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COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY

From my seat: Birmingham (H)

By Ken Buckley :  20/12/2009 :  Comments (13) :

Another point toward safety and 2 points dropped that will keep the faithful fearful of a relegation struggle from a game that was there for the taking for 20 mins but then descended into a stalemate.  Birmingham kept up their unbeaten run and the Blues could not improve on one win way back in September at home and just 2 wins in the last eleven games. Not pretty reading.

The team looked the strongest that we could put out and for those first 20 mins it looked as though we could take the points.  Decent joined-up play was rewarded as early as the 6th min when Hibbert fed Saha from a throw and his chest control and turn put in Bilyaletdinov who smashed home from some 12 yards. A good result looked on the cards and just some 4 mins later Saha was put in by Cahill and he duly slotted home only for his celebration to be cut short by the linesman’s flag; from my seat – never!  We continued to press and Cahill sent one just over, then a delightful build up between Hibbert and Pienaar saw Osman played in and his goal bound effort was blocked by a defender.

Then on 22 mins, Birmingham had their first meaningful attack Larsson fed a ball into the edge of the box which was held up well and his un-tracked run saw him take the wall pass and slot the ball into the bottom corner. Delight for the visitors but a hammer blow for the Blues.  From that moment, we just didn’t seem the same side, the joined-up stuff didn’t have its previous crispness and the game became a little turgid.  It gave me time to wonder why Pienaar was wearing gloves yet in a short-sleeved shirt?

A free kick delivered by Baines woke me a little as a back-header from Saha went just over. By this point the visitors seemed to sense their defence had the measure of our attacking and became a little more adventurous on the break and but for a superb sliding challenge from the excellent Hibbert on Jerome who had been slid in prevented the forward from having the shot that may well have put them ahead at the break.

H/T and the chat was what might have been and surely we can get the win we need in the second period.

The half started brightly for us and within 10mins Cahill had a diving header find the wrong side of the post and then Saha tried a curler which was off target. We then took control of the game overall but were still fearful of a counter and lacked that guile from midfield to unsettle a dominant central defensive partnership.

They seemed to mop up anything thrown in high but were rarely tested with the on-the-ground pass-and-move that may have embarrassed them. On the hour mark we had a good shout for a penalty when a Fellaini cross was volleyed in by Baines and clearly struck the arm of the defender only for the Ref who was well placed to wave play on.

With 20 mins to go, the manager sent on the Yak for Bilyaletdinov, put Osman wide and Cahill in centre-mid to try the 4-4-2 route.  I found this puzzling as, although Bilyaletdinov wasn’t doing a lot, Cahill was doing even less as he limped, moaned and gestured to little avail. I was hoping for the manager to take him off and still move Osman wide but put Pienaar into centre mid as he at least was showing the work-rate and creative eye spotting that was needed to unlock their defence and centre mid seemed more fertile ground for him to achieve as Fellaini was doing a good job in the workhorse box to box role. Still I am just a fan and could be very wrong.

Pienaar did cut in when he could and had two good sights of goal but put both over the bar. It was all Everton now but only up to the last third when the visitors soaked up any pressure put on them. Before the end we did get a great chance but Saha managed to head wide when very well placed, I felt like yelling get it between those three white things that hold the nets up!

Four minutes went up on the board and in the middle of that the manager introduced Vaughan, who had appeared on the subs bench as if by magic and with very little info from the club, surprised most in attendance. The lad had little chance to change anything except it was gratifying to see him return with all his old enthusiasm and in one brave attempt to win a header he hit the deck with some force – this time he got up unhurt! Perhaps that one little incident will see the lad have some luck from now on. The final whistle and the atmosphere around the ground resembled the damp, cold dreary conditions that were a north Liverpool Sunday night.

Overall I thought we played well but without that bite and confidence that is needed to see off teams that come to defend in banks of four and five and see what breaks for them at the other end, you might say we were out Everton-ed as for much of the season that has been our MO. Coming out of the ground, I found myself most disappointed that we had so much of the play yet were unable to find a way through a resolute defence more than once.

The manager has stated that he wants to bring in another couple of loan players to join Donovan and I can understand that move as the Yak will be gone for a month or so and you never know when Saha will be injured again, I hope the other two loanees include a creative strong mid-field player but where one of those is available in January I don’t know and the same goes for a dependable centre back as we are thin on the ground for them until at least February.

Today I found it hard to pick a MotM such was our fluctuating display, but in Fellaini, Pienaar and Hibbert we had three players who could play 95 mins at a consistent standard — something the others would do well to replicate.

In the next eight days we will have played Sunderland (a) and Burnley (h)... What a Christmas present 6 points would be!

A very merry and happy Christmas to you all.
UP THE BLUES.

Reader Comments

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Dermot Ryan
1   Posted 21/12/2009 at 07:48:34

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Yet another brilliant report. Thanks, Ken.
Thought Fellaini was brilliant. Forget the begrudgers who will hit him for not tracking back for the goal. I think he is "Everton" in the middle at the moment: an amazing defensive midfielder who distributes the ball with vision. And passion. Proud to be a blue. Brilliant.

I thought we had the best opening 20 minutes of the season: beautiful, on the ground, attacking football. I was proud to support Everton. Thought the goal was amazing. I think we were robbed.

It must be hard to maintain morale but I think we have the beginnings of a really good team. And although Osman faded, I thought he had a really good first half. Not an Osman fan at all, but great to see him play well on his return.

Sam Hoare
2   Posted 21/12/2009 at 10:12:40

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Dissappointing result but an encouraging display. Our midfield has a really good balance with Fella, Bily and Peanut. I think we created enough chances to have won by a few goals on a more fortuitous day.

I really feel/hope that an upturn in form is very close around the corner if we can keep that team fit and functioning.

Donavan will add some pace/energy and hopefully another midfielder and central defender will boost the numbers come January.

6 points over Christmas sounds good to me.
Simon Williams
3   Posted 21/12/2009 at 11:13:17

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I always enjoy your reports, but I am surprised by your picks for MotM — Hibbert over Baines? Hibbert played okay, but I thought Baines was immense — he seemed to be everywhere (albeit on TV).

From my sofa this seemed to me the be the best performance in an age. Confidence, not ability, was the missing ingredient. The play in midfield and around the opposition box was some of the best I’ve seen in two seasons — if we weren’t languishing above the trapdoor, I reckon we’d have scored at least another two of the many many good attempts. Fellaini’s turn and cross for Baines when basically parallel with the goal line was a joy to behold and derserved a goal.

We need a win BADLY but again, I’m reminded that this SHOULD have been a great season for us. The pre-season farce just gets costlier every week.
Ray Kelly
4   Posted 21/12/2009 at 11:10:16

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Fellaini was excellent doing the work of two men as Osman, on loan from Santa's Grotto, looked lost as the game totally passed him by. Tony Hibbert was superb once again, Pienaar and Baines, both obviously carrying injuries, looked our best chance of creating an opening.

After scoring iI couldn’t see us having any problems taking Brum to pieces but, as soon as we conceded, our fragile confidence again began to crack and we started to lack belief. I thought Heitinga and Neill played well together but I am afraid Bily and Osman were passengers and with us being dragged into a relegation fight we can’t afford such baggage. They should’ve both been replaced with the enthusiasm of some youth but Dithering Dave stood frozen on the sideline unable to make a positive change... Vaughan in injury time, what the fuck?

Kevin Sparke
5   Posted 21/12/2009 at 11:53:21

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Nice review again Ken — I thought Hibbert’s challenge on Jerome to be an absolutely World Class piece of defending and well worth a MotM nod in his direction.

I’m a bit worried about Bily though... he looks lost at times and well out of his league.

But so did Pienaar for much of his first season... so, who knows?
Ken Williams
6   Posted 21/12/2009 at 12:11:39

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Does Cahill suffer from migrains, he seems to spend the match holding his head, jumps for a header holds his head and looks towards the ref, goes in for a tackle holds his head and looks toward the ref. Not having a go at Timmy buts it's starting to get on my wick (also hears others commenting on it as well). Moyesie needs to give him a talking to.
Nick Dommett
7   Posted 21/12/2009 at 13:15:31

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It was a frustrating match but there were some positives to take (although according to some of the other threads it was a distaster). I thought Fellaini was great in the middle and showed what he can do when he is finally played in his best position.

The main problem we had was that we just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net. There was some good football played but the final ball was either overhit or the finish was just plain rubbish. On another day, however, we could have won by 3 or 4.

My main worry is the defence. Everytime they attacked I had my heart in my mouth.

While the central pairing of Neill and Heitinga can play the ball out of defence beautifully, they are not providing any real solidity.

Also, the system Moyes is trying to play requires two very attacking full-backs. while Baines fulfills this criteria, Hibbert is unfortunately lacking. Our right just doesn’t offer the same threat as the left. I’m not sure that Coleman is the answer (one game does not make a great player) but it maybe time to find out in the next couple of games.

Ian Tunstead
8   Posted 21/12/2009 at 13:58:33

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I agree, Nick, I think with the return of Neville this will give the defence that bit more protection they need. Who Neville would replace, I don't know... I would probably swap him for Osman or maybe Cahill.
Chris Butler
9   Posted 21/12/2009 at 14:00:00

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Wheres the team gone? We have nobody in midfield capable of playing the ball forward rather than sideways. Fellaini will never be able to play box to box so Moyes needs to decide whether to play him just behind the striker or play him DM.

In my opinion, we need a player such as Alonso or Carrick somone who can pass and set up chances. That's why we never play it through the midfield, we just hoof it. To be able to play the hoofball game you need a striker such as Anichebe who will cause problems — not two strikers who like it played to feet. Fellaini would be far more effective playing behind Saha than Cahill.

We are so predictable we rely of Pienaar and Baines to create everything. Against Sunderland I think 4-4-2 with Saha and Vaughan would be far more effective. Saha will be able to release balls through for Vaughan to run on to. Why we ever let him go to Derby I don’t know.

Johnny Heitinga was terrific yesterday as was Lucas Neil. But really if you looked at our fixtures this half of the season, even with an injury hit team, we should have got more points.

Pete Gunby
10   Posted 21/12/2009 at 14:52:25

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Putting Neville back in the midfield will not improve us. We need players who are comfortable with the ball. On Sunday, we created enough chances and dominated the game. The problem we had was entirely down to finishing. I don't see how a hard-working hoofball merchant would have improved us.
Nick Dommett
11   Posted 21/12/2009 at 17:13:50

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Personally I’d put Neville at RB: he’s better going forward than Hibbert and is the leader we need at the back. I would also stick with Fellaini at DM — yes, he was at fault for the goal as he didn't track back but otherwise he was excellent.

What is needed is consistency rather than chopping and changing so the team can learn how to play as a unit. This I think has been a huge part in the team’s demise: if you don't know who you are going to be playing next to from one week to the next, it affects team cohesion.

While I think the Heitinga-Neill partnership is a bit too slow, they do know how to play football plus they aren’t off to the ANC nor are they injured at the mo. At present I would play:

Howard
Coleman/Neville - Heitinga - Neill - Baines
Fellaini
Bily/? - Osman - Cahill/? - Pienaar
Saha/?

I’d put Coleman in ahead of Hibbert simply on attacking ability ’cause we need the right side to start working. In an ideal world, I’d give some time off to Cahill, Bily and Saha to recharge their batteries... but we don’t have the resources so will have to hope they muddle through. I’d put Osman in the middle also for some creativity so we can actually play football and not the ’pin-point’ 60-yard pass onto the opposing defenders head.

Ian Tunstead
12   Posted 21/12/2009 at 18:33:40

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Chris

Fellaini is playing the Carrick role, not as well as Carrick YET but still doing a good job with other strengths that Carrick does not have and never will.

Ask yourself where was Carrick at Fellaini’s age? Fellaini has much more potential than Carrick had at the same age.
Keith Glazzard
13   Posted 22/12/2009 at 01:39:11

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Thanks again Ken. We could almost have been sitting in the same seat, as usual, so I have nothing to add to your assessment.

To those who worry about Bilyaletdinov (its taken me weeks to learn how to spell his name — true Evertonians should do the same) I would say remember Duncan McKenzie. OK, I know he looks like the lad, but their talents are also similar. Both match winners. Four goals this season, eight or ten by the end? Stick with him.

Speaking of lookalikes, Adam Forshaw had the air of a young Colin Harvey against BATE the other night. The brother and I have started thinking about meeting up in Widnes for reserve games...

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