Crisis, what crisis?
On the day that Everton remembered Club icon Howard Kendall after a year since his sad passing, the Toffees paid tribute in the best way possible – by winning a game of football in front of a packed out Goodison Park. The words collective, sigh and relief spring to mind following the final whistle against West Ham, as Ronald Koeman’s Blues put an end to a five game winless run to earn three valuable points against an in-form West Ham side.
Speaking of West Ham, let’s just take a moment to discuss. Just what is it with them, they’re horrible aren’t they? Before a couple of seasons ago, I never really noticed the Hammers much, not in an annoying way anyway; don’t get me wrong an away trip down there was always a great day out, plus we usually beat them home and away a lot of the time, however in terms of matters on the pitch, their fans and the way their Club is run, I never used to have a problem. I don’t know whether it’s just since the Bilic era begun, or because ‘arl bollock faces Gold, Sullivan and that Tory slag Brady are involved nowadays, or maybe it’s the fact that they’ve been given a brand new mega-stadium but are somehow all scrapping with each other over it, or because all of their so-called hardcore followers started crying when McCarthy won the ball fairly against Payet that time, but they have somehow become a massive gang of helmets from top to bottom, a noisy bunch, they’ve had one half-decent season and all of a sudden I feel like I really hate them?! But anyway, enough about West Ham, West Ham can piss off back to where they came from, back to the boozer in East Landan to tell their pals they had a right good tear up with ‘those Scaaause cunts’ even though they only went the Arkles, snarled at a few local kids and got back on the bus.
To Sunday’s action and Stekelenburg was the big talking point before the game – no not because his missus had turned up to be Toffee lady, we can dream lads, we can dream – but because he’d hurt his foot (probably kicking himself after that goal at Burnley), so Robles came in for his first start this season. The last time we saw Robles in a League game was that 3-0 drubbing at Sunderland – yeah remember that? Still gives me nightmares too. Fuck’s sake Roberto. Anyway, Robles came in and so did Funes – I’ll have a BBQ whatever the weather – Mori, who replaced Jagielka who was apparently given a rest, or maybe he was left out because he’s been defending like he’s on drugs for a few weeks. Mirallas somehow got another start, Deulofeu was on the bench, Baines was still out injured and the rest of the team shaped up how it usually does.
On four minutes, Goodison rose to applaud Howard Kendall, our greatest ever manager, former player and someone who sadly missed by all associated with the Club. ‘Howard Kendall’s Blue and White Undies’ read one banner in the Street End, as the Club and our supporters marked a year to the week he passed away. Howard would have had a good afternoon if he’d been watching on at Goodison, as his beloved Blues eventually ran out winners on the day.
The game had all the makings to be a classic Sunday afternoon at Goodison; you know the type – everyone can’t be arsed, lots of hangovers, we were in a poor run of form, live on the telly, with someone like West Ham visiting, and inevitably putting us to the sword. I have to be honest, for the best part of 20 minutes and throughout the opening stages, I couldn’t see any other outcome. The visitors saw plenty of the ball, looked full of energy and pace going forward, whereas Everton looked like they’ve been on the gear at that Asylum event in Newsham Park the night before.
It was Antonio (really good player him) who was involved in the first opportunity for Bilic’s side, but Coleman’s excellent tackle denied West Ham’s top scorer. Shortly after, Payet carved open our back line and teed up Obiang, who somehow missed the target and skied into the Street End, much to our relief. Our defenders did their best to put the midfielder off but even so, he should have scored. Coleman, Williams and their defensive colleagues were being tested and you could sense the nervousness around the team and our supporters – West Ham had started confidently, they are the form side and we were being forced to soak up pressure. It wasn’t until the 15th minute that we saw signs of life from the home side when Lukaku broke down the left. The Belgian’s run and eventual attempt fell kindly to Barry whose effort curled over – it was refreshing to see us on the offensive for the first time in the game. After 20 minutes, Gueye fired an effort at goal that fell fortuitously at Lukaku’s feet, only for the big man to fail to control the ball and allow Adrian to smother. Bit better from Everton, as the game opened up.
Up at the other end the movement of Antonio and Lanzini continued to keep Everton on their toes and the latter flashed an effort across goal following a Coleman slip inside the box. Payet saw his driving effort from outside the box saved by Robles but the longer the half wore on the more we came into the game and settled down.
After a deep cross by Bolasie, Oviedo challenged for the loose ball well and fed Barkley from the left, the much-discussed midfielder then shimmied, created an opening and looked nailed on to score from six yards out, but his effort flashed off a defender and was saved by Adrian who prevented us from taking the lead. A great save. The first big chance and we should have been 1-0 up. Positive signs from Ross though, and good work from Oviedo too.
Before we got too used to Everton having a spell of pressure, Idrissa Gueye made sure our blood pressure was still high when he pissed around in possession and nearly allowed Obiang in on goal. The midfielder was penalised for a foul when in reality it was six of one half a dozen of the other, and thankfully the resulting free kick came to nothing. That half time Chang would turn to three if there was anymore of that type of play from the little man, admittedly it was unlike him.
Before the break, there was time for two further half chances for Everton when Ross Barkley’s promising looking effort was blocked by the Hammers defence before Mirallas’ powerful cross/shot was saved by Adrian. After a poor start, we had grown into the game and finished the half the stronger. Our possession count was at 79% at one point, and this bread confidence in our forward play. However West Ham are a good side, the second half would still be a test and we would have to move the ball quicker and mix it up if we were to get ourselves in front. The visitors did carry a threat but we did too – it would take patience and persistence if we were to get anything from this game, and thankfully in the second period we persevered.
There were no changes at the break and thankfully just five minutes into the second period we got ourselves a goal, and it was that man Lukaku once again. West Ham must hate playing against him – that’s 9 goals against them now – and the Belgian netted his 50th Premier League goal for the Toffees in the process – only Ferguson and Cahill have scored more. It was Barkley, playing in a more advanced role against the Hammers, who fed the ball out wide to Coleman, who was again inconsistent on the day, but deserves credit for creating the chance by forcing a save from Adrian with a left-footed strike. The save bounced out and looked set to be harmlessly dealt with by West Ham’s defenders, however Yannick Bolasie had other ideas, sliding in to catch the Hammers back line out, sweeping the ball across goal for Lukaku to nod into an empty net. 1-0 and the boost we needed after an uncertain first half and disappointing few weeks.
Everton had the impetus now and Barkley, who was our stand out performer on the day, fired just over moments after we had taken the lead. Any early possession and confidence West Ham had shown in the game had begun to evaporate in the second half and Everton had the upper hand. But at 1-0, no game is ever won and shortly after Bilic brought on Ayew to bolster his attacking options, Ashley Williams gave us a scare when he slipped allowing Antonio in on goal but Robles thankfully kept him out. Funes Mori was caught ball-watching just a few minutes later and but for an Oviedo last-ditch tackle Ayew would have surely given the visitors a leveller. Mark Noble also drew a save from Robles, firing an effort from 25 yards out, but Everton stood firm.
The game was still in the balance, and we needed a second goal. Mirallas was hauled off for Cleverley on 70 minutes and the Belgian again disappointed. He floats in and out of games, tends to have minimal impact and isn’t really involved with any of our goals or clear chances, even though he’s meant to be a creative outlet? That lad needs a kick up the arse and I’d be surprised if he started at Chelsea next week. Lennon couldn’t do any worse than him, that’s for sure.
Within six minutes of Mirallas going off the game was won, with West Ham looking all at sea. Barkley’s smart turn and drive in the midfield created an opening as he released Lukaku out on the right. Lukaku drove forward, checked his run and held up the play well – something he has massively improved upon – and after waiting for Barkley to arrive at the back post the Belgian striker chipped in an inch-perfect ball for Ross to slide in and finish well with his left foot. Game over. Sheer relief all around not only for Everton but for Ross Barkley, he needed that goal and you could see the raw emotion in his celebration at the Gwladys Street. The goal topped a great display by him and an equally impressive performance from Big Rom too who got himself an assist.
Bolasie came off on 82 minutes for Jagileka, as Koeman looked to see the game out, but rather than having to defend well late on or face West Ham pressure, we could have had a couple more goals ourselves to add to our tally. Lukaku interchanged with Coleman and eventually saw an effort saved by Adrian, and Lukaku then turned provider for Cleverley who came within a whisker of making it 3-0. We kept going and it was refreshing to see. Payet and co looked disinterested, and in terms of energy and attitude it was definitely a game of two halves from the Londoners.
Before full time Ross Barkley left the field to a standing ovation to be replaced by Lennon, and Gueye had a huge penalty appeal waved away when Ogbonna flattened him in the box. Anthony Taylor, who had a poor game overall and fell for a lot of West Ham’s dramatics, decided to wave away our appeals even though it was a clear spot kick.
Although we had late chances to score more, no Evertonian would have left Goodison Park disappointed with a win and clean sheet after a difficult few weeks. By no means we’re we at our best, and at times the game with West Ham was scrappy, but we grew as the game progressed and through persistence and hard work we came through. A victory after none in five is a huge boost going into the game at Chelsea, and a clean sheet is also key because we haven’t kept many of late. Sometimes you have to be patient and wait for your chances to come, we did this against West Ham and we showed a determination to get back to winning ways and Koeman’s side deserve praise for this.
Without dwelling too much on the negatives some thoughts on today on Mirallas are that he is simply not playing anywhere near the level we expect from any of our players, never mind our attacking ‘talent’ – also, Coleman isn’t having the best of times and Bolasie tends to do something great then something terrible, he needs to find a middle ground. Also Gueye got booked so he now misses Chelsea, which is a blow.
Although we were far from perfect and I do have my criticisms above, the positives far outweigh the negatives on this occasion and I’m pleased with the manner in which we won against Bilic’s side. Our attitude was spot on, our defensive strength was key – Williams is such a proper defender – Funes Mori did well filling in, and although I’m not his biggest fan I believe Oviedo performed well too. Barry gave another midfield masterclass and our subs did well when they came on also. Robles had a solid game deputising for Stekelenburg meanwhile Lukaku once again did the business up top, he’s priceless, and his hold up play, the way he brought other players into the game, was a great sight – he has definitely improved this area of his game this season and there is simply no stopping him.
But my final word goes to Ross Barkley who after months of criticism, being left out of the side and obviously struggling with the pressure, stood up tall, put in a man of the match display and got a goal for himself too. Even though his performance wasn’t perfect, his movement and confidence was key to Everton’s success, he showed signs of the attitude that you’d expect from a lad as talented as he is, he just needs to properly come out of his shell and do this regularly because if he does, we will reap the rewards.
Well done Ross. Keep your head up lad.
Up the Toffees.