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Venue: Carrow Road, Norwich
Premier League
 Saturday 23 February; 3:00pm
2 1
Kamara (84'), Holt (90+4')
Half Time: 2-1
Osman (39')
Attendance: 26,828
Fixture 27
Referee: Lee Mason

Match Report

It was a nice dream and one not as far-fetched as some of the more cynical or critical would suggest with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, but Everton's hopes of quailfying for the Champions League this season effectively died today.

In reality and it didn't require hindsight for this to sink in on 31st January; many Evertonians knew it in their bones at the time any realistic hopes of finishing in the top four evoprated when the transfer deadline expired with no new faces arriving beyond a fresh-faced hope for the future in the form of John Stones. The silent destruction of a Club's most fervent desires by an absentee Board from whom almost nothing positive has been forthcoming in 12 years and of whom nothing has been heard for weeks.

Neverthless, despite some noticeable flagging in the Blues' push for fourth place in recent weeks, hope remained for a big seven days in Everton's season that six points against Norwich City and Reading, with an FA Cup replay win over Oldham in between, could reignite the spark and push the team on in the final three months of the campaign.

So far so good until Kai Kamara, a substitution by Chris Hughton that changed what had hitherto been a lopsided encounter dominated by Everton, rose to power home an 84th-minute header and cut any resurgence in the Blues' season off at the knees. Grant Holt would go on to win the game for the Canaries an outcome that was unthinkable for the first hour but it was the Senegalese forward's equaliser that was the killer blow; a point was no good for the Blues today.

Only two teams have thrown away more points when leading than Everton this season and the late lapses against the likes of Fulham, Newcastle and, now, Norwich home and away, will be written in the epitaph of the Blues 2012-13 season. The truth is, though, that with the superiority that David Moyes's men enjoyed over the 90 minutes unquestionably so for the for the first hour they should have had the game put to bed before Kamara even took to the field.

The slender 1-0 advantage they held never felt like it was going to be enough even though the Canaries had barely troubled Tim Howard. A late rally by Hughton's side was inevitable and his two changes the introduction of Kamara and Pilkington were the catalyst. Moyes's own substitution, by contrast, was a less offensive one; his removal of Nikica Jelavic for Kevin Mirallas (who spent an inexplicable 77 minutes on the bench) didn't add much more attacking potency to a team that had spent much of the second half playing attractive passing footbal with no end product.

An entertaining first half hadn't been much different, in all honesty; the difference was that Everton made the breakthrough they richly deserved six minutes before the break. The lively and industrious Jelavic had gone close with an excellent chest and volley that proved too tame to concern Bunn in the Norwich goal early on. And Marouane Fellaini's attempt to finish off a nice move with a drive from just outside the box was charged down by a lunging block from Turner.

The hosts briefly threatened early on when Jay Snodgrass' shot was deflected just over by Sylvain Distin and later when Grant Holt barged his way through but saw a low shot comfortably gathered by Howard.

For all their comfortable possession, though, the Blues didn't carve out enough clear-cut chances and their attempts to create opportunities from set-pieces were stymied by their own poor delivery both Darron Gibson and Steven Pienaar despatched corners to the first man at the near post before the South African somehow sent another from the same side straight behind the goal in embarrassing fashion or more outright illegal shackling in the box by Norwich's defenders, mostly on Fellaini.

Everything came together for Everton in the 39th minute, though, when Pienaar and Leighton Baines combined in trademark fashion and the latter swept in a superb cross that Osman steered past Bunn with his head. 1-0 to the Blues and a platform for extending City's miserable 10-game run without a win established.

Unfortunately, the lack of killer instinct that has characterised Everton for so much of the season would be their undoing in the second half. All the ingredients were there: Gibson was in command in midfield, doing all the unspectacular stuff so well and linking play through the centre; despite some occasional sloppiness with the pass inside, Pienaar and Baines were a threat down the left; the returning Seamus Coleman was also causing problems down the right; Steven Naismith was competent without providing much potency; Jelavic was working hard to end his goal drought but would, again, see precious few chances fall his way; and Fellaini was all over the place but allowed himself to be frustrated by the referee and spent too much time in the second half sulking and throwing his arms in the air in despair. But the drive, the guile, the intensity required to push on and seize the security of an increased lead was just missing and with Norwich so flaccid, it seemed to breed complacency among the Blues' ranks that all they had to do was see the 90 minutes out.

That changed when Kamara was introduced and had, within the space of eight minutes, caused two moments of consternation in the visitors' defence. First, an acobratic scissor-kick forced the first save of note from Howard of the second half; then, he guided a header off Hoolahan's cross a foot wide of the upright with the goalkeeper arguably beaten.

At the other end, Gibson flashed a side-foot shot inches over following a corner from Distin'a lay-off and Fellaini and Pienaar both sliced 25-yard efforts high and well wide, but they were rare attempts on the Norwich goal and the feeling grew that Mirallas needed to introduced to help counter the Canaries' growing belief and threat. He wouldn't arrive for another 10 minutes, though, and, even then, with Jelavic the man to be replaced, it didn't have the effect of making Everton any more potent in the final third.

Given the precedents set earlier in the season, it shouldn't have come as a surprise to any of the traveling Blues when Norwich equalised with six minutes to go. Coleman had shown excellent powers of recovery to chase down Pilkington and deflect his attempted cross behind, but when Fellaini lost track of Kamara's run at the resulting corner, the Senegalese had the freedom he needed to head powerfully downwards and past Howard and the man on the line.

Three minutes and change into injury time, the Blues went to pieces at yet another set piece and Holt reacted instinctively to prod home amid the melee from close range. From 1-0 up to 2-1 down... lingering Champions League dreams in tatters. Moyes would protest to referee Lee Mason that the goal had been scored after the minimum three minutes had elapsed but it smacked of clutching at straws.

Moyes has made much of his team's fatigue and while the shallowness of his squad was a factor at Carrow Road, there didn't seem any visible tiredness among his players. There was a general lack of conviction in their play, particularly in the final third of the field, where time and again and this has a been a recurrent theme this season the killer final pass just wasn't there.

Granted, a busy seven-day period lay ahead but Moyes should have put his best foot forward and played Mirallas from the start. If fitness was a concern, better to play him from the start in the hope of establishing a greater lead than a narrow 1-0 and pull him off after an hour than persist with the energetic but ultimately ineffective Naismith and only give the Belgian 12 minutes at the end. The wisdom of his omission would have been glossed over had the result held in Everton's favour but in the agony of defeat it was questionable at best.

Moyes will claim indeed, is that the uncertainty over his contract isn't a factor and with the group of highly-paid professionals concerned, it absolutely shouldn't be. They are human, though, and with belief in a top-four finish ebbing away, his unsigned deal is becoming an increasingly big elephant in the proverbial room.

What the manager has also inadvertently done by dragging out a resolution over his future is allow Evertonians, many growing pessimistic that he will stay beyond the summer, to ponder life without him at the Goodison helm. From that will come an inevitable detachment and loosening of loyalty to a man who raised the very standards his team is struggling to meet.

In short, what promised to be the pinnacle of his 11 years in charge is in danger of falling very flat, and if he isn't able to quickly recapture a winning mentality among his players, Everton could struggle to even finish in the top six this season.

His task begins, of course, on Tuesday in the Cup replay against Oldham where victory would move him another step closer to that elusive trophy. With glory in the League slipping away, redemption lies down Wembley Way but Moyes's Blues need to rediscover some defensive resilience and ruthlessness up front... and quickly.

Lyndon Lloyd

Match Summary

In a lively game at Carrow Road, Everton took increasing control after a scrappy start and converted that into a leading goal before the break, Osman stopping to place a neat header beyond Bunn. Despite their second half superiority, the game was very open as the Blues searched for that second goal... But instead it was Norwich who stole it near the end Kamara powering in an unchallenged header, then Holt grabbing the last gasp winner beyond the final minute of added time to totally stun the travelling Blues.

David Moyes made four changes from the side that lost 2 - 0 at Old Trafford in Everton's last Premier League game. Steven Naismith was given a rare start at Carrow Road with Seamus Coleman returning after a month out with a thigh injury but Victor Anichebe was absent after hobbling off last week. Kevin Mirallas was publicly challenged by David Moyes only yesterday to start scoring or making more goals for the side but he may find that difficult after being denied a starting place in the side. Jelavic, however, is given a starting role again.

Everton were soon passing the ball nicely, Pienaar slotting one forward well for Jelavic but no-one in the middle for his tasty cross. Naismth then played him in but he was offside again more times than any other striker in the Premier League!

Snodgrass came very close, a lucky deflection taking his shot onto the top of the Everton net. Coleman did well to get in a good ball, before Jelavic bought down a long ball from Distin very well but could only prod it at Bunn who saved easily.

Norwich were moving the ball around well enough themselves and a chance for Howson hit his own man, Holt, on the back. Turner did well to block a Fellaini shot from a Jelavic nod-down, Everton's first corner was taken by Gibson but his delivery was shockingly poor.

Baines swung in a free-kick that caused panic in the Norwich area, with Fellaini getting the bear-hug treatment but it came to nothing. Fellaini then gets cut on the knee by Johnson, a bad challenge unpunished, and the big Fella chased after the Norwich player to seek retribution and give up a free-kick.

Holt came close despite having little room and forced a save from Howard,who was making his 300th appearance for Everton. Baines got a cross in that looked odds on for Fellaini but it was Osman behind him who watched it all the way and planted a very good stooping header beyond Bunn to give Everton the lead.

Pienaar took the next Everton corner and showed he could make an even worse job of it that Gibson, as Baines picked up a yellow card, with Holt coming close from the free-kick, winning a deflected corner but Howard was able to save Hoolihan's drive easily. Pienaar's third corner was even worse, going straight behind the goal. Atrocious!

Everton went into the second half with a spring in their step on the back of their lead, and kept moving the ball around well without actually creating a chance on the final ball. But the Blues were dominating the game and buzzing around the Norwich area with persistent intent, finally winning another left-side corner, this one for Gibson and it was much better, delivered deep and curling in at the far post, where it was very crowded. Fellaini then tried an off-balance shot that was well over.

Norwich substitute Kamara forced a save from Howard as Norwich tried to step up their game but Everton were moving it around well, looking for that second goal. Coleman got in an excellent deep cross for Jelavic but Bunn just got up to hook the ball off his head.

At the other end, a really good Norwich corner was caught very confidently by Howard as a pretty lively game ebbed and flowed from end to end, the downside being that poor final pass. Pienaar did really well to track back and prevent a dangerous break by Houlihan. But Houlihan got an excellent cross in for Kamara whose header bounced a foot beyond the far post with Howard beaten.

Coleman was doing well and making Naismith look good, winning a corner on the right that Baines delivered on the keeper and it came out for Distin to set up Gibson, his scoped shot dipping fractionally over the bar. Was that second goal coming closer? Coleman was really up for it but a narrow angled shot careened over the goal.

Howard made another tremendous catch under very heavy pressure form Kamara. With 78 minutes gone, Moyes made his first change, Mirallas replacing Jelavic who now has 11 games without scoring. Pienaar tried a shot from outside the area that was rising over and away from the Norwich goal.

But Everton could not pin Norwich back and a corner from the Everton right was powered home past Howard by Kamara on an unchallenged run, with all the Everton defenders ball-watching. Moyes responded by pulling off Pienaar and bringing on Oviedo.

Mirallas had a half-chance that he lamely fired straight at Bunn, and Norwich galloped up the other end to win a late corner in added time. The ball so nearly fell to Holt who should have half-volleyed it but crucially waited for it to bounce and their chance was dismissed by Distin.

But that wasn't the whole story, which came in the very final seconds of added time, a deep cross by Norwich to the far post and Holt poked it in for a shock win that have the home side all three points. Back-to-back away losses in Premier League games that now surely have dealt the final blow to Everton's faltering Champions League campaign.

So... a game that was absolutely vital for Everton to win in order to reverse their faltering challenge for the European slots, a game they controlled almost from the start... a game that was there for the taking with a litle more composure in the final third... instead, a last minute killer goal against.

Same old same old.

Michael Kenrick

Match Preview

Still alive in the FA Cup but with work to do in the Fifth Round replay and some difficult trips to top-four rivals Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal still to come in the League, Everton's season enters a crucial phase in the coming week.

An eminently winnable game against Reading awaits next weekend, the Blues' first Premier League game at Goodison Park since the beginning of the month, with the replay against Oldham on the slate for Tuesday, but first up it's a trip to Norwich City, a team on a wretched run of form.

Since recording a narrow home win over Wigan in mid-December, Chris Hughton's side have won just once, that a 3-0 win over Peterborough United in the FA Cup third round. Humiliation followed in the next round with a home defeat to non-League Luton Town, and although three consecutive draws appear to offer hope of stability now at Carrow Road, the Canaries have scored just twice in the League in 2013.

So, certainly some vulnerability and insecurity for David Moyes and his men to exploit as they look to re-establish some pressure on the teams above them in the chase for Champions League qualification. Everton are 11/10 to beat Norwich according to bookmaker Ladbrokes.

Norwich's home form suggests that the Blues will need to be at their best this weekend, however, if they hope to take all three points back to Merseyside. Hughton's team frustrated Tottenham by holding them to a 1-1 draw at the end of last month and have only lost on home turf three times this season. And while they've found goals hard to come by, they've conceded fewer at home than Everton so far, with nine of those came in just two games against Manchester City and Liverpool.

While the Blues have re-discovered some of their potency in front of goal since the 0-0 draw against Southampton a month ago - the shut-out at Old Trafford notwithstanding - it is at the back where they continue to nobble themselves by conceding late or preventable goals.

Moyes should be able to call upon his first-choice central defensive pairing of Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin and may be able to welcome back Seamus Coleman after a month on the sidelines with a thigh injury. If the Irishman is not available, Phil Neville should be fit to continue at right back, though his manager will no doubt contemplate shuffling him out of the starting XI at some point with three games in seven days.

Further forward, Kevin Mirallas could be restored to the starting line-up after being named on the bench at Boundary Park last Saturday, particularly if the apparent groin strain that Victor Anichebe picked up in that game will rule him out. Nikica Jelavic would get the nod as the lone striker if Anichebe doesn't make it and would get a rare chance to profit from Mirallas' creativity up front.

For the Blues, this week really has to be where the rubber meets the road if their dreams for their League and cup campaigns are to be realized. The players know that victories are all that matter now and a couple of them have insisted that the manager's further postponement of a decision on his future will not affect them down the home straight.

Three successive victories, a feat they have not achieved since the start of the season but which will be paramount in their twin quest for Wembley and Europe, would really ram that home with the kind of conviction needed.

Lyndon Lloyd

* Unfortunately, we cannot control other sites' content policies and therefore cannot guarantee that links to external reports will remain active.

Match Preview
Match Summary
Match Report
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2012-13 Reports Index
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TEAM (4-4-2)
  Hoolahan (73' Pilkington)
  Holt Y:54'
  Becchio (58' Kamara).
  Subs not used
  E Bennett
  R Bennett

EVERTON (4-5-1)
  Baines Y:43'
  Pienaar (86' Oviedo)
  Jelavic (78' Mirallas)
  Subs not used
  Bidwell (loan)
  Gueye (loan)
  Hammar (loan)
  Lundstram (loan)
  Hibbert (injured)

Premier League Scores
Arsenal 2 - 1 Aston Villa
Fulham 1 - 0 Stoke City
Norwich 2 - 1 Everton
QPR 0 - 2 Man Utd
Reading 0 - 3 Wigan
West Brom 2 - 1 Sunderland
Man City 2-0 Chelsea
Newcastle 4-2 Southampton
West Ham - Tottenham


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