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COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY

From my seat: Sunderland (A)

By Ken Buckley :  27/12/2009 :  Comments (11) :

Another point toward safety from a game that should have yielded all three and boosted our goal difference.

The manager had the luxury of naming an unchanged team for the first time this season and, on the Chairman’s 10th anniversary as owner, put in the best performance of the season so far.  Neville appeared on the bench as if from nowhere and, although he did not get on, he played his part as touchline auxiliary coach.

The game started with Sunderland quick out of the traps, which gave Bent a couple of early chances that came to nought.  The Blues then started to put some joined-up stuff together and on 5 mins a good bit of link-up play between Cahill and Pienaar saw Osman bend one beyond the keeper but agonisingly clipped the outside of the post. Then Saha had a couple of sights of goal but was unable to put his efforts on target.

We were just thinking how well we were taking command when Sunderland booted another of our attacks downfield, Baines was nowhere to be seen as Jones was put clear down the right, no one went out to close down and he had all the time in the world to put in a great cross between our back line and keeper. Bent, who had read his intentions, was first to react and headed home powerfully. 

Silence from the faithful and an inquest from our present back five.  Although they got better as the game went on, there is still a bit of work to do in the ‘understanding’ department.

Our heads didn’t drop and we continued to have the lion’s share of play with Fellaini excelling in his box-to-box role and Pienaar causing all sorts of panic whenever in possession. Bilyaletdinov was also chipping in with some cute spots and passes.  All was well until that last third when either the final pass lacked finesse or Saha passed up chances that a man of his quality usually buries.

Half-time came and I thought we had only our finishing and final pass to blame for not being in front.

The manager and probably Neville had words of wisdom for the lads as they started the second half on fire; a corner gained in the first few seconds, Baines took and Fellaini met it but Oh! Just wide.  With Fellaini now running the midfield it was all Everton, the faithful in full roar and song chances came.  From a corner before the hour mark, Bilyaletdinov headed on at the near post and found Saha who had pulled off his marker, he took aim and volleyed – you guessed it – wide.  What a chance.

Just after the hour mark, Sunderland found a second wind and had a little spell that saw them attack us on the break; for a moment, they outnumbered us... but fortunately Bent hung on too long and chose the wrong pass and we were back to hurry the shot of sub Zenden and the ball went straight to Howard.  Then their centre-back was left unmarked from a cross and Howard made an excellent reflex save to tip over.

We regained our grip through the influential Fellaini, everything seemed to go through him, and with Pienaar, Bilyaletdinov and Hibbert becoming more involved, we mounted the final push but our old failings were still with us: we couldn’t hit the target.  Pienaar flashed one wide, Saha had another two that missed the frame of the goal and despite our superiority their keeper had little meaningful to do.  Hibbert was getting forward with menace and the Sunderland players recognised this and were closing quickly which blocked at least three attempted crosses.

The manager took off Osman and introduced the Yak to see if he could poach one but that last third remained unfertile ground... Would we ever get one on target?

As we entered the last five minutes, it looked like we might not, then Hibbert, who had kept offering himself, despite the blocked crosses, got his reward when from near the corner flag he sent in a great cross, the ball fell to Fellaini — he controlled — he blasted — the net bulged... then the roof came off.  Fellaini joined the faithful in celebration and we all believed we could nick it at the death.  It was not to be and at the whistle players and fans alike, whilst glad not to lose, all agreed a win was there to be had.

Overall I was encouraged by the performance and delighted that joined-up stuff took precedence to aimless hoof even in the final moments when it must have been tempting to just lump it in.  Also delighted with the contribution from my MotM, Fellaini — it would be great for our team if he kept that form going and even improved more.

Our season needs performances like this, aided and abetted with some hard work down Finch Farm way on defensive understanding and final third guile and shooting on target.

Burnley at home almost immediately and the chance to get a much needed win. Hopefully no injuries from Sunderland, put the same team out again, and — with a bit more understanding shown from defence and last third improvement — we should be in with a good chance.

I hope the manager's last words as the players enter the pitch are ‘Hit the target’
UP THE BLUES

Reader Comments

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Mark Reid
1   Posted 27/12/2009 at 16:06:48

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For once I can’t argue with that Toffeeweb match report.

On the subject of Fellaini: I think you’re starting to see him get some real fitness now. Hence the performances

I remember Ian Snodin saying about if you miss pre-season it could take up to Xmas to get match fit. And with him having that infection in the summer — it did affect him....

He’s certainly an excellent box-to-box player to have, as proved yesterday; if he speeds up a bit and looks for forward passes more, we’ve certainly got a top player in him.

People too often think these players are machines. They aren’t. Felli, like Jags when he first started, has needed a bit of guidance and time to get near performing.

Felli against Birmingham certainly looked like he was coming into it. Against Sunderland, he stepped it up again... from my seat.

Think the return of Neville and organising things at the back and putting tackles in on the half way line will help too. Keep the faith.

Jim Bean
2   Posted 27/12/2009 at 15:44:58

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Strangely given our league position, some of the football we’ve played in the last two games has been the best in recent memory. There is a risk however, that too much short passing will make us more West Brom than Arsenal — we need to keep a goal threat and make opposition keepers work harder.

Part of the problem is that, if we are moving to a short passing game, then we lack a traditional ball-playing Number 10 who can unlock defences. Bergkamp, Zola, Beardsley etc. Tim Cahill, for all his qualities — competitiveness, heading, making late runs into the box etc — is not this player.

Too often against Sunderland and Birmingham things were breaking down in the last third when more accuracy was needed. I can think of two glorious chances he had to play Saha through on goal and both times he gave the defender a chance to make a tackle.

Still it’s a tricky one because Tim brings so much to the team and I’m not sure if he is fully fit at the moment, but at some point Moyes is going to have to make a decision there. Maybe Bily with his tricks and flicks could eventually be that player.

Gerry Western
3   Posted 27/12/2009 at 16:20:16

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Ken, well balanced report which pretty much sums up the game for me. I’ve read a number of submissions which vary in their level of criticism. Some going as far to label the contributions of most of the players in the range of average to poor. Personally, I thought Fellaini was superb as was Piennar though I’d have to give MotM to Fellaini.

However, to suggest that our good showing was down to two players alone does the team effort a disservice. Fact is to dominate a game in the way we did yesterday requires a real team effort , a willingness to work for each other and a meaningful contribution from just about every position on the park.

Yet some have arrived at the conclusion that beyond Fellaini and Piennar everyone else was either next to average or poor. Still they do say football is all about opinions.
Mark Rankin
4   Posted 27/12/2009 at 18:44:42

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I think Jim is spot on, people call out the manager for ’hoofball’ tactics but personnel seems to be the main key, ie two centre halves in the middle = no ball retention and ’direct’ style but this midfield with Bily, Osman, Pienaar, Fellaini and we have more control of possesion (better to watch too) but we seem to be trying to walk it in. All said and done, I’ll settle for a few smelly 1-0 wins, forty points and the Europa Cup.
Karl Masters
5   Posted 27/12/2009 at 19:05:16

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Good report that reflects a good, spirited performance only lacking in creating clear cut chances. We are turning that corner.

For an alternative view, read the Toffeeweb Matchday thread. Stuck at work for this game, this was the only viable way to keep up with the action at the time. The people that inhabit these live threads are obviously under treatment for manic depression judging by their comments during the game.

Of course there is always disappointment when things don’t go right, but Bloody Hell! Some of the abuse aimed at Moyes and the players is unreal - a disgrace in many ways, but as somebody said above, Football is all about opinions. I just hope the players and Manager don’t ever read those threads as they would probably give up and go all Cat Stevens and live in a Monastary!
Phil Paulson
6   Posted 27/12/2009 at 19:37:52

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Fellaini probably deserved MotM but he was still barely passable.

He cannot pick up an attacker to save his life - I can’t decide whether it’s because he’s slow or because he can’t read the play. When he is close enough to make a challenge he commits a foul.

However, at least I saw him play one or two accurate forward passes, even if plenty of others went to the opposition.
Robert Daniels
7   Posted 27/12/2009 at 20:58:56

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Phil, I don't know what game you watched but it wasn't the game I watched, or according to almost all pundits, reporters in the press; Fellaini ran the show.
At least I saw him play one or two accurate passes forward? What about his link-up play, breaking up attacks, headed near miss, oh and that goal you know the one were he received it in a packed penalty box with us facing defeat in 5 minutes, the one were he controlled it with his left and then rifled it in to the back of the net with his right peg!

He won everything that came his way all day, in the air and on the ground, and he gave everything for the cause and you could tell what it meant to him by his reaction with the fans. All in all, Phil, an outstanding display from the best midfielder in the Prem (D Moyes}.

So you see, Phil, you are, like everyone, entitled to an opinion, but that post is insulting to people like Fellaini. After an all-action display like that, you should be raving about him instead of slagging him... barely passable indeed.

Ian Tunstead
8   Posted 27/12/2009 at 21:17:15

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His game is definitely improving though Phil, he is becoming more and more influential and dominant with each game. He still has a lot of improving to do but he has time on his side.

As he gets older and more experienced he will learn to read the game better and avoid the silly fouls. His reduction of yellow cards this year shows he is getting better in this department.
Dick Fearon
9   Posted 27/12/2009 at 22:14:26

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The difference between their hoof balls and the kind we use was they had a man in a wide position who was able to get on the end of them. Our entire team drops back to our own penalty area and no one upfield in a break out position.
Keith Glazzard
10   Posted 27/12/2009 at 22:53:57

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The same game I saw Ken. The Big Fella - just turned 22 - box to box, quality and strength. Not a bad goal to demonstrate both.

Speaking of which, does anyone know who shouted at Tony Hibbert to start running to get into position to take Pienaar’s superb pass. Hibbo’s cross was good, but he was standing still until told to move - Heitinga? was it Nev on the line? Does anyone know? Coleman would have done that without prompting, but Hibbo might still be a better player in that position - glad its not my decision.

And a word for the back 4 in general. The best back 4 is a settled back 4. I would add that they need a quality midfield in front of them, but look at the changes forced on us by injuries and MiddleEastlands this season. Hibbo has done a great job at CB in Europe. Heitinga and Neill have had about half an hour to work out how to play against very good players. And, miraculously, have almost got it right.

About an hour in, I reckon Lucas Neill thought, sod this for a game of conkers, told Johnny to cover him, and took the ball through the middle, and scared them to death. They retreated, we attacked, we scored.

Burnley will be playing their Nth cup tie this season. No pushover (as we know), but we are coming right at the time to make this one count. All my fingers and toes are crossed. Bily to score and a clean sheet will do me nicely.
Guy Rogers
11   Posted 28/12/2009 at 17:28:03

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Sorry i’m late.

Fellaini was superb, after a couple of difficult challenges with Kenwyne Jones he won everything in the air. His passing was great as well due not remember the one to Cahill who nearly then threaded it through to Saha?

I also think Heitinga was superb his passing and coming out form the back is just what we need. He is also a hard man.

Cahill was utter dross and Hibbert was shambolic, his cross for the goal was his only good contribution but even that was flicked on by a Burnley defender to Fellaini.

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