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Venue: Goodison Park, Liverpool
Premier League
 Saturday 17 December 2011; 3:00pm
1 1
 Osman (81')
Half Time: 0-1
Holt (28') 
Attendance: 31,004
Fixture 15
Referee: Lee Probert

Match Report

Everton rescued a draw from another hauntingly familiar situation in front of their increasingly frustrated home supporters, but a frantically-earned point against newly-promoted Norwich City will do little to dispel the gloom at Goodison Park.

The Blues were heading for a third successive defeat and their fifth on home turf until Royston Drenthe, a player who should have been on the pitch a lot earlier than the 72nd minute, drove into the box and Leon Osman clipped his scuffed shot past John Ruddy. It was no more than Everton deserved for the amount of possession they enjoyed and their shot and corner count, but David Moyes's attacking problems remain the focus for a team that slipped to 14th in the Premier League on the back of two more points dropped.

The sense of deja vu that prevailed among Evertonians at half time was no doubt palpable. Once again they had seen their team start fairly brightly and dominate possession but then fail to make the breakthrough before falling behind to the opposition's first real attack.

With Magaye Gueye somewhat surprisingly handed his first League start wide on the left one of the biggest criticisms of Moyes has been his refusal to try some of his lesser-known players in an effort to find the right combination to start creating goalscoring chances there was a slighty different dynamic down the Everton left but it remained the Blues' primary avenue of attack for much of the game.

Indeed, it was Leighton Baines' low cross that Tim Cahll touched into the path of Marouane Fellaini in the seventh minute but the Belgian couldn't react quickly enough to dig his shot over John Ruddy. Two minutes later, lovely work by Gueye ended with the French forward releasing Baines to the byline with a perfectly-weighted through-ball but his cross was knocked behind for the first of what would be 13 unproductive corners for the home side.

The game was only 12 minutes old, though, when Everton came so close to opening the scoring. A nice interchange between Louis Saha and Gueye saw the former feed Osman who brought the ball onto his left foot and curled one towards the far corner but Martin got a crucial head to it and guided it behind for a corner.

A dfirect free kick from 25 yards presented John Heitinga with another opportunity to try and deny the physics of a solid defensive wall but when Norwich failed to clear after the ball had predictably cannoned off a defender, Saha crossed invitingly to Cahill but he scuffed his shot with Fellaini in too close attendance.

As usual, the Blues' early momentum began to stall midway through the first half and Norwich, playing with two strikers according to Paul Lambert's attack-is-the-best-form-of-defence approach, began to settle themselves.

And with 27 minutes on the clock, Whitbread played the ball to Grant Holt on the corner of Everton's six-yard box where the big striker held off Heitinga, dragged the ball onto his left foot and squeezed a shot across Tim Howard and in off the far post. 1-0 to the away side... plus ca change.

A brief flurry at the other end saw Saha try one shot that was charged down and a second a minute later that slid an inch the wrong side Ruddy's right-hand post but Everton would go into the interval behind once again and with plenty for Moyes to think about.

Gueye's enterprising start had faded away and Osman was regularly drifting all the way onto the left flank, presumably to compensate for the French forward's desire to move inside and supplement the strikers. That created the usual over-reliance on the left flank and plenty of space for Tony Hibbert on the right but without the ability to beat a man, he was left with the pass inside or the deep cross.

The second half was nine minutes old when Everton managed, for the first time, to carve their way through the centre of the visitors' defence on the back of a nice move that saw Saha play a one-two with Gueye and then stay on his feet as he was fouled on the edge of the penalty area. With the advantage played by referee Lee Probert, Saha laid the ball on to Osman who cracked a left-footed effort goalwards that Ruddy parried away well for another corner.

Osman would then refuse to repay the favour when he found space to charge charge towards the area, choosing instead to drive an awful shot well wide of the target before Gueye fired an equally poor free kick attempt into the defensive wall.

In between, Holt might have doubled Norwich's advantage when he stole in behind Hibbert to connect with a deep cross by Martin from the right but, thankfully, his looping header drifted a foot wide of the far post.

The hour mark brought the first change in personnel from Moyes when removed the ineffective Cagill in favour of Denis Stracqualursi. As has been the case for most of the season, the Australian just didn't appear to be firing on half his cylinders let alone all of them. He barely won anything in the air and his contribution up front was minimal so it was the right move to introduce the commanding presence of Stracqualursi.

And the Argentine striker was involved within seconds of coming on, flicking a header on into the area that Saha did brilliantly to get a foot to but Ruddy was again in the right place to stop his shot with a one-handed, point-blank save.

A minute later and Saha was denied again. Following a terrific stretching interception by Hibbert in the middle of his own half, Heitinga launched the ball forward, Ruddy could only punch as far as Saha but though the Frenchman connected well with a half-volley, his shot cannoned of Martin and behind.

The Blues again seemed to be running out of ideas when Drenthe was belatedly introduced and the difference was pronounced and immediate. The Dutchman had one surging run foiled almost as soon as he came on but his second was decisive eight minutes later as he burst past his marker and into the box before scuffing a shot that Ruddy would surely had saved had Osman not had time to steer it past him with a deft touch.

It was "game on" now as the crowd roared in anticipation of the Blues turning the game on its head in the last ten minutes. Drenthe stung Ruddy's palms with a fizzing shot from the angle that the 'keeper parried and the same player almost won it for Everton four minutes later with a crashing, swerving drive that Ruddy managed to get one arm to and deflect the ball wide of his goal.

In a frenetic close it was a case of so near and yet so far for the Blues as Hibbert had a bobbled left-footed shot saved, Stracqualursi spurned a chance when put in by Osman but he just couldn't dig the ball out from under his feet and late substitute Conor McAleny also had a shot smothered by Ruddy.

So, and all-too familiar scenario at Goodison, with the one silver lining that Everton managed to get a goal and salvage a point from a game they really needed to win. In what will be a similar game next against Swansea, Moyes must look to what worked this afternoon and what threatened to work in particular the introduction of Drenthe and the two-pronged strike-force of Stracqualursi and Saha and find the courage to deploy a more attacking formation.

With the bottom half of the table so compressed and teams down there showing signs of life, it's imperative that the Blues get points on the board quickly and not hope that the arrival of Landon Donovan in January qwill provide the shot in the arm to avoid a relegation dogfight.

Player Ratings: Howard 6, Hibbert 67, Jagielka 7, Heitinga 7, Baines 7, Neville 6, Fellaini 6, Osman 7*, Gueye 6 (Drenthe 7), Cahill 5 (Stracqualursi 7), Saha 7

Lyndon Lloyd

Match Preview

Sitting 12th in the Premier League, behind two of the three newly-promoted clubs and level on points with the third is probably not how many Evertonians envisaged the Blues would be faring in mid-December.

That is the uncomfortable reality for David Moyes's side, however, as they prepare for back-to-back home games against two of those new-comers from the Championship, fixtures that would have been deemed eminently winnable in seasons past but which now pose a significant challenge for a team that hasn't registered an official shot on target in two matches now let alone scored a goal.

Indeed, Everton's top scorer is a 19 year-old Greek super-sub while Tim Cahill, a player on whom Moyes has relied for goals ever since he arrived seven years ago, is just a fortnight away from going an entire calendar year without a goal.

Of course, to focus on the drought of goals from the strikers would be to miss the broader malaise that stems from a chronic lack of creativity, invention and ideas in midfield and the manager's apparent refusal to try anything new in terms of formation or what personnel he has available to address it. Week after week, Blues fans have become accustomed to expecting the same-old, same old and it's unlikely to be much different this weekend — unless, perhaps, Royston Drenthe is passed fit after missing three games with an ankle injury and Moyes decides to put him straight back in the team.

The Dutch winger, Jack Rodwell (hamstring) and Leon Osman (hamstring) could all be available after recovering from injury for the visit of Norwich City and you'd think that of the three, Rodwell would be the most likely to walk back into the starting lineup to take his place alongside Marouane Fellaini. In that case, Osman and Drenthe could well be rivals for the left-midfield berth likely to be vacated by the struggling Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Elsewhere, Sylvain Distin will have to see how Moyes feels about the performance of the Phil Jagielka-John Heitinga partnership during the Frenchman's recent absence before he is handed a birthday present in the form of a return to central defence. While, up front, if Louis Saha and Cahill are fit, they'll likely start.

The Canaries, who, for their part, have no new injury concerns, have shown that they are willing to give anyone a run for their money. Their last visit to Merseyside a couple of weeks ago yielded a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Liverpool and their 4-2 win over Newcastle at Carrow Road last weekend will have them high on confidence.

Unfortunately for James Vaughan, another long-term injury will prevent him from lining up against his former club on the ground where he became the Premier League's youngest ever goalscorer a few years ago, but ex-Blue John Ruddy is expected to play in goal for Norwich.

With the news that Landon Donovan will be returning to Goodison in the New Year and Ross Barkley has been signed to a new long-term contract, there is unquestionably a lift in spirits among supporters and that will hopefully translate to the players as they go in search for what would be only their third home win of the campaign.

A victory would put Everton level on points with Norwich with a game in hand going into next Saturday's clash with Swansea City.

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Match Reports
2011-12 Reports Index
< Arsenal (A) Swansea (H) >
EVERTON (4-5-1)
  Neville booked:77'
  Gueye (80' Drenthe)
  Cahill (61' Stracqualursi)
  Saha (87' McAleny)
  Subs not used
  Rodwell (injured)
  Anichebe (injured)
  Coleman (injured)
  Duffy (loan)
  Silva (loan)
  Baxter (loan)
  Garbutt (loan)
  Wallace (loan)
  Yobo (loan)
NORWICH (4-4-2)
  Naughton booked:4'
  Hoolahan (74' Johnson)
  Morison (79' Wilbraham)
  Subs not used

Premier League Scores
Blackburn 1-2 West Brom
Everton 1-1 Norwich
Fulham 2-0 Bolton
Newcastle 0-0 Swansea
Wigan 1-1 Chelsea
Wolves 1-2 Stoke City
QPR 0-2 Man United
Aston Villa 0-2 Liverpool
Tottenham 1-0 Sunderland
Man City 1-0 Arsenal

Team Pts
1 Manchester City 41
2 Manchester United 39
3 Tottenham Hotspur 34
4 Chelsea 32
5 Arsenal 29
6 Liverpool 29
7 Newcastle United 27
8 Stoke City 24
9 Norwich City 20
10 Aston Villa 19
11 Fulham 18
12 Swansea City 18
13 West Bromwich Albion 18
14 Everton 17
15 Queens Park Rangers 16
16 Sunderland 14
17 Wolverhampton Wanderers 14
18 Wigan Athletic 13
19 Blackburn Rovers 10
20 Bolton Wanderers 9

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