VIEW FROM THE BLUE
A week can be a long time in football. On Sunday evening, genuine fear for the immediate future of Everton Football Club was starting to grip the hearts of Evertonians in the wake of that truly awful defeat at Bolton Wanderers. The paucity of the striking resources, the lack of a consistent threat from left midfield, the propensity for lapses at the back... these have become all too familiar traits of David Moyes's team in recent weeks, but the apparent death of the players' spirit was a new and alarming development.
Fast forward six days and the sight of Captain Phil Neville standing proud, arms outstretched, milking the celebrations in front of 6,000 indefatigable believers at Stamford Bridge before being mobbed by his ecstatic teammates and the passion, the spirit and the sense of unity was there again for all to see. Magical moments such as these ? a stunning extra time equaliser from the sweetest left foot seen in Everton colors since the days of Kevin Sheedy and the unparalleled drama of a penalty shootout ? are what the cup is all about and the Blues' long-suffering fans are hoping that this could be the Moyes era's Kevin Brock backpass.
Of course, this manager has very different terrain to navigate than the one that faced Howard Kendall almost three decades ago and while his best striker remains on the sidelines with another niggling muscle strain, he will need every drop of determination and will to win from his players. For the bulk of this FA Cup Fourth Round replay, Everton looked desperately short of attacking threat, Jermaine Beckford proving once more that he is il-suited to the lone striker role and his eventual replacement, Victor Anichebe, betraying a general lack of quality needed at this level of the game.
For much of the second half, the tie looked Chelsea's to win if they could find a way past the stubborn resistance of Everton's back line and a goalkeeper enjoying one of those career-defining days. The visitors, despite the backing of a huge and vocal traveling contingent, had waned as an attacking threat, especially after a bruised Tim Cahill was withdrawn after 70 minutes, completing first Beckford and then Anichebe's isolation up front.
And yet with a bit of luck ? or better judgement from the referee's assistant? ? the Blues might have stolen this replay in the 90th minute when Marouane Fellaini rammed home the loose ball after Peter Cech had spilled a right-foot shot by Everton's standout outfield performer, Leighton Baines, but he was adjudged to have been offside. Television replays would show the upper half of his body was beyond the last man, his lower half level but with the offside rule being so enigmatic these days, it was hard to know whether or not it was the right decision. Had it been allowed to stand, it would have proved to be an unlikely winner given that, on balance, Chelsea had done enough to merit a place in the next round.
Everton had started brightly enough and played a more settled passing game than their hosts in the opening exchanges but it was Carlo Ancelotti's side who came within the width of the post to opening the scoring when Phil Jagielka glanced a deep free kick off the foot of his own post in the 20th minute.
Signs that Howard was on top form arrived a few minutes later when the American saved well with his legs from Florent Malouda, Didier Drogba rapping the rebound wide of goal, and then standing up impressively to deny Malouda after Drogba had slipped the Frenchman in with a well-weighted pass.
The game's first moment of controversy, however, arrived on the stroke of half time as Ramires raced into the right side of the Everton area, Howard charged out at him and committed himself with slide towards his feet and the Brazilian tumbled to the ground. Chelsea players and fans alike bayed for a penalty but after a pause for thought and a look at his assistant, Phil Dowd brandished a yellow card for Ramires instead for simulation. From one angle it looked to be a stonewall penalty but closer analysis shows that if Howard made any conttact it was minimal and that, deliberately or otherwise, Ramires catches his toe in the turf.
Everton's only threat in the first half had been from a number of promising balls into the box, mainly from Baines on the left but occasionally by Coleman, the quality of whose delivery is still some way short of matching his endeavour down the right flank, but with few vanilla shirts forward, the crosses rarely found an Everton player.
Beckford spent most of his time chasing shadows but did link nicely with the hard-working but ultimately ineffective Leon Osman three minutes into the second half, the midfielder steering a right-footed half-volley wide of Peter Cech's goal from just outside the area. Then, after Frank Lampard had headed disappointingly wide from his team's point of view at the other end, Osman saw a tame header caught by the 'keeper and Beckford skied a first-time effort off Mikel Arteta's low cross, though the ball from the Spaniard was probably too far behind him to enable him to get off the kind of shot he's have liked.
With the game an hour old and referee Dowd seemingly finished with his programme of "evening up" for the penalty decision by waving the yellow card at any vanilla jersey that moved ? Coleman, Baines and Distin were all booked in the first 15 minutes of the second period but only the French defender's rash sliding tackle deserved it ? Chelsea began to turn the screw and Everton's FA Cup lives started to really look in peril.
In the 64th minute they were opened up by Salomon Kalou on the right side of the area and he slipped the ball inside to Ramires who crossed low to Lampard to side-foot goalwards from about eight yards out. Howard, though, turned the shot around the post with his standing foot for a corner. When Malouda's resulting kick fell to Branislav Ivanovic at the back post, the Serbian defender looked to prod it home but Howard was there again to block it on the line.
But for all their territorial domination, the Londoners created few other genuine chances in normal time, Lampard chipping the best of them over the bar after Malouda had played him in, while a Coleman header from Bilyaletdinov's superb chipped cross to the back post that Cech saved low and, of course, Fellaini's disallowed goal reminded Chelsea that the Blues weren't going to lie down and die.
The back of Everton's defiant stand looked to have been broken in extra time, though. when Nicolas Anelka wriggled between Baines and Distin on the Chelsea right, his cross eluded Jagielka and Heitinga and Lampard fired into the far corner to make it 1-0.
But Baines had other ideas. When Ivanovic was penalised for a foul a few yards outside the area with a little over a minute left on the clock, the England international defender set his sights and then curled an absolute beauty of a free kick into the top corner, well beyond the reach of Cech who could just watch as the ball floated inside his left-hand post. The massed ranks of Everton fans behind the goal erupted as one and Everton were back in the tie, having forced a penalty shootout.
That the sudden-death drama would play out at the same end of the ground made what would follow all the sweeter. Lampard despatched his penalty past Howard with aplomb but when Baines made it all too easy for Cech to push the Blues' first kick away it looked as though the left back had gone from hero to villain.
There were more twists to come, though. Anelka tried to be clever with one-step run-up but Howard guessed the right way and beat his kick away with his right palm allowing Arteta to level the scores with an emphatic shot into the corner. Heitinga and Essien successfully converted their penalties but, after some cheeky gamesmanship by the Dutchman where he pumped up the traveling fans before bumping Ashley Cole with his shoulder as he walked past, Cole swept his kick high and wide of the angle of post and bar handing the place in the fifth round on Everton's plate.
And so the responsibility of the all-important fifth spot kick was left to the unlikely figure of Neville who set himself up two paces from the ball and then rattled it into the roof of the net with the technique and composure of a world-class striker before advancing to celebrate in front of the faithful.
A first Everton win, albeit by "technical knockout", at Stamford Bridge since 1994 secured against the odds is the latest in a line of potential catalysts to the kickstart a revival in the team's fortunes this season and it is obviously the fervent hope of all Blues fans that this result does galvanise the players for the Premier League run-in and, of course, the rest of the road to Wembley, one that could yet take them through Eastlands if they overcome Reading on 1st March and Manchester City beat Aston Villa.
They will continue to be handicapped in Saha's absence, though, as the striker position remains a very worrying problem with him out the side. Beckford clearly needs the support of another striker playing alongside him ? Cahill was playing a deeper role on this occasion ? and Anichebe just doesn't appear to have the quality, the movement or the ability to hold the ball up as a lone striker either.
This result brought back many memories of the semi-final triumph over Manchester United two years ago, one in which a toothless Everton side repelled the advances of supposedly superior opposition before winning a dramatic penalty shoot-out to dump a so-called "Big Four" team out of the competition. When the chips are down like that and you don't necessarily have the tools to go to-to-toe with a better equipped team, spirit can be the determining factor and that will count for plenty between now and the end of the season.
In the meantime, Moyes's players have delivered we fans another moment of magic to savour and who can't resist watching clips of that thrilling climax over and over again to pass the time between now and next weekend's kick-off against Sunderland?
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1 Posted 20/02/2011 at 18:33:39
Howard, Heitinga (rb) Jags, Distin, Baines, Coleman, Fellaini, Arteta, Bily, Beckford, Saha, (presumed fit).
I know this team will not be picked by Moyes but I think it would be our strongest, this is based on a hopefully new Heitinga attitude and Rodwell not being available.
Although Osman put a decent shift in I would not pick him or Anichebe in the starting 11. Two more things: Where is Gueye? and Bring Yak back for when Saha is not fit.
2 Posted 20/02/2011 at 18:45:19
Cahill needs a break he has not been effective and should only be used as a super sub.
3 Posted 20/02/2011 at 19:33:07
4 Posted 20/02/2011 at 19:47:40
Let's build on it to move up the league and who knows, we may just win this cup.
Well done, Blues.
5 Posted 20/02/2011 at 21:01:04
I hope then that this is the first of many to provide a bit of balance to the usual lynch mob who salivate at any opportunity to demean him and Bill Kenwright. Very often our manager (and chairman), gets it right too. Fabulously. Spectacularly. Like yesterday.
Look forward. Think positive. There's much more to anticipate than denigrate.
6 Posted 20/02/2011 at 21:27:23
David Booth, to say manager and chairman very often get it right is rubbish ? stats prove that. 6 wins in 26 league games is not very often right, no matter how you twist it. ? We are also potentially 1 loss away from relegation points, once again not very right.
Not trying to have a go at you, David, but look at the facts first before you form an opinion or make digs about objective opinions about our club.
7 Posted 20/02/2011 at 21:43:10
And the facts are the season's not over yet... and we've just knocked out the current (consecutive), cup holders on their own ground.
Still, you can't please all the people all the time can you?
8 Posted 20/02/2011 at 21:51:33
9 Posted 20/02/2011 at 21:51:24
I would love to see us win the FA Cup, finish in the top 6 and attract some quality signings next season but I am very concerned with team selection and our financial stability, which is the responsibility of Moyes and Kenwright.
10 Posted 20/02/2011 at 22:00:46
11 Posted 20/02/2011 at 22:01:19
Clearly they haven't performed, but that doesn't disprove the assertion.
But not going to be diverted from the simple point I was trying to make, which was: credit where credit's due for yesterday.
12 Posted 20/02/2011 at 21:47:22
I will cause some argument now by questioning our star player 'Bainesey's' ability to defend. As great as he is going forward, for me, he stands too far off his man and allows crosses to get into the box (which we are not to good at defending anyway). On top of which, he gets no help at all from whoever plays in front of him ? be it Osman or Bily.
As we cannot find a replacement for Pienaar, why not play Bainesey left midfield and move Distin to LB with Jags and Johnny as CBs. I'm sure 'Bainesey' would be great and give Distin more help when defending than he gets himself. He might also solve the left midfield problem we have in the England team as he seems unable to shift 'Cashley' (penalty miss) Cole.
ps: God help us if Bainesey gets injured as we will be really stuffed!
13 Posted 20/02/2011 at 22:04:06
Have you agreed with team selection this year, David?
I think I did twice this year and, because Moyes didn't pick my selections, we lost ? LOL! Seriously, I don't know why we have crashed this year but team selection seems like part of the problem.
14 Posted 21/02/2011 at 00:40:16
Beckford is like Cottee and Lineker ? both needed partners (Sharp or Ferguson) to take the weight off them and create space. Owen and Defoe are similar and both need decent partners to bring the best out in them. We should have bought the likes of Bobby Zamora or Carroll who would both be ideal to play with Beckford.
I also said before the season started that we did not have good replacements for Baines, Donovan or Arteta.... we still don't and God help us if Baines gets hurt!!!
15 Posted 21/02/2011 at 02:16:08
Johnny, nice sportsmanship ? I hope Moyes doesn't coach that instinct out of him. COYB
16 Posted 21/02/2011 at 03:09:20
Only caveat fellow blues, Kenwright remains in overall charge. We should enjoy days like Saturday if only because so long as the current ownership clings on, good days will be very few and far between.
Just a thought.
17 Posted 21/02/2011 at 04:01:35
So why not simply say that, David, instead of attempting to take the high ground by dismissively characterising those who choose to be more critical as being akin to a salivating lynch mob? When we win, Moyes takes the credit; when we lose, he takes the heat. Seems fair enough to me.
Also, I'd be very interested to know what exactly you think Bill Kenwright has "very often" gotten "fabulously... spectacularly" right? Apart from fucking up that is.
18 Posted 20/02/2011 at 23:16:19
"Clearly they haven't performed, but that doesn't disprove the assertion."
I promised I wouldn't get negative this weekend as I wanted to enjoy the moment but haven't you just proved everyonee else's point.
For the record, I did not think we "have the best squad in years" purely and simply because Lescott has gone and we knew Pienaar was going sooner or later, adding to the continuous reduction in our squad numbers and quality.
Yesterday apart, clearly the manager and players feel the same because they have been playing as if the spirit has been sucked out of them this season.
19 Posted 21/02/2011 at 06:23:30
Showman milking it for all it was worth for the benefit of his London chums, or True Blue enjoying the moment? Make your own decision.
20 Posted 21/02/2011 at 07:18:57
I know we keep saying 6,000 'travelling fans" ... but isn't ESCLA membership something huge? How many of the 6,000 actually live down south, say within tube distance, I wonder?
Somebody raised the contrast of 11,000 empty seats at Goodison (only ~3,000 down to absent Chelsea fans) where we had presumably a better chance of getting a result, while Stamford Bridge was chokka.... yet both games were early lunchtime live on TV? I'm just curious what explanations there might be for that? And for the greater belief in victory at their gaff?
21 Posted 21/02/2011 at 12:53:26
Nobody's mentioned Phil Neville. He was excellent throughout and, for those who were there and don't comment from the seat of their arses, he followed Malouda and killed his game. Did the same at GP - has done the same to Bale twice as well. And the penalty....wow. COYB
22 Posted 21/02/2011 at 13:34:08
Great win and great day to be a blue, though I think Moyes's decision to put Heitinga on nearly cost us as after that they scored and we hardly had any of the ball.
Hopefully we can put Sunderland to the sword and start to get up the league now.
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