VIEW FROM THE BLUE:: 25/03/2012
Swansea City 0 - 2 Everton
Everton became only the third team to win at the Liberty Stadium this season, stifling Swansea's much-vaunted passing game and eventually turning on the style in the second half to record a handsome victory that leap-frogs them over the Welsh club in the table.
Leighton Baines' perfectly-struck free kick broke the deadlock just before the hour mark and, coupled with introduction of Marouane Fellaini, ignited a Blues attack that had hitherto struggled to carve out clear-cut chances. Nikica Jelavic atoned for an earlier miss by converting from close range to seal the deal with 14 minutes to go and with more composure in front of goal, David Moyes's side might have made it a rout.
With the FA Cup replay at Sunderland in mind, Moyes made changes to his line-up but did not go for the wholesale shuffle of his pack that was so heavily criticised after the Merseyside derby. Phil Jagielka, Phil Neville and Steven Pienaar came in in place of John Heitinga, Marouane Fellaini and Royston Drenthe ? the Dutch winger wasn't even in the squad ? and it became clear very quickly that the manager has tasked his charges with pressing the opposition high up the pitch and limiting the effectiveness of their ground game.
It was a strategy that for the most part worked in a fairly pedestrian first half, though it took some wayward shooting by the home side and a stirling performance from the returning Jagielka to keep the Swans off the scoresheet on the few occasions they did manage to penetrate.
Danny Graham found himself in behind the Everton defence after just six minutes but shot weakly at Tim Howard, Gylfi Sigurdsson missed the target from 20-odd yards after dispossessing Leon Osman, Wayne Routledge might have done better after 22 minutes but sliced his shot high and wide, while Joe Allen's drive through a crowd of players after he'd collected Pienaar's awful clearance skidded wide of Howard's left-hand post.
A disappointing header from Jelavic off Baines' free kick was about as close as Everton came during that first half-hour, a period characterised by some fairly insipid attacking play on their part, and though they seized control of the game for the remainder of the half, they consistently let themselves down with a poor final ball, both from open play and set-pieces.
Baines' service was particularly disappointing, Osman was slowly recovering from a dreadful start to the game, and though Pienaar was a hive of activity not much was coming off for him, That left Jelavic chasing shadows and feeding off scraps and offered little evidence of what was to follow after the break.
And though the Blues had been fairly comfortable in the first 45 minutes, they were given a warning not to rest on their laurels too much in stoppage time when they were sliced open by a superb pass down Swansea's right channel that Allen tried to centre to Graham but Jagielka was on hand with a sliding block to snuff out the danger.
If the first period had been all-too familiar from traveling fans' perspective, the second gradually grew into a pleasing exhibition of attacking football from Moyes's side, sparked mostly by an increasingly dominant display by Pienaar.
It was the South African's tenacity that created the first chance for either side after the interval when he charged down Ashley Williams' clearance but Jelavic couldn't steer the bouncing rebound on target and put the ball over the bar instead.
And Jelavic was the first to pounce on the loose ball again in the 53rd minute when Darron Gibson, making a solid return from a month-long injury layoff, unloaded with a stinging left-foot drive that Michel Vorm could only parry into the Croatian's path. With his back to goal, Jelavic expertly teed up his own over-head kick that Tim Cahill anticipated smartly and almost turned in as it flew across the six yard box.
The two sides then traded opportunities, with Graham getting in front of Jagielka but, thankfully, heading over the bar with Howard off his line and Pienaar dragging a shot wide with Jelavic in a good position ahead of him, before Williams' foul on Baines set up the opening goal. The direct free kick was in perfect Baines territory and the fullback rediscovered his magical left foot, curling an unstoppable peach of a shot into the top corner, well beyond Vorm's despairing dive.
That proved to be the watershed moment of the match and it was almost 2-0 in short order. Gibson led a quick counter-attack with a lovely ball out to the left to pick out Pienaar in space but, after cutting inside, the number 22 couldn't bend his shot inside the far post and whistled inches wide.
And when Pienaar's own interception set Everton away again on a counter down the left and he picked out Jelavic with a sublime return pass with the outside of his right boot, the striker slid a great chance wide when he looked certain to at least force a save from Vorm who had, to his credit, covered the angle well.
He would only have to wait another couple of minutes for his second goal in Everton colours, though. After keeping the ball from a throw in on the right flank when Tony Hibbert found substitute Fellaini with a pass inside the area, the Belgian midfielder determinedly turned inside two white shirts near the byline before cutting it back invitingly for Jelavic who had the simple task of side-footing into an empty net to double Everton's lead and effectively kill the game.
Withdrawn a few minutes later in order to protect him ahead of Tuesday's cup replay, Jelavic was replaced by Denis Stracqualursi and he should really have made it 3-0 with six minutes left of the 90. Pienaar again danced down the left and squared it perfectly across the six-yard box to the Argentine but his side-footed tap didn't have enough on it to beat the 'keeper from close range and Vorm saved.
Still not done, Pienaar did it again four minutes later with a mesmersing feint that allowed him to drift into the Swansea box again but his centre this time found Stracqualursi with his back to goal and although the striker was able to flick the ball up, he couldn't supply the contact to drive it home.
With things tightening up in the race for seventh place and goal difference therefore becoming a factor, it would have been nice to pad the win out with a couple more goals but this was, in the final reckoning, an enormously satisfying win. Yes, there were long periods where the team's inability to supply a killer pass in the final third or make set-piece situations pay made a 0-0 draw look like a decent bet, but the manner in which Pienaar came to life in the second half and Fellaini provided that little bit of extra guile that Cahill couldn't was pleasing. Too bad, of course, that Pienaar will be ineligible for the all-important trip to the Stadium of Light.
Level on points with Sunderland and two behind Liverpool with eight games to go, there's still plenty to play for in the Premier League for Everton and this first win in five gets them back to winning ways at just the right time.
Player Ratings: Howard 6, Hibbert 6, Jagielka 8, Distin 7, Baines 7, Neville 7, Gibson 7, Osman 6, Pienaar 8*, Cahill 6 (Fellaini 7), Jelavic 7 (Stracqualursi 6)
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464 Posted 25/03/2012 at 10:23:28
As always a fair report.
466 Posted 25/03/2012 at 10:29:48
Good result, and I hope the players take confidence from it going into Tuesday, but Sunderland will be thinking the same after a good result for them also. We have got to be on it from the moment the ref blows his whistle come 8pm Tuesday.
470 Posted 25/03/2012 at 10:19:07
Yesterday, once again, our Tony gave a master class in the art of how to defend as a right back. I can't recall many chances being created down their left hand side as, once again, he had his opposition player in his back pocket. In fact, he marked him out of the game that much that Jagielka had to stop Tony following Sinclair off the pitch when he was substituted.
471 Posted 25/03/2012 at 10:34:11
If we can keep Pienaar next season and find a genuine threat on the other flank (perhaps Drenthe) It's difficult to see us not scoring many more goals than we have this season.
I like Gibson playing where he did in the second half - he's not a flashy player but him and Fellaini when he came on seemed to have struck up an understanding and feed off each other's scraps.
Looking forward to Sunderland (I'm sitting with the Mackems, so I'll need to keep my gob shut for a change). Though, Pienaar is going to be a big miss.
By the way ? what's happened to Ken Buckley? I really enjoyed his reports as he always seemed to see the same game as me? Did he get pissed off with the endless drone of negativity that seems to now be a feature of the comments section?
472 Posted 25/03/2012 at 10:49:26
474 Posted 25/03/2012 at 10:34:03
My personal measure of a 'good' season is ending with a positive goal difference. I remember that the season we ended up 4th in the league, we had a negative goal difference!
For me, this would be a fantastic season if we:
? Win the FA Cup
? Finish above the Reds
? Sneak into the Europa
The next few weeks will be very interesting indeed!
475 Posted 25/03/2012 at 10:51:21
On a personal note I don't believe we need all 10 outfield players behind the penalty spot. We need one on the edge of the D and one on the halfway line.
He and Strac could've had 2 or 3 each on a different day. The big plus is they were in there making a hash of their chances, again unlike the last months of Saha who looked to be going throught the motions.
Onwards and upwards to Sunderland. I think the 2nd half performance will've scared MON shitless and any chance there was of them trying to make any sort of open game has gone. They will try to out ? Keep it tight and pinch one the keep it tight and pinch one-ers.
I see extra time and pennos, then it's in the lap of the Gods.
479 Posted 25/03/2012 at 11:53:48
I like the look of Jelavic, I think he could be a class act and should bag us a fair few next season.
481 Posted 25/03/2012 at 12:07:05
485 Posted 25/03/2012 at 12:43:29
To keep hearing that our joint top scorers are both on 4 (or is Baines on 5 now?) is just sad. Not a fair comparison as we're basically playing a different sport but Messi scored 5 in one CL knock out game. It's late March for the love of God! Top scorers on 4 goals!
It's a sad endictment on Moyes, his tactics and our attackers generally.
488 Posted 25/03/2012 at 12:59:56
497 Posted 25/03/2012 at 14:15:25
Even though in some of my previous posts I've criticized Everton's "hoofball" tactics, there was none of it yesterday; maybe we can praise the normally great footballing side Swansea for that!
By the way, great article Lyndon!!
507 Posted 25/03/2012 at 15:53:41
Regarding O'Neill being scared by that second half display, I'd agree if Pienaar were eligible. I'd wager MoN is thanking his lucky stars that he's cup-tied!
Keeping Pienaar should be priority number one in the summer, IMO. It's clear he just fits in at EFC so we just need to find the cash to bring him home permanently. (I'm going to assume Spurs wont loan him to us for the whole season.)
515 Posted 25/03/2012 at 16:38:15
I was glad to see Gibson back confirming that he can do well for us - a great shot and accurate long passing over and above his good reading of the game. This also meant that Fellaini was given the freedom to move forward.
I won't do the 'If that was Barcelona ...' thing about the second goal but how wonderful to see one of our players opening them up with skill and strength on the ball. Jelavic's positioning in the box to finish was pure striker.
The important thing was that Fellaini wasn't used as a 'target man' as they used to say. His abilities were unleashed, and if we can do that more often we will win many more games. Same goes for Pienaar of course, if we can keep him. A few more games like that and it could become more difficult. And I'll add Osman to that list, who has close skills and creativity which we rarely use for the best.
Finally, 40 points. I was really concerned that we were heading for a relegation scrap earlier this season. My birthday is mid-January and so please Mr Moyes, can my best present be that, or better, next year.
516 Posted 25/03/2012 at 17:36:57
Unlike you, I noticed Saha heading away corners very well in defence. But like you, I guess, I wondered why he never seemed to get his head on the ball at the other end. Or actually get there more often than not.
Why Moyes persisted with him for so long is a mystery. El Stracq won our hearts as soon as we saw someone putting in a challenge, and he is improving - I think we'll keep him. Jelavic looks like a very good signing. Given the right supply, he has the makings of getting his name up there with the greats.
520 Posted 25/03/2012 at 18:20:41
He could turn out to be a Â£20m striker we have stolen for Â£6m. He seems to read the play well and he stays on-side most of the time. I think Drenthe will be off in the summer though.
717 Posted 26/03/2012 at 15:05:15
@Kevin Sparke, I too have been wondering where Ken Buckley's reports have gone, anyone any news?
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