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COLUMNIST JOHN HOLMES

Old habits return to haunt Moyes

By John Holmes :  18/10/2009 :  Comments (7) :

On the surface Everton are now seven games unbeaten and steadily climbing the table after a poor start to the season. Look closer though and four points dropped at home to relegation candidates looks a lot less promising. The sheen on the demolitions of Blackburn, Hull and AEK has worn off and in its place the old criticisms of Moyes’ reign are justifiably raising their heads.

Against both Stoke and Wolves we lacked verve, inspiration and variety. The left-sided combination, with Baines overlapping the wide midfielder, continues to be our most productive outlet. However, with little down the right and impotence in the middle, any opposition manager worth his salt knows that focusing his defensive efforts on that side will neuter us. Osman and Hibbert were at their worst yesterday. I strongly believe both offer a lot to the club and shouldn’t be sold, but their flaws were summed up by a promising break. Hibbert carried the ball forward; Osman stood in his path; communication failed; both players ended up on the turf and Wolves came away in possession without making a tackle. That was as dangerous as the two of them got. Through the middle Rodwell continues to look calm and composed but, beyond the odd driving run, he remains an enforcer and distributor not a creator. As for Heitinga, the best you can say was looked good in the second half – at right back.

The defence, much-derided by some for their love of hoofball, genuinely tried to play it out but I lost count of the time that Baines or Distin stepped around their man and looked for a midfielder to lay it off to only to see marked men, static and shrinking from the responsibility of making something happen. So where were the creative forces?

Bilyaletdinov spent the first half being embarrassed by a defender who looked to have got lost on the way to a rugby match. Cahill still provides a threat but he’s too far up the pitch. His productivity as an emergency striker last season has fooled either his manager or himself into believing he can play there permanently. Neither attacking midfielder nor effective second striker, he currently lurks in a twilight zone, drifting through games by competing for headers and offering little else beyond his threat from set pieces. The same goes for Fellaini. When he’s been used as a genuine midfielder this season, he’s looked effective and started to spray the ball around and win it back like the player we thought we’d bought. Push him into the forward line and he gets found out. Defenders have realised his height is not matched by his strength and can be easily dominated by combative defenders. John Carew or Kevin Davies he isn’t – more like Crouch on a bad day. Their threat comes from deep where they’re difficult to mark. Push them to close to the defence and they’re marked out of the game.

With a one-dimensional set-up, it was little surprise that we stuck to plan A of battling down the left and playing for set pieces. After fifteen minutes it looked promising. Cahill had blazed over (after coming from deep for once) and minutes later Saha thumped a header just over the bar from a pinpoint corner. Then nothing. Wolves tightened up down the left and by the time the second half had started it was grab and run time. You cannot hand the initiative to lesser teams. They should be scared from the off, not offered the belief they can get something out of the game. The longer it goes on, the greater the chances their belief will lead to something like a defensive mistake being expertly capitalised upon. It was a sorry performance and Wolves can feel hard done by not to have taken all three points.

The problem for me wasn’t Moyes’ selections; he picked the best 4-5-1 line-up available to him. The issue was the failure to think outside the box and realise that line-up would play like it did. The available personnel screamed 4-4-2 and, to Moyes’ credit, when he uncharacteristically made the switch at half-time, the difference was obvious but too late. The slavish dedication to 4-5-1 at times reminds me of the latter days of Sven’s reign when his myopic obsession with crow-barring personnel into a regimented game plan led to turgid inevitability in match after match. I like Moyes and respect him, but four points left behind when they were there for the taking should serve as notice to up his game and think about things afresh.

On the plus side, the second half showed a lot of promise. Had we played like that in the first half when Wolves were unsure of themselves we might have gone in a couple of goals ahead. Bilyaletdinov picked out some unbelievable passes reminiscent of Beckham in his pomp. Both Yakubu and Saha, with a little more sharpness, could have profited. The Yak himself still seems to lack a little quickness of thought, but his game is coming back and the intelligence of his running, directness of attack and physical presence gave space to Saha that suggests Moyes may be forced into 4-4-2 if these two continue to combine as the Nigerian regains his match fitness. With Pienaar, Arteta and Bilyaletdinov to feed them, the creativity available will suddenly looksa lot more potent.

With Jagielka, Arteta and Yakubu all getting closer to being at full-throttle, maybe these results were a blessing in disguise. They put the onus on Moyes to act and, when the spine of our team returns, he will hopefully look, for the first time as Everton manager, at a genuinely high quality squad that offers him numerous options. We can but hope that he will fit his system around those options rather than employing the mentality that served him well in more impoverished days. It’s an old argument and is rightly jeered when used as an excuse rather than an explanation, however, few premiership teams would survive without their best defender, midfielder and attacker for as long as we have. After all, Liverpool are having kittens over missing two of the three. Then again, the remainder were beaten by a beach-ball.

Reader Comments

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Tony Hyland
1   Posted 18/10/2009 at 22:51:38

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Nice article John even though the sentiments surrounding the game have to be a bit pessimistic because in truth we were a bit sad especially in the first half. I do think that the previous weeks playing/travelling for a few of the players showed, even if say Osman and Hibbert were not among those travelling etc.

I watched Wigan and City this morning here in Sydney and they looked pretty good especially on the deck so why cant we as a team seem to concentrate on keeping it down? I actually watched the Wigan match at Goodison a month or so ago and they were nowhere near as good then as overnight but we still just managed a last minute victory over them and the only major change in our team since then has been the loss of Piennar (significant).

I know that these comments may seem to be a bit all over the place but at the moment watching the Blues is a bit of a doubtful pleasure. Fingers crossed!!

Neil Steele
2   Posted 19/10/2009 at 00:43:41

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Excellent John, right on the money. I am really heartened by what I see as a recent change in attitude of a majority of our fans. I have been sick and tired in years gone by of listening to apathetic acceptances and excuses for some of the utter shite Moyes has churned out.

His analysis of Saturday’s game was a joke... he though we ’played well but missed chances’.... pull the other one gaffer!! It knocks me sick that we are still such an utterly ’basic’ and predictable side after all this time.

I think its about time the manager had another wake-up call and hopefully this widespread criticism will do the trick. With the chairman happy to just plod along, he tends to get into these comfort zones every year, I feel, and only the crowd will wake him up and let him know it's not good enough.

Michael Tracey
3   Posted 19/10/2009 at 03:49:34

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Yep, the right side is again the big problem. Hibbert and Osman... what an absolute joke. The second half when Hibbert had been replaced was a lot better.

Maybe its time for Lucas Neill to be given a run as the right back. Why sign a player and pay him £40k a week and have him on the bench? He can defend and he can also pass the ball to a team mate, unlike Mr Hibbert who seems to deliberately pass it to the opposition.

Osman is not a wide player and Moyes needs to sort this out. Christ, play Gosling there he can’t be any worse than Osman. I think that Osman and Hibbert have been given too many chances and are the luckiest players in the Prem as, whenever it looks as though they are going to be finally out of the side, one of our players gets injured and they get a reprieve.

I know we will have Arteta back soon hopefully and Peanuts will be fit again but watching game after game of Everton at the moment and seeing the two piss-takers continually get a game is not acceptable.

Making Osman captain was a disgrace and then, to cap it off, when he gets subbed he gives the armband to Hibbert!!! I mean, that is an insult to previous Everton Captains. Tony Hibbert is the worst player to ever have played 200 games for Everton.

Chris Perry
4   Posted 19/10/2009 at 08:35:02

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Osman and Hibbert must have caught Moyes doing something he should not have been doing! Fucking useless the pair of them. Not even League 2 standard.
Dave Wilson
5   Posted 19/10/2009 at 12:39:23

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I thought we conceded the goal AFTER Hibbert was subbed, but then we always do concede if he’s taken off, don't we? ... funny that.

Not sure how many sitters Cahill is going to have to miss before some people wake up and realise who is really costing us the points week-in and week-out — not only does he keep missing, he keeps getting outplayed by very ordinary players.
John Holmes
6   Posted 19/10/2009 at 13:39:28

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Chris, I still think the criticism Hibbert and Osman get is OTT. To suggest they are not Premier League standard is wrong in my view. They are perfectly capable of holding their own in the top flight. However, Everton are one of the top flight’s best teams and need a level of consistency and all-round ability that those players don’t offer. That said, both can play extremely well on their day and pop up with vital tackles/goals and for those reasons I would want them to be retained for the forseeable future.

Dave, as for Cahill, I agree that he’s been off the mark too often of late but I still feel this is partly due to him being played (or pushing himself) too high up the pitch. His finishing has been off the mark but that will return; however, his all-round contribution has been extremely limited.
Anthony Newell
7   Posted 19/10/2009 at 14:46:02

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Good read but I can’t see how the last two results can be a blessing in disguise in any shape or form.

Stubborn Moyes will do what he always does, sticking out 4-5-1 at home which is inexcusable against sides like this. The boldness of going with 4-4-2 from the off just isn’t in his DNA.

I’m sicking of hearing all the same old garbage tbh: players were tired, too many injuries, Osman & Hibbo. The reason for failure in the last two games lies in the turgid/dour/negative line-ups put out by our manager, end of story.

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