Everton 2-0 Norwich City
The trials of the mid-season grind continue to add wrinkles to Roberto Martinez's plans but his Everton side rolled past Norwich City today to jump back into the Premier League top four. Yet more setbacks on the injury front, most notably to Ross Barkley, enforced more changes to the manager's starting line-up but two superb strikes effectively sealed the game before an hour had elapsed and added another three crucial home points in quest for Champions League qualification.
A suspected broken toe for Barkley and the continued absence of Sylvain Distin was compounded by an apparent injury to Antolin Alcaraz that ruled him out before kick off, and Steven Pienaar added to the list of concerns when he was substituted with a suspected knock with 20 minutes to go. Everton shrugged off the disruption, though, and the margin of their lead even afforded Martinez the luxury of some experimentation with three at the back in what was a forgettable last quarter of an hour.
Aided by the return of Phil Jagielka, who moved to the left side of central defence to partner young John Stones, the Blues established their now customary grip on the game early in the first half. Seamus Coleman and Romelu Lukaku had similar left-foot efforts comfortably saved by John Ruddy in the Canaries' goal in the early going but the Belgian striker had the first real chance in the 12th minute.
His compatriot, Kevin Mirallas, whipped an excellent ball to the back post where Lukaku looked odds-on to score but a moment's hesitation, perhaps for fear of colliding with the upright, saw him head wide from a couple of yards out.
Norwich, who came into the match on a run of five games without a win, were ceding much of the possession to the home side but they carved out a gilt-edged chance for Gary Hooper with 15 minutes gone when he latched onto Whitaker's ball over the top but a poor first touch allowed Tim Howard to smother it at his feet and keep matters goalless.
Everton were enjoying plenty of room in which to operate in front of the visitors' back four and, after Mirallas had hammered a deflected shot over the bar from 25 yards and Baines had raked a left-footer wide from the edge of the box, great hold-up play by Lukaku help set up the opening goal.
Jagielka went into a meaty challenge in his own half that sent a high ball forward that Lukaku pulled down and held until Gareth Barry was able to join the attack from deep. The veteran midfielder collected the striker's pass, advanced into space ahead of him as the defence backed off before unleashing a laser-like effort that flew past Ruddy's despairing glove and inside the far post.
Everton were in the driving seat and looking comfortable but a 1-0 lead is a slender one in the modern-day top flight, as evidenced five minutes later when Norwich counter-attacked quickly and Ricky van Wolsvinkel, a scorer in the reverse fixture at Carrow Road on the opening day, forced a flying, one-handed save from Howard as he tried a curler from 20 yards.
The Blues always looked the more dangerous side, though, and they racked up a host of chances before half time on the back of some lovely football at times as they sought to extend their lead. Osman skied a good chance after Lukaku had seized on a loose ball by Van Wolsvinkel and Coleman also lashed the ball over from close range at the end of a sustained period of Everton pressure 10 minutes before the interval.
It was Norwich who might have scored on the stroke of half time, though. Stones had again been exhibiting composure beyond his years for much of the first half but he was booked in the 44th minute for a heavy challenge through Bradley Johnson and his mis-judgement of another lofted ball into the area almost let Hooper in a minute later. Howard came off his line quickly to close out the danger, although there was momentary chaos in the Everton defence with the American well out of his six-yard box but they got away with it.
The pattern of the first period continued in the second and James McCarthy's chance to notch his first goal for Everton looked to have arrived eight minutes after the restart but his shot was deflected over the bar and Mirallas wasted the resulting corner.
After Van Wolsvinkel had held off Stones and ballooned a shot over the bar, Everton doubled their advantage in the 58th minute when Baines was chopped down 25 yards from goal by Robert Snodgrass and Mirallas whipped the resulting free kick past Ruddy with precision.
2-0 looked to have become 3-0 seven minutes later when Lukaku raced onto a wonderful through-ball by Coleman, clipped the ball over the advancing Ruddy and slid the ball home as it skidded towards the byline but his "goal" was ruled out by the linesman's flag.
With Everton in clear control of the game, Martinez took the opportunity to withdraw Osman in favour of John Heitinga with 68 minutes gone and transition to a back three before Pienaar gingerly left the fray a couple of minutes later to be replaced by Steven Naismith. The result of the Blues' change in formation and Canaries boss Chris Hughton's own switch that introduced Nathan Redmond had a marked effect on the pattern of the game. Everton visibly lost their shape for a good 10 to 15 minutes and Redmond gave Coleman a couple of scares, not least when he skinned the Irishman and cut inside where Howard had to save the winger's shot with his feet.
Johnson then tried his luck with two decent long-range efforts as untidiness started to creep into Everton's play, Snodgrass came closest to setting up a nervy finale when he rose highest to meet a bouncing ball in the home area but his header bounced off the post, and Heitinga had to be alert to block a cross from the same player after he looked to have twisted his way past the Dutchman.
The Blues' defence held, though, and it was clear by around the 85th-minute mark that any fire Norwich had been extinguished, allowing Everton to resume their ascendancy and almost put the game completely to bed following excellent work by Naismith down the right touchline. He squirmed his way past Martin Olsson and into the clear but McCarthy was closed down as he met the Scot's square pass.
Three more vital points, then, on an afternoon when, again, all of Everton's rivals for the top four picked up maximum points. The result lifts Martinez's side back into fourth where they will stay if Liverpool lose at Stoke tomorrow but, importantly, it re-establishes momentum in the League following the draw at the Britannia Stadium on New Year's Day. Everton have more points now, after 21 games, than at any time in the Premier League era but the competition for places around them allows for no margin for error.
Though they should really have scored more, didn't make it through the 90 minutes without a period of untidy play and it was something of a learning experience for Stones – something that is vital for his development, particularly given the clean sheet – the standard of play was often terrific and McCarthy and Barry were relentless at times in the middle.
The nine-day break between now and the trip to West Bromwich Albion on the Monday after next will hopefully give some of those injured players time to recover but the manager will be more than happy at the seamless way in which his team has dealt with the chopping and changing of personnel in recent games and still kept putting points on the board.
It will also give Martinez time to pursue further additions to his squad than the one signing he has already completed this month; winger Aiden McGeady was paraded before the match today after signing from Spartak Moscow and, with Nikica Jelavic in talks with Hull City this weekend, striking reinforcements are set to follow.
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431 Posted 11/01/2014 at 21:57:13
439 Posted 11/01/2014 at 22:15:03
He is going to be a very special player in a position that takes many, many years to full mature into but he looks like he has been playing at this level all his life. To think he was playing for Barnsley this time last year...
Full credit should go to Martinez for his faith in him, though, too. It's virtually a given that Heitinga would have played the last three games if this was last season and I just love that the new manager has the confidence to blood these youngsters. It must really help their self-belief.
468 Posted 11/01/2014 at 23:02:01
So if the Distin/Alcaraz injury situation is the same in eight days, would you consider it "punishment" if the kid were dropped in favor of Heitinga at West Brom? Seems to me if properly handled it wouldn't impact his confidence, and they're a much tougher challenge in attack than Norwich.
494 Posted 12/01/2014 at 00:29:34
495 Posted 12/01/2014 at 00:50:52
501 Posted 11/01/2014 at 23:49:53
How long can we get away with replacing two experienced centre backs with an inexperienced youngster? Why all the silence around Alcaraz? How long will Barkley be out? Is Pienaar Injured? How many weeks before McGeady is fit to play? etc etc etc.
On the plus side, we played some lovely stuff for 70 minutes with Barry, Pienaar and Mirallis outstanding. Jags also did well after his injury and Howard remains in top form. A good all round performance from a hastily shuffled pack but the lengthening sick list is a major concern. Such a shame when you look at our lofty position and appreciate the hard graft thar got us there.
503 Posted 12/01/2014 at 01:04:32
506 Posted 12/01/2014 at 01:06:51
On Stones, we'll have that problem soon. Distin is 36, and Alcaraz seems to be injury prone. Stones will need to step up alongside another, either a transfer or another young lad. I prefer some of the youngsters than straight out go buy another defender. Unless its another Coleman/Oviedo.
510 Posted 12/01/2014 at 01:08:56
If BK really wants to help the team at this moment in time, he will ask Roberto who he wants and move heaven and earth to get them players. If however, Roberto feels he can get through the rest of the season with the players we have - we will have to abide by that decision, but I think it may be a bridge too far to cope for the last 17 games plus Cup-ties with the current players.
I suppose the other niggle at the back of all our minds is will someone bid for Barkley or indeed has someone already done so - Hansen and company were alluding to the fact that Man U need quality additions and being a cynical old git I wouldn't rule it out completely - but that would be a blow to the fan-base and a terrible blow for Roberto and his reputation.
514 Posted 12/01/2014 at 01:14:59
516 Posted 12/01/2014 at 01:23:20
On that note, does anyone remember that we have that many injuries this time last year? I somehow think its about the same...
547 Posted 12/01/2014 at 05:30:03
Have we forgotten the famous backpass that cost us the FA Cup semi-final?
548 Posted 12/01/2014 at 06:28:56
Stop making stuff up, Rahman.
552 Posted 12/01/2014 at 06:48:51
556 Posted 12/01/2014 at 06:51:42
558 Posted 12/01/2014 at 06:50:45
565 Posted 12/01/2014 at 07:10:33
Derek, yep. Things seem simpler now and players look much more relaxed playing in the current system. By no means they are fully accustomed. My ideal scenario would be to have the team create goals like the one Wilshire scored against Norwich. That would probably be the next phase of our team's growth.
611 Posted 12/01/2014 at 10:28:29
617 Posted 12/01/2014 at 10:33:30
623 Posted 12/01/2014 at 10:46:44
627 Posted 12/01/2014 at 10:54:06
660 Posted 12/01/2014 at 11:50:59
675 Posted 12/01/2014 at 13:21:29
730 Posted 12/01/2014 at 16:40:41
Stones is inexperienced and needed an old head with him but he will definitely come good. Coleman had his hands full once Redmond came on. McCarthy was about average and Mirallas blew hot and cold. Lukaku needs better service as he ran into really good positions but was rarely fed.
We played well for 60 minutes but, once Osman and Pienaar came off, we lost the midfield from an attacking sense. I thought Oviedo would have come on for Pienaar as he would have maintained the team's balance.
927 Posted 12/01/2014 at 22:20:33
I think this has something to do with the fact that every other fucker around us in the table just keep on winning, including them lot from across the park.
The gap to the top three is growing slightly, and Spurs and Man Utd are creeping up on us too.
So despite our greatest points haul at this stage in PL history, we still know that just a little blip could see us back in 7th. And our growing injury list make that little blip all the more possible.
This time last year, 41 points would have seen us 7 points above Arsenal and 10 points above the shite. If that was the case right now, I think we'd all feel that little bit happier.
931 Posted 12/01/2014 at 22:48:24
935 Posted 12/01/2014 at 23:11:39
Harold, arm-eater reminded me of the tank comment you made. He looked like a cross between a boar and a wolverine when smashing that second goal...But yes, RM did mention Stones is kinda emergency inclusion. I worry that Stones would not have the experience to handle the cheatery and aggressiveness of the rs frontline. If the match is 18 months from now, I have no doubt Stones will be able to hold his own.
Just case in point, who do you consider a tank of a striker? Crouch is a stick, Aguero, probably, Dzeko, probably more, but the only guy I can really think of is Drogba and Crespo.
Also, rs never ceases to amaze me with the amount of points they get off shoddy refs and cheating.
944 Posted 12/01/2014 at 23:54:22
RS had three goals gifted to them today by Lady Luck, terrible officiating and defensive buffoonery. They seem to get more than their fair share but I don't think there is anything truly sinister about it.
949 Posted 13/01/2014 at 00:17:39
I'll need to search for replays of Man City. I agree Dzeko is not a tank, though my memory of him is very little, like, was he wider or bulkier...Anyway, not important since they are not our next opponent.
Hopefully we get bodies soon that can be plugged right into the team...
952 Posted 13/01/2014 at 00:26:28
029 Posted 13/01/2014 at 13:11:10
The reason why OFM went ballistic is because he refused to spend one dime on referee's cooperation?
I mean the big four would've been sardines if it wouldn't be for the referees, thus far.
The RS third goal was simply a crime. IT looked like Sterling ram his leg against the defender.
Maybe we should start paying the referees?
300 Posted 14/01/2014 at 07:27:22
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