I think we file that in the category – ‘Hard Fought’. Or possibly the “These Are The Games You Need To Win, Winning Ugly, It’s Still 3 Points, and At The End Of The Season Blah Blah” category.
Due to needing a number of tickets together, I sat in an even more Obstructed View seat than ever before, but still paid a grumpy £38 for the privilege. Yes, I sat in Row PP (no, don’t) in MS2, which meant I had 4 pillars to contend with, an inability to see much more than the very Lower Gwladys to my left, the first few rows of the Lower Bullens, and hardly anything of the Park End. Still, I was paying money to watch the football, not the stands, but it would have been nice to have seen whether the excellent noise made by the West Ham away support throughout most of the game was due to the 56 of them that I could see, or whether in fact they brought rather more fans than that.
The consequences of the 4 pillars to obstruct my view of the pitch, was that whilst I could see both penalty areas, anything 35 yards from goal was obscured. This, of course, being Everton at the moment, is quite a problem. It is that distance from Tim Howard’s goal line that we play it neatly across the back, until (at least in this game) an Osman or a McCarthy picks the ball up to move things forward. It is also that distance from the opposing keeper’s goal line that our final ball tends to go astray and an attack breaks down. As such, I probably got less than a clear view of quite a bit of our play. What I could see, however, was that West Ham, playing a bit like a Moyes team of the past, decided they’d get in our faces, rough us up a bit, lump it up to the giants of Carroll and Cole (and therefore I lost sight of the ball a fair bit in the first half), and feed off the scraps. And we gave them more scraps than we should have done, by a series of misplaced passes in a rather guile-less first half which was quite high on huff, but not much puff.
However, a well-taken but clearly offside opportunistic strike by Lukaku, and another actually given offside goal by the same man (that wouldn’t have been offside if he’d let Barkley pass it in to the net who had come from an onside position) meant we were in the ascendency by the time everyone departed for a nice cup of Earl Grey Tea (that’s what everyone drinks at half time, right?). The tea might also have helped to cool the tempers that West Ham seemed intent on stoking. It was obvious from my lofty position, that their players were taking it in turns to wind up our players, typified by what has now become known internationally as ‘The McCarthy Incident’. This was the occasion when our very own Ginger Ninja entered into what I think we call “a robust tackle” on Amalfitano (which I thought was a rather scenic part of the Italian coast near Naples), followed by some extraordinary over-reaction from Reid and the usual sexist description of ‘handbags’ (has anyone ever seen a real handbag fight? I suspect that those nasty gold-effect buckles could come a bit keen, so not sure this accurately describes the scrum of pushing and shoving that one usually sees in such instances). As usual, there was plenty of testosterone expended, but actually everyone, including Clattenburg, lost sight of the incident. Reid was booked for his behaviour and instigating the argy-bargy, and McCarthy was also booked, but I’m really not sure why. Must have been the original foul? No, play resumed with a throw in, not a free kick, so McCarthy may well have just become the first Everton player in history to have been booked for conceding a throw in.
West Ham changed things in the second half, and actually spooked us a bit more than they should, with the elusive Zarate beating a few desperate lunges, and the ever-willing and impressive on the day Jenkinson causing us a few problems at left back.
Yes, Left Back.
Ok, here goes, venturing in to the Lion’s Den on this one. Probably like most people, and certainly all the comments on my twitter feed, I thought Garbutt should have started. Whether he should or not is now irrelevant, because he didn’t, Martinez made the call, and we won the game. True, we looked a shadow of our former selves in the marauding left back attacking option situation (sorry), thus forcing us more in to a congested middle, or an even more crowded right flank, but let’s just dwell on what actually happened. Our hero, a bit of a Marmite hero at the moment it has to be said, step forward Mr Tony Hibbert. In truth, we all love him, but we are a bit divided on whether he should be starting at this stage of his career, especially when the likes of Browning and Garbutt are the very youth that RM says very publicly should be playing at some stage this season. But that’s not Hibbert’s problem. He has been asked to play at Left Back, and especially given a relative lack of support from Mirallas or Barkley for most of the game, and no Barry to shuffle across to help him either, he was outstanding. I’m sure some will slate me for using that word, but don’t judge him by someone he isn’t, don’t judge him by him not providing an attacking option down the left, just judge him on what he was asked to do. I thought he was excellent defensively, and he even had a shot in the first half that threatened the corner flag more than the top corner, so that much closer to the day we all hope will come. What odds a goal against the RS this season? Must be worth a fiver…..
It wasn’t just Zarate that changed the game when coming off the bench. Everton introduced a promising youngster on 66 minutes as well – step forward Mr Samuel Eto’o (*giggles to himself as he talks about Eto’o being an Everton substitute. Yes, a substitute*). Class oozes out of this man. Even his open-goal miss was classy. It was Eto’o that gave a certain amount of cohesion to a disjointed final third performance, an unwillingness to give away the ball, an eye for a simple pass, but a defence splitting one too, and a precision pass to Osman for the second goal that sealed the win. It occurs to me that his very presence settles Everton when things aren’t going our way, and also unnerves the opposition who know what he’s capable of, and revere him so much that he is rarely the victim of a lunging tackle that is more intent on injuring him than winning the ball. I hope that’s not famous last words.
A final word on the snide that pockmarked this game, and that word is aimed at Tomkins. I thought he actually played quite well, but his extraordinary reaction by holding his face and falling to his knees when Mirallas pushed him in the, erm, chest, was disgraceful, and completely merited Naismith’s apparent reaction which has spawned one of the best photos of the season.
I suspect Naismith was in the midst of shouting at this cheating behaviour, but it looks to all the world that he is laughing at his stupidity. But whilst we castigate him, we must also wag a finger at Barkley for his dive, and ask him to spend a bit of time on the naughty step at Finch Farm tomorrow.
Onwards. Wolfsburg next, a tough task against an improved team, and then Spurs away which is always really tough, and who knows which of their Jekyll and Hyde teams will turn up. It is unbelievable, but illustrative of one of the closest leagues for years, that Newcastle at one point held 4th place this weekend, only to drop a place hours later as the equally astonishingly poor team this season, Man Utd, claimed that honour. Win a few games back to back, and we’ll rocket up this league, and we have the potential to stay there, once we have a fully functioning squad. A look at yesterday’s programme shows that only Howard has not only played every game this season, but (unsurprisingly) has been the only player to have played in his favoured position. All of our positions have been occupied by at least 3 different players now, and whilst some of this is the ‘benefit’ of rotation, it also speaks volumes about our injury list. To be where we are, despite the injuries, despite the Europa League placing even more pressure on denuded resources, is an absolutely magnificent performance. It is probably also why occasionally we look a bit disjointed, as we take time on the day to get used to everyone on the pitch for that particular game.
We have a great opportunity now to push on, and put this ‘hard fought’ win behind us. It’s only going to say 3 points in the tally at the end of the season, you don’t get points taken away for winning ugly.