A WHITER SHADE OF STALE
Mickey Blue Eyes
You could have kidded yourself Spring was on the way on Saturday. It was bright sunshine again with a slightly chilled wind chasing white horses on the Mersey. In the aftermath of a sterling Cup win at Chelsea understandably we wondered which Everton would turn up because for some reason this season a good win has usually been followed by a dispiriting draw or loss. As it transpired, it was the kind of routine win pre-season we expected to get over modest teams like Sunderland. Nothing special, but clear enough, the kind of performance that would have seen us third or fourth at least had it been delivered as regularly as anticipated. Alas.
Jags back and a muttering John Heitinga on the bench, which latter will bother nobody but his travel agent and forex arrangement when he leaves in the Summer. Yet another attempt to make Louis-Becks work up front if Louis didn't seize up again. Jack the Lad on the bench well ahead of schedule. These were all reasons to feel cheery. The crowd, though, was as wary as Evertonians have been since Tim Howard's failed juggling act at Blackburn. There were long periods of silence, possibly fans still recovering from the shock of a Saturday 3.00 pm kick off, possibly a reaction to last week's vocal efforts, more likely middle aged bladders slushing uncertainly with lousy British beer. That's the problem with excess alcohol......it fools too many into believing not only they can cope with reality but they can fly into the bargain. Which is why Sunday is often a day lost to the weaker members of the species.
At any rate it was a scrappy, quiet opening with Us attacking the Street End and the sun low enough to piss their 'keeper off and have massed spectator hands saluting the Park End. It came to life after five minutes when Sunderland broke through the middle and then laid it off left to their unmarked man in the penalty area. He should have scored from near the left angle goal area but almost hit the opposite side of the penalty area with his shot. Three minutes later We were in front when Jags cleared long from Our right centre mid in Our half and it was badly headed out by their defender to Leon left centre mid, who promptly stuck a spiffy little angular pass through their defence to the near goal area angle and Becks was on it in a flash to scuff it past a static 'keeper after a few paces. He seems to do well with this kind of opportunity; close control isn't his thing so normally he has to connect first time or the chance disappears. But throughout the game his interchange play with Louis was much improved. Louis had another tremendous match until subbed ten minutes from the end, winning headers, brilliant little dribbles and lay-offs - just magnificent. Together they had the Sunderland defence in all kinds of trouble. No exaggeration it could have been four or five before half time if both hadn't slipped over at crucial moments.
Not that it was all one way, though We were on top for most of the time. The enemy couldn't really get going but at one goal difference anything could happen, especially the way we've leaked goals this season. The uncertainty was never better demonstrated than twenty minutes after the score when a Sunderland attack down their right ended with a pull back to their man right edge of the D and he cracked in a terrific swerving cross shot that Tim superbly deflected onto the underside of the bar and out. It was similar to the Blackpool game except this time We got a foul from the ensuing scramble.
Then We managed another just under ten minutes before half time, also down Our left. Louis fell back and he and Leon broke up an attack on the half way line and fed the ball back to Bainsey. Close to the sideline he delivered one of his specials up field to mid wide left in their half where Mikky won a heading contest with a defender and the ball dropped kindly for him while their man lay sprawled. It was enough for him to set off one-on-one with another defender and closing on the goal line. A step over and an acceleration left the defender dead too and he clipped it back for Becks to roll it slowly over the line from the same spot as his first goal. Mikky's run and final pass reminded me irresistibly of the great Colin Harvey, old swivel hips himself. Three minutes later Felli went down heavily for the second time and got substituted by Jack Rodwell, who went on to more than fill the gap. It's maddening - every time we take a step forward with injured players we end up taking a step back.
The second half was one way traffic with Us creating no less than six clear chances, including two magnificent saves from their 'keeper and one goal line headed clearance from a defender. One interchange move down our left two minutes from the end was genuine world class; had sub Bily managed to keep his volley down it would have been Goal of the Season by some distance. And so it drew to the end quietly and with every hope We can rescue some pride from the season, if perhaps nothing else. But We've been saying that now for three months. Let's hope that's the way it works out, starting with the Reading match.