I had been hoping to see Everton play in Vienna ever since moving here in 2005. Each time that The Blues qualified for the Europa League, I hoped that they would be drawn against an Austrian team - preferably one of the 2 teams in Vienna. There were a couple of near misses as Rapid Vienna played (and beat) Aston Villa in 2 consecutive years. I well remember Jelavic missing easy chances and scoring more difficult ones in those matches.

Everton have held a training camp in Austria for the past few years, but this is the first time that they have included a match against a team from the Austrian Bundesliga in their programme. Their opponents began their season with a 3-0 cup victory on friday against a minor team. In Austria the big team always plays away when drawn against a lower league team in the cup.

So Austria Vienna [AV] had the advantage of completing their pre-season training ahead of their first league match next saturday having already played a competitive fixture. Still I was unsure what to expect as most of the best Austrian footballers play in Germany, notably David Alaba making his name in the all-conquering Bayern Munich side. He is a class above anyone else in their national team.

On the way to the ground I was speculating on our likely line-up. I expected the team to feature most of the same players who comprehensively outplayed West Ham in the final home game of last season. The difference would be some new, and young, faces. I was also intrigued to see if the team would adopt a significantly changed style of play.

The crowd would be another interesting feature. How many Evertonians would make the journey for this friendly match? Would their numbers be swelled because of the new manager and new signings? How many opposition supporters would turn up?

This would be my first experience of a football match in Austria. My only previous visit to a football stadium here was one year ago, when I went to the National Stadium to see an overwhelming victory by Bruce Springsteen over the home fans!

On the way to the match, with an AV season ticket holder (Sascha), I was full of England’s narrow, exciting victory in the Test Match against Australia. He sat in bemused silence as I tried to explain how the advantage in that match had constantly changed, so that no one knew who was going to win until the very end. I am not sure that my football analogy was too clever. I said it was like a 4-4 draw entering injury time, with the lead having changed many times, only for one side to score the winner in the penultimate minute.

As he promised to buy me an Eismarillenknodel (ice cream with
some apricot in a batter probably 1,000 calories!) on the way back after the match, it can’t have been too bad!

We arrived at the ground, which was compact but looked well maintained, to find a few Evertonians outside. By kick-off I estimated that there were around 300 in the away end, plus a few more of us scattered throughout the Main Stand. The attendance was a respectable 7,125 (capacity 12,500).

My first surprise was to discover that Roberto Martinez was giving all his touring party a game. So first half there were 5 regulars (Baines, Jagielka, Gibson, Pienaar, Osman) plus some squad players and Under 20 players. The only new signing was Joel Robles in goal. He was the only player, apart from Duffy, to play the full 90 minutes. I would like to have seen Kone and Barkley, but neither were available.

My next surprise was the players shirts they contained no names! Sascha mentioned that straight away. I could provide no explanation, but it didn’t help me as I do not know the younger players at all. Incidentally I thought that the shirts didn’t look too different from last season, apart from the collar (fortunately the amateurish badge was not visible from a distance).
Another Austrian tradition (which if I remember rightly used to also be the case in Scotland) is for the away team to retain their main kit, in the event of a clash of colours. So AV played in off-white and The Blues in all-blue.

Sascha’s next comment concerned Magaye Gueye. He asked if he ate a lot or was just muscular. He was enormous! Maybe it is because I have only seen Everton play via my pc or TV over the last 8 years, (with one exception when I took my wife to see her first football match a promised goalfest against Derby County finished 1-0!), but I was surprised at how small some of the players were, notably Baines, Pienaar and Oviedo. At the other extreme there was Gueye, Anichebe and Duffy also massive.

We started well, passing the ball around nicely for about 15 minutes without any penetration. Then, from nowhere, a defensive mix-up allowed Stankovic to take the ball round Robles and place it into an empty net. This spurred on the home team and their fans. Stankovic cooly stroked home a penalty after Duffy was adjudged to have handled. At this stage Sascha’s prediction of 3-3 was looking unlikely. However within a couple of minutes Vellios had nodded in, from close range, a perfect cross from Baines. A typical English goal said Sascha. Shortly afterwards Naismith was kicked in the penalty area, needing treatment, but nothing was given.

This goal, the best of the game, livened up the Everton fans. The Austrian fans from time to time did this very European thing of rhythmic clapping, shortly followed by everyone standing up. Bizarrely there was no connection between these outbursts and the action on the field.

Before half-time it was good to see the remaining Everton players warming up in a group at the side of the pitch. Wholesale changes were made during the interval. 5 more First Team players (Hibbert, Distin, Fellaini, Mirallas, Anichebe) appeared. Gibson played for a further 20 minutes or so.

Everton were not really in the game much as an attacking force in the second half. The only real chance fell to Mirallas, from a neat flick by Anichebe, in an identical position to the first AV goal. Unfortunately, rather than slot the ball into the goal, he hesitated, then tried to take it round their keeper who grabbed the ball.

Midway through the second half the new AV manager brought on the remainder of their first team players they had also been playing half and half up to that point. They dominated the latter stages of the match, which had livened up in the second half. Robles made at least 3 fine saves to keep the scoreline respectable. Clearly their superior fitness was starting to tell.

It was frustrating, in a way, that we didn’t see our Best 11 at any stage. I believe that if we played them in a meaningful game we would beat them quite comfortably. However I can honestly say that it was the only time that I have watched Everton without caring about the result. Nice to be able to watch in a relaxed condition particularly after the tension of the cricket earlier on!

The only negative aspect of the whole day came at the end of the match. Bearing in mind the fact that most of the Evertonians behind the goal will have travelled a long way to watch this friendly match, the players could have made more effort to acknowledge their presence. Some did, but from a distance.
I noticed Martinez urging a few to do so, but he was ignored. Nevertheless he went out a bit further and showed his appreciation to the fans.

Sascha was amazed by this response, as all the AV players went up to their main fans area behind the other goal and stayed on the pitch for some minutes. You may have seen German players doing this after Champions League matches. It is a nice, genuine touch and one that we would do well to emulate.

Focusing now on the players performances, if I was awarding a MotM it would have to be Robles, closely followed by Gibson. I was very impressed by our new goalkeeper. I had never heard of him before the Cup Final, where I thought he did very well. He is a tall guy who made himself big (like Neville Southall used to do) to save and block shots when the crowd anticipated a goal. He definitely prefers to pass the ball rather than kick it long. I can’t remember seeing him kick from his hands, although he did kick some from the ground when he had to. He only misjudged one deflected effort which hit the bar, had no chance for the goals and was saved once when Distin cleared off the line. I would expect him to present a serious challenge to Tim Howard. Indeed I would not be surprised if he becomes our No 1 as it says on his jersey.

Gibson was very involved in the game. Everything seemed to flow through him and he was the only player to try adventurous passes. We dropped off as an attacking force when he was substituted.

Distin made some good blocks and tackles, particularly during the latter stages. I saw him sprint back after an attacking move broke down, showing that he was not treating this match as just a run out.

Oviedo looked class at left-back in the second half. He didn’t put a foot wrong and kept one of their danger men very quiet. He was so unlucky not to have played more games last season. He has a chance to make his mark under a new manager who has no favourites.

Duffy had a mixed game. In the first half he had great difficulty handling their No. 9, Okotie, who was about one foot smaller. He lost him on a few occasions in dangerous situations. Not sure why he handled for the penalty. He improved in the second half, but still did not do enough to convince me that he can break through the Jagielka/Distin partnership.

I was disappointed by Fellaini. I thought that he would impose himself on the game. Instead he ran around quite energetically but to little purpose. When Gibson went off he dropped back and seemed content to play square passes mostly to defenders. Indeed overall there was too much of that in our game.

What can I say about Mirallas? He has become one of my favourite players, based on his performances last season. I warned Sascha that he should expect some goal action from this guy. He was hopeless. The only bright thing about him was his boots!

Of the other players, Pienaar stood out. He was his usual skillful, industrious self, linking well with Baines.

I have to say that I groaned when I heard Naismith’s name announced before the start. At this stage I didn’t realise that the whole squad would play. He did have one strong shot at their goalie and was more involved than I expected. However I seem to remember that he did rather well in last years pre-season matches. It might have been interesting to see him play behind the striker rather than wide right. All the other first team players were steady.

None of the young players stood out. They all tried hard, mostly in midfield, but didn’t achieve much of note.

In terms of formation it seemed to me that Martinez was playing Gueye just behind Vellios, and Mirallas just behind Anichebe. As none of these players achieved much it was difficult to tell whether it will succeed in the future. Of course in Kone we will have a real No 9 for the first time for many years, so it may well work.

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Reader Comments (8)

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Harold Matthews
1 Posted 16/07/2013 at 15:51:25
Fantastic report Robert. Felt as though I was there. Well done.

I've read it three times.

James Stewart
2 Posted 16/07/2013 at 16:50:35
Oviedo is probably the best LB in the league to not get a game!
Andrew Ellams
3 Posted 16/07/2013 at 16:57:39
James, how can we know that? His only start in that position was the cup debacle at Leeds
Harold Matthews
4 Posted 16/07/2013 at 16:59:01
Andrew. Yes, and he was a revelation that night.
Coming away from the game, my eldest son remarked that he wasn't too disappointed because we'd discovered a real player.
Sadly, Moyes didn't push on with him. OK, with Baines ever present he couldn't play left back but I would have liked to have seen him used more elsewhere.
Alan Humphreys
5 Posted 16/07/2013 at 17:02:45
Great read. Thanks Robert - was the ice cream as nice as it sounded?

I thought Oviedo was unlucky not to get a few games ahead of Pienaar when he was struggling. Hopefully as you say Robert, RM has no favourites in our current squad - may shade towards his new signings in weeks to come though.

James Stewart
6 Posted 16/07/2013 at 19:27:41
Mainly from his International performances Andrew. He is a quality player.
Robert Workman
7 Posted 17/07/2013 at 09:28:52
Alan - yes it was decidedly yummy! There are still 2 left in our freezer - Err.... make that 1!
Matt Traynor
8 Posted 17/07/2013 at 12:49:17
Nice report Robert. Like you I enjoy pre-season friendlies as I don't attach any importance to them, and just treat them as day out and an opportunity to visit a ground I might not ordinarily get to.

I'm also not amazed at the number of fans who make the effort to get there. I was based in Asia for a while, and went to Bangkok in 2005 when we played the Thai under 23 side, and Man City in a four-way tournament (Bolton were the other team).

It was weird bumping into so many Everton fans that weekend - from the airport, to the market at Chatchuchak (where I was able to buy a knock-off top for the GF to wear at about 3) to the hotel we stayed at.

I'm jealous reading about all those heading over to the States later this month!

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