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VIEW FROM THE BLUE

Windblown Everton Spurn Howard Gift

By Lyndon Lloyd   ::  05/01/2012
 10 Comments (»Last)

Everton 1 - 2 Bolton Wanderers

The winds that gusted through Goodison Park swept the ball 90+ yards from Tim Howard's boot and into the Bolton Wanderers net as the American scored an incredible and rare goal but they were not enough to carry Everton to victory. Instead, on the back of shambolic defending and their now customary inability to carve open chances at the other end, David Moyes's side let slip a priceless lead and succumbed to a fifth home defeat of the campaign against the Premier League's bottom club.

Conditions in the Old Lady were difficult throughout and it undoubtedly affected the performances of both teams but to blame for this defeat would be to ignore the awful level of quality that the Blues have been serving up all season long... that same sub-standard fare that Moyes acknowledged in the press in the lead-up to the game.

The manager answered the clamour for a two-pronged strikeforce by handing another start to Denis Stracqualursi, bolstered of course by a second début for Landon Donovan, but the more attacking formation was undermined by poor service to the forwards and another highly disappointing showing by Louis Saha whose touch deserted him almost entirely in the swirling winds.

In truth, apart from a few nicely-worked openings, the most notable of which prompted a contentious decision by referee Phil Dowd not to award a penalty when Donovan went sprawling in the box under close attendance from Sam Ricketts, Everton barely looked like scoring. So when a routine Howard clearance skipped wickedly off the turf and sailed over Bogdan's head into the Bolton net, it should have been greeted and defended like a precious gift.

But while the Blues' display descended into an incoherent and slipshod mess, with increasing long balls and stray passes, Bolton managed to overcome the conditions sufficiently to keep the ball on the deck and score two well-taken goals to turn this fixture on its head. Had Leighton Baines's injury-time free kick crept an inch lower under the bar and delivered a stunning equaliser, a point wouldn't have flattered the Blues but it would have papered over the obvious cracks.

Everton started with their usual dominance of possession and a couple of early opportunities offered hope that this would become the routine home victory the 29-odd thousand hardy fans who showed up were hoping for. Donovan's lively start included a smart low cross to Stracqualursi after 12 minutes but the Argentine striker couldn't steer his shot close enough to goal to trouble the 'keeper.

A minute later, an error by Zat Knight gifted Saha a chance but he couldn't get the ball out his feet sufficiently to avoid stumbling and poking it wide.

The visitors then had a decent spell of their own and after Greta Steinsson had blazed a cross-cum-shot into the side-netting, Howard had to push an aerial ball over his bar following a corner while Osman had a 20-yard effort comfortably saved and Phil Jagielka almost forced home a corner at the other end.

Two really nice moves in the final quarter of an hour of the first half saw the Blues go close again to breaking the deadlock. First, neat passing between Donovan, Osman and Saha saw Osman take advantage as the referee waved play on when the Frenchman was obviously fouled but from the angle his shot flashed across the face of goal.

Then, a minute before the interval, Saha steered a ball forward to Stracqualursi and the big striker back-heeled it smartly into the path of Donovan who was flying past Ricketts at full tilt when he either stumbled or was clipped by the defender ? TV replays would later fail to provide much clarity ? but referee Dowd was unmoved and play continued.

And in the final action of the half, an awful Howard clearance went straight to Nigel Reo-Coker in the centre circle and he put David Ngog into the clear between Sylvain Distin and John Heitinga ? Jagielka had been forced to leave the field a few minutes earlier after denying Ngog with an excellent blocking tackle ? but Howard parried the French striker's shot away well.

The second half was an altogether less impressive affair where the home side were concerned. An early Baines corner threatened to fly straight in but Bogdan fisted it off his line and Jack Rodwell drove wide from the resulting second corner kick.

But in a foreshadowing of what was to come, a catalog of errors in the Everton defence kept them hemmed into their own box and Mark Davies was eventually allowed to dance past two Blue shirts before forcing a brilliant save with his legs from Howard.

And the American 'keeper had to be at his best six minutes later when clawed Ngog's curling shot to safety at full stretch.

By the hour mark, Moyes had been forced into his second and third changed because of injury. After less than 20 minutes of action, Rodwell had to be withdrawn to be replaced by Tim Cahill after Osman had been taken off in favour of Magaye Gueye.

Of course, none of those new introductions played any part in the goal that arrived a few minutes later ? that owed everything to the wind. That knowledge, combined almost certainly with empathy for his fellow goalkeeper, probably explained Howard's non-reaction to making the scoresheet for the first time in his Everton career.

Any smiles were wiped off Evertonian faces just four minutes later, though, when Ngog stepped through the home defence and buried an unerring shot into the far corner to level the scores.

11 minutes after that, after Howard had punched another swirling aerial ball to partial safety, Baines was caught on the wrong side of Chris Eagles who fed Gary Cahill inside the area. Phil Neville lost him completely and stepped forward, giving the defender all the space he needed to emulate Ngog with an equally accomplished finish to win the game.

12 minutes plus stoppage time remained but Everton never seemed to recover from the blow of conceding the second goal and lost their way as an attacking force.

Saha zipped a header narrowly over from Baines's free kick and Baines himself crashed that late free kick off the underside of the bar but it was not to be Everton's night.

Instead, the inquest into yet another embarrassing home defeat no doubt kicked off among irate supporters filing away from the ground.

In fairness to Bolton, they stuck to their task well, defended better in the difficult conditions and carved open the Blues' defence on two crucial occasions. Everton, meanwhile, failed to sufficiently use their newly-acquired American asset ? Donovan became more isolated and less involved as the game wore on ? and paid the price.

Things are clearly wrong in Moyes's squad and it's hard to deduce what is being done on the training ground to improve the attacking failings that still dog what is not, by most reckoning, a poor side.

A 4-4-2 line-up with a hugely defensive central midfield pair that is unable to consistently find another blue jersey was doomed to failure, and yet there were a few moments of quality ? involving the more creative players, of course, like Osman, Baines and Donovan ? where you could see glimpses of the team Everton used to be.

Injuries are, of course, taking a huge toll and it's unthinkable that Moyes would have played Neville and Heitinga together had Fellaini been fit but while the likes of Ross Barkley watch on the from the bench and joint-top scorer Apostolos Vellios doesn't even figure, you have to wonder whether the manager is using the best tools for the job at hand.

Player Ratings: Howard 8*, Hibbert 5, Jagielka 6 (Rodwell 6 (Cahill 5)), Distin 6, Baines 6, Neville 4, Heitinga 5, Osman 6 (Gueye 6), Donovan 7, Stracqualursi 6, Saha 5

Reader Comments

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Sam Hoare
1   Posted 05/01/2012 at 09:16:17

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Awful night, with injuries to three key players to boot. Defense has been decent this season but was a shambles after jags left.
Allan Barratt
2   Posted 05/01/2012 at 09:46:23

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I know Stracqualursi was rubbish but you could of given the lad a rating.
Tony J Williams
3   Posted 05/01/2012 at 11:42:26

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What did Saha do to rate a 5?, couldn't trap a bag of cement and even though he was offside, his mis-kicked shot was appalling.

Lazy useless fecker, who went even lazier when he knew he couldn't get subbed. If i was Moyes I would have given him the crooked finger even without a player to replace him.
Ed Staunton
4   Posted 05/01/2012 at 11:58:22

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Sam, totally agree about Jags, I hope he is not out too long.

Tony agree about Saha but I wish he was even lazier then he wouldn?t have set up a goal for them!
Colin Malone
5   Posted 05/01/2012 at 12:08:38

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Lyndon. In defence of neville, he aint a creative midfielder. He,s job is supposed to be protecting the defence. We could all see from the kick off, we were missing a playmaker. Again a chance lost to give Barkley some experience for 30 mins or so.
Paul Hughes
6   Posted 05/01/2012 at 12:04:37

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I suppose Howard deserves highest marks for a couple of decent saves and the only bit of entertainment all evening, but I think 8 is over-generous as, during the 1st half, his inability to come and get balls that were drifting away from defenders on the wind caused all sorts of panic and alarm and his distribution was pretty woeful.

Apart from that, I thought that Ossie was far and away our best player before he went off - the only one prepared to bring the ball down and look for a pass. I thought Distin did a decent shift as well.

The rest merit a 4 at best. The second half was the worst performance I can remember seeing, given the quality of the opposition. It would have been a grave injustice to Bolton if they had lost to Howard's freak effort.

Particularly culpable were:
Neville - not one forward movement all game, and when he was supposed to be bloody defending he went AWOL for the winning goal
Saha - He deserves a 0, only because I can't give negative marks
Donovan - 'fraid so, he might as well not have come out for the second half.
Heitinga - see above under "Neville" for when he was in midfield and generally hopeless defending thereafter.
Gueye - Clueless

I'm bloody terrified of what might happen on Saturday if we get a repeat performance
Steavey Buckley
7   Posted 05/01/2012 at 16:23:11

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Last night's match should have been a perfect opportunity for Bily to play. He had a good game against Bolton when Everton won 2:0 in conditions that favoured his skills. I do believe the time is right to replace Neville, Saha and Cahill. The game at premier level is too much for them now. Cahill was advised by Moyes not to go away with Australia last winter, but ignored the advice and came back injured and has not been the same player before he left, when he was scoring goals for fun.
Alex Bonnar
8   Posted 06/01/2012 at 14:09:07

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Over the Christmas and New Year period Man.City, Man.Utd, Chesea, Arsenal, Spurs, Newcastle and Liverpool all lost matches they were expected to win. Excuses include the usual weather, injuries, tiredness, referee, team tactics, luck etc. It's time to forget Bolton and move on.
COYB!!!!
Richie Whyte
9   Posted 06/01/2012 at 16:38:29

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There a lot of players in the squad that need a lesson in pride, the blue jersey and the Everton way...Most of them may not be world beaters but the least I expect is pride in the jersey when they cross that white line..the other night was a disgrace and a perfect example of how overpaid, childish and soft some of these mercenaries are.....I've witnessed worse teams in the past but at least in the main they earned their crust with effort...COYB
Keith Glazzard
10   Posted 06/01/2012 at 16:41:46

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Steavey - totally agree. When Ossie went off we lost our only creative player and there was only one on the bench - Bily.

Quite frankly, you might as well have put me on instead of Gueye. We've seen a bit of the lad and he isn't good enough now and he doesn't look to have the potential either. He's a pushover in this division.

Saha should be subbing himself off - but he obviously has no knowledge of or respect for the Trades Description Act. Striker? Shots on target, game after game, zero. He hides around the halfway line instead of exposing his weakness (or chance of injury) up front. A trick known to old pros who can quickly spot this in a player.

Cahill can still defend in midfield, not much else. Neville can play at right back, nothing else.

We are going into crisis.

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