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COLUMNIST PAUL TRAILL

Match Report - Jaded Everton force a draw

By Paul Traill :  05/10/2009 :  Comments (8) :
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Following a short weekend break, I had a bit of a mad scramble from John Lennon Airport just to make it to the game so was grateful to grab a quick pint at the pub with the boys just before kick off. I’d already heard the team news on the radio and it was no surprise to hear Heitinga had come in at centre back and Saha up front, though was a bit more surprising to hear that Rodwell had recovered and started the game in midfield.

Stoke City had two ex-Merseysiders in their line-up in the form of Salif Diao from the red corner and James Beattie in the blue....both of whom expected more from their careers in Liverpool I’ll wager. The referee was Andy Marriner. In the absence of Joseph Yobo, Leon Osman skippered the side.

Prior to kick-off, I was rather optimistic we’d take the game quite comfortably... though, a few minutes into the match, I soon realized we were in for a tougher game than I expected. Stoke were very disciplined and hard-working throughout, and were backed by a packed and annoyingly vociferous away following.

Both teams had excellent first-half headed chances to score. Cahill will wonder quite how he didn’t connect better with his headed opportunity and Ricardo Fuller will also feel as though he should have done better with his headed chance after dizzy defending by Everton.

As the half wore on it seemed less and less likely that we’d find a breakthrough in the half so Gary and I went for a pint a few minutes before the interval. This appeared to coincide with Everton’s best spell in the half – possibly the game – as they really put Stoke on the back foot and forced a series of corners with Osman coming closest with an excellent drive which was well saved by Thomas Sorensen.

Prior to this Stoke had also survived a close penalty scare when Bilyaletdinov’s drive into the box was blocked by a Stoke defenders elbow, though Marriner appeared to suggest he felt it was ball to hand. Either way, at half-time we were breakthrough-less.

After cause for optimism towards the end of the first half, we felt we’d take the game to Stoke a little more though were completely rocked back when Stoke scored a goal out of nothing from a corner. Ryan Shawcross made a surge into the box which seemed to confuse a few of the Everton players and whoever was supposed to be marking Robert Huth switched off allowing the German to head the ball in quite comfortably to give Stoke the lead.

This set their supporters up for an incredibly, frustratingly, annoyingly but above all bloody noisy bit of chanting for a good few minutes. Thankfully this racket was broken when Osman clipped home a beauty to level the scores. You felt Everton would go on and get the three points from here but failed to build on this whilst Stoke held out well and may have nicked it themselves with a little more composure in and around the box.

Moyes probably left his changes too late and I felt made the wrong changes. Kudos for going for the jugular I guess, sticking on Jo and Yakubu to go three up-front though this hopelessly deprived us of width and we failed to create any chances for any of our strikers in the last 15-20 minutes of the game.

Maybe Gosling on for the struggling Bilyaletdinov and one of Yakubu and Jo on for perhaps Rodwell would have kept the width whilst still providing an additional attacking outlet for Saha. I lost patience late on when Yakubu made a silly push on a Stoke defender instead of going for the ball, resulting in a free kick for Stoke.

My plan to beat the rush failed horribly as it seemed everyone else had the same plan. I actually then got stuck in a big, big queue before finally catching Gary again for a pint back in The Spellow…on the bright side, Liverpool got spanked by Chelsea. Taking the positives – we didn’t lose the game and looked pretty solid at the back even without Yobo and Jagielka.

On reflection – the game highlighted just how paper thin our squad really is when we succumb to a few injuries. Following the game in Belarus, we could have done with the luxury of making a few more changes but we just didn’t have that possibility today.

Roll on next weekend… a nice break for the team and a better opportunity to prepare for what really should be a home-banker at home to Wolves in a fortnight's time.

Player Ratings:

  • Howard: Not a great deal to do but did what he had to pretty comfortably. 7
  • Baines: Not quite at the races defensively today though supported attacks well. 6
  • Distin: My man of the match. He’s so solid and communicates well…you’d think he’s been here years. 8
  • Heitinga: Starting to look more comfortable on the ball and takes responsibility which hints that he will be a good player for us though needs to eradicate those silly fouls from his game. 6
  • Hibbert: What a difference a game can make eh. Received a good reception after his heroics at centre back on Thursday night, appeared very confident and distributed very well…particularly in the first half. Took the armband from Osman when he went off7
  • Rodwell: Started well but evaporated as the game wore on…all part of the learning curve of course. 5
  • Fellaini: A decent individual display from Fellaini if not a team one. We struggle to find the right balance with these three in the middle. 6
  • Cahill: Was certainly the engine in the midfield though would appreciate more opportunities to get forward. Will rue them two headed chances he had I’m sure. 6
  • Bilyaletdinov: Struggled to get into the game throughout. It may even take him the full season before we start seeing the best of him. Should have been hauled off a lot sooner. 3
  • Osman: Was unfortunate to have been taken off as he was the most creative of the midfielders and had scored a good goal.  6
  • Saha: Never quite got going. 6
  • Jo (for Bilyaletdinov): Made a bit of an impact…may have made a better one had he have been given more time. 6
  • Yakubu (for Osman): Never got going. 5

Reader Comments

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Dave Jeanrenaud
1   Posted 05/10/2009 at 16:06:18

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Bilyaletdinov 3!!

That is a bit harsh I think. He started quite well I thought and put a few decent balls into the box in the early part of the game.

He did fade badly in the second half but he was not alone in this. He does lack a yard of pace but he looks to have a very tasty left foot. I’m sure he will benefit from playing with the likes of Pienaar and Arteta when they return.

If you had given him a 5 then fair enough but a 3 is harsh in the extreme!!
Connor Rohrer
2   Posted 05/10/2009 at 16:04:42

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Jack Rodwell deserves more than a 5, he was a best midfielder by a mile. Got on the ball more than anyone, used it better than anyone and tried actually tried to force the issue when other players where passing on responsibility.

I agree on Heitinga and Distin, both looked solid and won everything against two big, strong forwards in Fuller and Beattie.

Bilyaletdinov and Baines didn’t really build up an understanding, I think it was a case of two left footers attacking the same space. Pienaar cuts inside when he plays wide left so there’s a bit more variety there.

Would be interesting to see Bilyaletdinov playing wide right and being given the freedom to cut inside onto his left foot. By all accounts he’s an attacking midfielder and it may suit him like playing on the left suits a right footer like Pienaar.

I could be completely wrong but it’s worth a try. Maybe it is just a case of getting better footballers around him, players on his wavelength.

As neat and tidy as Cahill and Fellaini are they don’t half slow down our attacks with there slow passing. Both players have a tendency to move the ball on and run forward into the box, as midfield players they simply can’t do that.

Players like Rodwell, Arteta and even Neville show for the ball a lot more, I can’t wait to get these players back.
Keith Glazzard
3   Posted 05/10/2009 at 16:29:23

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Distin and increasingly Heitinga will be seen to be valuable additions to the playing staff. So too, I believe, will Dini Bilyaletdinov. When Moyes spoke about wanting him to be introduced to the PL in installments he must have been thinking about the kind of opposition Stoke were yesterday. Had Pienaar been fit, for example, Bily would have started on the bench to be brought on late, perhaps on the right for Osman or Cahill.

But given the fact that he has probably never played against a team like Stoke in his life, what did he do to be rated 3/10? What would any player have to do to get 3/10? And would Moyes & Round not possibly spot that something was terribly wrong and warm a sub or two up?
David Ellis
4   Posted 06/10/2009 at 04:27:16

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I thought Bilyaletdinov was (mostly) excellent and Jo was awful.

Bilyaletdinov has superb touch and created lots of problems for Stoke. However he failed to produce the final ball/shot — along with most of the rest of the team. He hasn’t got exceptional pace but he is probably the most skillful player we have along with Arteta and Saha. I agree he might be worth a run on the right-hand side, but we can’t expect him to develop the same understanding that Pienaar has with Baines overnight.

There were several long cross field passes from Heitinga that Bily controlled with one touch. When Jo came on Heitinga tried it only once after the ball bounced off the lamp post for 15 yards.

I also thought Rodwell was (mostly) excellent. Again he has excellent touch which gives him so much time on the ball. But when give the amount of space that Stoke gave on Sunday he seemed to not quite know how to use it to best effect and got drawn in to taking pot shots at goal. Agree he faded a bit towards the end.
Dave Lynch
5   Posted 06/10/2009 at 09:12:24

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Careful, Connor. You will have the wrath of the aussie mafia bare down on you if you dare to insinuate that Timmy boy was less that brilliant.
Tony Williams
6   Posted 06/10/2009 at 13:14:34

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I’m sorry Paul but 3 for Bilyatdinov? Seriously? And then you give Jo a score of 6?

I think Connor has hit the nail on the head in regards to the left side with Bily and Baines, they both move out wide for the cross whereas Piennar would cut inside.
Liam Reilly
7   Posted 06/10/2009 at 14:31:49

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3 for Billy, nonsense.
Its going to take the lad time to adjust, so give him a break.

On a different note, does anyone else think its just a wee bit scary that Davey thinks of Osman as captain material. Isn’t the captain the first name on the teamsheet, so he isn’t seen as just a squad player as most on this site perceive him to be and once decent strike wont change that opinion.
Keith Glazzard
8   Posted 06/10/2009 at 16:46:15

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Liam - there was no doubt that Ossie was going to be on the teamsheet in Belarus and against Stoke. Both fixtures had ’all hands to the pumps’ written all over them. In the absence of Cap’n Pip, then Joe, the boss could have gone for, say, Timmy or even Big Tim. But he picked Little Leon, a move which did no harm at all and maybe a lot of good. Hibbo picking the armband up on Sunday (and I’ll bet it's in the cabinet back home now) was a nice touch too.

I’d be surprised if Moyes reads TW, but I’ll bet that Ian Ross or an assistant gives him a round-up from the various forums from time to time. His comment about the club’s "brickwork" players seems to suggest he was saying something to an audience somewhere.

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