Result: Scorers: Newell; Stuart, Ferguson
Birmingham City: Bennett, Tait (78 Otto), Granger (32 Poole), Bruce, Breen, Ablett, Hunt, Devlin (55 Newell), Furlong, Horne, Legg (78 Castle). Booked: #N/A Subs Not Used: Barnes, Sutton
|Everton: Southall, Hinchcliffe, Unsworth, Watson, Barret, Speed, Ebbrell (45 Grant), Parkinson, Kanchelskis, Stuart (80 Branch), Ferguson. Booked: #N/A Subs Not Used: Moore, Gerrard.|
|Ref: Vic Callow (Solihull)||-||Att: 9,010|
Guy McEvoy: Birmingham City fans have had it hard recently, a classic case of a team with all the recource advantages failing to convert it to real success. Watching Villa come good whilst languishing under the 'new team every week' ethos of Barry Fry, and at the same time suffering the brutal commercialism of the likes of Karen Brady on the Board (who make our directors look frankly benevolent), I've felt for them. However, perhaps their corner is being turned. A good result against Arsenal last week boded well for their new manager and new signings, including our very own Barry Horne.
Indeed, the occasion was used by many Evertonians to give our Barry a proper goodbye. Some enterprising fan clubs had decided to vote him their "player of the season" for last year which meant a nice presentation before the game and one last chance for us all to sing that bloody ridiculous "BarryORRNE" 'song'. Barry has been a cracking servant for the Blues in Merseyside and we all wish him luck for his time with the Midlands Blues.
A speculative ball towards Ferguson drew the keeper running out at speed. Big Dunc was able to use his presence to deny the keeper the ball and was then alert enough to lay the ball back to Stuart who was just outside the box. Even with the keeper stranded way off his line and on the floor Diamond still had his work cut out as defenders rushed back to guard the open goal. Stuart's weighted chipped shot demonstrated his total self-assurance. A class start to the account.
Stuart was really the man of the first half. He'd been given the roaming up front roll he'd put to such good affect at the start of last season and was clearly enjoying himself. He was at the heart of both of our remaining serious chances in the half; a fluent move where Southall kicked long to Kanchelskis who flicked across to Stuart who in turn knocked it to Speed to shoot just wide and again later when Speed drove into the box from the left feigning the shot and laying it back to Stuart whose side footed shot was well saved.
In truth the action in between these moments was a little disappointing. There were long spells of the mid-field nothingness that seems to blight these low-key matches and this was confounded by a referee and linesman both determined to stifle any rhythm that threatened to develop by use of the off-side rule. Birmingham probed but never really pushed the defence who were handling the game competently. The biggest let down of the period was the apparently subdued performance of Ferguson and Kanchelskis.
It was Birmingham though who threatened first when they cut our defence wide open on the right, launched a cross that had them queuing up and was met with a bobbled volley which the attacker connected in front of an open goal. Fortunately he was so keen to keep the ball down that he hit it hard into the floor in front of him that the shot bounced over the bar and the very real danger passed.
Duncan did his best to reply, twice coming close. The first time was a typical Dunc-Hinchcliffe corner routine which ended up just over. The second came from a low pass from Hinchcliffe which surprised everyone, not least Dunc, who found himself unmarked on the edge of the box. He regained composure turned and tried the instinctive lob, unfortunately the keeper was just able to get an acrobatic finger tip to push it wide.
Everton continued pressing and Dunc finally got the goal he'd been threatening since the break. A clever flick from Barrett wide on the right had just enough weight to give the full pace Kanchelskis a chance of a first time cross before it went out. He delivered the goods and big Dunc was charging in forehead first to bury it. Sheer joy to watch. More Please.
In the meantime Stuart had made way for Michael Branch who again showed some very promising touches put never quite showed the command and confidence of Diamond. Branch desperately needs the boost of a first team goal to settle any self doubt, then I'm sure the rest will follow.
A touch of complacency was allowed to creep in after the second but in all honesty there was little anyone could do about the Birmingham goal. Mike Newell picked up the ball in a situation that demanded a cross and instead ended in a 20 yard strike that left Nev no chance. Certainly as fine a goal as he ever scored for us.
There were a couple of scares in the closing moments but these merely served to give Southall the chance to announce emphatically that he is still very much with us.
And so for once Everton finish their pre-season follies undefeated (at least in normal play). Let's hope we can keep the run going when the real business starts next week. They aint gonna come no bigger than Newcastle...