact has been rammed home after tonight and will be addressed before Sunday's quarter final against Middlesbrough.

Player Ratings

Howard [6] — Barely called upon to make a save but did make a crucial stop to deny Roberts in the second half. Although there were somewhat mitigating circumstances, he loses marks for his endless punts downfield, a few of which went straight into touch.

Jagielka [6] — He is not a fullback and it's shown in the two games he's played there now. His distribution is not good enough and his preference is to play off his opponent so he can read the game better whereas at fullback you need to play much tighter to the man. He didn't disgrace himself but he is not as good on the right as Lescott is on the left and Moyes needs to accept it.

Yobo [6] — Not one of his better games. He too was guilty of playing too many long balls and giving away possession.

Lescott [6] —OK for the most part but went to sleep when he allowed Roberts to get away from him for that chance that might have proved so costly.

Baines [7] — Probably the pick of the back four tonight and he again looked good going forward.

Neville [6] — Without Arteta, he again looks like the player who should not be in midfield. Poor in possession but partially redeemed himself on the defensive side.

Rodwell [7] — Seemingly the only one confident enough to put his foot on the ball in midfield but was let down by a paucity of options ahead of him.

Osman [5] — His touch seemed to desert him and he was poor overall.

Pienaar [7] — While not great he was again the most dangerous peresence on the pitch. Unlucky not to score or win a penalty.

Cahill [6] — Samba kept him very quiet and restricted him to just a couple of chances. Took a bad knock in the second half that may or m ay not flare up tomorrow but he won't look back fondly on this encounter.

Jo [5] — This was definitely not the type of game suited to his style of play. He was used as a target man by his teammates who then couldn't seem to put the ball anywhere near his head. Had a few nice touches and could have sent the game in a completely different direction had that early chance gone in but he was barely invvoled.

Saha (for Rodwell) [6] — He too showed some nice touches and an eagerness to make things happen but didn't get a sniff of a chance to repeat Saturday's goalscoring heriocs.

Fellaini (for Jô) [6] — Got stuck in straight away and had a hand in some nice passing moves but to no real avail.

Lyndon Lloyd

Match Preview

The injuries keep piling up but so do the fixtures as the Blues enter the last 10 games of the Premier League season with a potentially tricky midweek trip to Blackburn.

Rovers have already beaten David Moyes's side twice this season, once in a heart-breaker in injury time at Goodison Park on the opening day and again at Ewood Park in the Carling Cup 3rd Round, and the Blues now have the opportunity to gain revenge and ratchet up the pressure on the likes of Arsenal and Aston Villa whose form has been faltering of late.

To do so, they will have to find the required inspiration in the absence of Mikel Arteta, something they failed to do against Newcastle and, despite the score on Saturday, against West Brom. Marouane Fellaini will probably be asked to play on with a cracked vertebra (how close to fully mending is that fracture is not clear at this point) but Leon Osman is likely to start after playing 65 minutes at the weekend.

A thigh strain picked up in that game will rule Tony Hibbert out, though, and Phil Neville will surely switch to right back accordingly. Jack Rodwell probably won't be risked and, after playing through the pain barrier against WBA, Louis Saha will again be restricted to the role of super-sub. And with Victor Anichebe sidelined for at least three weeks, the onus up front will rest on the shoulders of Tim Cahill and Jô.

Match photo
Tony Hibbert: out with a thigh strain

Blackburn are something of a mixed bag at the moment. They've comfortably beaten some of their fellow strugglers in recent weeks but been dumped out of the FA Cup by Coventry and Everton will be buouyed by Villa's recent victory on Rovers' turf, a handsome 2-0 victory three weeks ago.

Sitting just a place above the drop zone, they won't be short of incentive to put in a good performance but the Blues must have the courage of their convictions and take the game to Sam Allardyce's men in the knowledge that with Cahill up front, they always have goals in them.

Lyndon Lloyd

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BLACKBURN (4-4-2)
  Brown
  Nelson
  Samba
  Givet :64' (65' Mokoena)
  Ooijer
  Grella (46' Tugay)
  Warnock
  Andrews
  Diouf (88' Treacy)
  Roberts
  Santa Cruz
  Subs not used
  Bunn
  Dunn
  McCarthy
  Simpson

EVERTON (4-5-1)
  Howard
  Jagiellka
  Yobo
  Lescott
  Baines
  Neville
  Rodwell (72' Saha)
  Osman
  Pienaar
  Cahill
  J (78' Fellaini)
  Subs not used
  Nash
  Jacobsen
  Castillo
  Van der Meyde
  Gosling
  Unavailable
  Arteta (injured)
  Anichebe (injured)
  Yakubu (injured)
  Vaughan (injured)
  Valente (injured)
  Hibbert (injured)
  Ruddy (loan)
  Jutkiewicz (loan)

Premier League Scores
Tuesday 3 March 2009
Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland
Portsmouth 0-1 Chelsea
West Brom 1-3 Arsenal
Wednesday 4 March 2009
Blackburn 0-0 Everton
Fulham 0-1 Hull City
Man City 2-0 Aston Villa
Newcastle 1-2 Man United
Stoke City 2-0 Bolton
Tottenham 4-0 Middlesbro
Wigan 0-1 West Ham

Premier League Table
Pos Team Pts
1 Man Utd 65
2 Chelsea 58
3 Liverpool 58
4 Aston Villa 52
5 Arsenal 49
6 Everton 45
7 West Ham 39
8 Man City 35
9 Wigan 35
10 Fulham 34
11 Bolton 33
12 Hull 32
13 Tottenham 31
14 Sunderland 31
15 Stoke 29
16 Newcastle 28
17 Portsmouth 28
18 Blackburn 27
19 Middlesbro 26
20 West Brom 22
After 4 Mar 2009

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