…hang on, I’m just gonna finish watching the Goal of the Month contenders – for the hundredth time. In succession.
OK, done. Right, what’s up next?
December was a month of pure football porn from Everton. A Christmas present that lasted all month. Except Sunderland. Y’know, one out of six can have…issues. But Manchester United, Arsenal, Fulham, Swansea and Southampton were all put to the sword to varying degrees, which means we’re now into a period of, with the exception of the derby, a few games which we should win. So this is where we have our Only Fools and Horses moment and not just look the gift horse in the mouth, but give it a backhander and run off. Those Newcastle fans really are a bad influence.
Norwich encapsulate this slapstick cocking about we do. Since they returned to the Premier League, we’ve drawn four and lost one of our meetings. That includes last season’s duo of debacles, where we conceded a 91st minute equaliser and a 93rd minute winner against the lucky scruffs. Steven Whittaker and Ricky van Wolfswinkel both turned up for the opening game of the season, making good use of their main ally – pure luck – to snatch a 2-2 stalemate.
But we’ve changed since then, I hear you cry. We’re purring like a kitten in a BMW now. But we’re still going to struggle against sides that try to stop us playing. Let’s face it – do you reckon that Norwich are going to go all out for their first win at Goodison since Efan Ekoku ripped us apart by himself in 1993? Not really.
Chris Hughton seems a nice chap – I mean, I’m more Irish than he is, but they needed players. So well done, you’re an international and a Premier League manager. But sadly the man still has the charisma of a sock and twice the appeal. Norwich fans went along with it for a while – this is the bunch who worshipped Mike Walker as some sort of demi-God – but a mix of poor results and a complete lack of adventure starkly in contrast with the advances of Swansea, who came up with them, have led them to wondering if there’s someone better out there. It’s Norwich City. I doubt it.
Meanwhile, we can say that the start of 2014 has been “mixed”, even though it has already brought a draw, a win and passage into the FA Cup 4th round. Stoke away was a disappointment, despite their good home record, and it seemed like it’d be one of those performances where we have to work out how we’ve not come away with any points. In the end, it was a very canny substitution that rescued a point for us. Cheers for bringing on Pennant, Mark Hughes.
We saw the best and worst of Leon Osman in the first two games of the year too. Against Stoke he sprang off the bench and created chances with those jinky runs of his, yet QPR gave him as many chances to score as he’ll get this season and his composure left him. Roberto Martinez needs Ossie now, but you get the feeling another signature in the centre of midfield would see our Skem lad phased out of the side. A few players were given a chance to prove their worth in the squad against QPR, and they took it.
Alcaraz and Stones have been every bit as good as Jagielka and Distin in the centre of defence, although it’ll be a while until they face a test which shows if they’re already comfortable at the very top. We’d heard a lot from Wigan fans that Alcaraz is a veritable Fonzy at the back, but the man really is dead cool. In John Stones, we’ve got a future England centre back on our hands. No doubt. That slide tackle on Armand Traore in the QPR match was up there with his Panenka for moments that make you want to shake David Moyes’ hand and thank him for leaving us with the lad. Steven Naismith did well, in my own humble opinion. He is a consistent hard worker – absolutely nowhere near Kevin Mirallas’ skill level, but he does what the Belgian can’t seem to do and turns up for every game. Pity Naisy’s first touch is more powerful than most of his shots.
Also, Jela Jelavic. Jelavic. Jela Jelavic. If needed, I will do a Gazza and stand on a balcony yelling “Pleeeeease don’t go, pleeease don’t go” at him, because he’s ace. Alright, that penalty wasn’t exactly John Stones. But the confidence was well and truly back. Instead of heading to the wing to collect and lose the ball, Jela was making runs down the middle. In the physical battles, he wasn’t being swatted aside either. Now just do it against the Premier League sides lad.
Norwich don’t score much, they concede plenty, and they tend to get smashed when they visit the big boys. So they’ll set themselves up to limit the damage. That means the one that got away, John Ruddy, is in goal. Ah, he’s no Robles. The Norwich Naismith, Steven Whittaker, shocks all by still being a Premier League player and will start alongside Turner, Bassong and Olsson. Leroy Fer, he of the supposedly dodgy knee, will feature, and Snodgrass, Johnson, Hoolahan and Redmond can cause problems. Gary Hooper’s doing well and will start, and they’ve got plenty of attacking players on the bench if they need a change. That’s true genius, buying four strikers and playing 4-5-1. Ace.
Tim Howard, Seamus Coleman – Fans’ Player of the Season for the first half – Antolin Alcaraz and John Stones definitely start. Leighton Baines is a doubt, but it’s not an issue at all if Bryan Oviedo plays instead. James McCarthy and Gareth Barry make up that boss partnership, while Mirallas and Pienaar will be on the flanks. Ross Barkley’s not 100% too, and Roberto Martinez will rest him if he trusts Leon Osman. Unlike a growing faction of Ossie-slaters, he does. And there isn’t a greater authority than the boss. That being said, it’d be a major boost to see Ross in the starting line-up. Romelu Lukaku will probably start, but he has been knackered recently. At least now there’s a goalscoring striker on the bench raring to go.
You go and ask 100 neutrals who’s gonna win this one. At least 90 would say Everton. This lot have got the Indian sign on us, but after sweeping QPR aside it’s time to go on a roll. Derby’s on the way lads, let’s get some momentum.
Also, if you haven’t seen the Everton Tea Party, have a quick gander. It’s like we’re a new club. Or perhaps the revival of the old School of Science. Whatever it is, it’s pure class.