COLUMNIST PAUL TRAILL
Birmingham City vs Everton
We thought a 10am start would do it so…Tim got to mine at 10am! Off we set amidst the painful M6 50mph speed restrictions and we were parked up outside St. Andrews at 12pm. “Think we’ll leave at 11 next time” commented Tim.
It’s good getting to a ground nice and early for an away game but this was like a ghost town. We asked a steward where the nearest pub was though all he could tell is was that there was one up the road… for home fans only.
We by-passed that one and as we headed up the road stumbled across another one, The Grove, also with signs in the window stating ‘HOME FANS ONLY’. Give me strength. We popped our heads in and asked where away fans can go for a pint at which some 10ft Burberry cap totting fella pointed us in the way of The Cricketers Arms: “Dere’s two. Dere’s the Cricketers or dere’s de Saint Andrews Tavern. Don’t go dee Tavern though, you’ll get yet heads mushed in if you go in dere.” It seemed sound advice so we settled for The Cricketers Arms.
A nice little pub. Quite small and awkward in layout but all you want is somewhere to relax and friendly bar staff and it offered us this. A few blues had already beaten us there having made the train up and it was nice to mingle a little as we watched Spurs beat Blackburn in the early kick off…a win was vital.
We set off to the ground at about 2.30pm. Getting through the turnstyles took a little bit of time but once through it was easy enough to get to our seats and the players were still out training. Eleven players were pulled aside to go through a little workout before heading down the tunnel. This gave us an indication as to who was starting this game, and it was Yakubu up front, Anichebe on the wing, Cahill back in the side and Jagielka retained in defence. Tony Hibbert was back amongst the substitutes, and Landon Donavon also took his place on the bench for what looks likely to be his final game this season for Everton. James McFadden started on the bench for Birmingham City.
It was strange that the team went back down one tunnel after warming up though then came out for kick off from a tunnel the parallel side to where they left the field. Lee Probert lead the teams out, Everton in their black kit. I kept a close eye on Johnny Heitinga prior to kick off and noticed he went out of his way to hi-five every one of our players before the game. Anichebe looked to have escaped the crazy Dutchman but he seeked him out. I think he’s got good future captain credentials myself.
We started the game brightly and could have been ahead before we were, with first Pienaar brilliantly creating space for himself with a neat turn before clipping an effort at goal – Hart saved well. Cahill had an opportunity shortly afterwards also though his header fell a bit to close to Hart and was comfortably gathered. Thankfully our early pressure paid off with a quiet brilliant goal from Anichebe who picked up the ball, turned inside his marker and smashed an unstoppable drive past Joe Hart to put Everton ahead. It was very well deserved as Birmingham had offered nothing up until then.
The Birmingham faithful began to get faithless and were getting on their players backs. Everton seized on this as Birmingham passes began to go astray. Another bright move saw Pienaar scamper away into the box down the right hand side and put in a delicious ball for Yakubu who couldn’t really miss with his header from a few yards out. 2-0 and Everton in complete control with a quarter of the game gone.
It looked so comfortable and we just couldn’t believe our eyes when a nothing ball into the box somehow found its way into the corner of the net. It was a harmless low ball which Jerome seemingly got a slight flick on as the ball crept into the goal. A look at the replay on the giant screen suggested otherwise, with the ball missing Jerome, going through Jagielka’s legs, stunning Howard and going into the corner. It was a shambolic goal to concede and what ridiculous way to let Birmingham back into the game.
We managed to hold firm until half time and actually came close to getting our two-goal cushion back when a terrific Baines free kick was well saved again by Hart. At half time we kept our narrow 2-1 advantage, but it should have been much, much better.
At half time I nipped for a piddle and some poor bleeder had somehow dropped his glasses into the urinal. “Guess he didn’t go to Specsavers!” I hilariously quipped.
There were no changes by either side at the break. I felt we’d started the second half quite positively albeit without any real end product though Jagielka’s effort from distance was well saved by Hart. I thought we had a more than reasonable penalty shout when Pienaar’s effort was handled by a Birmingham defender though the referee bottled it. There was a decent shout later on also which the referee conveniently overlooked, as the officials did earlier this season at Goodison Park when Stephen Carr handled…and when Saha had a perfectly good goal disallowed. I’m ranting yes but you probably see my point – we haven’t had much from the officials against Brum this season.
This cost us on this occasion also when Jerome nodded on a long kick and Gardner half-volleyed sweetly into the corner to level the scores. His first goal for Birmingham City. How many of them do you reckon he’s tried and gotten nowhere near the goal with? Sods law eh.
This certainly spurred Birmingham on and they applied a lot of pressure for the next 15 minutes or so, winning quite a few corners which Everton defended well, though Distan looked quite frankly all over the place at times. It looked as though Anichebe was being subbed as he had a niggle, though it was the booked Yakubu who was actually subbed instead, with Landon Donavon replacing him, moving Anichebe up front. This was more effective as he won more headers and Everton looked much more creative in and around the box with Arteta pulling the strings.
Unfortunately just when we started to look more threatening enforced substitutions affected our flow with Cahill, just after squandering a decent chance, going off for Rodwell with a calf complaint, and Anichebe landing awkwardly on his foot and coming off for Gosling. This meant Donavon up front on his own with Rodwell just off him, which was completely experimental and offered no end product in the end despite plenty of effort. What a great time to send Vaughan away on loan eh!
We did still create a couple of chances however but the winning goal eluded us. First Heitinga’s drive was blocked and nearly fell to Pienaar though a last-ditch challenge from Scouser Dann prevented this opportunity, and then from the resultant corner Heitinga was again involved, heading well over the crossbar, but more crucially, taking it off the head of Distan who was well positioned for a better headed opportunity.
All in all, probably just about a fair result but deep frustration felt by the way in which we let Birmingham back into the game from such a comfortable position.
Full time: 2-2.
- Howard: I’m not sure about either goal really. He was hardly the only one but seemed to be lacking in concentration a little for the first goal, and the second one, though well struck was hardly unstoppable. I think he could’ve done more to prevent the goals myself. 5
- Baines: Great game. Looking very threatening going forward and not a lot went past him defensively. Looking good for player of the season I think. 8
- Distin: Very hit and miss. Erratic at times, solid at others. 5
- Jagielka: You can tell with his decision making he’s got a long way to go before he reaches full fitness but he’s edging there. 6
- Neville: For some reason he’s just not looking to comfortable at right back to me. I’d be getting Hibbert back in there now he’s fit again myself. Attacked well as the game went on though. 6
- Heitinga: Looking very solid in the middle and using the ball very well. Looking comfortable. 8
- Pienaar: Not everything worked for him but he set up one goal and never stopped going. I think it may be a challenge to keep hold of him after the World Cup. 8
- Anichebe: Was doing very well until injured. Brilliant goal. I hope the injury isn’t too serious. 8
- Arteta: Orchestrated and pulled the strings brilliantly though it was a little too congested in the midfield. The way he continually retained possession was excellent. Hope he continues to improve throughout the season. My man of the match. 8
- Cahill: Largely anonymous and squandered a good chance before subbed. Hope the injuries not serious. 6
- Yakubu: Got the goal yes but he needs to put more into the game than that. Rightly subbed. 5
- Donovan (for Yakubu): Made an impact and was probably most effective up front as he put the work in. I think that’s the only time he’s played up front the whole time he’s been here. Thanks Landon. Don’t be a stranger next season…if indeed that is your last game. 7
- Rodwell (for Cahill): Struggled to make an impact though was difficult for him having to play just off the striker – not his position at all. 5
- Gosling (for Anichebe): Never really got going but was marked like glue really. 5
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1 Posted 14/03/2010 at 10:38:03
2 Posted 14/03/2010 at 12:42:16
We just can’t defend, everything else is improving steadily, including the way we play.
An improved back four of players getting games together is what we need. Not defending properly against hoofball is way a bigger problem than actually playing it ouselves.
I’m not sure though if Distin is good enough to make the team produce the clean sheets progress depends on.
3 Posted 14/03/2010 at 14:44:24
Moyes prefers to concentrate on "silly errors" because it papers over the more serious problems, like the fact his sides confidence is as sturdy as that of a rape victim.
As soon as Birmingham got one back our arses dropped out and we stopped playing the football that had put us in that great position and started hoofing again.
What is improving is the quality of player we have, yet the same mistakes are being made over and over again, as our european embarrassment shows.
Until this fool drops the likes of Neville and Cahill and fully commits to playing football this will keep happening.
As soon as a side puts us under the slightest hint of pressure we panic and start hoofing and hacking like a Championship side.
We have the players but they are clearly not confident enough to play the ball on the deck under pressure and for me that can only be a reflection on poor coaching and the preaching of a ’take no risks’ philosophy.
I am tired of it.
4 Posted 14/03/2010 at 15:45:34
5 Posted 14/03/2010 at 16:04:25
Think about this; Almost every mid table team in Spain, more or less every side in Portugal...their defences are awful. The players, as individuals are awful.
What they are though is comfortable on the ball, so they don’t bring the pressure on themselves by surrendering possession all the time.
Whatever combination of defenders we put out they should be easily good enough to contend with the challenges they will face from most teams in this league, particularly when you consider the quality of some of the player in front of them - but only if they play the right way.
Put it this way, I think if we lined up with a back 5 of Almunia, Vermaelen, Silvestre, Sagna and Clichy we would regularly ship 4 and 5 goals.
The reason those players don’t at Arsenal is because when your team has the ball, the other team can’t score.
David Moyes needs to recognise the importance of ball retention and composure and put some real work in over the summer because right now he is in danger of having turned a full circle.
By that I mean having taken a poor set of players and got them to massively over-achieve, to now having a wonderful set of players who he still sends out to play like a bunch of yard dogs.
We know we have the ability because we see it in flashes and we see it in performances like against Hull and Manchester United recently.
What we need to do though is make a full commitment to playing passing football and ensure the players are well drilled enough and confident enough to do that when teams start to press us instead of what we currently do which is shit our pants and start smashing it long again.
6 Posted 15/03/2010 at 09:22:37
I think Distin is the reason our defence is so poor. An erratic centre half is not filling anyone else in that defence with confidence and Jagielka’s not yet up to speed to cover Distin’s mistakes. Although Lescott is not playing well at Man City, we definitely miss him.
How many clean sheets have we kept this season compared to last? And how many leads have we lept slip this season? The goals against column this season looks awful and is the worst out of anyone above the bottom 12. I’d move Heitinga back, drop Distin, move Neville into midfield and put Coleman at right back. I’m not a Neville fan but Moyes will never drop him and he had a good spell in midfield alongside Arteta last year.
7 Posted 15/03/2010 at 10:21:46
Question the managers intension to play him rather than the players enthusiasm to play. Cahill has delivered the goods on many occasions when we didn’t deserve anything out of a game so lets not nail him to the cross just yet.
8 Posted 15/03/2010 at 18:41:27
You may be able to coach and improve decision making and to a certain extent improve players awareness through coaching but I think being comfortable in possession and using the ball well under pressure is natural, like a good first touch, you either have it or you don’t. Good footballers have it and they will have had since they were kids.
We certainly have got more ’footballers’ in the side than we have had for a long time but there are others who give the ball away time after time and are completely uncomfortable when they get it. Neville and Distin are obvious ones, Yobo is awful (that aimless ’9 iron’ chip forward he does all game), Jags isn’t great on the ball to be honest and Hibbert, when he plays, offers nothing in that respect. And in midfield, Cahill had never been a particularly good footballer in terms of his passing or first touch.
You can get away with one or maybe two in certain positions but above that you will struggle and so often we do. Our European games have always exposed that.
Its particularly important to have players who are comfortable in the ball at the back as they see a lot of it and everything starts from there, particularly full backs. That is why Neville, for all what he brings to the club in terms of leadership is a nightmare. In the modern game full backs get loads of space and so good players ones can really add an attacking hurt you but he is shocking on the ball.
You say that we stopped playing when Birmingham scored - that’s true, but do you really think Moyes has all of sudden told the team to change tactics and start hoofing it and missing the midfield out? I am sure what he wanted was for us to carry on playing it on the floor, passing and moving as we were doing. It’s the players who stopped doing that because some of them (including those named above) haven’t got enough ability to keep hold of the ball consistently and when under pressure.
Our progress depends on us continuing to weed out these players and adding more players who can use the ball well and see the importance or retaining it. And that is down to Moyes.
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