COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
A sunny warm day saw the hordes Goodison bound, shirt-sleeved and in truth abandoning any Halloween hokus-pocus and praying that the line-up would show at least some returnees. A point would be a step forward after the battering we have taken of late.
Baines, Bilyaletdinov and Yobo duly bolstered our ranks after whatever had ailed them and the manager went with a 4-2-3-1 formation that in the first half engulfed the Villa and 1-0 up on the stroke of half-time was a measly reward for our fortitude.
From the off, we looked bright and the tiredness of recent matches was replaced with some decent joined-up stuff that had the Villa on the back foot, with only the final ball to round off some enterprising play missing. Yet is was Villa with the first goal chance when Sidwell had a headed chance that he put wide.
The Yak then had a cross-cum-shot tipped over by Friedel, Fellaini had a snapshot saved... then it was Villa to employ hoofball and from one punt by centre-back Collins, Heskey was closed down before any damage could be done.
On the half-hour mark, Heitinga put in one of his cross-field specials and the Yak just mis-cued wide with a header that maybe should have counted. We then thought Fellaini had missed a sitter only for the linesman to flag the ball out before it had reached him. Shortly after, Villa, in the shape of Warnock, came closest of all when his left foot drive narrowly missed the far post.
The board went up with 2 mins of added time and a minute of it had elapsed when Cahill, from his pseudo right wing berth, had a cross hit the Yak and fall for Bilyaletdinov who stroked home right footed giving Friedel no chance, sending us to the break delighted and pondering on how it could have been more.
Whatever we chatted about at the break could not have prepared us for the start of the second half. The precursor was that the Villa were out a good couple of minutes before us and looking up for it. Milner was replaced by the giant Carew, we sauntered on to the pitch and started as though unprepared... Why does this happen so often?
We started on the back foot as Villa went for it and within just a few seconds it was 1-1 due to poor marking, poor concentration, and a poor parry from our keeper in dealing with a less than venomous shot from Agbonlahor, allowing the newly introduced Carew to slot home. What a sickener! When will we ever learn?
We then started to look ragged as if the players knew they had let themselves, the manager, and the fans down. Cahill as captain tried too hard and was rightly cautioned for an aggressive tackle, Petrov had a goal-bound effort deflected but luckily Villa could not make our demeanour count in their favour due to some restorative work by Heitinga and the impressive Rodwell in winning some ball and getting us forward again. With these two causing Villa some problems the manager with 20 mins to go replaced Fellaini with Saha and, without changing the shape, we had a go.
With just five minutes to go, the unimpressive Baines put in his cross of the match and with Cahill leaping a goal looked on but that lad from the other-side’ Warnock did enough in the air to thwart the Aussie. As the clock wound down the unimpressive ref sent off Bilyaletdinov for a tackle which from my seat seemed extremely harsh; however, under the slo-mo on MotD he may be right.
The crowd were incensed and every Villa tackle was challenged and eventually the ref buckled and gave a second yellow to Cuellar as he no more than collided with Yak. The game ended and many a Blue wondered whether to be happy with a point to end a barren run or rue two dropped points.
Overall, I thought it was a pulsating game to witness and our team played in a manner to suggest better things. Thirty odd thousand Blues entered the ground with the thought of a point being a good result, at the end thirty odd thousand Blues left wondering how we had not won it. Such are the fine margins in football. In looking for a MotM most leaving the ground seemed to think the Yak with Fellaini getting a good mention...
However, today my award goes to Jack Rodwell for some excellent link-up play but, more importantly to me, for his running at the opposing defence, something we have been lacking for ages and so important to have someone in the team who can do that in the modern game. Hands off, Sir Alex!
I thought today our ref Lee Probert showed the standard of reffing we will have to get used to in the future. He is an up-and coming ref and certainly knows the rule book inside out and probably well thought of by our league, Uefa and Fifa but — in keeping with other up-and-coming refs, not just in our country — seems to have little feel for the grand old game and unable to distinguish between sheer toil and effort and premeditated thuggery.
I don’t know the answer but I am sure nanny state adherence to the rule book rather than ‘interpretation of rules given the circumstances’ will eventually reduce the game to little more than pre-determined and rehearsed Ballet moves.
Benfica Thursday, no Neill or Heitinga so hoping for a couple more to declare themselves fit and get a game. For all the plaudits Benfica got last week, I still reckon they are a bit lightweight and a good Premier League side can get at them and turn them over. Let us be that team...
UP THE BLUES
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1 Posted 01/11/2009 at 04:55:51
We won’t see Everton firing on all cylinders until we have our best players back and they have been given 3 to 4 games to get back into the swing of things. But come Jan 2010, with the spine of our team back in place, we should start to move up the table... fingers crossed.
This season may not end as badly as we think. A 6th place finish is not beyond us, and neither are good runs in the Europa and FA Cups. I also have a niggling suspicion that, while we will end the season brightly, our neighbours across the park will have a season of misery.
Without Gerard and Torres, they have a very average team. I think they will finish around 8th place at most. They’ll likely be out of the European Cup by next week. They’re already out of the League Cup. Having lost out on the Champions League will mean they will go bankrupt, owner squabbles will increase, Rafa will quit in disgrace, etc, etc. All in all, much to look forward too as the season progresses...
2 Posted 01/11/2009 at 05:23:56
I am surprised by your selection of Rodwell as MotM, but I guess there is a massive difference between watching the game live versus on TV. For me Rodwell didn’t do enough — a lot of sideways passing but not enough to convert defense to attack.
My MotM was Heitinga — he had an excellent defensive midfield game, was breaking up play effectively (but there were some white kunckle moments, when I feared he would mistime his tackle and see red), and put in some special long-ball passes, which seems to be his speciality. Plus a fairly intense guy to have in the middle of the field.
Other positives were:
- Yak’s tireless working indicating that he is up to match fitness — only needs to start banging the goals in.
- Baines and Yobo are looking good.
- Neill kept Young reasonably quiet throughout.
- Rodwell and Heitinga cancelled out the Villains mid-field effectively.
- Bily’s sending off was something we did not need now — very silly challenge.
- Our lack of speed on the wings was evident, even after both their full backs received yellow cards fairly early in the game, we did not have enough pace and trickery to exploit their tentativeness.
- Still leaking goals at the back. The last clean sheet in the League was the lucky 1-0 against Portsmouth.
Neville Jagielka Distin Baines
Pienaar Heitinga Arteta Bily
SUBS: Nash, Yakubu, Cahill, Hibbert, Yobo, Osman, Rodwell
Feeling quite optimistic already... COYB!!
3 Posted 01/11/2009 at 05:51:21
Ajay; I would have Neill in over Neville at RB and agree with Heitinga over Neville as holder for his ability to make a pass.
Early on in the game Rodwell shaped up to shoot, it didn’t sit up for him and/or he was closed down, he had half a go a bit later, but everyone passes it across when sometimes a shot is on... shoot ffs
1-1 Stoke... crapish;
1-1 Wolves... crap;
1-1 Villa... same result but much better attitude from Management, Players AND crowd.
QED... It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it (Mr Marsh’s point minus the acid).
4 Posted 01/11/2009 at 07:25:59
I’ve felt we’d been a bit of a soft touch recently, we’ve allowed ourselves to be bullied, but that was better.
Far too many crosses came in from our right and we did lack pace in the middle on the few occasions Villa went for the throat. But both Neil and Heitinga pleased me most, their distribution was decent and neither were for being bullied, both left their mark on more than one Villa player.
Ok hardly scientific, but I have no problem at all with that, it was just what the doctor ordered in our current situation. If we can improve our concentration when defending, maintain yesterday's aggression and get a few of our footballers back, things may start to look a little brighter...
5 Posted 01/11/2009 at 09:20:06
A very typical Moyes quote in the Sundays — ’I think we contained them pretty well.’ Not the height of ambition, it appears to me but ’in our situation’ pragmatism rules ok!
6 Posted 01/11/2009 at 10:17:00
The spoiler for me was the ref — very fussy constantly blowing up for even the faintest physical contact and I think both sets of players got more and more frustrated as the game wore on.
Bily’s tackle was a poor one and if it had been against one of our players we would have been demanding a red card — it was 2 footed and high and he caught Petrov. No problem with the straight red for me — just what we need... another player out for 3 games.
Overall, a point was disappointing as we shaded the game but we just didn’t create enough to win it.
The crowd today — at last;
Yak — getting there with each game;
Neill — a good solid game and good distribution;
Heitinga — excellent first half.
The shape of our midfield just does not work;
Tim Cahill’s form — his strong points are being sacrificed to accomodate Fellaini.;
The centre back pairing — it's not working yet either;
Billy’s tackle and subsequent suspension.
7 Posted 01/11/2009 at 11:57:30
Also, did my eyes deceive me but was there a very marked reduction in hoofball?
Tim Sebastian: I agree with your sentiments but I’m "starting-to-stop", so to speak, pinning my hopes on "when [insert litany of injured players here] return we’ll be okay". That may well be true but there’s no guarantee that, in Arteta’s and Jagielka’s cases particularly, we’ll see "the same players again".
File under "bonus": if they reach match fitness in double quick time upon their return. File under "bigger bonus": if they demonstrate upon their return that they are "still the same players".
Maybe I’m being too pessimistic about Jagielka (but it’s a career-threatening injury he’s endured when all’s said and done) and realistically he should return pretty much "as he was". Let’s hope so, anyway.
However, the longer that the Arteta situation drags on, though — with ever ominous vagueness bordering on silence from the Club — the more I’m starting to wonder if we’re ever going to see him back. Nine months now — give or take (and he was walking freely without crutches at the Cup Final). I’m getting Bracewell vibes...
About Arteta — I’m preparing for the worst.
8 Posted 01/11/2009 at 15:03:48
And for me, the reaction of the GP crowd is as sensitive an indicator of how well we are playing as anything else. Very poor reffing obviously helped the cause, if you see what I mean, but some would claim that Villa are are superior outfit to us. We played football against them yesterday and perhaps should have won. The corner has been turned — espero que si.
I tend not to think in MotM terms myself, but I can definitely recall thinking, "What’s Rodwell doing there? ... Has he got himself booked?" getting very much more involved, taking more responsibility. I think he has started more games than he played in last season, and it's beginning to show. This will, of course, put him in the firing line to make more mistakes, but what a propect he is.
And hands off, SAF? — for me, we have to pay our players more to keep them. Monopoly money I know, but, for example, a quick fix of a £7 million purchase might be better spent jacking up (pun intended) the income of the most wanted. A million quid in the back pocket for young Rodders, Mikel... who else? Talented left backs are rare as rocking-horse droppings. I am a Baines fan, and was very pleased to see him back.
Have a good night on Thursday, Ken.
9 Posted 01/11/2009 at 19:29:26
10 Posted 01/11/2009 at 21:43:59
I thought that really we should be aiming to beat Villa at home — one of our main competitors — as I doubt we’ll beat them at Villa Park. Luckily for me, I hopefully will be able to go to Manchester United in a couple of weeks.
I have got to point out we still have to play all of the top four away 3 at home. Spurs, Manchester City, Aston Villa, and Sunderland our main competitors away from home. Moyes would have looked at Stoke, Bolton, and Wolves for at least 6 points with respect to those sides. What people are not realising is we have a lot harder games.
On a positive note, though, yesterday if we had maybe Pienaar on the pitch we could've maybe won the game. I also thought the atmosphere was terrific, I was in the Street End, Row MM under the roof, just a bit to the side of the goal, and it was rocking. I would also like to congratulate the Park End of helping us to cheer on the boys.
On a final point, considering on Tuesday we took almost 3,000 fans down to Spurs, me included, for Aston Villa to only take 1,800 on a Saturday at 3 o'clock disappointed me... maybe that's the way football is going.
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