Shhhh. We’re trying to watch a match here.
You know that Goodison Roar you wax lyrical about? Well, here’s a secret. It doesn’t just emanate from the infrastructure. You have to make it. All of you.
And if you spot some daft f*ckers booing at next to nothing, pipe them down.
It was a sedate Goodison, but for a couple of reasons. For one, it was a freezing cold Monday night, and those who chose to go the game rather than jib it off for a warm room and Sky – bless the lot of ya – were waiting a long time for Everton to warm their lives up. Plus QPR brought about four fans who made as much noise as the brass monkeys snoozing in the corner of the Park End, so they didn’t need any encouragement to sit down and shut up.
It’s also because we have matured a bit. Remember the Everton of yesteryear, when we’d all roar and cheer a corner? A corner for God’s sake. We’re Everton. Not like we were gonna score from it was it? The play is more patient, so the fans have to be too.
Aha. Patience. Pity some knobheads are devoid of it. On three instances in that match would I advocate maybe as much as an “Ah, f*ck off Everton”, or some other choice verbals. The first, when a free kick 35 yards from the QPR goal was somehow at Tim Howard’s feet ten seconds later without a Rangers player getting near the ball. Secondly, when Jordon Mutch thought it would be a great idea to scissor-tackle Kevin Mirallas. The tit. And when some classically Everton defending gifted Bobby Zamora his first goal in about 200 games. He’s pure sh*te but we’re a charitable bunch, us Evertonians.
Booing every time the ball went back to Tim Howard though, really? 3-0 up and we’ve decided to keep the ball. Disgrace. It was when we gave up on that way of killing the game that QPR were afforded the chance to score. When Everton have the ball, we’re in control. We can do what we want. All windows of opportunity open up. No wonder our defence always looks panicky when around 35,000 people are on their backs when they have the ball.
And I just don’t know where some people are coming from, laying into Romelu Lukaku. We didn’t even pay all of his £28m fee up front, so why some are expecting his full potential to be realised from the off I don’t know. In the middle of December now and he has seven goals and three assists, which isn’t hugely different to this time last year. His touch has improved and he’s started to assert himself more against defenders of all shapes and sizes. Plus, with Mirallas and Naismith making all sorts of incisive runs, Lukaku doesn’t have to run himself ragged. His job now is the bring the ball down, feed one of the midfielders who can attack the opposition’s defence, and head for the penalty area to get on the end of any pass or cross. Chasing down everything in the final third is not necessary. Why sprint after a goalkeeper when he has three easy-to-find options and you have no-one in support? But yeah, you’re right. He’s so lazy. Sack him off and let’s get Denis Stracqualursi back. I don’t think anyone moaned about Gary Lineker not tracking back when he was banging in goals left, right and centre. All Lukaku needs to do is focus on making his goal tally the best it can be. That will win us games.
Actually, I sort of miss Stracqualursi. The big galoot.
As a performance it didn’t feel any different from the vast majority of games we have played this season. In a sense the way the team has played has matched the Goodison atmosphere. High intensity to begin with, but always tiring, before a totally flat final 20 minutes. We led the league in late goals last season, and now we’re probably very close to the bottom. At times the football was never stationary as we kept the passing fluid and fast-moving, and at points we were so lethargic I began to wonder if Aiden McGeady was nursing a particularly awful hangover. At least, I hope for McGeady’s sake that there was a good reason for some of the things he did on Monday. Good cross for Naismith/Onouha’s goal though lad. Well in. Starting to think the final score was Dubious Goals Panel 3-1 QPR.
How good is Steven Naismith? He with his head like a cottage roof flecked with snow. For me he makes a huge difference, which is why he was given a new contract. Let’s just hope he’s not an omen of death in England as well and we’re not going bust soon. Severton, if you will. It’s interesting just taking a few minutes to watch Naismith and how he moves around the pitch. At first he could be found taking the ball off the likes of Besic or the roaming Leighton Baines and spraying the ball around to whoever could make the best run forward. As well as that he was outjumping players much taller than him to give Lukaku something to actually run for, the lazy get. When the ball comes to Lukaku, Naismith can be seen drifting into the space Lukaku leaves behind him, which gives defenders all sorts of problems. The man is lethal as well – he has had eight shots on target in the Premier League this season. Considering he has scored five, that’s a hell of a record. When Naismith’s about, good things happen.
Naismith and Mirallas were both threats on Monday, but without doubt Mo Besic and Ross Barkley were the stars of the show. It was beautiful – Barkley taking the ball forward at every opportunity, while Besic broke down QPR attacks (and almost a few legs) with some inch-perfect tackling. Watch that one on Joey Barton. If you have already, do it again. Tackling is an art form. Also, great to see the look on Barton’s face as he comes crashing down. In a bit ye blert. Besic completely deserved the Man of the Match award for the delight he brought to many Evertonians and neutrals with more than a touch of nostalgia. Tackling isn’t dead yet, kids.
The deeper central position is not one you’d expect to see Barkley in, but it just worked. Whereas in some games it has been difficult to get the ball forward quickly from that area, Barkley was doing it with ease. The goal was a thing of beauty as well. Deflection or no deflection, the technique behind the hit was flawless. Check back a few minutes and you’d have seen Kevin Mirallas hitting a ball while on the run. His balance, compromised somewhat by the speed he was going at, meant that he got under the ball and despite it being a very good hit the ball was always heading over. Barkley, also travelling at pace away from the goal, and on his left foot, had perfect poise. The man has no “weaker foot”. It’s flashes of genius like that finish that makes Ross Barkley one of the most exciting young players in football right now.
There were flaws in the youthful partnership, as you’d expect from two players who have never lined up alongside each other in such a pivotal area of the pitch. In the second half especially, a number of QPR players found it quite easy to exploit gaps one of the pair left when pressing the player coming forward with the ball. Niko Kranjcar was only on the pitch for a short time but was quite proficient in sauntering through an area that needs to be kept tight. It is to be expected in such a proactive couple of players, and it’s exactly why James McCarthy and Gareth Barry are preferred there. Perhaps a mix is in order. McCarthy sweeping up, Barkley pushing the play forward. In fact, sack off McGeady and keep Besic in. But Barkley needs to be central. So does Naismith. Mirallas can go wide, but Besic can’t really.
Headache this, isn’t it? But a good one nonetheless.
If you want a real headache, try stepping into Ronald Koeman’s shoes. Not long ago, he was revelling in the Southampton Myth as fans and pundits who really should know better already had the Saints pencilled in for the top 4, FA Cup, Crufts and whatever else they could excel at, because awwwwh. Look at Southampton. They were shite a few years ago apparently. Whatever. They were able to spunk away all sorts of money on the likes of Dani Osvaldo, before they completely mugged off Liverpool by getting almost £50 for Lovren, Lallana and Lambert. They deserved an ovation for that, not pity. Anyway, a few shrewd signings later and they were well set. The fact some tipped Southampton for relegation in August is as ridiculous as people backing them for the top 4 in October. The same thing happens year after year. Teams have peaks and troughs. Some unexpected tour de force takes the league by storm early on but have to readjust their goals when a dry spell hits. Some teams start slower than expected but redeem themselves. Remember when Everton were all set for 4th? This league is very predictable, sadly. Lo and behold, Southampton have lost five on the spin, including actually allowing Burnley to keep a clean sheet and crashing out of the Capital One Cup against Sheffield United. That prevented a reunion with ex-boss Mauricio Pochettino and a very winnable semi-final against Spurs. Then only Chelsea would’ve stood between them and a trophy. Please be Chelsea.
Instead, they have to be very careful not to turn this moody patch into a complete slump. They’re still fifth and looking good for at least challenging for Europe, seeing as Everton, Spurs and Liverpool are in such a dodgy state. Peaks and troughs, though. The Merseyside clubs will both be in the top 8 when the derby comes around. You can hold me to that prediction. It’s a full-on crisis this weekend for Southampton though – Schneiderlin and Wanyama, the very fulcrum of their midfield, are both suspended after getting booked in the Bramall Lane defeat. Gardos, which is apparently a Romanian footballer and not some sort of Pokemon, is also suspended. Jack Cork, who would replace one of Schneiderlin and Wanyama, is injured, as is Dusan Tadic. The loss of Tadic puts Southampton’s ability to cause our defence serious damage into real doubt – the Serbian is comfortably leading the way in the assist tally for Southampton and is the chief creator. Top scorer Graziano Pelle is an injury concern, and even if he is fit the striker is hardly on a hot streak.
Can’t wait to see how we fuck this one up. Like I said before, we’re a charitable lot. Merry Christmas.
So how do they line up? Fraser Forster has made a couple of errors recently but is mostly boss so should be tough to beat. Clyne and Bertrand form Southampton’s very respectable answer to Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman, and both like to get forward as often as possible. Fonte in the middle with Yoshida. Southampton may be forced to throw Ward-Prowse and Reed in, with the latter sure to take a Walk on the Wild Side if he’s in the midfield, risking a hefty Besic tackle or seven. Mane and Mayuka will most likely feature. If Pelle’s fit, he’ll be up top with Long behind him. Remember when some Evertonians wanted Long in? Give me a second to stop laughing. Would’ve been a definite Vitor Pereira signing, him. There really aren’t that many options for Southampton, but they’ll still have eleven men on the pitch, and all eleven will be out to beat Everton. So there’s no place for complacency.
Tim Howard, who couldn’t even keep a clean sheet at home to a QPR side more toothless than a paedophile after a week in jail, will have to do better this time around. Baines left, Coleman right, Jagielka in the middle with…STONES?! If John Stones starts we’re having a party. It could get even better if James McCarthy returns to boss the midfield. Gareth Barry is definitely back after suspension, but if neither start it’s all good as there’s the Besic-Barkley partnership there instead. Beautiful. Barkley may well move forward again as Mirallas is definitely out – because naturally Everton aren’t allowed to have everything their way. McGeady likely to start again – hold the groans – and Eto’o is an option as well. Naismith behind Lukaku. Grand.
This is one of those that Everton would normally contrive to mess up. It’s an open goal here, and there’s a slight worry that instead of Steven Naismith slotting without breaking a sweat it’ll be more like that dream where it’s Dinijar Bilyaletdinov struggling towards it with legs made of jelly. It’s a bit dangerous to think about what a win would mean, the fact we’d be two points off Southampton and starting off what could be a very prosperous December with Stoke at home on Boxing Day, the likelihood of breaking well clear of the teams grappling with mid-table mediocrity – none of that. It’s all about Saturday, 3pm.
Now can Saturday 3pm hurry up please? Make some noise, people. Everton’s the team that plays beautiful football.