COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
Three points toward safety and those three points were the first gained at home since we beat Blackburn some three months ago, hardly top four form but received with much joy considering our season so far. It was a strange game in as much that we lost a lot of the incisive stuff shown at Sunderland but still refrained from hoofball and played some decent joined-up stuff until once again the dreaded final third. Saha could not be blamed this time as his ongoing injury problems saw him replaced by the Yak in the only change made by the manager.
We started the first half brightly and took the game to Burnley and the first chance fell to Osman who received a good ball from the Yak out on the left and, but for getting the ball tangled up in his feet, surely he must have opened our account. Then, after more good build-up, the Yak hit a powerful one goalwards only for it to cannon off the arm of a defender but the league’s top ref Howard Webb said play on despite protests from both players and our festive bumper crowd.
We seemed well on top but you just never know with this team of ours... and so it proved when Neill tried a back header to Howard that was farcical at the least and allowed Nugent a sniff; fortunately he only found the side netting. This spurred Burnley and Howard had to make two good saves, first in beating away a drive from Fletcher from the edge of the box and soon he was diving to beat away a shot from Elliot. Such is Everton at the moment, one phase dominant and then fragile the next.
We then went into a more patient build-up phase and this produced a great chance for Bilyaletdinov who received a great pass from the hot and cold Pienaar, turning inside and gliding past defenders, blasted too close to the keeper who beat it away, I really expected that one to hit the net.
Then, before the break, the best chance of all fell to the Yak who received a cross from the out-of-sorts Baines and somehow managed to clip the post when it looked easier to score. Half-time and the manager must have been as frustrated as the fans considering our dominance had failed to produce a goal that the performance deserved — as well as allowing Burnley some excellent chances.
The second half started again at a frantic pace but it was the Blues who looked the more composed in terms of build-up; however, they had to be very wary of Burnley’s will and determination. This proved to be the case when, after some Blues pressure once again breaking down in the final third, allowing Eagles to run down the left and pull it back for the onrushing mid-fielder to shoot wide of the far post.
The Blues continued to attack with decent build-up but had nothing to show for it except a Heitinga free kick that beat the wall but was an easy pick up for the keeper. Then, on the hour, mark Burnley put in a cross that was knocked on, leaving our defenders to stop and appeal for offside... the flag never came and Nugent shot across Howard but luckily for us his shot cannoned away off the post to safety.
In that passage of play, Cahill was injured and had to be helped off to be replaced by Neville, making his comeback after being out since the same month as our last home win. This caused Fellaini to be pushed up into the Cahill role with Neville taking over the mid-field berth. Just two minutes later Burnley, were down to ten when Jordan got a second yellow for a blatant pull on Pienaar’s shirt.
Now we thought we must capitalise but Burnley were dogged and came at us. We repelled them and attacked again but without much craft or guile where it mattered. Burnley attacked when they could and, from one such attack, a shot from their captain struck Neill on the arm as he slid in to divert the ball for a corner but the Ref refused the appeals.
It was a ding-dong affair now and, with less than 10 minutes to go, both sides made a substitution: Vaughan came on for Bilyaletdinov and was immediately charging about and causing the Burnley defence to hurry. Within two minutes of his arrival, a fine bit of link-up play saw Pienaar dance past two defenders but found himself with back to goal, he spotted a run from Fellaini and rolled a reverse ball with the sole of his boot into the Belgian's path who put in a cross for Yak to tap home. Somehow, he missed it but Vaughan was behind him and made no mistake; frantic celebrations from all assembled, much of it relief as it was joy.
Burnley responded and would not lie down and the 10 men did their best to put us under pressure, we went a little deep but the excellent Heitinga was having none of it and drove his team-mates forward. We tried keep ball as the board went up showing three mins of overtime and at times our desire to open them up again resulted in giving the ball away, which caused anxiety to the faithful as Burnley pitched the ball forward but we dealt with it.
Then, two minutes into time added on, the Yak got the ball on the by-line and stood with it, Alexander went in for it but just bounced off the Yak sort of shunting him forward, he seemed to think he may as well keep going and picked out a well weighted pass to Pienaar who was motoring into the box, he took a couple of paces and thundered a shot inside the near post that the keeper never saw until he fished it out of the net. Pienaar was booked for removing his shirt to reveal the ‘God is great’ T-Shirt. That really was game over.
Overall, I thought it was a good match to watch, one that resembled a cross between a cup-tie and relegation must-win battle. Strange game, football... as players who excelled just two days ago didn’t to the same degree today. MotM was hard to call today as players had good, bad, and indifferent spells but, if pushed, I would nominate Heitinga, who was consistent throughout.
I do wonder why Baines takes almost every dead ball situation when he has such trouble beating the first man. I think Heitinga must have had similar feelings when, late in the second half, he raced over and took a corner himself and put in a cross that Baines at the moment seems incapable of. A strange sight to see — the centre back go up for a corner and take it himself!
Still, a welcome three points and Vaughan and Neville back and contributing; however, counter this with Yak off to Afcon and Cahill and Saha injured... looks like the rollercoaster will continue for some time yet.
Next week, a welcome break from the grind of getting points for safety when Carlisle come to town in the FA Cup. Could this be the start of Wembley twice again? I hope so.
See you there
UP THE BLUES
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1 Posted 29/12/2009 at 09:50:21
I agree that Heitinga has done really well lately, someone at the back who can pass and bring the ball out of defence. Also excellent at dead-ball delivery.
2 Posted 29/12/2009 at 10:54:56
A few observations from the top balcony:
The Yak can stay in Africa for all I care - you can blame lack of sharpness on his injury, but you can’t blame the total lack of effort. We often forgive lack of skill and ability if the players is clearly giving it 100% (unless it’s Hibbert, more of that later). In the Yak’s case, he appears to be giving about 33%. I am getting fed up with his ’I’ll stand in front of the keeper until he hoofs it and then jog leisurely to the half way, making sure that if we do win the ball, they won’t be able to pass it to me, as I’ll be offside’ tactic.
Heitinga and Neill look to be forging a useful partnership, I thought they both played well yesterday, apart from Neill’s lapse documented above.
Baines has clearly lapsed into ’I’m the only left back at the club, so my position is safe however badly I take free kicks and corners’ mode. If he takes a left wing corner and swings it out before it comes back in again, I reckon he should be fined a weeks wages. He’s done that a few times recently and to throw away an attacking position like that is unforgiveable. He managed one decent cross yesterday from about a dozen opportunities.
Fellaini is getting better all the time — I like him in this more defensive role and he won a lot of headers in front of the back four yesterday — unfortunately he’ll be shoved forward to cover to Cahill’s injury, encouraging a revert to ’Hoofball’.
Hibbert has played well (for him) recently, but it’s time for Seamus to come in.
Cahill has been poor recently, I hope his foot hasn’t ’gone’ again, but a rest may do him some good.
Nice to see Vaughany back with a goal.
It took Pienaar, Arteta and Fellaini a while to settle in to the Prem, but Billy still needs to get involved more.
It is no surprise that our recent improvement in performances (if not actual results) coincided with the return of Pienaar from injury. He was a bit up and down yesterday, but was still our lynch pin.
Let’s hope that Moyes will get the players to kick on from here and not revert to the 4-5-1 ’Let’s try and nick a 0-0 against the good sides’ policy.
3 Posted 29/12/2009 at 11:00:29
I wonder as well, why does Baines take all the free kicks and corner kicks when he has difficulty putting the ball in. How many goals have we scored from corners or free kicks this season? It’s frustrating to see good opportunities to come to nought. Guess Heitinga must be fed up of having to run all the way and not getting a decent chance of challenging for the ball. May as well take the corner kick, at least, he will get to touch the ball.
4 Posted 29/12/2009 at 12:54:04
For my money there are two main problems with our attacking play. First, our attacks are one-dimensional: everything goes out to the wings for a cross in. Saha and occasionally Rodwell and Osman are up for a shot from the edge of the box, but normally we only have one style of attack: out then back in again. It is better today than a few years ago when we’d lump high balls onto the middle but by and large the strategy remains the same. Then yesterday we get one good ball on the ground in front of the attacker to run on to (Yak to Harry Pienaar) and Bob was our uncle.
Secondly, although we appear to play a good passing game, I think too frequently we flatter to deceive. So much of our passing is short range, so not creating much space or attacking ground. Too often it is played to the man and not into space ahead of him (although I admit a lack of fast attackers may force us into this style). It means that while we retain possession, we have little incision.
Additionally, even when they were down to 10 men yesterday, we were still defending corners with 11 back; later The Yak stayed on the half way line but I wish we could always keep one up.
5 Posted 29/12/2009 at 13:16:04
Agree about Baines taking every free kick/corner. Arteta was prone to the same — what’s with the two hands in the air before taking a corner? Is it signalling to the first oppo defender that the ball’s his?
I thought Bily looked the business taking dead ball kicks when he first came. It might be a good move getting him back to taking them. At least he might feel a bit more involved.
Finally, when Jags is fit he must be paired with Heitinga. The others can fight it out for the bench — though that’s a bit tough on Neill at the moment.
6 Posted 29/12/2009 at 12:02:30
I watched the game on the internet yesterday and thought, apart from Neill's failed back pass header to Tim and a few shots, we dominated the match from the first min till the last and deserved the 3 points.
Not sure though what Owen Coyle was moaning about to the ref after the game?
I enjoy reading the reports on this site and have a chuckle to myself when reading the replys/views from various folk on what has happened or on what should have happened, who should be playing etc etc... so I thought I’d have my say.
Firstly we must all be in agreement that our injuries and lack of backing in the transfer market has hampered our progress this season and it is my opinion that, due to this, we will be lucky to finish in the top 6 at the end of it.
Secondly (I am going to jump on the Hibbert band wagon here), even though he is a good defender and has probably surpassed his own expectations with his performances thus far, if WE as a club are to move forward then he needs to be moved onto the subs bence as cover, with Neill/Coleman even Heitinga taking his place.
We need to take a look at what Martin O’Neil & Harry Redknapp have done with their squads, that is by injecting pace into them along with bringing in quality playmakers, both of which we are lacking.
I believe we need to invest in a RB, CAM, Winger & a CF if we are going to battle for a place in Europe next term.
7 Posted 29/12/2009 at 15:49:07
Lucas Neill is earning his corn too, but I’ll go along with the Jag - Johnny axis with the Big Fella in front of them.
I’d bet that Saha could have started yesterday but was being protected from injury. And if The Yak was injured - so what? Nigeria’s problem, not ours. And he was worth his place anyway. Cahill needs four or five weeks rest to come back for the big push in March, and Bily already having played one season this year deserves a rest too. But he’s a learner - and he’s up for it. Needs to be used wisely.
Which brings me to Hibbo - god knows we love him, and he’s obviously been told to attack, and he tries. But (to support Chris Matheson on this point) a class player like Bily needs more than Tony’s got Bily can make space in a crowded room, but he needs another class player (like Arteta could) to put the perfectly paced ball just in front of him. Could Coleman do better? Until Mr Moyes thinks so, we will never find out.
Have a great New Year Ken -
mind you, that means in one very important respect it will mean a good new year for me, the brother and increasingly, I am delighted to report, Carol - a childhood Blackburn supporter who loved her Everton scarf Xmas pressie.
Let’s all have a Good New Year.
8 Posted 29/12/2009 at 18:19:32
Another well balanced appraisal. Spot on with the MotM nomination also. Hetinga is certainly growing into the role. He demonstrates a great awareness and is calm and composed, resists the temptation to hoof it up the park preferring to look for the out ball.
Once again we struggled with the final delivery. However, I do think we’re steadily moving in the right direction... surely it can only be a question of time before we get it right in the final third.
I note that some are high in their praise of Neville though I’m at a loss to understand why. They appear to attribute our improvement to his introduction, conveniently ignoring the fact that the opposition were reduced to 10 men shortly after his arrival.
I fully expected us to run them ragged but that failed to materialise. Indeed they rallied for a period during which they posed a real threat.
I really do hope Moyes is not about to reintroduce Neville in the middle of the park. At times he struggled to hold it together against 10 men and that is perhaps my biggest worry on the back of what was a very welcome albeit hard-earned victory.
Some have been calling for Cahill to be dropped, to them I would say be careful what you wish for. If you think Neville is the answer, you’re greatly mistaken.
9 Posted 29/12/2009 at 23:34:01
10 Posted 30/12/2009 at 00:29:31
Two goals in the last ten minuutes. Just luck I guess.
Three or four of them could have been yellow carded twice - no ref, good as he was, is ever going to do that. Now, playing against 7 men, that would, or should, make a difference. (Would they attack or defend?) Against 10 means fuck all. A very slightly different game, as experience shows.
Look at the football, not the headlines.
11 Posted 30/12/2009 at 04:31:55
12 Posted 30/12/2009 at 18:53:36
A defensive clearace to relieve danger isn’t a hoof. Hibbo can do that - almost any footballer, professional or otherwise ought to be able to.
A hopeful punt upfield in the hope that our player, under extreme defensive pressure, will win the ball and direct it at a controlable pace to teammate - that’s a hoof, doomed to failure.
What Heitinga does is look for a blue shirt (not any one at that) and hit an accurate long pass.
Spot the difference?
Johnny gets a bit more like Kevin Ratcliffe every day, plus an ability to pass the ball. And possibly a better command of the English language.
(Sorry Ratty - you can speak Martian as far as I’m concerned. You were, and quite possibly always will be, the best.)
But Johnny is our new iron in the soul. Captain Pip gives us some of that, and I wonder how him and Johnny come lately are going to get along on the field. They are both very experienced - dare I say intelligent - footballers and I would be very surprised if they clash, scrapping for the ’call me the enforcer’ badge in the dressing room. And, no doubt, Heitinga and Neville will play together in a Moyes first 11. For a year or two at least.
And I will totally go along with that idea. Yes, we need flair players, goal scorerers, attacking wingbacks, pace, the lot. But without the likes of Heitinga and Neville we are nowhere.
Incidentally - on that note, Lucas Neill is looking like a decent addition.
Sorry Neil - just reread what you said and, as is often the case, we weren’t too far away from what we were both thinking.
Happy New Year.
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