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VIEW FROM THE BLUE

Jô's Star Burns Brightly on Blues Debut

By Lyndon Lloyd :  08/02/2009 :  Comments (0) :

Everton shrugged off concerns that their extra-time exploits against Liverpool four days ago would have sapped their energy by turning in a stellar display that swept Bolton Wanderers aside and yielded two goals for debutant Jô.

Playing their sixth game in 19 days, shorn of two more key players by injury, and having come off five consecutive matches against Sky Four opposition, the Blues could have been forgiven for slogging their way through a potentially scrappy and overly physical encounter, hoping to win by the odd goal.

Instead, 34,000 fans were treated to an energetic, confident performance, as fine a first-half display as any this season, and three goals which amply reflected the home side's overall domination. Not only that, but Jô, an infamous £19m misfit at Manchester City, confounded the doubters by making a dream start to life at Goodison Park, leading the line superbly alongside Tim Cahill and helping himself to two goals.

David Moyes's options for this game were limited by the loss of Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar but he was helped enormously by being able to call on his new loan signing whom he handed a first start. In midfield, Dan Gosling was rewarded for his goalscoring heroics against Liverpool with only his second senior start.

And Everton showed no signs of fatigue as they took the game to Bolton from the first whistle. Indeed, they should have been a goal to the good after just two minutes and Cahill is still probably wondering how they weren't. Leon Osman threaded a beautifully-weighted pass between two defenders for Leighton Baines to attack down the left channel and, as his low cross flew across the face of goal, Cahill just had to get sufficient purchase on it to convert from three yards. Unfortunately, his touch was just a glancing one and the ball skidded past the post.

Joleon Lescott had a volley from a corner deflected behind, Jô knocked a Gosling cross over the bar and Baines finished a fine move down the left with another cross driven low across the box which Jussi Jaaskelainen could only punch into a defender and was fortunate to have the ball bounce straight back into his arms.

Then, after Fabrice Muamba had volleyed Bolton's first chance narrowly over in the 23rd minute, Cahill presented Jô with his first real chance when, with an excellent header, he put him in the clear, one-on-one with the 'keeper. The Brazilian betrayed a lack of confidence, though, as the chasing defenders caught up with him and he dragged his shot wide of the far post.

If the miss had affected him, Jô didn't show it at all. Indeed, just a minute later he trapped Baines's pass in the area, held off his marker with the ball under his foot before executing a shot on the turn which was blocked.

Overall, the striker was putting a terrific shift up front, showing tidiness on the ball, some nice early touches and a useful ability to hold the ball up and bring teammates into play. Having watched Cahill run the line so tirelessly on his own in recent matches, it was really refreshing to have another attacking outlet in the side. And, despite being just an inch shorter than Fellaini and of similarly skinny build, Jô demonstrated terrific mobility and turn of speed when needed.

He was helped enormously by a wonderful exhibition of fast-flowing, passing football by his new teammates, the like of which we haven't seen enough this season. Moving it from one side of the pitch the other, the Blues were patient when the needed to be and quick and incisive when the opportunity presented itself.

But as half-time loomed their territorial superiority still hadn't been rewarded with a goal, despite Lescott going close with a right-footed shot that deflected inches wide and a low Arteta drive that Jaaskelainen saved low to his right.

Six minutes from the break, though, another move down the left ended with Baines finding Jô inside the box and as he accelerated towards the byline inviting a foul, Andy O'Brien obliged by stuck out a leg and send the Everton No 11 sprawling to the turf. Referee Peter Walton duly pointed to the spot and Arteta stepped up to plant the penalty above the 'keeper's dive to make it 1-0.

Three minutes later, it was almost 2-0 when Phil Jagielka glanced a Baines corner onto the bar and Lescott fired the rebound into the side-netting from a tight angle. And on the stroke of half-time, Osman was denied an almost certain goal when Gary Cahill threw himself in front of his shot and deflected it up and over the bar.

The Goodison faithful didn't have to wait too long for the all-important second goal, though. The second half was just three minutes old when Phil Neville hoisted a high ball into the box which Jô contolled and turned brilliantly past his marker before volleying smartly under the 'keeper.

The second half's "how did he miss that moment," belonged to Gosling. Nine minutes after the second goal, Tony Hibbert was fouled on the right touchline and Arteta's free kick picked out Gosling all alone at the back post. Unfortunately, perhaps because he thought Jaaskelainen was going to get a hand to it, the youngster ended up too far ahead of the ball and he wasn't able to steer his header into the empty net.

Gosling had another chance three minutes later when the 'keeper punched another Arteta free kick to the edge of the box where the teenager knocked the ball neatly to the side to evade an onrushing defender before unloading a left-footed drive that Jaaskelainen again had to save with a dive to his left.

After an hour of almost complete control, tiredness did seem to creep into Everton's play, though, and Bolton, having seen Matthew Taylor's 58th-minute free kick almost sneak past Tim Howard inside the far post, started to capitalise on a somewhat ragged spell by their hosts and gain more traction in midfield.

Makakula nodded inches wide and Howard had to be at his best to first push Taylor's powerful effort to safety and then leap on top of another Makakula shot that was tamed by a deflection on its way towards goal.

But Everton weathered that little spell and almost grabbed a third when Cahill produced another gravity-defying leap above the defence to connect with Baines's free kick but his header bounced the wrong side of the upright.

That was to be the Australian's last real involvement before he was given a well-earned rest by his manager for the last 13 minutes. Jack Rodwell was introduced and was followed onto the field by Joseph Yobo, who came on for Baines after 81 minutes, and Andy van der Meyde who replaced Arteta with five minutes left of regulation time.

Moyes's side weren't done, yet, though. Yobo headed a corner well wide and Jô saw a shot from the right side of the area beaten away by the 'keeper. Then, two minutes into injury time, Van der Meyde led a break-away but eschewed a cross in favour of playing in Gosling down the right and his cross was blocked by the arm of Mark Davies. Referee Walton had not hesitation in awarding a second penalty and Jô took the opportunity to cap off an impressive debut by placing the ball on the spot.

Jaaskelainen guessed the right way again but Jô's powered his shot into the corner before wheeling away to milk the applause from the Park End stand.

3-0 matched the Blues' biggest win of the campaign, and was no more than they deserved for what was an excellent performance lit up by the kind of passing game that characterised that excellent run in the middle of last season but that's been lacking for much of the current one.

There were towering performances all over the pitch but Baines, Arteta, Hibbert and Cahill stood out for special mention. Gosling betrayed some of his inexperience but showed much of why his future is so bright while Osman was frustratingly hit-and-miss — one minute delivering a killer pass down the channel, the next being guilty of ending a promising move by giving the ball away.

But it was Jô's moment and deservedly so. He'll grab the headlines for his two goals but his overall contribution, that of the consummate striker, was just as important. Of course it's early days but on this evidence, the Brazilian's display vindicated not only Moyes but also those fans who realised that the instability at Eastlands was to blame for his failure to settle there and had confidence in the Everton manager's ability to get the best out of him.

It's just a shame that he is cup-tied for next weekend's FA Cup tie against Aston Villa because the Blues look a more complete and potent side with a natural striker back in the line-up.

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