EVERTON 1 (Cahill 42) – WEST BROMWICH ALBION 4 (Scharner 16, Brunt 26, Tchoyi 76, Distin 87 og).
The Everton designed and built by David Moyes has never been prolific in front of goal, wins and league position have been built on defensive solidity. Back-to-back fifth place finishes in 2007/08 and 2008/09 plus a Cup Final appearance were constructed on a foundation of clean sheets, nothing more, nothing less. Remember what pride all Evertonians took when the team soldiered on and maintained their terrific form through December 2008 into February 2009 without a single fit striker at the club, until Jo arrived on loan and in a brief and misleading spurt notched 5 league goals in five starts. Those two superb seasons were delivered thanks to a miserly defence which kept 14 and 17 clean sheets and conceded just one goal on 18 and 10 occasions respectively. In the run to Wembley too the ’big’ wins against Manchester United and Liverpool came courtesy of a penalty shoot out and a solitary extra-time goal. So while yes, we’d all like to see Yakubu, Saha and Beckford banging them in left, right and centre, that hasn’t actually been the Toffees style in recent seasons.
The displays at Goodison against Bolton, Arsenal and on Saturday West Brom have been strangely muted affairs. The crowd and the players only came alive in the last twenty minutes against the Gunners, a last second strike by Beckford to salvage a point against Bolton was greeted as if it were a victory, while against Albion passions on and off the field remained as frigid as the weather. Earlier in the season clear defensive mistakes at Blackburn and Villa Park resulted in lost games and more points were squandered at White Hart Lane and Blackpool thanks to, lets call it, defensive naivety; such is the tightness of the league that add back those six points and Everton would now be pushing towards the top four.
So what is wrong? Firstly Phil Jagielka is not at his best; all players have dips in form, Jagielka is there now. Secondly Johnny Heitinga is patently not a defensive midfield player, he is a central defender, his tackling is clumsy and ineffective and succeeds only in winning flashes of yellow, while he contributes absolutely nothing and looks out of his depth when he trundles further forward. Everton are in effect playing with ten men for long passages. Against Albion Tony Hibbert replaced the injured Phil Neville and we once again learnt the lesson that Hibbert is not a premier league defender, he has neither the physical presence nor positional sense to hack it at the highest level and the arrival of the lanky, awkward, Tchoyi as a 66th minute substitute, saw him completely undressed. Further forward the jewel in our crown, Mikel Arteta, has suddenly morphed into a sows ear, is he carrying an injury, is his newly fattened wallet weighing him down, who knows, but his three-match suspension will, perhaps, allow him to find himself. While he is away the fulcrum of the team, the heart of the midfield, must be the returning Marouane Fellaini and Jack Rodwell; not the dogs of war of old, better than that, a physically imposing, ball holding, tempo dictating, heart to the team. A heart which has been missing so far this season.
Defending is a team enterprise built on hard work and too many members of this team have allowed themselves to be deluded into thinking they can play football the Arsenal way. Well they have their answer now – they cannot. Watch the hugely gifted creation of Pep Guardiola and the first thing, the very first thing that strikes home is not the wonderful passing, nor even the speed of thought and movement, it is much more mundane, it is their collective, prodigious, determined, work rate. A return to the basic Moyes doctrine of concentration, hard work and lung-bursting passion, as epitomized by Tim Cahill, must be demanded, starting at Stamford Bridge next Saturday.
EVERTON (4-4-1-1): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Heitinga (Beckford 56), Anichebe (Rodwell 61), Arteta ©, Pienaar; Cahill; Yakubu (Saha 56)
Unused subs: Mucha, Bilyaletdinov, Coleman, Baxter
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-5-1): Carson; Jara, Tamas, Scharner, Cech; Brunt © (Barnes 90), Morrison, Mulumbu, Dorrans (Reid 73), Thomas (Tchoyi 66); Odemwingie
Unused subs: Myhill, Ibanez, Shorey, Fortune
Referee: |Lee Mason