No frozen pipes for this rearranged game, the only casualty of a hard winter. But on the field, no Phil Neville, who went off at Newcastle with a hamstring problem; Tony Hibbert continues at right back with Johnny Heitinga introduced in midfield, the only change from St James Park; Saha and Beckford up front for a 4-4-2 formation.
Arteta tried to feed Saha through the middle after 3 mins but it didn't come off. But it led to a dangerous free-kick going the other way from Larrson and Jerome put in a good header that forced an equally good save from Howard, down low to his left. But 6 mins in, and disaster for Arteta, who was just coming good, but came up short as his hamstring went, an audible groan all round Everton as he limped off, no doubt for an extended absence. Unbelievable bad luck... Coleman replaced him. Bentley tweaked a groin muscle for Brum and he went off early too.
Osman headed straight at Foster from a lofted cross by Hibbert. Beckford got a good run in on goal, turning well off a great feed from Rodwell, and fired wide of Foster but the keeper got down and saved well. Everton won their first corner off an innocuous Hibbert cross, and Osman delivered it too deep. Rodwell, tried to set up a clever one-two with Beckford but the striker's return ball was horribly wayward. Osman fired from distance but a little low and Foster was able to save after an extended period of Everton possession and some good shots on goal.
And of course, wouldn't ya know, Birmingham waltzed up the other end and scored, poor marking, and Beasejour headed home with ease, despite the attentions of Hibbert having to play centre-back. So the script is written: star player lost, goal given away... now 70 mins of trying to dislodge one parked bus on a cold and windy night at Goodison Park.
Coleman got a nasty ball in the face off Hibbert but recovered well enough to beat his man and cross, albeit a little high for Saha. Rodwell did well to power a ball in for Beckford who elected for a bizarre strike with his back to goal that flew well over. From a throw-in that came to Beckford, he should have done better but could only clip the ball lightly to Foster who fumbled the ball on the line.
Osman won a corner from nothing, and swung it over dep again, where it was cleared straiht to Heitinga who strode in an curled a beautiful shot into the top corner for a superb first goal for Everton, over the despairing Boywer and well away from Foster, for an absolutely top class equalizer.... on 36 mins. Game On!
Rodwell was next to have a pop along the ground, then a great header from Coleman off a great cross from Baines but Foster anticipated it well and was down to save well. Mutch was the first entry in in Peter Walton's book, although mit required a wonderful piece of comedy improvisation form the ref, who had incredibly left his yellow card in the dressing room!
A Baines corner and free-kick punctuated the 4 mins added time at the break, Everton showing enough to promise better stuff in the second half.
Everton were lucky when Karanjeck dispossessed Saha but was called back, and then they wasted the free-kick. The real yellow card came out for Ridgewell for a tug on Coleman. Baines and Osman combined well but Osman's final acute-angle ball was too close to Foster. Heitinga got booked for a nothing foul from behind.
A couple of Everton attacks, ending in a good corner by Osman that Saha would have scored from but for being strongly molested by Ridgewell... why no penalty? Coleman was getting more and more excited and his final ball showed it, careening toward the corner flag,
Bowyer and Heitinga went at each other after Osman went down inside the area following a sustained attacking spell, but it was frustrating as Saha was reduced to clipping a hopefully poke well over from distance. Past the hour, Saha got a glorious opportunity to run in and shoot but he delayed a second too long and lost a glorious chance.
It was getting more physical as Everton upped the pressure, Bowyer and Osman doing a WWF exhibition in the middle of the park. But the game was largely shapeless and lacking in much structure, Rodwell again failing to take another golden shance to be dominant in midfield. Mutch was given room to shoot but finished well wide.
Beckford time a penetrating run well to get behind the defence but failed to go direct for goal and ended up passing the ball into Foster's grateful clutches as he got crowded out, while Birmingham had simply given up attacking, clearing aimless balls forward Another Coleman run won a comer and a couple of great deliveries from Baines but no real chance developed..
Everton were starting to use the long ball over the top, but timing is everything, while Birmingham looked happy with the point despite bringing the big Zigic on for Jerome. Que Anichebe replace Beckford, to less than overwhelming welcome from the Goodison crowd stultified by yet another ridiculous Operation Goodison Exercise.
Osman did really well to fire a good shot in the Foster tipped over but Saha failed to nail a beautiful Baines corner. Coleman delivered a good ball for Saha that Juranek claimed as time ticked away relentlessly... It was looking increasingly unlikely that Everton could secure their third win on the trot?
Anichebe got an unorthodox shot on goal, but they seemed increasingly frustrated. Baines's corner from the left were not as good as those from the right, as Heitinga was replaced by Bilyaletdinov with less than 5 mins left. Huff and puff from the depleted Blues with too much sideways passing to effectively penetrate an obdurate Birmingham defensive wall.
A chance came near the death for handball on Ridgewell; a good position for Baines but he pulled off his best Arteta impression, bruising the Birmingham wall fair and square. Three added minutes as Osman was incredibly denied a free-kick off a poor challenge by Bowyer. Crosses started going way too deep and came to naught it was yet another disappointing result against clearly inferior opposition.
Trying to guess which Everton will show up for a given fixture these days has been proven to be a fool's errand so Evertonians heading to Goodison for the fixture re-arranged from Boxing Day will just have to be pleasantly — or unpleasantly if the last game under the Old Lady's lights is anything to go by — surprised by what is served up by the Boys in Blue.
Despite the misery the supporters were forced to endure at Bolton and against Reading in the FA Cup Fifth round tie we're now desperately trying to erase from our collective memories, Everton have been moving clear of relegation danger for the time being and currently sit 10th thanks to three wins in their last four Premier League matches.
Victory against the Carling Cup winners would move David Moyes's side into 8th in the table, a point behind Bolton and 7th and three behind arch-enemies Liverpool in what is likely to be the lowest Europa League qualifying place. It would also go a long way to re-establishing Goodison as a fortress which is going to be very important over the next month as four of the Blues' next five games are at home.
Complicating the task, of course, are injuries to key personnel, with Phil Neville joining Marouane Fellaini and Tim Cahill on the sidelines with a hamstring strain sustained in the 2-1 win at Newcastle on Saturday. Assuming he isn't passed fit — and with that kind of injury, it would be a surprise if he was — it will necessitate further changes to Moyes's starting XI and something of a conundruim for the manager.
Does he keep Mikel Arteta out wide where he was so impressive at St James' Park but risk another headless-chicken display from John Heitinga; or does he move Arteta back into a deeper role alongside Jack Rodwell and blunt the attacking threat down the left? In the latter case, Leon Osman could switch flanks and Seamus Coleman would then return on the right. Either way, Tony Hibbert will probably keep his place at right back after making a rare start at the weekend.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2010-11 Reports Index|
|Bentley (5' Murphy:79')|
|Jerome (73' Zigic)|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|16||West Bromwich Albion||32|
|18||West Ham United||31|