Everton 3 - 3 Aston Villa
Goodison Park has witnessed some incredible late drama at times this season and another healthy dose was served up today as Marouane Fellaini headed home his second goal in the space of 25 minutes to cap a pulsating encounter and an impressive recovery by Everton.
Though the jubilation at that dramatic finale masked yet more frustration at two home points dropped, credit must go to David Moyes's players who picked themselves up from three self-inflicted wounds to fight back from two goals down and earn a point and protect their unbeaten start to 2013.
The Blues have drawn too many games this season, of that there is no question, and that has been down to lapses in concentration at the back as well as a failure to make their superiority tell at the other end with enough goals. Today, their attempts to record three successive wins in seven days were critically undermined by an awful individual performance by John Heitinga, easily the worst by an Everton player so far this season.
Deployed in central defence for the second game running, despite another highly suspect display in midweek, because of a lack of cover at right back (where Phil Jagielka deputised again), the Dutchman endured a torrid afternoon against Christian Benteke who bullied, out-muscled and out-paced him until Moyes belatedly withdrew him following one mistake too many after 63 minutes.
He had been let off the hook for his moment of madness against West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday by Everton seeing out that game to secure three points. However, the manner in which Romelu Lukaku had been able to roll past him at almost every opportunity — in much the same way he allowed Aruna Kone to at Wigan earlier in the season — foreshadowed the nightmare Heitinga would have against Benteke, one which began as early as the second minute.
The burly Belgian breezed past him with shocking ease to drive onto Charles N'Zogbia's pass into the penalty area and he rolled the ball past Tim Howard's out-stretched leg and into the far corner.
Set back but unphased, Everton responded by going on the offensive and Fellaini flashed a left-foot shot inches wide after Kevin Mirallas' purposeful run before Baines smashed a rising 35-yard free-kick attempt over the bar and Steven Pienaar failed to really test Brad Guzman in the Villa goal with a weak shot from 20 yards.
The equaliser arrived after 20 minutes, though, after sterling attacking play by Victor Anichebe who repaid Moyes's continuing faith in him but bustling past the close attentions of Kieran Clark and firing left-footed and low past the goalkeeper.
Parity restored, that should have represented a reset button for the Blues but the visitors were back in front within three minutes. Benteke was released into space behind the defence in almost the same position as for the opening goal but Heitinga atoned somewhat for his earlier error by getting enough on the striker's shot to see it behind for a corner.
The Dutch defender shot himself in the foot, though, when the resulting corner was cleared but then worked back out to the right by Villa and Gabriel Agbonlahor was allowed to rise completely unchallenged and head the ball past Howard's despairng dive to make it 2-1.
Again, with plenty of time to go, there was no reason for and no panic shown by Everton as they continued to drive forward and escalate the pressure on the opposition goal for the remainder of the half. The goal that would have sent them into half time on level terms and changed the character of the mission in second half significantly, didn't arrive. That was partly due to Baines being uncharacteristically ineffective from dead-ball situations and partly because the Villa defence was defending as if their lives depended on it for much of the game.
A one-two exchange between Mirallas and Jagielka created a chance for Osman but his shot was deflected behind, Mirallas himself fired over from 18 yards and Pienaar blazed a decent opportunity over from a similar distance just before the interval.
If anyone present had feared Paul Lambert's struggling side would buckle in the second half, the first clue to the contrary would have been the 52nd-minute chance that probably should have seen them double their advantage. Agbonlahor drove through the centre of Everton's midfield and timed his through-ball perfectly to release Weimann into the clear as Baines inadvisedly tried to step up and set the offside trap. Thankfully, Weimann opted for power over precision when faced with just Howard to beat and he skied his effort over the crossbar.
The warning was not heeded, though, and after Fellaini and Anichebe had both seen fairly tame efforts safely gathered by Guzan, Benteke struck again to put the Blues in serious danger of only their fourth League defeat of the season. Weimann played a one-two with Matthew Lowton that gave the fullback plenty of space to swing in a deep cross and, brushing past Heitinga with ease once more, the Belgian got goal-side of the last-man and steered a header in off the far post. There was more than a suspicion of offside when the ball was played in but Heitinga's slow reactions and failure to match Benteke's desire to win the ball were crucial.
With a mountain now to climb, Moyes responded by hooking the beleaguered Heitinga in favour of Bryan Oviedo, a move that saw Jagielka move back inside the centre half, and introducing Nikica Jelavic for Mirallas, which prompted a chorus of boos from some of the faithful. As against West Brom on Wednesday, Mirallas had looked understandably rusty and there may have been an element of risk aversion in the decision given his lack of fitness after so long out with hamstring problems, but as the most creative player on the field many no doubt felt he could have provided the ammunition for Jelavic in the final 25 minutes.
As it was, it was the two players who started the game up front who combined to halve the deficite with 20 minutes left of the regulation 90. Fellaini collected a throw-in on the left before driving inside and squaring it to Anichebe. He held off his marker superbly to lay it back into the Belgian's path and Fellaini swept home from 12 yards to mark phase one of the rescue operation.
With Goodison Park now heaving in anticipation, a period of one-way traffic ensued as the Blues searched for the equaliser. Oviedo dragged a left-footer just wide from the edge of the box and Guzan had to paw a deflected Jelavic shot behind but time after time, Everton's corners were finding an Aston Villa head or being driven too deep to have any effect.
That changed crucially, however, in the third of six minutes of stoppage time when Bennett headed a cross behind and Baines whipped the resulting corner onto the head of Fellaini in the six-yard box and he out-jumped Vlaar to power home.
The Blues' top scorer almost grabbed a sensational winner two minutes later but though he connected with Steven Naismith's flick-on, he struck his half-volley into the ground and it skipped up to a nice height for the 'keeper to catch comfortably.
It was a stirring fightback by Everton, one that keeps them unbeaten this year so far and also extends Darron Gibson's remarkable unbeaten sequence in a blue jersey when he has played more than an hour in a game. The point earned keeps the Blues in the hunt with Arsenal, who won narrowly at home to Stoke, and brings them level with Tottenham until they play at The Hawthorns tomorrow.
Two more important points were dropped, though, in the push for Champions League qualification with a performance that lacked quality and cohesion at times. There was a shortage of effective passing and link play through midfield at times and too often all three of Pienaar, Baines and Mirallas were crowded over on the left touchline, leaving few opportunities to switch the play and ask questions of Villa down the right.
In defence, though no one covered themselves in glory by any means, Heitinga's alarming loss of form is a real cause for concern in a side that is battling to cover a shortage of options at right back. After being skinned for pace by Kone in that rare starting role against Wigan earlier in the campaign, his failure to deal with Lukaku in midweek, and now arguably being at fault for all three of Villa's goals today, serious questions should be asked as to whether he should be selected at centre half again this season.
Certainly, the player who was rightfully named player of the year last season is nowhere to be seen right now. In his place is a supposed world-class international defender whose lack of speed and concentration and worrying body language makes him a serious liability to a team who can't afford any passengers, least of all in defence. How Moyes responds with limited resources will be interesting.
On the plus side, Anichebe put in an other great shift leading the line and was rewarded with his sixth goal of the season; though playing on his weaker side, the team visibly settled with Oviedo at right fullback where Jagielka has struggled to impress; and Fellaini dispelled recent doubts over his stomach for the fight with two vital goals and an adrenaline-fuelled celebration for his equaliser.
And so to Old Trafford where a towering display and three unexpected points would immediately banish the memory of today's disappointment. You get the feeling that it's going to take a monumental result or two on the turf of the other clubs vying for the Champions League if the Blues are going to finish in the top four come May.
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334 Posted 03/02/2013 at 03:17:21
338 Posted 03/02/2013 at 03:51:46
339 Posted 03/02/2013 at 04:52:10
Derek, you know that, if Moyes plays to his usual ways, neither will get much time before they are a good few years older. I've not seen much of Duffey but have seen comments here on TW that he is a bit slow. How accurate that is, I don't know.
351 Posted 03/02/2013 at 06:56:07
But I am more concerned that even without Jonny in the team we have been letting goals in all season, Coleman, Neville, Jags and Howard have all been guilty of it but hardly get a mention, that's not a defense of JH btw, but too often others go walkabout and fail to take responsibility.
We are not good enough at the back, it needs changing quickly.
357 Posted 03/02/2013 at 07:42:12
369 Posted 03/02/2013 at 09:01:57
For the first time in years our midfield has looked the better than the rest of the team. The season it look as though a new centre back is needed along with a rightback (Stone aside).
Howard has reached his peak and on thr way down. A new keeper is desperately needed for next season and beyond if we want to push on as a team.trouble is, that means we now need Right midfield, striker, keeper, centreback, (rightback?). The list is slowly increasing.
378 Posted 03/02/2013 at 09:42:15
390 Posted 03/02/2013 at 10:09:18
409 Posted 03/02/2013 at 11:03:34
I'm pissed off with yesterday and the JH fiasco. It's all been said on here already (the what and the why) so let's move on. I agree with your own feelings - those three back in the fold. I'm getting a little bit excited by Vic - using the weight advantage that he has to hold off a defender and lay it off to Felli, and a cracking goal.
If we can sort that defensive problem. Which is a no-brainer in terms of Jags to CH, then just an issue of who for RB (and I'd go Oviedo for now, a bit lightweight but fast and keen - but I'm curious as to why Moyes, who has faith in Pip in CM and at RB, didnt bring him on at RB; I'm not arguing for that but just curious).
417 Posted 03/02/2013 at 11:22:34
...."Excuse me Dave, but I don't think Heitinga can handle playing against Benteke. Maybe we should go with Jags this time?.....
Has no one the balls to contradict him?
But we did once again have enough chances to wrap it up. Pienaar must be the worst striker of a ball (after Osman) in the PL. The amount of times we actually hit the target from shots outside the box is attrocious. Gibson had a great chance yesterday, why cant we hit the target, we are talking Premier League after all. What do they do at training?
547 Posted 03/02/2013 at 17:36:16
549 Posted 03/02/2013 at 17:58:32
571 Posted 03/02/2013 at 18:44:36
For a number of periods they were crap but we contrived to be worse.
I'm not sure about Heitinga, other than he isn't a central defender, and I'm not sure that he is actually a footballer. Looking at their first goal, I think he has a future in stand up comedy with a hint of slap-stick.
Our squad is woefully thin and overstretched – how quickly can we get Ross Barkley back as we need him as a filler if nothing else?
What's the crack at RB because it isn't PJ so stop doing it.
On a brighter note, at least we have a good pitch. I'm currently watching the Africa Cup of Nations and they appear to be playing on a public wasteland with the occasional pile of dog crap. So look on the bright side, lads.
670 Posted 04/02/2013 at 05:30:27
The approach we took to the match was the kind of approach we've been asking for - positive, attacking. If anyone argues that we weren't trying to win this match, then I call bullshit.
It seems to be an issue with the team all season though, we can't find the balance between positive attacking play and solid defence. For the first twenty minutes of the match I spent a lot of time thinking "if we hadn't fucked up the first two minutes, I'd be really happy with this performance".
I was relatively happy with the team selection prior to the game. It was more balanced than recently, we only had a couple of players out of position, and it was an attacking line-up. There's only really two debatable spots in that team - right back and centre back. I give JH a lot of credit for his Twitter post taking responsibility for a terrible performance, but I've got to ask why there, when we have two available right backs (Neville and the new guy), we're pushing arguably our most reliable centre back out into that position.
Going forward, I thought the team played really well. One of the best games from Anichebe I've seen, in terms of strength and holding the ball up, and looking a threat. I also thought Moyes made good substitutions, and reasonably early. I understand the frustration at Mirallas coming off, but remember we've been calling for him to be brought back slowly.
I can't work out this Everton team. We played, to my mind, as we want us to play - we set up with an attacking formation, we played the ball on the ground, we were positive. But we were also terrible defensively, and that put us in a desperate situation. So what's to do?
...and that's my biggest problem with this performance and this result. There's not that much I'd have changed, and that demonstrates our fragility. Yes, I'd have played Neville at RB and Jagielka in the centre, but other than that - prior to the game I wouldn't have changed anything compared to how we actually set up.
677 Posted 04/02/2013 at 06:41:07
Jonny has slowed. I doubt this is a form issue. In my opinion this was bad team selection for the way we set out to play, which is clearly the responsibility of the manager and coaching staff.
750 Posted 04/02/2013 at 14:33:39
you are absolutely spot in in your analysis but the problem is we had 20 odd chances and they had 4.
If it wasnt for Heitinga's woeful performance I doubt they'd have scored more than 1 and for top 4 potential players our finishing is woeful.
Peanuts in particular needs shooting practice and Ossie needs to find his scoring boots again.
752 Posted 04/02/2013 at 14:43:21
One player had a nightmare. Maybe he shouldn't have started in such a pivotal position but the fact that he was still there in the second half was a massive mistake. If a player has that bad a game in the first half he gets taken off. Not just for the good of the team. For his own good. At least shift him out of the centre.
Heitinga is not as bad as some of our keyboard warriors make out. He's so out of form that his confidence is shot and now he can't put a foot right. Last year he got a run of games and ended up doing really well. We don't have time for that now. He should be getting his confidence back in the reserves (or whatever it's called now).
For those that booed the substitution of Mirallas: watch the football! he was knackered and hadn't contributed for 15 minutes.
775 Posted 04/02/2013 at 16:32:12
818 Posted 04/02/2013 at 19:12:43
You can compensate for that somewhat by better positioning and reading of the game but in the last 2 games he failed to do that.
Worst of all - and his Twitter mea culpa notwithstanding - he doesn't seem to have his heart 100% in it. Maybe that's down to losing place and the fact that, as rumour has it, the Club tried to offload him last month and wasn't able to, but that's also a difficult one to overcome from a coaching perspective. Whatever the issue, I think he's too big a liability in central defence and certainly not worth risking taking Jagielka out of the middle.
Like you, I understood the Mirallas substitution, though less for his waning influence (because I think good players can come back into a game as quickly as they've faded out of it) but because I don't want him playing more football than his recent injury layoff will allow.
820 Posted 04/02/2013 at 19:27:07
821 Posted 04/02/2013 at 19:34:33
824 Posted 04/02/2013 at 19:44:46
826 Posted 04/02/2013 at 19:49:24
830 Posted 04/02/2013 at 20:01:26
I'd be the first to turn around and say I was wrong but I've seen nothing this season to suggest that might happen. Whatever he had last season — and he was magnificent at times last season — has gone at the moment.
I'd love to be proved wrong on that score but, with Neville likely to play after 11 days' rest, I don't think we'll find out against United.
833 Posted 04/02/2013 at 20:01:21
It's not necessarily his fault; he simply hasn't got the physical attributes to cope with the likes of Ba, Cole, Lambert, Kone, Benteke, Dzeko, Jones, Lukaka, Holt, Adebayor etc. The Premier League is full of powerful forwards. Why does Moyes ignore the blatantly obvious?
837 Posted 04/02/2013 at 20:10:57
Our style of play is his biggest undoing, he hasn't the pace for a high line. When we were playing deep, he read the game well but was always susceptible to a quick forward/winger.
He's simply too slow and hasn't the balls to fully commit to a hard tackle.
846 Posted 04/02/2013 at 20:11:17
850 Posted 04/02/2013 at 20:37:32
856 Posted 04/02/2013 at 20:43:23
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