After a warm-weather break in Qatar (I say, as I sit here freezing my bollocks off at my desk) the players and staff returned to England earlier this week in the hope that the trip would galvanise and refresh everyone involved. It’s been a poor season to date, and the slight positivity that the West Ham games and Man City draw created more or less disappeared within a 90 minute nightmare against West Brom. Much had been said during the fall out from that particular stalemate at Goodison Park, and it was a long two weeks until it was that time to play again, but maybe we all needed the break. Maybe we needed a weekend off Everton and maybe the trip abroad for the players can turn out to be the turning point of the season, here’s hoping anyway.
On Saturday Roberto dropped Ross Barkley to the bench and started the game with McGeady in his side instead. For all of Barkley’s talent I believe this was the right move by the Manager; Ross might need a couple of games out to rediscover himself, and the youngster not starting was the only change to the side who began the draw with West Brom. After less than a minute Everton got the start they had hoped for and Lukaku put the visitors ahead with a neat finish at the near post. It was Naismith who provided the assist for the opener but a word has to go to John Stones who’s brilliantly timed ball cut through Palace and allowed Naismith the space to cross for our Belgian forward. One nil up so soon, but would it last?
During the first half Palace came more and more into the game and Gayle seemed to be the liveliest outlet for the hosts. Without causing any major cause for early concern, Pardew’s men pressed the visitors who failed to really get a grip of the game after taking the lead. It was very typical of us this season – looking nervy and giving away possession too cheaply, and if it wasn’t for the heroics of Phil Jagielka we would have found ourselves level in the first half. Dwight Gayle’s effort was cleared off the line by the Blues Captain, who turned out to have a fantastic day at the back for the Blues. Replays showed that the ball didn’t fully cross the line and thankfully the score stayed at 1-0 but it was a warning sign from Palace.
Jason Puncheon drew a couple of saves from Robles during the opening 45 minutes but the Spanish ‘keeper looked assured between the sticks for Everton and dealt with the home side’s efforts well. Up at the other end, the only notable opportunities came through a harmless Baines free kick and a wild Naismith effort, and overall the game failed to really spark into life. Mirallas and McGeady were not having much joy at all but playing the latter in the side does give us more balance in our shape. Natural width is something we do lack time and time again but McGeady’s inclusion offers that, even though he has a tendency to make you tear your hair out when he is anywhere near the ball. Mo Besic and Gareth Barry were doing well in the middle of the park and although Palace came at the visitors, both Stones and Jagielka looked well up for the challenge – as did Robles too just behind them in goal.
In the second half we found ourselves sitting back more as Pardew’s men looked to break us down, possession came in fits and starts and up front we could just not retain the ball. You got the feeling it would be a matter of time of things continued but overall we kept our shape and defended well – two things we haven’t seen much this season. At times we lacked that somebody to put their foot on the ball and settle us down and Palace looked to seek advantage of this. However, although an aerial threat from the home side was a constant, you could see that they were running out of ideas and running out of steam.
In the second period both McGeady and Mirallas continued to offer nothing and Naismith and Lukaku were struggling to provide the spark that could have seen us kill the game. After the hour mark, Roberto replaced the ineffective Mirallas with Oviedo, and it was Everton who could and should have sealed the points with a second shortly after. It wasn’t until after the 70 minute mark until we saw an actual Everton chance and it was the start of a number of real opportunities we had in the final quarter of the game. Firstly, Mo Besic supplied McGeady down the right but his centre was just too strong for the sprawling Lukaku, then McGeady was involved again when he won possession in the Palace area, before firing a left-footed curler at Speroni who saved excellently and kept the score at 1-0 in the process. The longer it remained at 1-0 the more anxious us Blues became but again we counter attacked and had three chances in quick succession. Besic saw an effort blocked by a Palace hand but our appeals were turned away before Lukaku and then McGeady were wasteful with their respective opportunities late on. Although we couldn’t seal the victory the home side never really put a late rally together and our defensive display from earlier in the game had served us well. Kone was a late arrival for Lukaku and he did well to keep the ball at the other end of the pitch and after four minutes of injury time the referee blew the whistle to give the Toffees all three points. What a relief.
I have to be honest, I watched the game via stream on my laptop and although I was at home watching the game and a couple of minutes behind real-time, when that final whistle blew I punched the air and celebrated like I was in the front row at Selhurst Park. I felt such a sense of relief, almost a weight off my own shoulders, and I believe this was because it was such a vital victory. It’s been really tough this season – the bad has far outweighed the good – but as one of my colleagues said to me earlier today ‘we needed that, regardless of the performance, we just needed it’. He was bang on the money. Yes it is just one win and we still have a long way to go if we are to begin to climb the league again, but after the dark days of Southampton, Stoke and Newcastle, then the ridiculousness of the West Brom game, we just needed a boost of some sorts and thankfully we got that elusive win on Saturday. Going to Palace is tough for any side, but to go there in the middle of a shocking run of form and take on a side who were buoyant after four successive wins under their new manager just shows how huge this win was.
Looking at individual performances my Man of the Match was Phil Jagielka. This season we’ve lacked leadership, passion and a ‘dig our heels in’ attitude and I believe the Blues Skipper gave us all of this on Saturday. Alongside Stones, Jags looks a better player and the two centre backs were key to our success at the weekend, young Stones is just a joy to watch. Another player who stood out was Besic who is growing with every game but his midfield compatriot Gareth Barry also had a decent game too – plus he didn’t get booked! I’ve been first to criticise the likes of Barry and Jagielka this season but they were two who performed well against Palace. Naismith, Mirallas and McGeady all disappointed and although Lukaku hardly had his best afternoon he got himself a goal again and his form in front of goal is obviously crucial to the cause. Baines and Coleman did well but failed to really have a big impact on the game and last but by no means least our ‘keeper Joel Robles deserves praise for his display. Joel looked composed between the sticks and you have to question whether he should now lose his place to Howard. He hasn’t done much wrong in recent weeks has he? Either side of Robles’ display at West Ham the Spaniard has done well in goal and with Howard’s return on the horizon, Roberto has a decision to make. Who would you start in goal?
Overall it wasn’t a classic Everton performance but on Saturday it was all about the result and thankfully we managed to take maximum points. I said before the game I’d take a scrappy 1-0 and as it turned out that’s what we got, and I’m sure many of us would take the same result again on Saturday when our loveable neighbours come to town. We haven’t moved anywhere in the League table but we needed a boost, some hope to cling on to, and thanks to a silky ball from Stones and an assist from Naismith, Lukaku did what he does best and gave us a win that has been a long time coming.
As I finish this piece I am reading the news that Aaron Lennon has joined Everton on loan from Spurs with a view to buy option. Transfer deadline day was no different for us Evertonians – there was plenty of speculation and a last-minute deal – Mr Kenwright does love a good drama doesn’t he. Reports of a move for Man United’s Januzaj were soon quashed and talk of Mirallas leaving for Spurs just turned out to be talk, but this afternoon it became apparent that Everton were to rival Stoke and Hull for Aaron Lennon’s signature and the Toffees managed to seal the deal before the 11pm deadline. I feel this is probably a good move for both parties – Lennon wants to play football and will feel he has a point to prove – Everton are crying out for width, pace and wingers – so for me it makes sense. I know he isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and has had trouble with injuries and form, but we’ve seen how loan moves can be a benefit in the past and there is no reason why this move can’t be a success too. Out-of-favour players have come to Goodison on loan and done really well before, and in Lennon we’ve signed an experienced Premier League player who has also featured for his country too. Lennon will give Martinez another dimension and we are adding to the squad, he isn’t coming in to replace anyone. As for other speculation it had been reported that Distin was off to West Ham and we made an enquiry for the Hammers’ Winston Reid but these rumours simmered as the day progressed. There was also talk of a move for a Scandinavian ‘keeper moving to Merseyside and Aiden McGeady returning to Celtic but these two look to be on hold until the summer.
Overall we’ve lost one player and brought one in during this window, and discounting some of our younger lads going out on loan this means we still have the same amount of players. In my opinion we needed to do more. Losing Eto’o isn’t the worst thing in the world – just look at what has happened since his move to Samp – and bringing Lennon in is a smart move by Martinez, but I believe we still needed to sure things up in defence and in the goalkeeping department. Admittedly January isn’t the best time to make permanent signings but the way things have gone this season if we lose a couple to injury again then we could find ourselves in deeper trouble. I hope I am wrong and we can keep the squad fit for the next few months, because then we will hopefully see the potential that we know is there, but I can’t help but worry about what might happen. The Europa is about to begin again and with games coming thick and fast I just hope the current crop we have at Everton show enough spirit to drag us back up the league table.
The Palace game will hopefully be the start of an upturn in form and for the moment I am enjoying writing about a victory for once, the win was a long time coming and our travelling support deserved it for their commitment during what has been a torrid spell. Next up is Liverpool at Goodison Park and as we know these games are a bit of a lottery, but if we show our defensive qualities as we did on Saturday and Rom continues to be hungry in front of goal, there is no reason why we can’t get another positive result.
Up the Toffees