Thursday, January 03, 2013

To the Victor the spoils

Newcastle Utd 1 - 2 Everton

After dramatic, traumatic back-to-back defeats at Old Trafford and the Emirates, the fag end of the festive season brought no cheer either, Everton triumphing at St James' Park with our absent top scorer on the verge of joining Chelsea.

Paul may have imagined (or hoped) that Ba's impending departure would mean Papiss Cisse being restored to a central striking role, but it wasn't to be, with Big Lad drafted in to spearhead the attack. Positions and tactics were made to seem of negligible significance just two minutes in, though. Big Lad looked set to flick on a long lump forwards, with Cisse offside. Thankfully, the former made no contact and, with Johnny Heitinga and former Mag Sylvain Distin sufficiently distracted to take each other out in a comical collision, Cisse was left free to loop a header over Tim Howard and into the net.

We went on to threaten with pleasing regularity, Obertan Kenobi in particular tormenting the Toffees' out-of-position right-back Phil Jagielka while dangerous crosses were close to picking out Cisse and Vurnon Anita. It was the unlikely figure of Perchinho who was closest to extending our lead, though, sufficiently inspired by his goalscoring exploits at Old Trafford to nod a free kick onto Tim Howard's far post.

Nevertheless, the visitors were enjoying the bulk of possession, and could point to a number of opportunities of their own. Marouane Fellaini had a shot well blocked by Davide Santon and Steven Naismith planted a free header tamely at Tim Krul, while the Dutchman also made a decent stop from a Steven Pienaar shot and tipped over a wickedly deflected drive.

Down at Goodison Park in September, Everton's main menace was Leighton Baines, and once again he had set about causing us innumerable headaches - aided at least in part by the fact that the man detailed to mark him, Cisse, had a loose grasp of his defensive duties. Krul made a fine smothering save when Baines got onto the end of a lobbed ball that caught the defence napping, having already performed heroics to touch the left-back's curling free kick around the post.

But Baines was not to be denied, and was presented with the opportunity he needed by referee Martin Atkinson, who seemed intent on punishing our players for daring to breathe in the vicinity of their opponents. Obertan Kenobi, nominally affording protection to Krul in the wall, turned his back, and the Dutchman's two steps to the left, plus the vicious swerve on the smashed 30-yard drive, resulted in an unwelcome bulge in the net. Soon afterwards, Big Lad went to ground in the penalty area under challenge from Phil Neville, but even replays proved inconclusive and the scores were level at the break.

We began the second period with renewed vigour and determination, Sylvain Marveaux seeing more of the ball and frequently driving towards the heart of the Everton defence. Big Lad's beautiful close control created a golden opportunity, but he couldn't quite steer the ball inside the post with his second touch. It was the sort of chance that makes you wonder how much Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi will be ruing his failure to respond to phone calls ahead of the African Cup of Nations - and another striker of Nigerian descent soon made the miss all the more painful.

Everton's goalscorers at Goodison Park were Baines and substitute Victor Anichebe, and this time the latter took all of two minutes to make an impact from the bench. Neat interplay involving Baines, Pienaar, Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic ended with Anichebe stealing in front of a dozing Santon and converting from close range with Krul helpless.

That left us with half an hour (plus what turned out to be six minutes of stoppage time) to salvage something, but there was to be no way back, despite significant pressure and numerous efforts. Obertan Kenobi had a near-post shot saved by Howard before being replaced by Master T, a curious move given the threat he'd carried as well as the fact it seemed to result in Anita, who had provided drive through the middle, moving out to the right. Cisse had a header blocked and saw his improvised follow-up smartly stopped on the line by Howard. Marveaux was the beneficiary of a defensive slip but was unlucky that his fierce shot was blocked to safety by a well-positioned Leon Osman - and later, after falling over and making no attempt to claim a foul, had to suffer the indignity of being barracked by Everton skipper Neville, someone who certainly knows a thing or two about diving.

Santon, presumably desperate to make amends for his defensive error, pushed himself into good offensive positions overlapping on the left, but saw one shot well saved for a corner and another comfortably gathered with Cisse closing in. Surely it's only a matter of time before the Italian gets his first goal.

Of the Silver Fox's final two substitutes, Little Big Lad contributed energy and skill with some rousing gallops forwards, but the Lone Ranger's arrival (for Perchinho) once again had me shaking my head in dismay at our paucity of options, as did the increasingly desperate use of hoofed balls from back to front that Big Lad was supposed to win on his own.

Afterwards the Silver Fox commented, with some justification, on the commendable effort the players put in. He also noted: "We have to take heart from the performances we are giving". Offensively, yes - we look a constant threat and six goals away to Man Utd and Arsenal are not to be sniffed at. But defensively, no - again, mistakes cost us dearly and we looked brittle throughout, Williamson in particular.

The Silver Fox went on to add: "If we can get a bit more quality back in the team and maybe one or two in, which is probably important now, we'll be OK." Safe to say that that "probably" was redundant, not least because of Ba's impending departure (he's been routinely burying the sort of chances Cisse and Big Lad squandered). Mercifully, Mathieu Debuchy was in attendance (sat next to his good mate Dreamboat), giving us hope that decisive steps will be taken early in the transfer window to address our alarming slump - and even more alarming proximity to the relegation zone.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Blogger Paul said...

I believe we'd already organised the team for this game, with Ba at the head, so it made more sense to just drop Shola in as a like-for-like replacement, rather than shift Papiss Cisse around and bring in someone else on the right.

I suspect Papiss will be back up front for our next match.

9:10 a.m.  
Blogger Ben said...

Fair enough. I thought Big Lad did OK - his usual ambling self, but he won some decent flick-ons against a powerful defence and was unlucky to continually have fouls given against him.

If Cisse does line up through the middle next time we have our first team out (Norwich rather than Brighton, probably), then I'd imagine Little Big Lad might get the nod on one of the flanks, with Obertan Kenobi on the other.

12:47 p.m.  

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