Reading 2 - 1 Everton
The frustrations that have encapsulated much of the last 10 weeks for Everton came to the fore in a rude reality check at the Madjeski Stadium as Reading somehow collected their first win of the season at the Blues' expense.
Based on their efforts before the break, after dominating the first half almost impressively as they had against Fulham two weeks ago, a draw would have been a travesty for David Moyes's side; defeat unthinkable. And yet, when the full-time whistle blew, the Blues were forced to reflect on more missed chances, yet more infuriating refereeing injustice and another three points that went begging.
Two clear penalties were denied them by the officials in the first half — one for a clear foul on Steven Naismith by Kaspars Gorkss for which referee Martin Atkinson may have been unsighted but was committed in full view of his assistant; the other a handball by Sean Morrisson that stopped Nikica Jelavic's goalbound shot — but, as has been the case so often this season, Everton could have won comfortably had they just converted one or two more of their myriad chances in the first half or been able to maintain their momentum into the second.
Unfortunately, having failed to have put themselves out of sight by half time, they allowed Reading to come back into the game, gain confidence from another poorly-defended set-piece goal and then plunder the points when Adam Le Fondre slotted home a penalty following Seamus Coleman's clumsy challenge.
The "what ifs" for the Blues started as early as the second minute. Out of the traps strongly, they forced their first clear-cut opening from their first corner where Phil Jagielka's close-range prod was stopped by Adam Federici but the ball fell ivitingly for Jelavic by the near post. Sadly, the Croatian went for the more elaborate half-volley with the top of his boot over the more simple side-foot with the goal at his mercy and he bounced it over the crossbar.
Leon Osman, fresh off his England debut, executed a neat spin and shot that the goalkeeper gathered before shambolic Reading defending gifted the Blues the opening goal after just 10 minutes. Jelavic hooked the ball back towards the six-yard line from the byline, Marouane Fellaini caused panic in the defence as he tried to chest it down for a shot and Naismith nipped in through the confusion to tuck the ball home for his second goal of the season.
The home side had a chance to level immediately when Tim Howard suffered one of his moments of madness and got caught well outside of his area but Le Fondre couldn't hit the empty net and the Blues gratefully accepted the let-off, resuming their control of the match.
And the chances kept coming for Moyes's men. A neat interchange between Steven Pienaar and full debutant Thomas Hitzlsperger, in for the injured Phil Neville, almost ended with a goal for Jelavic but he couldn't divert the ball goalwards. Then Pienaar himself went on a tear through the center of Reading's midfield but lashed his right-foot shot wide. And Naismith spurned a good chance to set up the second goal when the South African put him in behind the defence but the Scot chose to shoot and fluffed his lines as he choked the ball into the turf in front of the 'keeper.
As the new man in the side, Hitzlsperger had a decent first half, doing the simple things well and pushing the ball on for Osman to be the more creative spark in the centre, but the German did get a decent sight of goal later in the first half when he unloaded from 25 yards but Federici parried his effort.
And his partner, Osman, had perhaps the best chance to get the crucial second before half time when Naismith played him in beaitifully for a one-on-one chance against the 'keeper but Federici managed to get a crucial touch on the England man's shot with his arm to divert it inches over the bar.
Jelavic's neat chest-down and volley that was stopped in its tracks by Morrison four minutes before the interval was the last chance of the first half but the Blues were in control and on course for three points.
Which made the second period all the more inexplicable. Reading began the more purposeful and Osman was forced into a block to stop Jay Tabb's goalbound shot within four minutes of the restart before Hitlsperger was adjudged to have fouled the same player in Everton's half. Coleman appeared to have been charged with picking up Le Fondre but lost him as the ball was flighted into the box and the striker headed home unchallenged to level the scores.
After Hitzlsperger wasted an excellent counter-attack with a poor finish back at one end, Le Fondre scuffed a gilt-edged effort at the other allowing Howard to save in an incident that should have served as ample warning for Moyes's side that they could get caught out at the back if they didn't remain vigilent. On the contrary; as the cohesion with which they'd dictated the first half fell away, big gaps started appearing in front of Everton's back four and Le Fondre curled one narrowly wide in the 64th minute.
And after Hitzlsperger had seen a terrific half-volley flash inches wide of Federici's left-hand post, Osman got done on the edge of the Reading box following a corner and Coleman had to use every ounce of pace to race back and execute a brilliant saving tackle on Le Fondre before the striker could get off his shot from 20 yards.
The Irishman was less impressive four minutes later, though, when, in challenging Le Fondre for an aerial ball in the Everton area, he jumped into and flattened the forward leaving referee Atkinson with the kind of decision not even he could screw up. A penalty was duly awarded and Le Fondre sent Howard the wrong way to score what would prove to be the winner.
Moyes withdrew Naismith and threw Bryan Oviedo on on the opposite flank and the lively Costa Rican won a corner immediately from which Fellaini came agonisingly close to rescuing a point. Frustratingly, his free header came back off the inside of the post and into the 'keeper's arms and the hosts survived.
Apostolos Vellios was also introduced and he had a late headed opportunity off a corner that he couldn't steer goalwards but Blues fans were left to look ruefully over at a bench that, at the moment, doesn't really have anyone capable of turning a game. It was up to the eleven that started to get the job done and, once again, they just weren't clinical enough in the first half and faded badly in the second.
If Everton's season isn't going to be looked back on as one enormous what-might-have-been, they have got to start putting these lesser sides to the sword. Moyes is clearly aware of the problem and is no doubt doing all he can to address the issue in training but his side are giving away crucial points with slack marking at set pieces and profligacy in front of the opposition goal.
With teams around us in the table regularly slipping up, you can't help but think where the Blues could be in the table if they had got all the points their attacking performances have deserved this season. As it is, they have now won just once in five games and have slipped into fifth place while West Bromwich Albion put into some measure of perspective the new-found media fascination with Everton as dark horses for the Champions League.
Back-to-back home games against Norwich and Arsenal sides who will both have been buouyed by their own recent wins will offer stern tests but they will at least be at Goodison Park where so far Moyes's side have shown resilience and the ability to score goals. Two wins from those two and this significant set-back in Berkshire will seem a lot less important, particularly as, in the context of their slow starts to previous campaigns, fifth place remains an excellent platform from which to build in the second half of the season.
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767 Posted 23/11/2012 at 08:00:53
However if this us our "blip" for this season I'll take it and hopefully push on soon. Norwich will be no pushovers for a start.
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