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COLUMNIST PAUL TRAILL

The Belief Remains

By Paul Traill :  08/02/2009 :  Comments (0) :
The belief remains

Tired of driving everywhere amidst difficult weather conditions this past week, I decided to train it to the game today. A mate had a spare ticket so another friend, Mike, took the opportunity to go to this one and got the train with me. We arrived at Kirkdale nice and early as I wanted to get my Aston Villa ticket for next week now before big queues arrived later on. After a quick chippy, we were in The Spellow in time for the Manchester City vs Middlesbrough game. This was a better game than it sounded with a lot of chances at both ends even before half-time as Gary observed upon his arrival. “Bloodyhell, I’ve only been here five minutes and it could already be four all.”

I’d agreed to meet my mate’s Dad to get the spare ticket in The Springfield on County Road. It’s pretty much the smallest pub in the world so took Mike and I a little while to find. As we walked in someone said “Here’s two Bolton fans if ever I’ve seen one” which I found slightly bemusing given I was wearing an Everton shirt.

We met Peter with the ticket and shot back to The Spellow to reconvene with Gary, getting back into the pub just as Bellamy scored the winner. Ste arrived in due course and our mobile phone internet check confirmed that Fellaini and Pienaar both missed out with injury, landing derby hero Dan Gosling and new Brazilian loan signing and Manchester City misfit Jô a first start for his new club.

I mused about putting a bet on Everton winning 2-0 with Jô last goal but figured that, with him starting the game, he probably wouldn’t finish it so didn’t bother.

We set off for the ground and as with Wednesday night got to the steps just overlooking the pitch as the teams came out to the sound of the Z-Cars. We lost the toss again and the players swapped ends. The referee was Peter Walton. I’ve never liked his performances so wasn’t too happy about that. Let's get it on!

We started well and were straight into Bolton. I was banging on all week about how, after all the hard work over the last five games, that it would just be disastrous if we were to fail against Bolton and not go through at home to Aston Villa next week, so it was pleasing to see the players start the game so well. Cahill we be wondering how he contrived to miss from about five yards after an early Baines cross caught Bolton out, but, though I was paranoid, the goal(s) wouldn’t come with us being so wasteful, you sensed the Everton players were a bit more measured than I was.

Jô got himself involved and looked quite bright and sharp throughout with a lack of confidence evident in his finishing. He had three reasonable chances in the first half, the first a tame half-volley which he looped well over the bar; the second when he should have headed from about five yards out but instead went to volley only for a last ditch Gary Cahill intervention to prevent him from scoring surely a certain goal; and the third when he got in behind the defence and was played through on goal but dragged his shot horribly wide. Still, he was getting in the right positions and you felt that, once he grabs a goal or two, he should get his confidence back and be a decent player.

Bolton offered little with an ambitious long distance volley from I think Fabrice Muamba their only effort of note. With about 10 minutes to go until half-time, Gary declared that he was going for a beer and asked if I was going. “Nah. I’ll go up and see Ste at half-time” I replied. “It’s a train day, you’re not driving and you’re not gonna come for a bevi?” he asked… persuasively. “Oh go on then” I replied acceptingly.

My main concern with getting a pint at half-time is that you have to miss a fair bit of the end of the first half, and can lose track of time and sometimes miss the start of the second half. It’s the fear of missing goals which stops me and sure enough Everton only went and scored whilst we were down there. You don’t have to miss it completely thankfully as you have the benefit of the monitors in the concourse. From there, I saw Jô come short to collect a pass from I think Baines. He ran on into the box and just when I thought he had a reasonable attempt to shoot, darted past Andrew O’Brien who stuck out an inviting leg. Jô made no hesitation in going over it to win us a definite, if exaggerated, penalty.

Up stepped Mikel Arteta who hit it to the keeper's left. Jaaskelainen guessed correctly but couldn’t keep it out. 1-0 to the blues… just before half-time. Even after this Everton, nearly pretty much wrapped the game up when Jagielka connected with a corner, spinning a header onto the bar and out. It was very comfortable for Everton and we were very good value for our half time lead.

Unlike Gary and ‘the Brom lads’ I headed the warning on the monitors to get back to our seats for the second half and was sat down just in time for the restart. Time somehow seems to fly by down there. It was just as well I got back when I did as it wasn’t long into the second half when Everton doubled their money. A high hanging ball from Neville was trapped by Jô as he tried to flick it round Gary Cahill with his first touch. He didn’t quite manage it but Cahill was unfortunate as the ball bounced back off him and fell invitingly into Jô’s path. He didn’t hesitate and smacked a volley first time past Jaaskelainen. Hopefully that’ll give him the confidence to bang in some goals for us now. That was effectively game over as Bolton just didn’t turn up. Gary returned. “I heard a roar, what did I miss?”. Ya shoulda seen his face when I told him Jô had scored a volley.

Bolton did huff and puff as they tried to get back into the game but everything was so, so comfortable for Everton who’d effectively shut up shop. Kevin Davies and Ariza Makukula did their bit but they just weren’t provided with enough support from midfield, making things pretty easy for the flawless Jags and Lescott. Kevin Davies nearly connected with a header from a pretty decent chance which might have given them a bit of momentum but they certainly didn’t merit it.

My mind started to wander towards that bet I didn’t make as it looked for all the world it was coming in. Thank God then that Everton got a last minute penalty when a cross from the right was handled by the hapless Gary Cahill (I think). With Arteta subbed and of course no Yakubu on the pitch there, seemed to be a bit of confusion as to who would take it. I thought probably Osman would be the man as he used to take a lot of them for the reserves. The crowd wanted Tony Hibbert to be given a chance to open his Everton account (not bad going after 195 starts!) but it was our new Brazilian recruit who stepped up.

I thought this was a bit of a risk as he’s just seemingly gotten his confidence back but it was clearly worth the risk as he smacked it low into the corner with aplomb. Gary had gone for a piss and so missed yet another goal. I left straight after I’d seen the replay to get a head start on the traffic. What a comfortable win.

Gary went on to Weatherspoon's whilst the rest of us grabbed the train back home. All in all a nice day out at the match… let's hope for another one next Sunday against Aston Villa as that’s sure to be a much more difficult assignment than today’s fixture.

Player Ratings:

Howard: Nothing to do… at all. Coulda gotten his deckchair out. Kicking a bit wayward. 6

Baines: Got forward well but his crossing and decision-making was not quite up to scratch. He was subbed late on for Yobo, probably to provide more height at the back in case of any aerial bombardment from Bolton. Will stay in the team for next weekend I’m sure. 6

Lescott: Flawless. Can’t quite believe that whilst he was playing jarg at the start of the season he was still getting into the England squad and Jags wasn’t, but now their both playing magnificently, particularly Jags, Jags is in and Lescott isn’t. My man of the match. 8

Jagielka: Flawless. 8 Hibbert: Did well. Looking much more comfortable on the ball now also. Would like to have seen him take that penalty but never mind... Will he ever score for Everton? 7

Neville: Certainly in his best form at the club, maybe even his career so maybe an England call up isn’t even past him given that there’s talk of his brother getting in. Covered a lot of ground today. 7

Arteta: Pretty much bossed it in the midfield. We’ll need a big performance from him next Sunday. 8

Cahill: Looks happier back in the midfield and still provides that goal threat of course. How he didn’t score I just don’t know. 7

Gosling: Seems a little slow but I like his calmness on the ball and quick thinking. I think the game passes him by at times but he’ll improve with games as he’s only just turned 19. Looks like he’ll probably stay in next week with Pienaar suspended so he should have another chance to show us all what he can do. 6

Osman: Worked hard but his passing wasn’t quite up to scratch perhaps. It seems quite clear that he’s struggling with that injury to me so fair play to him for battling on. 6

Jô: Did well. Always wants the ball, won the first penalty and of course scored a couple of goals. Looks a bit rusty with some of the things he does but that’ll improve with games and confidence. 7

Rodwell (Sub for Cahill): Did just fine. Has come of age I feel. 7

Yobo (Sub for Baines): Didn’t really have a lot to do but good to see him back. 6 Van der Meyde (for Arteta): Given his level of fitness I doubt he’ll ever get himself into a starting line-up in the rest of his time at Everton but my, he is good. He’s the best crosser we’ve probably got at the club and is pretty unpredictable with his skill and movement. He’s capable of that moment of magic as he proved in the derby and may, just may have an important role to play in the run-in. Unbelievably, he seems to have earned a reprieve. 7

PS: Speaking of reprieves, I thought the referee was excellent today. Yes, he got a couple of things wrong but gave things as he saw them, let the game flow and wasn’t card happy. I didn’t rate him before the game but that’s one of the better refs I’ve seen this season.

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