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Missed chances prove costly as Blues draw again

By Lyndon Lloyd   ::  03/11/2012

Fulham 2 - 2 Everton

They've been beaten just once in the Premier League since March. They've created more chances so far this season than anyone else, not just in England but across the top leagues in Europe, scored 19 goals, are playing some wonderful football at times and currently lie 4th in the Premier League after 10 games.

Ingredients, you'd think, for an ecstatic fanbase. And yet, most Evertonians will be absolutely pig sick tonight after Fulham grabbed an entirely undeserved draw from as lopsided an encounter as the Blues have experienced at Craven Cottage in living memory. Steve Sidwell's last-minute equaliser represented the eighth point that David Moyes's side have dropped in their last four games, and the level of frustration that pervades the thinking of many Blues looking at the table with a quarter of the season gone is a mark of just how far this team has come in 2012.

With better luck, competent officiating and, certainly, better defending and finishing, Everton might well be right up amongst the Premier League leaders instead of seven points off the pace. The scandalous refereeing decisions that robbed them of three points against Newcastle, Wigan and QPR; the abysmal defending that gifted Liverpool a two-goal head start last Sunday; and the profligacy in front of goal this afternoon that should have seen the Blues wrap up three points all stick in the craw. Perm two or three victories from any of those five games and Moyes's boys would be fourth by a clear margin and breathing down the necks of the top three with three favourable fixtures still to come in November.

All "what ifs", of course, but that is how close this Everton team is to being a real force. And if this run of four games without a win — but, equally, it's a run without defeat — is as poor a run as the Blues experience between now and May then this is going to be an exciting season.

Key injuries and what, at present, is a frustratingly porous defence by Moyes's standards, still threaten to ruin the Champions League dream, though. For the fifth game in succession — six if you count the debacle at Elland Road in the League Cup — Everton ceded the first goal to the opposition and, by logical extension, they've had to chase the game in all six, often from early on in the proceedings.

On this occasion, the opposition scored with their first kick of the match after just six minutes. Everton had completely controlled the opening exchanges and already had three shots blocked before they could trouble Mark Schwarzer before Steven Pienaar's ill-advised pass left Leon Osman stranded and Phil Neville clumsily felled Dimitar Berbatov in a dangerous area just outside the penalty area.

Bryan Ruiz whipped an excellent direct free kick that was creeping inside the post before Tim Howard got a half-hearted hand to it to guide it onto the post. Unfortunately, the ball cannoned off the woodwork, hit the American and ricocheted into the net. Whether he felt for a split second it was going wide or that he might collide with the post if he continued to dive full-length, Howard seemed to pull out of the save and he didn't get the full purchase on the ball that replays would show he might have.

Set back but undeterred, the Blues resumed their near total control of the game for the remainder of the first half. Their hosts would have two more efforts on goal in the next 39 minutes but though the rest of the first half story was all about Moyes's Everton, they couldn't find a way through Fulham before the break.

For periods, the conundrum seemed to surround the left flank, where Pienaar returned after serving a one-game suspension to resume his partnership with Leighton Baines. After his star turn in the first 45 minutes in the derby last weekend, though, it seemed as though Kevin Mirallas was more comfortable on the left than the right as well and Moyes again tinkered with the formation this afternoon, switching the two wide men as early as the quarter-hour mark with mixed results.

The result was constant pressure from Everton but little further by way of clear threat to the Fulham goal in the first half hour apart from a low Marouane Fellaini shot that Mark Schwarzer saved in the 11th minute and another effort by the Belgian that was deflected behind for a corner.

10 minutes before the break, though, Nikica Jelavic was presented with a terrific chance to shake off his recent malaise when Baines picked him out with a cross from the left but the Croatian made a mess of the downward header and it bounced wide and high of the far post.

Seamus Coleman then tested the 'keeper with a left-foot shot after cutting in from the right flank but Schwarzer again made a comfortable stop and Jagielka then saw a rasping drive deflected inches past the upright three minutes before the interval.

Perhaps the Blues' best chance of the first 45 minutes came on the stroke of half time, though, when an error by Chris Baird presented him with a loose ball with just Schwarzer to beat but he clipped his shot over the bar from a difficult angle.

The second half brought no change to the pattern of the game; Everton just started creating more chances and it owed much to more scintillating form from Mirallas who suddenly clicked back into his role on the right flank and started terrorising Fulham's defence on a regular basis.

The equaliser would come early in the second period but it really should have arrived sooner after Sascha Riether had handled under pressure from Fellaini on the left side. Baines swung in the free kick that Jagielka glanced on dangerously right across the face of goal but somehow neither John Heitinga nor Fellaini made contact in front of the open net.

The big forward would make no mistake eight minutes later, though, when Coleman fed Mirallas down the right flank and the tricky Belgian drove into the box before cutting the ball back to Fellaini who side-footed emphatically home from eight yards out.

Howard ensured that the Blues didn't fall behind almost immediately with a brilliant one-handed stop at the other end after Berbatov had beat the offside trap and tried to smash the ball into the top corner, and Everton resumed their grip on the game.

Pienaar rippled the side-netting with an arrowed drive from the corner of the penalty box, Mirallas came within inches of teeing up Pienaar but his low cross was too close to the 'keeper, and Riether possibly prevented Everton from going ahead in the 65th minute when he forced Jelavic into sliding the ball wide after nice hold-up play by Fellaini.

Two more threatening balls across then face of goal from Mirallas went begging before his compatriot, Fellaini, put the visitors in front with 18 minutes left on the clock. The Belgian chested down a long ball forward by Jagielka in typical fashion, bamboozled his way past Baird and despatched a low shot inside Schwarzer's post to send the visiting fans into delirium.

Though Mirallas had been tearing the Londoners to shreds, Moyes elected to substitute him in the 80th minute, perhaps as a precaution following his ankle injury, but his withdrawal didn't seem to blunt Everton's attacking machine. Some of the post-match dissection of the game surrounded that decision to remove the chief attacking threat; the rest revolved around the addition of Sylvain Distin to the defence with a minute to go. Fulham scored the killer equaliser just 30 seconds later but while the bulk of the blame probably falls on Coleman anyway, the game should have been put to bed in the preceding 10 minutes.

Indeed, Fulham three times escaped falling further behind in the closing stages. First, Fellaini's attempted cross bounced off a defender and onto the post; then Schwarzer was forced into an excellent save from Fellaini's equally impressive volley from Steven Naismith's cross; and Naismith himself should have put the game beyond doubt with two minutes left with the whole goal to aim at, the Scot shot too close to the 'keeper and his effort was saved.

There had been little over 89 minutes to suggest that the home side would get anything from this game but when Coleman was caught dribbling forward in his own half when a ball forward might have been more advisable, Fulham worked the ball out to their right side. Riether drove the ball hard and low across the face of Howard's goal, Berbatov missed it but substitute Steve Sidwell stole in at the back post where Coleman was caught unawares and converted from close range.

A sickener for Everton who had dominated this game in startling fashion. Fulham began the day in seventh and could have leapfrogged the Blues in the table with a victory but Moyes's men completely played them off their own park. This should have been three very valuable points in the quest to finish in the top four but a silly free kick early on, erratic finishing, and poor defending at te death cost them another two points.

Certainly, central midfield remains a concern, where Neville continues to be mostly adequate but costly with clumsy challenges in key areas in front of the back foor. Without a clean sheet since the win at Swansea, the defence has shipped seven goals in the last four games. And though refereeing incompetence has robbed the Blues of victory on more than one occasion this season, missed chances up front have been just as important as factors in this annoying run of four consecutive draws.

On the positive side, home games against bottom-half Sunderland and Norwich and an away date at struggling Reading offer the ideal opportunity to start getting victories on the board again. Jelavic's iffy patch won't last forever, particularly if Mirallas is going to be such a dangerous weapon from the flanks, and while Fellaini is fit and in the kind of mood he was today, particularly in the second half, the team will continue to score goals.

Moyes still has work to do to solve these problems and tighten up his first-choice line-up and as annoying as the recent dropped points have been, there is no question that fourth place is a better platform to be working from than the 16th-place berth that Everton occupied at this time last year.

Reader Comments

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Matt Traynor
073 Posted 04/11/2012 at 06:40:04
Good article, Lyndon, but I struggle to agree with the sentiment that Neville is "mostly adequate" in midfield. The guy was average at best at the peak of his powers, and that was over 10 years ago. He is the Alan Harper of 2012 – total team player, consummate professional.

I just think we lose something when he's in midfield. I think Osman is important as a squad player, he's quick of thought and busy with it – when our painfully thin squad yields to injury or suspension, I can get behind him, especially if he's playing central and not out wide. But Neville seems to me to be a liability, and a solid tackle here and there doesn't paper over those cracks for me, even though it palpably does for others.

Derek Thomas
075 Posted 04/11/2012 at 07:37:48
Neville and Osman, Not National Treasures but Evertonia Treasures, not as bad as they are painted by some. Very talented in their own way. But the two of them are not the complete CM pairing, by a long chalk. If you put the two of them together you might get a real one

They maybe Stradivarius and Picasso, but in footballing terms, one, Stradivarius, can't paint and the other, Picasso, can't make violins.

The sooner Neville calls it quits and coaches, and Osman is lucky to get on the bench, the better off we will be.

This position(s) and only this position(s) should be our Jan and June priority.

Oh and keep Fellaini.

And someone somewhere said we are in a false 4th... true: we should be 3rd with 4 or 5 more points [puts tongue in cheek]...

Moyes out

Chris Leyland
076 Posted 04/11/2012 at 08:09:21
How people say Osman shouldn't be in the side but fail to talk about the walking defensive disaster that is Coleman is beyond me. Coleman is a liability at full back; constantly out of position, constantly giving the ball away and often at fault for goals. The sooner Hibbert comes back the better and, when he does, watch these draws turn into wins as we naturally become tighter at the back. This, along with Gibson replacing Neville in the holding role will see us push on.
Anto Byrne
081 Posted 04/11/2012 at 08:13:05
Everton are 4th on the ladder after 10 games... if we are honest, we all would be happy with a top 8 position just now. The football is exhilarating, played at pace and with creativity. Moyes is now adjusting to this new style of play and, as we saw at Fulham, has not quite got there yet.

Well we have another 10 games to improve and refine the way we play and continue the great football. Our goal over this next phase is to win more games and be more clinical in front of goal and cement a place in the top four.
Stephen Pitts
095 Posted 04/11/2012 at 10:21:44
Through all the frustration of having not won this game, few have mentioned the performance of Fellani.

Absolutely fantastic — and his second goal... remind you of anyone?
Rob Dolby
097 Posted 04/11/2012 at 10:17:48
I think that this is the most impressive run of form that I have seen Osman play for us. His control and passing have been something that other Prem clubs would pay £15M for. I think that Neville's place is most under threat but, at 34 years of age, it should be; Gibson will slot straight back in at CM.

The current attacking formation will always leak goals but I would rather see us in this mode than what we have been dished up with over the last few seasons. We would have walked away with the game yesterday if Moyes would have left Mirallas and Jelavic on the pitch: the best form of defence is attack in the Prem these days you only have to look at Man Utd for proof of that. COYB
Sam Hoare
098 Posted 04/11/2012 at 10:47:21
Osman was superb yesterday and we absolutely bossed the midfield. Such a shame to think we could so easily have 4 or 6 more points but what is being a football fan if not a life of ifs and buts. A win against Sunderland is a must.
Kiern Moran
099 Posted 04/11/2012 at 09:31:01
There must be some way of preventing the opposition from scoring in the first ten minutes. I know its polite to give them a goal, to make sides think we are going to make a game of it. but it does seem to make things harder. I do not think there is anything in the rules that means we have to compensate for being so good. Too many get out of jail cards, what is it, five in a row now? If we had won the past four games, that's eight more points we would be top of the league and clear by a point. With ten plus goal difference.

Teams now know that to get anything from Everton they have to attack from the start. Attack constantly. Close down. Do not give any of their players time on the ball. I think this is the best Everton side I have seen under Moyes. Side model three comes with added blitzkrieg features. Passengers should be aware of turbulence, football is a contact game. We seem particularly uncoordinated at the back defending set pieces. Yesterday the minute Berbatov went down in front of our box that we were going to concede. The second goal was another defensive mistake.

I am still to decide whether Naismith gets chances because he makes them and should be forgiven for the two misses today, ring rusty or shit. I think even Archible would have got at least one of the two chances that fell to Naismith today. Mirallas definitely.

Though Coleman made a serious mistake and cost us a goal today as did the confusion between Neville and Osman, I am not too unhappy with that triangle. And can not wait for Gibson to be fit again. Coleman I think we should persist with at right back, he is starting to look very dangerous when going forwards, he is not so confused defensively as we first feared. Eight past Sunderland should settle the nerves

Brent Stephens
100 Posted 04/11/2012 at 10:46:52
Sorry, Derek, that's not the Osman I've been watching (attending at GP, at away games). He's playing really well. Only a week since we played RS and already you've forgotten his MotM (as agreed by pretty much all Blues and media) performance against them?!
Derek Thomas
107 Posted 04/11/2012 at 11:13:53
Brent (#100) — A little bit of poetic license re Osman; I know he has a lot of skill and has been quietly effective in many games this season, but him and Neville as a PAIR as I stated previously, if you put the two of them together you might get a real one... and we need two.

I don't want to have a downer on Pip but the sooner he goes the better.

Dean Adams
110 Posted 04/11/2012 at 11:50:00
When Gibbo is back we should stop conceding silly free kicks just outside our box, which will in turn help us in our attempt to keep it tight at the back.

I like Pip, but he is a liability. He does lots of things well, but always has that silly foul in him and at the moment it is costing us dear.

Jelly needs to rediscover his touch and form and when these two elements improve I believe every side in the league will struggle to play against us.

Peter Warren
123 Posted 04/11/2012 at 13:42:32
Nobody seems to have mentions that Heitinga allowed the ball to go between his legs at both ends of the pitch. Blame Coleman if you like (and his defending leaves a lot to be desired) but he's learning the game; blame lay with wastefulness in front of goal.
Mike Gaynes
133 Posted 04/11/2012 at 14:38:34
Nobody else seems to have mentioned it, but in my view Pienaar had his worst game ever as a Blue. His passing was disastrous – even simple passes went five yards behind the intended target. And it was his turnover that eventually resulted in Neville’s foul and the free kick that produced their first goal.

Keirn (#099), I disagree strongly on Coleman. As Lyndon points out, he made not just one mistake on the last goal but two, first losing the ball and then ball-watching like a Sunday leaguer and being totally surprised by Sidwell on his shoulder. I’ll say it again – Coleman is not a Premier League defender. He doesn't have the instincts.

Jelavic’s loss of confidence mystifies me... his touch has really gone heavy. But as for Naismith, I blame rust... and definitely don't think Anichebe would have done better with either chance.

I agree with Rob (#097) on Ossie's brilliance, but blaming Moyes for the substitutions is just plain silly. Mirallas was coming off an injury, and please don't tell me Jeli was missed in the three minutes he was off before the goal.

One more point... Jags has been slagged here repeatedly for his passing, but I think he has dramatically improved this season, and he distributed really well yesterday. Plus his shot was a screamer.

Lyndon Lloyd
134 Posted 04/11/2012 at 15:02:56
Mike, I did neglect to mention Pienaar, who gave the ball away a lot in advanced positions. But he also had a few brilliant moments, particularly in combination with Baines down the left. He's played worse but yesterday was not his best performance.

He's not been at his best for a few games now, though. There doesn't seem to be an explanation for it – and it predates his haircut, for those who want to blame the Samson factor! – but hopefully he'll snap out of it. Maybe his dip has coincided with Mirallas coming to the fore and that will eventually balance out as he's no longer the focal point of the midfield going forward.

Nick Armitage
138 Posted 04/11/2012 at 15:21:51
Matt Traynor - correct. Neville is a liability, and that is on a good day.

I can't help but like the fella, but he is hopeless at his chosen profession.

Nick Entwistle
139 Posted 04/11/2012 at 15:28:03
Jelavic isn't without his confidence. All I see are players deployed as man markers due to his one-touch goal record. He's still pulling players and defences all over the place and is doing very well. 19 goals in ten games, he's been a massive part of that.
Chris Leyland
148 Posted 04/11/2012 at 16:18:26
Peter – I don't agree that Coleman is 'learning the game' he is a 24-year-old professional, international footballer. He is paid probably £25 to £30 grand a week. Surely, he should have learnt by now to do basic things like getting goal-side, not diving in, and when in doubt kick it out?
Ian Bennett
150 Posted 04/11/2012 at 16:57:35
Chris - his salary has chuff all to do with it and I don't know why fans trot it out. What you can screw out of a chairman has sweet fuck all to do with defensive lapses.

He is of course still learning given he's played what less than 20 games in that position at the top level for us. Make your decision at the end of the season, if he is still making those gaffs cash in.

Paul David
152 Posted 04/11/2012 at 17:25:11
I think how much a player is paid has everything to do with what level of performance you expect from a him.

Players don't have any say in how much their transfer fee is but they decide how much wages they think their worth. If a player demands £75 grand a week then I expect a high level of performance on a consisent basis.

Wages should reflect how a player performs week in, week out.

Sam Hoare
154 Posted 04/11/2012 at 17:20:52
Did no-one else think Coleman was brilliant yesterday up until their goal? Surely his ability to beat a man and come either inside or out and put a cross in gives the team a balance and an attacking capacity that everyone has been asking for? I also though that he was pretty solid defensively and I hardly remember a single cross coming in from the left, no mean feat given that Kacanicklic is a tricky customer. His marking of Sidwell was weak for the second goal but I can remember the same thing happening to Hibbert and Neville enough times.

As Chris points out this guy has only started a handful of games at RB in the premier league but despite giving the ball away for the second goal I think he showed enough yesterday to suggest he could be a genuine long term option there, certainly in matches where we expect to attack more than defend. I would start him against Sunderland who I expect to come searching for a point.

Graham Hammond
157 Posted 04/11/2012 at 17:42:09
Seamus Coleman may well be on £20 to £30k a week but I think John Heitinga picks up an eye watering £57k a week so it is all relative. Can we really afford to pay £57k a week to a player of his ability?

Sadly, neither player marks opponents particularly well, the positional sense of both is generally poor and both are ball-watchers!

In fairness to Coleman, he is a genuine threat going forward and taken as a whole, I have been happy with his contribution so far this season. I wish I could say the same for John Heitinga!
Ian Bennett
162 Posted 04/11/2012 at 18:37:04
Paul - it doesn't quite work like that does it? It is only comparatively recently that match winners are getting their true worth, and some could argue not even that. Heitinga £57k a week - Jelavic? Coleman earns the rate for his category of player in our squad - the facts that it's £25-30K is only relevant to the squad band he is put in rather than what Joe public earns.
Paul David
164 Posted 04/11/2012 at 19:00:42
I don't mean what they earn in relation to us. I mean compared to other players but I agree it still doesn't work out that way or Neville would be on minimum wages instead of being one of biggest earners since day one.
Chris Leyland
172 Posted 04/11/2012 at 19:16:14
I accept that earnings are relative but this 'learning his trade' stuff is bollocks to me. Yes, he has only played 80 odd top flight games and only about a 1/4 of these at most are at right back but, let's not forget, he is now playing as a defender. So, whilst his forward play is quite good, he should be focusing on defending and he should be able to do it better. He not only gave the ball away for the last goal in the middle of the park but, having then got back to defend the far post, he allowed Sidwell to get goal side of him for their equalizer. If we are going to play a more attacking style of play then it may well mean that we end up conceding more goals as a result, the question is, would a fit again Hibbert unbalance the side or make us more solid at the back, a bit of both or neither?
Graham Hammond
189 Posted 04/11/2012 at 20:28:43
Seamus was clearly at fault for the second Fulham goal but I thought he had done well up until that point. A little harsh to say he lost us 2 points. If we are pointing the finger of blame, it could also be argued Neville lost us 2 points as in my opinion he was at fault for the first Fulham goal. Clogging Berbatov (think it was him) on the edge of the box wasn't the brightest thing to do, everyone knows Neville has no pace but his experience at least should have prevented him giving away a free kick in such dangerous place. Predictably, Moyes has had a pop a Coleman and Neville escapes the wrath!
Ian Bennett
193 Posted 04/11/2012 at 21:05:51
My head saids hibbert will give us better balance particularly away from home. My heart says I love the attacking brand that we have now, and hope Gibson gives us the glue and our centre halves/keeper up their game keeping AH on the bench. John bailey vs PatVDH?

For a team that cost about £3.80 we fancy our chances against anyone with our first choice 11 and long may it last. The league is pretty weak with all competitors not really at it. Draws are rife.

It's no coincidence that we are conceding goals early after bright starts, whilst averaging 2 a game does say our team is incorrectly set up. Roll on Sunderland, let's make a decision after that.

Brian Harrison
265 Posted 05/11/2012 at 15:35:46
Well seeing most posters on here are saying that at least 4 or 5 players are not performing then David Moyes is really performing miracles. They are playing some of the best football in the Prem this season and that includes Chelsea and Man Utd, and have spent a fraction of these 2 clubs in assembling this squad.

I don't fear anyone home or away, yes slipping up late as we did on Saturday will make the task of trying to finish 4th a bit harder. But when you look at the possible sides who will challenge us for 4th place I believe we have 3 challengers Arsenal, Spurs and Newcastle. To be honest,I think only a really bad run of injuries will stop us getting 4th spot, Arsenal and Spurs are lacking consistency and both don't carry the same goal threat as Everton.

Let's also not forget we have been playing well not only this season but the last 5 months of last season, so I don't see us not keeping that level of consistency injuries permitting. Having said that Fellaini, Jelavic and Gibson have already missed games this season already, so it's not that we have got to 4th injury free.

Jimmy Kelly
285 Posted 05/11/2012 at 16:16:25
I really don't understand why some people are so quick to criticise the players.

Coleman had a good game and then made a mistake - it happens. Howard wins us points some weeks and loses points others, just like any other goalkeeper. Osman and Neville are a long way from perfect but they're doing ok and played a very full part in our domination of the match. Those criticising Neville for passing sideways may want to watch the likes of Joe Allen, Michael Carrick, Scott Parker, Gareth Barry etc who do exactly the same but cost a hell of a lot more.

As for Jelavic, anyone who thought that he was going to continue with his ridiculous scoring run indefinitely is naive in the extreme. The lad's a cracking finisher and he works hard for the team but he's not Messi and shouldn't be expected to score 30 goals a season. I said before the season started not to expect too much from him and that 15 goals would be a good return and I stand by that. Hopefully with goals from elsewhere that will be enough to see us in the top 4.

Henrik Lyngsie
297 Posted 05/11/2012 at 17:20:16
Chris Leyland, I am with you regarding Coleman. There seems to be a consensus that he is not too strong defensively. But in fact I don't think he is very good going forward either. In fact, I always thought he was a disaster at right midfield. And, even as a right back, his offensive skills are not up to the standard of a top team in the PL.

I actually think Hibbert is just as good going forward as Coleman, and zillion times better defensively. People tend to talk about him like he is an up-and-coming teenager, but he is 24! I do like the guy's passion and commitment, but I don't think he has got the skills to ever be good enough for Everton. If Moyes continues to play him, I really hope he proves me wrong!!
Peter Jones
453 Posted 06/11/2012 at 22:14:36
Everyone shits on Coleman for the second goal yet, the only reason it even got to Sidwell was because Berbatov had one of the worst misses in his career directly in front of goal. If you pay attention, he nearly whiffs and the ball pops up luckily past Coleman and Sidwell was alert. That's it.

Has the kid made defensive lapses? Yes. But he's gotten stronger in defense each game from what I've watched. Not to mention that he is the reason our attack is so balanced with his play with Mirallas up the right side. I don't blame anyone really for our string of draws. It has been a combination of poor finishing, refereeing and plain old bad luck.

The Osman stuff is ridiculous. He's a good player and always has been. I've whined about Neville as well but everyone goes on and on as if Gibson isn't coming in for him shortly. Relax people. Wait until January. We'll sign Vadis Ofoe and bring back Barkley for some cover. Problem solved.

In the meantime, our team is dominating very good sides at home. We crushed Swansea w/o Jelavic at Liberty Stadium. Chelsea got a draw there. We annihilated Villa at Villa Park in their first home game with a new manager. Haven't seen anyone dominate there as much as we did since. Now 27 shots at Fulham? Doubt that happens again this season.

The draws have been frustrating I know, but this team will learn how to finish people. It takes time. We haven't ever been this good in my brief time as an Evertonian. The next 3 games are Sunderland, Reading, and Norwich. We are simply much better than all of those teams and in better form. Good things.

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