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Blues Do Enough to Edge Through

By Lyndon Lloyd :  03/01/2009 :  Comments (0) :

Anyone who remembers the ignominy of the Shrewsbury Town tie in 2003 — and which Evertonian doesn't? — or the Oldham Athletic defeat at Goodison last season will know that performances don't really matter when it comes to the FA Cup Third Round; it's all about the result.

Just as well, really, because Everton's display against Macclesfield Town will not live long in the memory, but the result might if David Moyes can guide his team all the way to Wembley come May. With the likes of Manchester City and Stoke City succumbing to giant-killling acts by Nottingham Forest and Hartlepool United elsewhere today, being in tomorrow's Fourth Round draw is the most important thing.

League Two Macclesfield Town, some 76 places below the Blues in English football's league ladder, certainly posed a potential banana skin for Moyes's side but save for four good chances, two in each half, they rarely threatened their illustrious visitors. Instead, it was merely a question of whether Everton would find the crucial breakthrough having survived a couple of early scares.

Terry Dunfield could have sown the seeds of a big upset in the second minute had he driven his 16-yard shot a couple of yards lower. And Matt Brown missed with an even better opportunity nine minutes later when he finished a quick break down the Macclesfield right by heading a cross over atn the back post.

Everton for their part, having seen Steven Pienaar poke a shot through the crowd into goalkeeper Brain's arms in the first minute, were all neat passing and patient build-up but precious little end product.

Victor Anichebe was deployed up front with Tim Cahill but both found space difficult to come by in the cramped environs of Moss Rose and neither had a sniff of a chance until Leighton Baines fizzed a cross across the face of goal, the ball just eluding first Anichebe and then Osman on its way.

Then, after Mikel Arteta had missed badly with a direct free kick from 30 yards, Cahill got on the end of a throw-in from the right but he couldn't connect cleanly from eight yards out and Brain was able to gather it fairly comfortably.

The game was petering out to half time when out of nowhere, Everton scored. Arteta's cross was cleared to the edge of the box where Osman chested it neatly and fired beautifully into the top corner.

As it turned out, it was to be both the best and the most decisive moment of the game. It knocked the stuffing out of Macclesfield who no doubt felt that they could make it to the interval and then regroup for a second-half assault.

Instead, the second period was controlled by Everton but, again, even though their opposition were clearly no match, it was tedious and uneventful fare. Tony Hibbert in particular was enjoying the freedom of Moss Rose, time and again being afforded acres of space to attack but he wasn't able to produce a single telling ball beyond those that won a a flurry of corners before the hour mark.

Set-pieces presented numerous opportunities for the Blues' well-honed threat from dead-ball situations to pay dividends but only a half-chance for Cahill and a hooked effort by Phil Jagielka that landed on the top of the net caused the home side any real panic. Arteta was having another of those days where his sights seemed to be well off and all too often his deliveries were blocked or simply found a defender's head.

Still, there were other chances from open play. Jagielka volleyed a low Baines cross just over, Pienaar flashed a shot wide and Anichebe swept a shot past the far post.

The expected late rally by Macclesfield duly came in the final quarter of an hour. First Simon Yeo scuffed a first-time effort straight at Tim Howard with his first shot after coming on as a 78th-minute sub, then Dunfield blazed a free kick over the crossbar rather than throwing the ball into the area hoping for a lucky bounce.

Danny Thomas had the home fans baying for a penalty when he tumbled under Hibbert's challenge with five minutes left before the same player looped a good chance over from 20 yards after Jagielka had slipped.

The Blues were closing out the game when in the last minute of injury time, the ball broke for Yeo once more with a clear sight of goal but Howard pushed his fierce shot away to safety whereupon referee Peter Walton blew for full time.

All in all, a pretty dismal display by Everton but they avoided both embarrassing defeat and the need for a replay at Goodison so there's not much to complain about. Conditions were freezing and the pitch less than ideal so this was never going to be an exhibition of the beautiful game anyway.

What the game might impress upon Moyes, though, is that he does need to address the lack of numbers up front. At one point, Anichebe looked to be heading for the sidelines again after suffering what looked to be a dead le but the Nigerian international looked ponderous and one-dimensional throughout.

Moyes's rhetoric is again cautious and uninspiring where it comes to the possibility of strengthening the squad this month but if he harbours hopes of winning this competition, he is going to need more firepower than was on display here today.

Player Ratings:

Howard 7; Hibbert 5; Baines 6; Jagielka 7; Lescott 7; Neville 6; Arteta 6; Osman 7 (MotM); Pienaar 6; Cahill 6; Anichebe 6

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