COLUMNIST PAUL TRAILL
The plan was to get to the pub to watch Manchester United play Liverpool. Astonishingly the kopites spanked the champs 4-1. Terrific! That’ll make them angry in time for our precious semi-final in five weeks time. Gary arrived and, with the team news relatively obvious, most of the pre-match chatter regarded travel arrangements to Wembley and acquisition of season tickets next week.
We arrived at the ground nicely in time and, as is the norm now, the teams switched ends before kick off. Jo led the line up front with Cahill in support. Fellaini, sporting braids, was tasked with playing the creative role in midfield with Osman and Pienaar on the flanks. Neville held. Yobo maintained his place at the back which’ll give Moyes a selection headache once Hibbert returns. As for Stoke, James Beattie returned to a good reception from our support with the rest of the team made up of Premier League has-beens such as Rory Delap and Liam Lawrence and thuggish looking Championship players like Ryan Shawcross.
The Stoke fans got up Gary’s nose with their persistent vociferous support, with Gary labelling them a smaller version of Newcastle United. He had a point. A look at their honours list showed they haven’t really won much, with their League Cup victory over Chelsea in 1972-73 the one thing that stands out. Regardless it contributed towards a good positive start by Stoke and it took Everton a while to get going in this game.
The first goal came just as the Stoke fans were in full swing of belting out “Your support is fuckin’ shit”. Jo wriggled free into the box after a neat ball from Fellaini and hit a fierce low shot which seemed to catch Thomas Sorensen by surprise and went in past the Dane’s outstretched arm.
Slightly against the run of play, we had the lead. This got our support going a bit and Everton, led by Fellaini more so than anyone else, got into their rhythm, doubling their money when Joleon Lescott pounced on a rebound when Sorensen pushed out a headed effort by Cahill. Lescott looked to me like he may have been offside but nevertheless the goal stood.
I felt that, had we scored a third goal before half-time, the floodgates may have opened and we’d have gone on to a rout. That third goal didn’t come before the interval though Osman probably came the closest after fantastic feet in the box produced an opportunity which he curled narrowly wide. We had a beer downstairs at half-time and had a quick scan at the other half-time scores in what was a lively day for goals in the Premier League.
Failure to seal the game with the killer third goal before the break almost came back to haunt us in the second period as Stoke battled their way back into the game. Early in the second half, a stunner of a header by Ryan Shawcross from a Liam Lawrence corner gave Stoke a platform to get something out if this one. This set the tone for the second half and Stoke will feel aggrieved not to have gotten something from this game having pressed throughout, though will look back to rue their timid first-half performance.
Whilst they were in and around our box quite a lot, they just didn’t test Tim Howard anywhere near enough though; this was enforced by some pretty rock-solid defending by the boys in blue. The Blues eventually wrapped the game up in stoppage time when Fellaini, who was woeful in the second half after a strong first period, beautifully controlled the ball following a punt upfield by Baines before smashing it past Thomas Sorensen via a deflection off a Stoke City defender. Game over.
We nipped for a quick pint after the game to let the traffic pass on, before getting the train back. On the whole, not a convincing performance by Everton but, with the injuries we’ve got and the position we’re in at the moment, it’s all about results at this stage of the season.
Howard: I don’t think he could do much with Stoke’s goal and despite a lot of pressure from Stoke was generally untested throughout. 6
Baines: Did OK. 6
Lescott: Good game. Got on the scoresheet and contributed well towards shutting Stoke out when they put us under pressure in the second half. 7
Yobo: Had a good solid game though distribution was as poor as ever. 7
Jagielka: Is doing a stable job at right back. Obviously centre-back is his best position but he’s certainly dependable in this position also. 7
Neville: Good and solid. Broke things up well. 7
Osman: Fine if not spectacular. 6
Pienaar: Fine if not spectacular. 6
Fellaini: I thought he was outstanding in the first half and really got us going, though in the second half his passing was atrocious. I felt at the time that, despite this, it was worth keeping him on as he has a good presence and is always a goal threat, and low and behold, he took his goal brilliantly at the end. 7
Cahill: had a good first half though was subbed at half-time with a calf strain. We missed him in the second period. I do hope it’s not too serious. 7
Jo: My man of the match. He put in a good shift and got on the scoresheet as well of course. 7
Subs: Saha (for Cahill): Hardly noticed he was there. 5
Rodwell (for Jo): Not on that long so difficult to judge. Got stuck in. 6
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