Everton 2 - 1 Wigan Athletic
With the chase for a place in the top four so tight approaching the half-way point in the 2012/13 season, three points from a home game against a team in the bottom three at the start of play were paramount. Though it was a closer run thing than it needed to be, Everton delivered back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time since September with a 2-1 win over a stubborn Wigan side.
The match won't live long in the memory as a spectacle; it was a rain-soaked affair that felt like a battle of attrition of long periods, particularly in a first half where the Blues struggled to find the fluidity and attacking purpose that has been such a feature of the campaign so far.
More changes to the starting line-up probably didn't help but with suspension and injuries restricting David Moyes's options at a busy time in the fixture calendar and action needed to address John Heitinga's off-colour display at Upton Park on Saturday, further shuffling of personnel was likely.
The Dutchman was duly dropped back to the bench for this one, Phil Jagielka moved inside to his more natural central defensive position alongside Sylvain Distin and Phil Neville, making his 500th Premier League appearance, was deployed at right back. Certainly, Neville makes for a more natural fullback and it was his cross from the right flank to Jagielka that provided the assist for what proved to be the winning goal.
At the time, the defender's impressive header had doubled Everton's lead and put them firmly in the driver's seat but their first two-goal cushion since the home win over Southampton at the end of September would last only five minutes, Aruna Kone's controversial goal eight minutes from time setting up an uncomfortable finale.
That the Latics made it so difficult right to the last was typical of the determination with which Roberto Martinez's men played in this northwest match-up. With an extra man in midfield they had clearly set out to disrupt the Blues' passing game and they were successful in frustrating their hosts for much of the first half. Hitzlsperger was largely anonymous in the middle and, all too often, Tim Howard resorted to by-passing midfield altogether and launched ineffective long balls forward towards the strikers or Leon Osman on the right side.
What chances Everton were able to fashion in the first 45 minutes, despite more disappointing form from Nikica Jelavic, were largely repelled by black-shirted defenders getting in the way of everything aimed at Ali Al-Habsi's goal. After Anichebe had lashed Jelavic's neat lay-off well off target in the opening minute and both strikers had sent headers wide, the Nigerian international, Jagielka, Pienaar and Osman would all see efforts either charged down to deflected behind.
There was also a penalty claim for handball by Shaun Maloney that was rightly waved away by Lee Mason, while at the other end a weak punch by Howard led to Darron Gibson fouling James McCarthy near the "D" but the American 'keeper was able to gather Maloney's well-struck free kick at the second attempt. He would also make a comfortable low save from Ronnie Stam as the visitors threatened to upset the apple cart with an opening goal.
The Blues' cause looked to have been undermined further a couple of minutes before the break when Gibson pulled up in obvious discomfort after striking a direct free kick off the Wigan wall and did not emerge from the dressing room for the second half. The change in formation that his withdrawal necessitated — Steven Naismith came on to play right midfield and Osman moved back into the centre — coupled with whatever words of wisdom Moyes provided during the interval appeared to have an immediate effect.
With Osman leading the charge, Everton were much more cohesive coming out of the half-time break and had tested Wigan's resolve twice within five minutes of the restart. The diminutive midfielder danced his way through a forest of legs but his shot was choked by a defender's foot in the 48th minute and Hitzlsperger gave Goodison Park its first glimpse of Der Hammer when he belted a 30-yarder off the top of the crossbar.
With 51 minutes gone, though, Osman forced the breakthrough with a clever change in direction that out-foxed Jean Beausejour on the edge of the box and a shot that took a wicked deflection off Gary Caldwell's arm and bounced past the wrong-footed Al-Habsi.
A chance for 2-0 arrived almost immediately as Anichebe sent Jelavic into the channel behind the Wigan defence but, seemingly lacking the confidence to try a shot from the left side of the box, he tried to cut back inside two defenders and was dispossessed.
The Latics recovered their composure in fairly short order after that, though, and their fans were howling at referee Mason just before the hour mark when Maloney tumbled under a challenge by Osman in the Everton area but appeals for a penalty were waved away. A closer look at television replays would offer a case for both sides of the argument, with contact seemingly made but debate possible over how much the forward forced the collision, but at the time Beausejour was booked for his vehement protests.
Then, in the 66th minute, Kone latched onto a dangerous square pass from Maloney but was denied by an excellent last-ditch challenge by Neville and James McArthur saw a heavy deflection off Sylvain Distin drop comfortably to Howard without threatening the home goal.
With Wigan causing more problems, the feeling that the one goal would not be enough began to gnaw at Evertonian guts as the second half wore on but when Jelavic centred dangerously towards Naismith and Boyce nipped in divert behind, it set up the corner for the Blues' second goal. Baines knocked it short to Neville, he swung in a peach of a cross and Jagielka sent it arcing into the corner of Al-Habsi's net via the underside of the bar.
Moyes' hopes of coasting home in the last 10 minutes were dashed, though, by a mess in his defence in the 82nd minute. Having made the initial block that sent the ball looping high inside his own area, Distin failed to make contact with an attempted header in a challenge with Kone and the Ivorian stole in between the Frenchman and Baines to poke it past Howard and keep Wigan in the game. There may have been a case for handball against Kone as it brushed his arm before bouncing off Baines and into his path but, in the final, reckoning it didn't matter. Everton ground through the final few minutes plus stoppage time and held on for three more crucial points.
Tottenham's goalfest at Villa Park would knock the Blues down to fifth place on goals scored but the guarantee of a higher placing in the table going into 2013 is there to be claimed on Sunday when rejuvenated Chelsea, sitting two points higher in third, come to Merseyside.
With Fellaini serving the last game of a three-match suspension, Seamus Coleman and Tony Hibbert missing at right back through injury and Kevin Mirallas expected to be out until the first week of January at least, Moyes will be hoping that Gibson has not suffered a recurrence of the thigh injury that sidelined him for almost three months between September and November.
Though his charges have taken maximum points in Fellaini's absence, they have done it with a good deal less flair and attacking fluidity than was the case earlier in the season. It will likely take a mixture of incisive passing, good old Everton fighting spirit and, ultimately, a higher-calibre performance than this one against Wigan to take down Chelsea and the manager will need as many of his best players available to deliver it.
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364 Posted 27/12/2012 at 23:40:51
367 Posted 28/12/2012 at 00:24:33
KIT is football 101 is for winners, you always try to KIT.
So the plan is;
a) You have to fight for the right to party, aka, earn the right to play your good stuff, not just expect the other guy to roll over.
b) All the while keeping it tight.
c) Take your chances
OK with that? Davy? Lads?
Sorted, Off you go, stuff it right up the FSW and his ladyboy mate
369 Posted 28/12/2012 at 00:36:31
As I did not go, I spent some time last night looking at the impact of the games and began to think that the top seven is set in place, but not sure of what order, alas we have two really difficult games and it may all change sooner rather than later.
Excellent report of your view of the game thanks LL, as always, December was always going to be difficult but after the next week we will really know where we are and whether we are pretenders or contenders for that 4 th place spot and the pot of gold it brings.
Thanks Lyndon, for helping me understand what happened, I used to sit next to some lads who were, frankly off their heads, not sure due to beer or substances, one day got chatting to them and one said he had been to all the away games and his view was that "if you don't go you don't know"
Since then I have appreciated this view and thank Lyndon for trying to fill in the gaps of this particular game.
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