Everton 2 - 1 Sunderland
They say that being able to grind out a win despite playing badly is the sign of a good team. If they haven't managed to secure the points their performances so far this season have deserved, Everton have at least shown themselves to be a good attacking side and if there is anything to the aforementioned adage, then they proved that too today against Sunderland.
With the Blues on a run of just one defeat in 19 and the Black Cats having won only one of their last 18, their was a uncomfortably complacent air among some Evertonians in the run-up to this one, with many expecting David Moyes's dynamic outfit to mete out the mauling they have on occasion threatened this season.
What unfolded was largely along lines of the "Goodison Park twist on Murphy's Law" referred to in our match preview on Friday: Sunderland scored first through someone other than Steven Fletcher and it was Adam Johnson's first goal for the Wearsiders since his big-money summer move from Manchester City. That kind of thing tends to happen with Everton... but at least Louis Saha didn't score a last-gasp equaliser!
Moyes's men are nothing if not indefatigable this season and they not only recovered from conceding the first goal for the sixth successive game — setting another Premier League record in the process — but they turned the match on its head and broke Sunderland hearts by winning their first game in five to keep hold of fourth place.
As expected, Moyes named an unchanged line-up from that which started at Fulham last weekend but he was forced into an unwanted switch with less than half an hour on the clock when Kevin Mirallas, again the best player in Blue up to that point, pulled up with a tweaked hamstring. The Belgian had been at the heart of almost all of Everton's best moments in the early going and it's fair to say that the home side took a long time to recover from his sudden absence.
Instead it was the visitors who drew first blood, having missed two gilt-edged chances in the first eight minutes to break their scoring drought. Stephane Sessegnon had out-muscled Seamus Coleman to set up a one-on-one situation with Tim Howard but the American saved well to divert the ball over with his legs. Fletcher then flashed a shot inches past the far post after Sessegnon had put him into the clear behind the Everton defence.
Martin O'Neill's struggling side did pick the lock of that home defence in first-half injury time, though, annoyingly assisted by the otherwise excellent Leon Osman. A corner from the Sunderland left was initially cleared but Osman went to sleep completely when the ball was swung back in to the back post and Johnson profited from acres of space to bury it past Howard to make it 1-0.
All-too familiar territory for Everton who had dropped eight points from their last four games thanks to the fact that they had left themselves chasing the game in each having ceded the first goal to the opposition. As usual, they had dominated possession but, unlike at Craven Cottage, they hadn't had much to show for it by the time Sunderland struck.
Indeed, the Blues had looked sloppy and incoherent in the early stages and though they did find their feet as the first 45 minutes progressed, they often lacked penetration, partly due to a below-par display by an out-of-sorts Steven Pienaar and Mirallas' early departure from the fray for the second home game in succession and partly due to the fact that the Black Cats had put up a determined wall on the edge of their box that Everton battled to break through.
While the South African struggled to find the killer pass and fluffed the first chance of the game in the third minute with an awful miskick following a poor defensive header, Mirallas had been lively. He went closest to creating the opening goal with a familiar burst into the box and skip to the byline in the 12th minute but his cut-back couldn't find a Blue shirt. Leighton Baines almost replicated the same move a minute later but he was perhaps guilty of trying to walk the ball through three defenders and the chance evaporated.
Despite not being at their best, the Blues did have other moments in the first half that might have yielded a goal. Carlos Cuellar deflected Nikica Jelavic's shot over the crossbar in the 20th minute before the Croatian guided a Baines free kick narrowly over, Pienaar forced Simon Mignolet into a parrying save with a drilled effort from the angle, and Phil Neville tested the 'keeper from 25 yards with a well-struck shot of his own but the Belgian fisted it to safety as well.
No doubt stung into action by Moyes's half-time team talk, Everton came out from the break with a good deal more purpose, epitomised by Fellaini who seemed to be on a personal mission to rescue the game. But the Blues' early fire faded a little as the half dragged on and after John Heitinga had seen one header cleared off the line by Johnson at the back post and then failed to make proper contact on a similar ball from the left five minutes later, chances became fewer and farther between.
The loss of Mirallas was painfully evident, particularly because his replacement, Steven Naismith, was struggling through another poor personal performance, regularly giving the ball away in the final third. For long periods, it just didn't look like it was going to happen for Everton and the nagging sense of a big opportunity missed began to set in.
It wasn't until the shape of the team changed in the final 20 minutes following Moyes's first substitution that the breakthrough finally came, although it was probably coincidental. The manager withdrew Neville in favour of Apostolos Vellios with 17 minutes to go, pulling Fellaini back into central midfield in the process, but it was the big Belgian who popped up on the 18 yard line to collect Osman's lovely pass and score the equaliser that began the match-winning turnaround. Fellaini collected the ball, took time to pick his spot and rapped a crisp low shot into the corner of Mignolet's net, far enough from this international team mate that he barely attempted a dive to stop it.
Less than three minutes later, Goodison was rocking to a 2-1 scoreline. Osman it was again with a beautifully weighted pass to the edge of the box, one which Fellaini flicked on through John O'Shea's legs with the outside of his boot and Jelavic, who had anticipated the path of the ball as if he has a sixth sense, pounced to side-foot home — one touch, of course — with aplomb.
The sense of relief was palpable but, with last weekend's late lapse fresh in the memory, it was accompanied by a healthy dose of nerves now that the Blues had three points to protect. Indeed, with better luck Sunderland might have leveled matters again almost immediately but when Cuellar found himself eight yards out and the goal yawning, he fired into team mate Craig Gardner and the ball cannoned away to safety from Everton's point of view.
Moyes then threw on Thomas Hitzlsperger for his debut to try and shore up the midfield and the Blues duly did see out the remainder of normal time and five minutes of stoppage time to register what was an important victory. Had that frustrating run of four score draws stretched to five, there would always have been the danger of self-doubt creeping into a side that could easily, under very slightly different circumstances, be right up there with the leaders.
As it is, they've stretched their impressive run of results against Sunderland at Goodison and kept hold of fourth place, albeit on goal difference from a stubborn West Bromwich Albion side that has been grinding out good results while the Blues have been nobbling themselves with annoying draws.
Obviously, any extended injury lay-off for Mirallas would cause a serious headache for Moyes's attacking machine but it's a gap that could be mostly plugged should Pienaar quickly re-find his best form. And while Fellaini remains as potent as he has been this season — today marked his sixth goal of the campaign — and Jelavic as deadly when chances fall his way in front of goal, Everton will always be a threat to win games thanks to their impressive strike rate of almost two goals a game this season.
Hopefully today's triumph will give all the impetus the team needs to take down to Reading next week and earn the kind of win they deserved at Fulham. Remaining tight at the back — still not a given, unfortunately— and lethal up front will give the Blues every chance of another win before back-to-back home games against Norwich and Arsenal at the end of the month.
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084 Posted 11/11/2012 at 07:54:25
It's never going to happen, but I would love to see 3 at the back for a game or two, to see if it would solve the apparent looseness, whilst keeping the attacking threat that we currently have. League cup would have been ideal to try this, but that's another story.
088 Posted 11/11/2012 at 08:36:24
097 Posted 11/11/2012 at 09:24:26
108 Posted 11/11/2012 at 10:18:46
One of those chances that you mention Ian was due to the midfield losing the ball in our own half and Coleman being caught out of position because he was waiting for a pass. His pace got him back to put enough pressure on Fletcher so he missed the target. The other chance he was brushed off too easily when he was actually favourite for the ball.
Like I say, he has weaknesses... but to me he's starting to look better in that position. While other people are out injured, we have to play him and let him learn – it will benefit us in the long run.
With regard to central defense I would like to see Duffy given a few games; to me, Heitinga & Distan have been poor this season. I think he deserves a chance to see if he can do better.
111 Posted 11/11/2012 at 10:30:42
I thought Coleman was a bit harshly treated last week. Giving the ball away on the half way line happens most weeks by loads of players. Coleman was weak on the back post, but Baines, Pienaar and the 3 centre halves hardly covered themselves in glory in injury time, whilst a stack of players were running towards the back stick.
We got lucky yesterday with the Gardner deflecting the shot near the end to avoid another 2-2. I thought Coleman should have been in that area. The gap was huge in that area, with I think Jelavic and someone else picking up no one. It reminded me of last week with the gap between Jags and Coleman. Communication and positional awareness needs sorting.
126 Posted 11/11/2012 at 12:36:01
128 Posted 11/11/2012 at 13:12:40
I don't see any problem with sticking Hibbert in there for the Arsenal and City games. The offensive side of Hibbert's game appeared to have improved before his injury which means that he can link up with Mirallas to give the side balance. Considering how poor the defence has been Hibbert will bring a bit more experience at the right time.
204 Posted 11/11/2012 at 21:13:39
I know many pundits claim that Everton may struggle when they get injuries and suspensions, well we have had Jelavic, Pienaar, Fellaini and Gibson missing already and we are still in the top four and we have also played more away games than home games.
214 Posted 11/11/2012 at 21:25:49
Hibbert is an automatic starter for me. Has been for years. Followed by the return of Gibson; give Nev a "rest", we will be attaining a more solid base whist retaining quality attacking options.
227 Posted 11/11/2012 at 23:13:36
Only one of the chances attributed to a mistake by Coleman on this thread actually was, IMO, and that is the Sessegnon chance. Even that is a little harsh because the run and the ball played were excellent, giving Coleman only a split second to make the 'right' call which was probably just to toe the ball behind. Sessegnon would have been a handful for anyone on yesterday's form
For Fletcher's chance he was doing the other part of the job he is asked to do by the manager, which is help to provide an attacking threat on the right hand side. As has been stated, he actually showed great pace to get back and pressure Fletcher so that it never amounted to much in any case.
The Cuellar shot that hit Gardner was not from open play as far as I remember, so to say it was his area of responsibility shows a lack of understanding of how defenders are organised in those situations. Something went wrong in the marking but the main fault lies with whoever was detailed to pick up Cuellar.
Contrast his supposed poor defensive performance with his contribution going forward, which was very good. Look at Fellaini's goal for instance, where he plays the ball in to Osman and then continues his run into the danger area so that, when Osman then plays the ball to Felli, a couple of defenders are so concerned by his presence and possible run in behind that they are too slow to close the big Belgian down.
Then again the number of people who cannot apparently appreciate what a player brings to a team unless it can be neatly listed as a pass, tackle, block, save, assist, header, shot or goal is probably as great as those who were nodding their heads at Martin O'Neills comments after the match, or those who claim we were ultimately 'lucky' to get the win yesterday. So they had a few good chances before they scored (only one of which really troubled the keeper). Not only were we creating chances ourselves in the first half, we controlled the game for the majority of the time. Far from being lucky, yesterday was a day when our general play got the reward it deserved, even though it wasn't the most efficient display.
292 Posted 12/11/2012 at 13:59:33
Once again all the stats suggested a dominant display by us so O’Neill can talk all the tripe he wants about being 3 up at half-time it just simply isn’t true. Had Sunderland’s first chance have gone in they would have shut-up shop but they wouldn’t have scored another.
O’Neill also bullshitted about having good counter attacks in the second half – really, because I didn’t see any. Yes we were lucky with the shot that Gardner blocked but who cares, we won and deservedly so.
Just because we needed two late quickfire goals shouldn’t sway people’s minds that this was a lucky win because it wasn’t, much like Man Utd were not lucky against Villa, instead they are hailed as the team who never gives up – well neither did we on Saturday.
334 Posted 12/11/2012 at 18:45:01
Hopefully we will reinstate Pienaar on the left and give Naismith a run. I understand some of the misgivings about him, but he makes good runs and wants to play football properly. He needs game time and a bit more strength I think, but he could become an important player for us given a bit more experience in this league.
357 Posted 12/11/2012 at 23:24:47
On Coleman. This run of games, to me, sees him improving. Thought he did well in one-on-ones and he's cutting down the ball at his feet, then right to an opponent habit.
446 Posted 13/11/2012 at 19:25:25
596 Posted 14/11/2012 at 18:04:48
Naismith must get a run on the right for his confidence and I think some of his criticism has been a little harsh. He strikes me as having very good vision, probably why he contributed towards so many Jelavic goals in Scotland. Like Leon Osman, it's hard to describe to others what his standout qualities are because he's un-flashy but I think he could become similarly important as Osman or Pienaar as the season goes on and he adapts to the pace.
If Naismith isn't getting the rub of the green we can always bring in Hibbert and push Coleman on.. So great to have options.
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