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The Same Old Story

By Lyndon Lloyd   ::  25/11/2012

Everton 1 - 1 Norwich City

When you have to score an extra goal each week just to overcome horrendous officiating and get the result you deserve, something is wrong with the game. Yet, that is where Everton find themselves this season, with the number of crucial decisions that have gone against them stacking up with every game they play.

Blatant penalties not given, legitimate goals ruled out and, as was the case today, phantom free kicks awarded to the opposition at important junctures in the proceedings... the refereeing injustice that David Moyes has had to swallow has run the gamut in the first 13 games of the campaign. And for the second time this season, Mike Jones was the incompetent in the middle to whom the manager's fury was directed, for all that ire will do him — by that point, the slender victory that his side had almost eked out was gone with no recourse available.

Granted, the usual caveats for this season apply: Everton probably should have been a couple of goals to the good by that stage, particularly if they had carried their first-half momentum into the second. Unfortunately, as the conditions worsened, so did the performance of Moyes's patched-up outfit and while it looked as though they would grind out the kind of 1-0 victory that was the hallmark of the last time they finished fourth, they were punished for not killing the game off earlier.

Yet again the Blues trudged off the Goodison Park pitch with a familiar feeling of a draw feeling like a defeat. And the fact they hadn't scored the decisive second — thanks in no small part to John Ruddy who made a couple of excellent saves — should not take any of the harsh light of scrutiny off Mr Jones who was awful or the fact that the gameplan that had succeeded so well in the first half appeared to be abandoned in the second.

With Marouane Fellaini suspended, Tony Hibbert not deemed fit enough to start and all three of Phil Neville, Darron Gibson and Kevin Mirallas out injured, Moyes was forced to field a changed line-up featuring Phil Jagielka at right back and Bryan Oviedo on the left flank. Thomas Hitzlsperger made his full home debut in the centre alongside Leon Osman and Steven Naismith interchanged with Steven Pienaar in role behind Nikica Jelavic.

The changes didn't seem to visibly disrupt the Blues' flow in the early stages, though, and Everton looked tidy and enterprising going forward, with Oviedo in particular working nicely with Leighton Baines down the left flank. And it was the Costa Rican who created the goal for Naismith when he collected a sumptuous lofted pass from Hitzlsperger, chested it forward to evade his marker and then cut it back neatly to the Scot who side-footed into the roof of the net to make it 1-0 after 11 minutes.

In truth, the home side were less guilty of profligacy in front of goal and more for not creating enough clear-cut chances but Osman spurned the Blues' best chance to double their advantage just four minutes later. Superb work by Baines, where he collected a return pass via Pienaar and burst into the box ended with him shooting low across the goalkeeper but Ruddy saved smartly one-handed. The rebound fell invitingly to Osman but he snatched at the chance with goal gaping and he bounced a half-volley disappointingly into the ground and over the bar.

Norwich had been virtually insignificant as an attacking force for 25 minutes before Grant Holt barged his way through three defenders and sliced their first chance wide. And Sebastian Bassong missed badly with a free header off a corner in the closing stages of the half as the Canaries struggled to trouble the Everton goal.

In between, Jelavic and Naismith came within an inch of combining perfectly to finish a lovely move for the latter to double his tally but Ruddy pounced on the ball at the Scot's feet and gathered it at the second attempt, and Osman's impressive one-two exchange with Pienaar provided another good opportunity but the former's powder-puff shot was easily smothered by the 'keeper.

1-0 at half-time and everything was more or less going to plan. Pienaar had shrugged off an early knock to the knee sustained in a red-blooded challenge with Bassong but he continues to struggle to find his form. At the back, though, Jagielka was acquitting himself well as an emergency full back and the pairing of John Heitinga and Sylvain Distin looked solid.

The second half brought more frustration for the home faithful, though, as Everton's composure and cohesion fell away in the face of a noticeably more tenacious and physical approach from the visitors. Whereas it was Everton contesting every ball, harrying and closing down in the first period, Norwich started to compress the space and harass the man with the ball leading to a slew of missed passes in the Blues' midfield after half time.

Holt, in particular, started putting himself about, toeing the line between legal and otherwise in the process, and he began to cause the hosts' central defensive pairing more and more problems. As he did so, the referee became more and more inconsistent and baffling in his decision-making, leading to a soft 56th-minute free kick award to Wes Hoolahan and a direct free kick attempt from Pilkington in a dangerous area. Thankfully, Howard scrambled across his line and batted his effort away to safety.

The American was a good deal more fortunate three minutes later, though, when Holt finally sprung the offside trap and found himself in acres of space behind the Everton defence but Howard got just enough on the ball as he charged towards the Norwich striker and the danger was cleared.

By the mid-way stage of the second half, Everton's passing game had more or less been harried out of them and there was more and more reliance on ineffective long balls from the back that the visitors' big defence regularly cleaned up. Meanwhile, Oviedo had inexplicably been switched to the right flank and was disappearing from the game for long periods. The decision was presumably an effort to get Pienaar more involved but with Baines making fewer and fewer forays forward, the strategy just robbed the Blues of one of their most inventive outlets.

The slender 1-0 advantage was looking less and less secure, too, not least when Norwich threatened to open up the Blues' defence twice in the space of a few minutes. On the second occasion, Holt pushed Hoolahan's square pass on to Snodgrass on the right side of the box but while he beat Howard from the angle with his shot, Heitinga was on hand to block his effort almost on the line.

At the other end, Everton remained a threat, albeit sporadically, and Baines deserved to extend the lead with a phenomenal run through the heart of the Canaries' defence in the 74th minute but, having skipped past three yellow shirts and unloaded, he saw Ruddy parry his shot away. Osman then sent a cross-cum-shot dribbling across the face of Norwich's goal with Jelavic expecting a cut-back and Naismith wasted an excellent breakaway with six minutes left where, had he found Jelavic with a centre behind the stranded defence he might have served up the second goal. Instead, he smashed it too long to a chorus of groans from the home faithful.

With Pilkington having despatched a towering header off Whitaker's 85th-minute cross straight at Howard, the game appeared won as the clock ticked into the last minute. Referee Jones had one more crucial intervention to make, though, blowing for a foul by Baines when Pilkington completely mis-kicked the ball barely 10 yards in front of him with no contact from the Everton man.

When the resulting free kick was swung in to the back post, Bassong popped up unmarked to head it low and goalwards, Howard, falling backwards, got an arm to it but could only divert it onto the underside of the bar and over the line. Goodison's collective shoulders slumped and another two points evaporated into the soggy Merseyside air.

A case could be made for the effect on the side from the absences of key players like Fellaini, MIrallas and Gibson and the reshuffled back four but Everton demonstrated by their first-half display that they had the measure of Norwich and the ability to create the chances required to put the game to bed. That they didn't, that they allowed another late goal to another set-piece — however erroneously awarded — rob them of another victory just adds to the frustration that is building over a season that promised so much just a few weeks ago.

That promise still exists, of course. West Bromwich Albion may continue to put the early media trumpeting of the Blues's Champions League chances in perspective by rolling on with another victory while Moyes's men stumble from one missed opprtunity to the next but, while other challengers for fourth remain inconsistent and the possibility of an Everton run in the second half of the campaign exists, then optimism should remain high.

Victory today would have been important given the manner in which the fixture list is going to toughen up in the coming weeks but the players will know that a win against Arsenal on Wednesday night will get things back on track. Once again, though, it's going to take more ruthlessness in front of goal, more determination to press home superiority and better concentration at the back. The search for all three continues...

Reader Comments

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Tom Dodds
090 Posted 25/11/2012 at 08:49:49
Lest we forget Moyes's incredulous reading of the game with regards to substitutions, Lyndon...

Just re refereeing standards: I think it's time every club in the land gets serious now about the continual appalling haphazard standards of this present refereeing system we've got, which has now reached a level where it's not only a travesty of fair play, but actually in my opinion should be brought to the attention of the trading standards as an infringement of the paying public's consumer rights.

When you consider a parallel ball sport in the form of rugby that has an organised proper on-the-spot, replay-aided, electronic judicial system. Knowing the clubs though, fuck-all will be done as they wont go against the whims of their worshipful masters in the FA.

Which leaves us the fans to kick off... but, like the other unfair parallel of real life where we are being shafted by corrupt banking institutions and the puppets we call a 'government' that work for them, that won't happen in a hurry either...

I think rugby fans get the technology because there 'good (stand-up) plebs'. We don't in case we might stop our attention spans from screaming about the injustice of refereeing to the injustices of our 'life support' being switched off ('cuts') by the lackeys of American financial 'institutions'.
Ajay Gopal
140 Posted 25/11/2012 at 13:06:56
Thanks, Lyndon for the balanced report. I watched the 2 matches (Sunderland-West Brom & Everton-Norwich) back-to-back on TV, and I must say that the West Brom players looked supremely confident of their own ability and I could hardly see Steve Clarke shouting instructions at them from the sidelines. Even when Sunderland got a goal back at 2-3, West Brom never sat back.

I was just thinking what Moyes reaction would have been in a similar situation, and we all know the answer – sit back deep and invite pressure, make the players nervous by screaming at them, and basically give every fan a nail-biting few minutes. For all the fantastic things that Moyes has done for Everton, paradoxically, he seems to be the very person holding the club and players from achieving their full potential.
Matty Dawkins
150 Posted 25/11/2012 at 14:38:45
I don't know which was worse yesterday: Gary Birtles's commentary or the officiating. We are being well and truly botty-twanked this season by refs/linesmen.
Andy Meighan
151 Posted 25/11/2012 at 14:46:26
We can't blame referees for us not keeping clean sheets
Jay Harris
162 Posted 25/11/2012 at 16:06:29
A very poignant report Lyndon.

Although we are all very disappointed at recent results we have to remind ourselves that we are only 3 points behind Chelsea above Arsenal and Spurs and the RS despite being deprived of at least 8 points by bad officiating.

I would implore all supporters to get behind the team and stop bickering.

Michael Kenrick
182 Posted 25/11/2012 at 18:06:06
A pity that switch, Pienaar swapping with Oviedo, didn't work. In fact it was a decision by the manager that was a complete flop.

We haven't seen him very much but, from what we have seen, the Costa Rican is very comfortable on the left — a natural, surely? Yet Moyes perseveres with Pienaar, who is looking worse and worse by the game — he was just dreadful yesterday. Another case of playing his favourites?

People like to say Moyes sees them in training... surely he would know from training that Oviedo was poor on the right? I can't bring myself to watch the game again but I wonder how that decision played into us losing momentum. Or did Moyes actually instruct them, as someone suggested, to sit on the one-goal lead and defend it?

Wouldn't be the first time...

Barry Rathbone
185 Posted 25/11/2012 at 18:11:09
No Hibbert so let's blame refs ......REALLY!!
Jeff Beaumont
192 Posted 25/11/2012 at 18:48:48
Stop moaning about the free kick that led to the goal. Baines clearly pushed him in the back. Silly really as he was virtually on the half way line & facing his own goal.
Matt Traynor
207 Posted 25/11/2012 at 19:42:56
The refereeing controversies merely mask our own deficiencies for some people.
We've been dodgy defensively all season - 2 clean sheets (?) and a lot of soft goals against.

The league so far is inconsistent for all teams. We're still 5th, and I wouldn't bet against a team staying up with a points total in the low to mid 30s.

The somewhat scary thing is I suspect the next three games will leave us in a more realistic position, given how we've played for the last 2 months.

Ian Bennett
220 Posted 25/11/2012 at 20:00:26
Switching Oviedo was a dumb move, he is extremely left-sided so shunting him out right was not going to work. Pienaar can play wide right or in the number 10, so moving Oviedo when he was bright on the left — wtf?!?

For me, the second half went downhill with Naismith playing central. His passing is pretty poor and touch heavy. I haven't watched the game but we got overrun in the second half when they changed their players around, with us having a lack of focal point. I thought we needed another body to drop in central to gain possession when they pressed, and boy did they work for it — Norwich or not.

Howard is a worry. His clean sheet record has gone down I would guess, and he looks short of confidence. Changing the back four regularly isn't going to help, plus without Neville they seem pretty quiet. Who is the leader?

Michael Winstanley
226 Posted 25/11/2012 at 20:28:38
Howard cost us yesterday and not for the first time, we need a better keeper if we're going to maintain a challenge.

Second half we were clueless, that's where I want my manager to be proactive. To make the changes to bring us back into the game. Never happens does it.
Dick Fearon
245 Posted 25/11/2012 at 21:25:55
Jeff B @ 192, Am I the only one to agree with you that Baines used both hands to push Pilkington in the back when the Norwich man was facing away from goal and going nowhere. The push was not severe yet enough to cause Pilkington's mishit. Our wholesale defensive tactics at corners and freekicks is made worse by encouraging opponents to throw every available man forward.

Densely packed bodies surrounding Tim Howard make it enormously difficult for him to see the ball let alone move off the goal line. Whatever instructions were issued during the half time break it seems that Chris Hughton's were positive while Davy reverted to his 'what we have we hold'.

With every passing minute in the second half it was clearly obvious the tide was flowing against us. Like most Blues I was desperately hoping Moyes would do something, anything, to put us back on the front foot but he was like a rabbit caught in headlights.
Stephen Sullivan
261 Posted 26/11/2012 at 00:15:57
Tom Dodds (090)
So true, so true SO TRUE!!!
Patrick Murphy
264 Posted 26/11/2012 at 00:25:58
As Stephen says , absolutely true Tom , I must have missed this post yesterday when scanning through the various threads.

There were a couple of incidents over the weekend mainly regarding non-bookings. They involved the usual big-money teams, the ref in both cases thought long and hard and decided not to book them.

it's no wonder that our best players want to leave and play for teams who are given the benefit of the doubt on every occasion. If you play for a club like Everton , you can bet the officials can't wait to brandish a card or give a penalty.

As I think everything is political , I do agree that sport reflects the norms and standards of any given society in any particular era.

I get sick and tired of the Andy Townsend's of this world, praising certain players for 'taking one for the team' or for 'being clever' if they have fooled the refereee, it's is cheating plain and simple regardless of what team or which player.

I honestly believe that because Everton is more closely associated with the City of Liverpool, i.e. we are not in the main followed by hordes of fans from all over the globe. Some groups of people including the officials , think that it is fair game to use their pre-conceived and incorrect views , to ensure that we don't get above our station.

During the last few seasons the number of incorrect decisions especially at Goodison given against the Blues is far more than coincidence.


Kieran Fitzgerald
278 Posted 26/11/2012 at 08:29:37
The tackle from Baines was clumsy enough to be given as a free kick, I have seen free kicks given for less. A soft free kick yes, but a serious fuck up by the ref, I don't think so. If the free kick had sailed over the bar and we had won the game one-nil, there would have been nothing said. For the clear hand ball, there is nothing you can say but curse rather loudly.

There have been enough contentious decisions in recent seasons to have seen goal line technology discussed. Neither the FA or Fifa will do anything about it unless they have a major epiphany all of their own.

I would agree though that, while frustration is growing by the day amongst fans, there is enough reason to still be optimistic. Oviedo, given recent game time, has shown himself to be a decent player. So has Hitzlsperger. With other players due back from injury soon, I am starting to feel a lot more confident about the depth of the squad than I was even on Friday and Saturday. Getting Jelavic back on form, or figuring out how to either teach the current players how to finish or else how to buy a natural goalscorer for half nothing will be a challenge.

While we should be better off points wise, our performances have been no worse than our rivals, and that has been with our better players missing. If you compare us to this time last year, there has been a huge improvement.

I am not as worried about the Arsenal game as I would have been this time last year. The brother in law is an Arsenal fan and he said to me yesterday that they have been showing little or no passion or drive lately. I haven't seen them play but their results and match reports aren't exactly making me wet myself with fear.

Peter Cummings
301 Posted 26/11/2012 at 12:42:00
As bad as the ref decision was for the equaliser, Howard should have been off his line and into the air to claim the cross. The guy is unreliable and a bag of nerves in these situations and it is costing us points on a regular basis.

Ruddy was fired as a result of one poor game and now plays for England. Both Jelavic and Pienaar are way off the pace and while Osman can have purple patches they are few and far between.
Steavey Buckley
309 Posted 26/11/2012 at 14:01:24
Saturday's match should have been just about winning and getting 3 points, irrespective how Everton played. But time and time again, Tim Howard cannot dominate the penalty area. That's why silly goals are given away. Tim Howard is a good shot-stopper, but catching high crosses are not his strong point. And the opposition are aware of this.
Norman Merrill
312 Posted 26/11/2012 at 14:15:16
Kieran, Arsenal have a decent record at Goodison; they may not make you wet yourself but, the way Everton are running hot & cold, it may be the boys in Blue who need to get their act together.

One things for sure, there will be goals, I just hope we get more than them.
Kevin Tully
313 Posted 26/11/2012 at 14:10:45
I think we will witness more teams getting closer in terms of quality this season. Outside of the Manchester sides & Chelsea, we are quite evenly matched with the best of the rest.

The money on offer in the Premier League has enabled teams like Swansea to match the likes of Villa and Everton to pay decent wages. A good transfer window can keep these clubs in the black, it has kept us trading for many years now.

Fourth spot is there for any one of 6 teams who can put a run together after Christmas, including West Brom – who were perennial relegation fodder !

I am glad to see Moyes is rumoured to be addressing our goalkeeping position, Craig Gordon being one name mentioned. Howard has had no competition for years now. Look how Friedel played when Spurs signed Lloris, we need to push Howard or replace him.

I am sure we will play better against Arsenal on Wednesday, let's just hope Moyes does not revert to type after a few poor games. Keep the faith and let's see plenty of players attacking, no matter who starts.

Trying to hold a 1-0 lead just does not work, and certainly not with our porous back line.

Andy Peers
318 Posted 26/11/2012 at 14:33:29
I think this would be a good team for Wednesday:

Howard ( only because we have too)
Jagielka Heitinga Distin Baines
Mirallas Gibson Hitzlsperger Oveido
Fellaini
Jelavic

James Stewart
359 Posted 26/11/2012 at 19:53:25
Defence and keeper always shaky these days. Gibson offers so much more than any other defensive midfielder we have.

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