Isn’t it strange how little decisions you make can dramatically change your day? With Gaz due to pick me up at 11:15 am for the match, I was all set to go the gym at about 9:15 am when I made the last-minute decision to instead go for a jog. What a good decision that turned out to be! I returned to a voicemail from a friend David who has season tickets in the corporate lounge.
I called David back and, as it turned out, a few of his customers were unable to attend last minute and he had two tickets available on a seven-seat table for free food and drinks prior to the match in the Dixie Dean Suite, the only condition being that I could be outside The Wilmslow Hotel at 11:30am and that I wore a suit. “I’m guessing you’ve got a suit haven’t you Paul?” he teased. David was also kind enough to let me bring an ecstatic Steve along. Had I have gone the gym, I’d have gotten the message too late and completely missed out.
All my plans consequently changed. As it turned out I had a spare ticket for this one and was supposed to meet a mate in The Brick with the ticket a bit later on. I now couldn’t do that of course…and couldn’t get hold of him either to tell him. Umpteen times I tried calling he and his girlfriend though both their phones were switched off. I ended up selling his ticket to some bloke outside the ticket office just before I met David. It’s just as well I did in the end as my friend didn’t awake until about 1pm and would never have made the pub anyway. I also had to shelve plans to meet another Evertonian to sell my Sunderland tickets as I can’t make that match unfortunately. Thankfully he is happy to re-arrange…and no, I’m not some sort of tout as it may sound.
So on to the Dixie Dean Suite and what a fantastic day we had. The match itself obviously made it all the more sweeter but it was a privilege to be treated to the rather stellar service of the Everton staff. Immediately upon entrance into Goodison Park, we were met by the ever-friendly Graeme Sharpe. We were then led upstairs into the Dixie Dean Suite, everyone we encountered greeting us with smiles… David ordering and re-ordering bottles of Chang for all. Prior to that, David showed us where our seats would be and pointed out where his seat was and where Bill Kenwright sits. It was all a bit unreal and Ste and I couldn’t stop grinning to ourselves.
Martin Dobson came over to the table all smiles. We ordered our food from the menu – a delicious three-course meal – and the MC introduced Mick Lyons to the audience. Mick spoke fondly of his time at Everton though this was his first trip back to Goodison Park in 2½ years as he now resides in Australia. He spoke of a very promising 17-year \-old Australian player named Daniel de Silva who plays for Perth Glory adn Australia U-21s and that he is one to watch, even drawing comparisons to Wayne Rooney. I’ll look out for that one...
For an early kick-off match, everyone was in very lively spirits. As we approached kick-off, we saw Howard Kendall chatting warmly to a table and Bill Kenwright with guests. It was all a bit surreal to be a part of it. The rest of the table departed for kick-off about 10 minutes before the start whilst Steve and me waited… ordinarily, we’re just leaving the pub about now so we made the most of our time and got to our plush seats with minutes to spare. The seats... blue leather and padded... and the view pretty much the best in the house. Put it this way: Bill Kenwright was about 10 yards to our left and a few rows forward and – only did we realize later on in the match – Roy Keane was sat just two rows directly ahead of us.
So you get it; we enjoyed ourselves… immensely so – and it was very apt that Everton delivered the best performance I’ve seen from the Blues in a long, long time. It’s difficult to measure it against anything I’ve seen under Moyes as our style of play is now so much more measured and complete. We took the game to Arsenal from the off and played with a real level of desire and composure which Arsenal just couldn’t live with. Gary was quick to let me know after the match what a great atmosphere I’d missed in the Gwladys Street and he will have been right. It looked a picture and the noise from both there and the Park End was excellent.
Martinez got his tactics spot-on in attack. He was forced into a little bit of a re-think early on when Leon Osman had to be substituted, suffering from concussion and nursing a deep cut above his eye which was sustained during a foul on Bacary Sagna. Barkley was the substitute and this I think helped Everton, such is his willingness to drive forward. Steven Naismith kept their defenders occupied throughout whilst also doing his best to upset Arteta’s rhythm in the match and refuse the ex-Evertonian much time on the ball, whilst Lukaku was deployed more to the right to attack Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal. With both players getting on the scoresheet, it certainly worked. The first goal coming after just 14 minutes when Steven Naismith slotted home after Lukaku’s drive was saved by Szczesny.
Arsenal rallied a little and Howard had to be at his best to deny Podolski a goal when he tipped the German’s drive around the post but Everton weathered it quite comfortably and maintained their attacking threat themselves, this resulting in a second Everton goal on 34 minutes. Very good play by Mirallas who released a ball out to Lukaku on the right flank. His compatriot ran the ball forward and cut the ball inside onto his left foot to give himself a shooting opportunity and he made no mistake, slotting the ball past Szczesny to send Goodison Park wild. He then surprised everybody, not least Roberto Martinez, when he ran towards our manager and jumped on the Spaniard before being embraced by the rest of his team mates. Everton 2-0 ahead before half-time and in complete control against Arsenal. Quite incredible.
At the break, we walked past Robert Elstone on our way back to the Dixie Dean Suite who greeted us with a nice smile. We certainly enjoyed our half-time Chang before heading back to the second half. “You can come again, Paul, if it stays like this,” joked David. His Arsenal-supporting friend who was with us for the day was less than impressed at the break. We heard the referee's bell go and that was our que to head down to our seats.
The second half was just as much fun as the first and, had Everton have really gone for it at 3-0, this could have gotten worse for Arsenal. The whole team to a man were imperious and Arsenal really had no answer. The third goal came just after the hour when Mirallas made quite a sensational burst through the Arsenal midfield and into their penalty area. The ball somehow deflected back towards him off Szczesny when he tried to play it through and – if Arsenal’s players had any heart, they would have cleared the ball – but heart they don’t have and Mirallas was able to poke the ball home on the stretch… at least that’s what we all thought. As it turned out, it was an Arteta own-goal with the Spaniard getting the final touch on the ball and diverting it into his own net. This compounded a bad afternoon for Arteta. Not only was he booed throughout and scored an own, goal he was jeered as he picked an argument with Barkley and was then booked for his troubles by Martin Atkinson. It was a classless display from such a classy player.
Arsenal’s belief had long gone, though they did twice come close to making the scoreline a little more credible. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s drive from distance thundered away off the crossbar whilst substitute Sanogo did put the ball in the net but the offside flag had gone up.
Full-time and what a performance, result and atmosphere. We now sit just the one point behind Arsenal with a greater goal difference and a game in hand. It’s still going to be tough given our run-in compared to that of Arsenal’s but, boy, have we given ourselves a chance!
We stayed for drinks for an hour after the match, Howard Kendall even coming over to our table at one point, all smiles and chatting away. I went back out to the pitch viewpoint where Stan Collymore was above me in the gantry, delivering his TalkSport show. We watched the first half of the West Ham vs Liverpool game back in the suite. (“Only Liverpool get an investigation after a goal is given against them” said one of the Everton staff as he watched West Ham’s goal be questioned by referee and linesman before finally giving West Ham’s goal, tables of Blues singing Blowing Bubbles as the goal was given.) Then we had a couple of drinks in The Wilmslow Hotel before finally getting the fellas on their train back down South, Ste and I then staying in Liverpool for a few drinks before making our way home to cap off one fantastic day.
It’s all to play for as we enter the home stretch. Six games left and a Champions League place very much achievable. Time to see what this team is really made of.
Six wins in a row – fantastic, Everton. Just fantastic.
Howard: Made saves when he had to and distributed well and quickly to his flanks. 8
Baines: Worked hard to get forward down the left. I was glad he stood up to Arteta when he was acting the brat following his altercation with Barkley. 7
Distin: Good. Emptied everything that came at him. 7
Stones: The odd error but had another good and composed game. 7
Coleman: You had to love the keep-ups as his dribbled down the pitch. Had a barnstorming game at right back. His best game since his injury. 9
Barry: He is so consistent. You could almost give him man of the mach every game as his performance level is of such a high standard so regularly. His services must be retained for next season. 8
McCarthy: Solid if not spectacular. 7
Osman: Not on long though it was an eventful 10 minutes. Not too far away from scoring a wonder-goal, collected a booking for a robust challenge, and had to be subbed for cutting his head open in doing so. 6
Mirallas: A few brain-dead moments but was crucial to the second and third goals and put in a good honest effort. 7
Lukaku: Was pulled out to the right hand side for a lot of the game and it worked wonders. He scored a great goal from there. The way he celebrated with Martinez does suggest to me we might, just might be able to keep him after all. Lets wait and see. Man of the match for me. 9
Naismith: Could easily have gotten Man of the Match also. A fantastic display by the Scot who has certainly won a lot of people over. Probably his best game for Everton yet. 9
Barkley (for Osman): Did very well. Was very busy throughout. 7
McGeady (for Naismith): Did OK. Showed good movement and enthusiasm. 6
Deulofeu (for Lukaku): Did well to keep them on the back foot and help run the clock down. 6
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