Mikel Arteta returned, with Heitinga out injured; also Osman and Rodwell not fit, so Hibbert returned at the back, Neville moved into midfield, and another chance for Bily to impress. Blackburn did not touch the ball in the first minute, and Arteta had his legs cut away by Nelsen, a clear penalty that the Best Little Spaniard tucked away neatly: 0-1 after 3 mins!
Scintillating stuff from the Black & Pinks, total domination for the first 10 mins, denying Blackburn ANY possession. Pienaar was fouled and Arteta tried a direct route along the ground from a free-kick that Cahill tried to deflect but the goalie held it.
Blackburn’s first attack on 11 mins led to the first corner that Howard could only punch and it was a mad scramble of headers and poor clearances in the Everton area that seemed to last an age before Howard claimed it.
A nasty clip on Arteta by Andrews slowed things down a bit, and Blackburn came back into it more with their long ball game.
Arteta was livid when he had his heel clipped and really got in Gamst Pedersen’s face, then poked him in the eye! Amazing that he only got a yellow card from Ref Andre Marriner. A very odd incident!
Bily whipped another of what are becoming his trademark crosses, but apparently too flat and fast for anyone to connect with.
Another great move, Pienaar and Arteta slicing through to set up Cahill but it was jabbed away for a corner. More great passing in midfield ruined by a dreadful pass from Neville direct to a Blackburn player that led to another Blackburn corner and more carnage in the Everton area, but they escaped in the end.
Kalinic used his hand to advantage and then won a dangerous free-kick for Blackburn, deflected for another corner. Dunn messes around jostling with Howard and in his space on the goal-line, which got him a warning from Marriner, who blew for a foul as soon as the third corner came across.
Blackburn’s tactics had successfully unsettled Everton, whose passing was not as crisp. Cahill was lucky not to get booked for a late tackle on Dunn, and Howard did well to keep a long header out of the top corner, but Nelsen was offside.
Another long throw from Pederssen caused more havoc in front of Howard and Olsson should have scored. Seemed only a matter of time before Blackburn would win one of these mêlées. But a great break looked promising for Everton but again, Bily’s cross was accurate but with a tad too much pace.
At the other end, Andrews got in a good ground shot through the crowd that was thankfully straight at Howard. Another corner before the break, but it led to another great break that Bily chose to chip up this tie for Pienaar at the far post, but again, it just wasn’t quite right.
Saha was injured buy a lunge from Jones, but reappeared for the second half, which was slow to get going. Too many moments where the smoothness of Everton was gone, rattled by Big Sam’s agricultural cloggers.
A nice attack finally on 57 mins ended in a great cross from Hibbert for Cahill to nod home but he lost it in the glaring sun at the last crucial moment.
After another Pedersen long throw, Everton broke well and Pienaar was fouled by Salgado in front of the D. But Arteta’s curling shot lacked the guile required to beat Robinson.
Another great play set up Saha down the right channel but his shot was hopeless. Another opportunity failing in the final execution. Pedersen came off for Jason Roberts. Andrews booked for leaving his foot in on Neville.
A golden sequence of tight passing down the right channel between Pienaar & Arteta was well worth a goal except for the crucial final pass that was 2 feet too strong… again! Then it came to Baines and a pile-driver from distance smashed into the post. At the other end, it came to N'Zonzi and his rocket from 30 yards flew past Howard just inside the post. 1-1 and the same old story of the past 3 games…
The goal changed the game, which now became stretched the full length of the field. Another great looking move ended in Anichebe’s cross evading Saha at the far post.
Distin got yellow when he accidentally clipped someone and Nelsen had a free header from the free-kick. Moyes then amazingly brought Yakubu on for Hibbert, 4-3-3… and seconds later his first touch put Everton back in the lead off a great long throw from Baines that was flicked on by agreat back-header from the very impressive Anichebe to the The Yak, who nodded it home withehis first touch just 22 seconds after coming on the field. Sweet!
But at the other end, a superb clip on for Roberts totally split the Everton defence and he finished superbly past Howard: 2-2, and the Everton heads went down for a moment… Not Again!
10 mins left in a real ding-dong game, both sides now going for it. Anichebe and Salgado clashed a little as the ball flew back and forth, no-one able to stamp their control on the game. Anichebe looked really good whenever he got the ball. Pienaar tried a shot that was well over. Arteta did the same in frustration at the solid wall of blue and white.
But on 90 mins, a good ball in to Yakubu was superbly played forward into space by the big man, who then centered low, past the diving Robinson, and there was Tim Cahill to finish in style from 1 yard.
Still some desperate blocks required to protect Howard’s goal as 4 mins of stoppage time were played out. Anichebe again with a fantastic cross in front of goal but no-one there, Saha already off the field, having just been replaced by Yobo. But they held out and Everton’s at times scintillating football was finally rewarded with a fully deserved 3 points. Tremendous second half. Europe still on?
If you're a neutral, Everton have been the team to watch this year. Scintillating victories against Manchester United and Chelsea, late drama, some wonderful football... and, of course, high-scoring draws thanks to an agonising propensity to throw away precious leads.
Against Arsenal, Birmingham, West Ham, Aston Villa, David Moyes's men had been ahead and on course for victory only to be pegged back by second-half goals, some in injury time, and there was an alarming sense of deja vu here at Ewood Park as Blackburn Rovers twice came back from a goal down, only for Everton to score a last-gasp goal of their own to keep their European hopes alive.
With the Blues knowing that anything short of a win would surely end their chase for a place in the Europa League, this had the air of a cup tie at times in the second half, no more so than when Moyes made the kind of caution-to-the-wind attacking move that has become increasingly rare these days by throwing first Victor Anichebe and then Yakubu on in the last 20-odd minutes.
The latter change proved decisive with the Yak scoring one and superbly serving the winner on a platter for Tim Cahill to send the Evertonians home in high spirits just when they thought they witnessed another hair-pulling away draw.
Having seen two points slip away at the death at Villa Park on Wednesday, the Blues started the match in high gear and though a series of niggling injuries had forced Moyes to shuffle his starting line-up and deploy Phil Neville in central midfield, he was boosted by the surprise return of Mikel Arteta.
And it was some typical magic from the Spaniard that yielded a goal with just three minutes gone. Picked out in space on the right side of the Blackburn area by Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Arteta made a mug of Ryan Nelsen by jinking smartly to his right and forcing the defender into a clumsy trip leaving referee Andre Marriner with no option but to point to the spot.
With Saha having failed from the spot on a couple of occasions already this season, Arteta himself stepped up, sent Paul Robinson the wrong way and put Everton into an early lead with a calmly-taken penalty.
Sam Allardyce may have toughened Rovers up over the course of this season and made them more difficult to beat, particularly at home — only Aston Villa and Tottenham had won at Ewood Park in the League before today and they'd successfully frustrated Manchester United and Chelsea here in recent weeks — but on ths evidence, it has been at the expense of anything approaching entertainment.
Rovers' style is typical "Fat Sam": ugly, route-one football relying heavily on high balls into the box and "playing the percentages", the kind of approach that has been Everton's undoing in recent weeks (both Villa goals in midweek came from deep crosses, as did West Ham's equaliser at Goodison a fortnight ago).
And so it was that despite their overwhelming dominance of possession, Everton found themselves hanging on desperately at times in the first half as they struggled to deal with a succession of corners and long throws aimed straight at Tim Howard who, under the close attention of opposition players, found himself flapping around his six-yard box with mixed results.
Indeed, after a poor punch by the American in the 12th minute, he was saved by Tim Cahill who hacked the ball off the goalline and then, after a horrendous cross-field ball by Neville ended up with a corner to the home side, Howard was again all at sea but the ball was cleared to safety.
In between, Arteta had reacted badly to being chopped down by Morten-Gamst Pedersen and inexplicably poked the Norwegian in the eye. With the home crowd baying for a red card, Arteta escaped with only a yellow and could count himself as incredibly lucky to do so. Any other day — and perhaps any player with a worse reputation — and that was surely a straight red.
Everton continued to play the better, more patient football but it was Rovers who were causing the most problems, with Martin Olsen profligate when another long Pedersen throw dropped in front of the striker, his shot being blocked by an excellent Phil Jagielka tackle, and Andrews shooting straight at Howard, who gathered the ball at the second attempt.
A chance for 2-0 opened up in first-half injury time, though, when a terrific break ended with the ball at the feet of the unpredictable Bilyletdinov but he wasted the chance by clipping a ball into Robinson's arms.
Indeed, it was another mercurial and maddening display by the Russian who showed plenty of touches of class but then let himself down with an atrocious pass when it mattered.
Everton remained in control in the second half, yet more evidence of the maturity and confidence with which they have played away from home since December, and it looked as though Cahill was going to reward a spell of good pressure and double their advantage three minutes before the break but he appeared to lose Tony Hibbert's pin-point cross in the Lancashire sun and headed disappointingly over the bar.
Arteta then fired a direct free kick straight at Robinson after Steven Pienaar — now the most fouled player in the Premier League — was felled for the umpteenth time and Leighton Baines rattled the Rovers post with an Exocet missile from 18 yards that deserved more than ricochet behind for a goal kick.
A minute later, Blackburn pulled level, unquestionably against the run of play and out of nowhere. In stark contrast to the hideous nature of their football to that point, Nzonzi produced a moment of sheer quality when he stepped inside Arteta around 30 yards from goal before unloading a shot that swerved away from Howard's desperate dive and flew into the corner of the goal.
1-1 and the home crowd sensed they might get something out of the game now but Nelsen's attempt to atone for his third-minute error with a free header in the 77th minute was a wayward one, the ball drifting over the Everton crossbar.
With 12 minutes to go, though, Moyes delivered his masterstroke, by removing Hibbert in favour of Yakubu. The Nigerian had been on the pitch just 22 seconds when Anichebe, himself a substitute on for Bilyaletdinov, flicked on a Baines throw-in and the No. 22 beat his marker to the ball to nod past Robinson and restore the Blues' lead.
Just two minutes later, though, Blackburn equalised, again more or less out of nothing. Kalinic steered a clearance on between Jagielka and Sylvain Distin for Jason Roberts to chase. The striker took one touch before firing emphatically past Howard from 25 yards. 2-2 and that sinking feeling started to take hold among the traveling fans, particularly as the Blues' patient probing in search of the winner just seemed to be running the clock down instead of leading to chances.
More frustrating was when Pienaar and then Arteta seemed to run out of patience in the last couple of minutes with both ending long passing moves by simply hammering poor shots over from 20-odd yards.
The game was ticking towards injury time when they eventually did unlock the Rovers defence in scintillating fashion. Yakubu collected a pass inside the area and lost his marker completely with a brilliant first touch before sliding the ball across the goalmouth from the byline where Cahill was waiting to slot home from close range.
The Australian wheeled away to the corner flag in trademark fashion and the away fans went mental at the prospect of a priceless away win. It was also sweet revenge for Cahill who had been singled out by big-mouth Allardyce as a player that referees needed to keep an eye on before last season's encounter and was consequently victimised by the match official that day. Scoring the winner here today was the best way to ram the words down the Blackburn boss' throat.
Roberts went close with a virtual carbon-copy effort a minute into stoppage time and Anicheve slid a dangerous cross across goal at the other end but despite more the referee adding more than a minute more than the four minutes of injury time initially signaled, Everton held on.
Whether the Blues catch Aston Villa looks like it will be entirely down to Villa themselves — they play relegated Portsmouth and struggling Hull in their two games in hand — Moyes's boys have at least given themselves a fighting chance. And, in a curious way, their last two games might have yielded the same four points had they won at Villa Park on Wednesday. Without the urgency of the situation today, might Moyes have been as gung-ho for the win?
Of course, no one is talking about Liverpool who are just two points better off than Everton going into their home match with West Ham on Monday, though msost expect Rafael Benitez' side to win that one and restore their five-point advantage over the Blues. Then, of course, there is the question of Uefa's decision over Portsmouth's appeal... and given the manner in which Europe's governing body has screwed us in the past, what price we finish 7th but get screwed out of a place in the Europa League anyway?
Three games left, nine points up for grabs... it ain't over until it's over.
Howard 6, Hibbert 7 (Yakubu 8), Jagielka 6, Distin 7, Baines 7, Neville 7, Arteta 8*, Bilyaletdinov 6 (Anichebe 8), Cahill 8, Saha 7
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2009-10 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Other media reports|
|4 the Game||Report|
|Pedersen:20' (64' Roberts :82')|
|Subs not used|
|Hibbert (78' Yakubu)|
|Bilyaletdinov (69' Anichebe)|
|Saha (90' + 2' Yobo)|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|Saturday 17 April 2010|
|Man City||0-1||Man United|
|Sunday 18 April 2010|
|Monday 19 April 2010|
|17||West Ham United||31|