Almost a Christmas miracle

By Paul Traill 24/12/2017 4comments  |  Jump to last

Early kick off meant an early start, and with Gaz picking me up at 10.30am we were in the pub at a somewhat misguided hour of 11am for a couple of early jars pre-game. The free hot dog in the pub proved welcome and we arrived at Goodison Park just in time for kick off, three changed from Monday’s win against Swansea City, all enforced. Ashley Williams, Mason Holgate and Wayne Rooney all missed out through injury, albeit the two centre backs were deemed fit enough for the substitutes bench, quite importantly, as it turned out in the second half.

WIth Alvaro Morata, ridiculously, suspended Antonio Conte resisted the temptation to field Michy Batshuayi and instead Pedro seemed to be deployed as a ‘false nine’. Maybe not having a recognised striker on the field was the overriding difference between Chelsea not taking all three points in this game as they failed to convert the chances that came their way. Credit to Everton though who were resolute throughout, and held on for a draw in a real backs-to-the-wall effort. Credit to the supporters too who contributed and backed the Blues all the way.

We were a little fortunate to go in at the break all square. Phil Jagielka twice cleared off the goal line in quick succession from Tiemoue Bakayoko as Chelsea dominated. Bobby Madley made things more difficult for Everton with two ridiculous yellow cards for Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cuco Martina. In the first half particularly, Cuco really struggled to come to terms with the yellow card and was very anxious to tackle from that point on. Our best opportunity came and went when Dominic Calvert-Lewin robbed Andreas Christensen of possession on the touch line, but didn’t quite have the composure to play the right pass when he took the ball into the penalty area.

Dissecting the state of play at the break, we felt we would do well to come out of the game with a point should we carry on playing this way. While we were digging in well, we were nowhere near clever enough in possession and we were missing a cool head up there to assist Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Conversely, we felt if we went for the game more we could easily get overrun as the team, if nothing else, were doing a disciplined job of keeping out the champions. Our ‘plan’ was to keep things as it was and then, assuming we’re still level, on 70 minutes put Gylfi Sigurdsson up there and give it a bit of a crack. Big Sam then stunned us by changing it sooner. Off came Aaron Lennon and Tom Davies, replaced by Ashley Williams and Sandro Ramirez to give us something of a 3-4-1-2 formation with Gylfi moved in field. While fundementally this wasn’t a bad idea, you felt it was quite the gamble at that stage. The players needed to get to grips with the new system quickly, but Chelsea were straight on the front foot and we weren’t allowed the opportunity to settle. This was compounded when Idrissa Gana Gueye limped off, replaced by Beni Baningime, meaning we could not make any more substitutions. From the minute our final substitution was made it almost felt that it was a case of hanging on for what we had, and with 39 minutes still to play, that was some tall order.

Credit to the lads for sticking at it, but my word, that was tough going. Chelsea were relentless and we somehow withstood wave upon wave of Chelsea attacks. Jordan Pickford made key saves when he had to, and there were I-don’t-know-how-many deep clearances from our defenders, though the closest Chelsea came was when Ashley WIlliams got a head to a Victor Moses cross and will have been the most relieved man in the stadium to see the ball come back out off the underside of the crossbar. A real let off for Everton. It was unbearable to watch at times and we were almost grateful to not be able to see much of the second half from the Gwladys Street thanks to the blinding sun in the last 30 minutes of the game. Even though I, smugly, brought my sunglasses along it was still very difficult to make out what was happening with practically all the action down the far end of the field.

Despite all this, we did have the opportunity of a Christmas miracle when a late free kick gave us the opportunity to relieve the pressure and get the centre backs up. The ball was played in deep and put behind by Chelsea for a corner. Gylfi played it inch-perfect to Michael Keane who, with a free header from the penalty spot, unfortunately headed too high in what was a golden opportunity. That would have been about as smash-and-grab as you can get.

The last action of the game was Cuco Martina booting the ball high into the top balcony. Had it have been returned quickly Bobby Madley would have allowed Chelsea one last attack. Thankfully some bright spark up there had the wisdom to hold onto the ball until Madley decided enough was enough and blew for full time. The ball was then returned.

A resilient effort from Everton and if you cast your mind back a month to that wretched performance versus Southampton, you would never in your wildest of dreams have us walking away from a draw with the champions a little miffed that we didn’t have more of a go at them. We have to improve with our attacking play against the big teams and Big Sam has acknowledged as much following our draws with Liverpool and Chelsea, but let’s walk not run. You would have to be a real Grinch to be unhappy with our results these last seven games and it’s nice to be looking up and not down.

Thanks Big Sam. This ain’t half as bad as I expected it to be.

Merry Christmas Blues.

Player ratings:

Pickford: Made good saves when he had to. Some of his kicking was suspect but you sort of let him off for it. I like that he’s got the courage to try it. 7

Martina: A bit like in the Merseyside derby, he started well enough but as soon as something went against him his head dropped very quickly and he became quite the liability in the first half. Unlike in the Merseyside derby however, he did somehow manage to recover in the second half and stood up to the task quite manfully I thought. Seemed to improve as the second half wore on. He’s not everybody’s cup of tea, hardly anyone’s in fact but I feel he’s doing about his best, and though it’s not without faults, that’s good enough for me. 6

Keane: Slotted in well. Will rue that missed opportunity at the death. 7

Jagielka: Had a very solid afternoon. It’s good that Phil and Michael are giving Big Sam a bit of a selection headache. 8

Kenny: Continues to impress and was probably our most attacking outlet in the second half. 7

Gueye: Was having a good game until injury struck. Will be missed. 7

Schneiderlin: I thought Morgan had an excellent game, certainly his best of the season. He was combative and disruptive throughout and did a very good job of unsettling Chelsea. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. Won’t be popular, but my man of the match. 8

Lennon: Will have felt a bit unlucky to be substituted as he was having a good game but it was system change and nothing to do with his performance. Can be very pleased with his contribution this last month or so and you have to wonder why Ronald Koeman neglected to turn to Aaron when we were struggling. 7

Sigurdsson: Did pretty well. Would have liked to have got on the ball more in the second half but his effort is exemplary. 7

Davies: Seemed to have a bit of a free role of floating between midfield and attack. He made some decision-making mistakes and can’t really complain about being substituted, but I really hope this doesn’t deter him from trying these things. I like his dynamism and the only way he’ll learn is with games. No complaints from me. 5

Calvert-Lewin: Battled hard albeit without reward. His decision making is poor at times but like Tom, the only way he’ll learn is with games. 6


Williams (for Davies): Brought on to bolster the back line and he did that to good effect, even with that chunk of luck when his header came back off the underside of the crossbar. He did well otherwise. 7

Ramirez (for Lennon): He provided reasonable nuisance value I suppose, but he must be desperate for an opportunity and I expected him to make more of it really. It’s tough to judge him on limited game time but you have to feel he’s been disappointing so far. Would like to see more of him before writing him off though. 5

Baningime (for Gueye): Coped well in a very challenging game. A real bright prospect for the future. 6

Reader Comments (4)

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Tim James
1 Posted 26/12/2017 at 07:30:05
Great read, thank you Paul.
Andy Crooks
2 Posted 26/12/2017 at 14:33:20
Good stuff as usual, Paul. What is your opinion on this:

Sandro reminds me of James Vaughan. Talented, gets minutes at the end of a game and busts a gut trying to impress. This, as with Vaughan leads to injury. He needs a run of games and an arm round the shoulder. Also, Klaassen needs the same. He is, in my view a top player. That is why I would rather Sam looked at the squad before investing.

James Flynn
3 Posted 27/12/2017 at 23:43:16
Thanks Paul. Always look forward to your match reports.

My opinion on young Davies is that opposing coaching staffs have a season of tape on him to study.

With that, they've concluded that Davies is a fighter everywhere on the pitch. Also concluded that he's no passing threat or has anything like a hard shot in either boot.

So far, that seems to me an accurate appraisal.

The kid has his work cut out for him.

Tony Heron
4 Posted 28/12/2017 at 13:18:07
Good read that Paul. Thanks for taking the time to give a fans eye view of the game. Always interested to hear the views of those at the game rather than like myself an armchair supporter these days. Incidently does anyone know what's happened to Ken Buckley?

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