He looks like the handsome extra in a spaghetti western, he’s got a name that suggests that he holds no prisoners (any more), and he has been an oft derided member of an Everton squad bolstered more by ex Wigan players than some have felt is acceptable for the School of Science.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce Antolin Alcaraz. Whilst there is that inescapable feeling that a complete horlicks is just a moment away, Alcaraz today proved every bit the capable deputy for a young superstar that is 11 years his junior. In fact, Alcaraz played so well today that Stones may not get the automatic recall when he’s fighting fit, although given the undue haste with which Howard and Baines have been restored to the starting XI, I guess I needed hold my breath on that one. But that’s for the future, in the meantime, let’s reflect on a performance that was as imperious as it was mildly surprising. There is no doubt that Alcaraz possesses immense talent, but for some reason, one suspects a lack of focus as he dreams idly of a siesta in his native landlocked Paraquay, he doesn’t inspire confidence at all times, most recently of course against Kiev, where an ill-conceived back pass nearly lost us the leg, and probably the tie.
But none of that today. A series of brilliantly timed tackles, interceptions, and a distribution of the ball that was often simple but always effective. Somehow playing with him can bring out the worst in Jagielka who today had a few uncomfortable moments and not the sturdy rock that we’ve seen more of late. I’d have given Alcaraz MoTM today, but the Everton Lounge was graced with Lennon’s cheery disposition to accept that accolade. Perhaps Antolin can’t understand a word Darren Griffiths says, but then that would be everyone’s excuse!
Lennon, in fairness, showed a typical Everton performance. He ran and ran, closed down, tackled back, won a deserved penalty, and then typified the Everton style of the moment by being unable to plonk his final pass on to the head or to the feet of a fellow Blue. However, he was often and clearly in space, and not given the ball, for reasons best known to his team mates. I think this lad has potential, but he needs the chance to prove himself with the ball at his feet rather than by chasing down the opposition. Let’s see if we see more of him over the last 9 games of the season. We have two on loan wingers, both yet to set the side on fire (perhaps that’s why their host clubs are happy to let them go on loan?), but if Bobby is looking to buy a wide player or two for next season, perhaps the time is now that they start to get the service that allows them to prove what they’re worth.
As a performance by the team today, we can be pleased with the win, pleased with a more up-tempo start, and pleased of course with 3 goals for and none against. We can also look on in wonderment as we played with two strikers. I SAID TWO STRIKERS!!! Deploying Kone up top alongside Lukaku, or typically just behind him, meant more occupancy time for the Bar Codes (cleverly disguised in grey) back four, giving more space for Lennon out wide (but, see above), and also curiously for the mercurial enigma that is Osman. Leon played a few of the clever forward passes that frankly we’ve missed whilst he’s been away (David Pleat said on the radio that Everton were struggling because Osman wasn’t playing every week – no David, he’s been out for 3 months with a career threatening injury), and by having two targets to aim at, Gibson also played more forward balls than I’ve seen in many a week at Goodison and away. Good signs that we have actually learnt, at last, hurrah, and whoopee, that we can adapt our play with positive results.
We now face two tough away games, one to the hostile Kiev where I genuinely feel for the safety of our fans and players if we’re approaching victory by 8pm next Thursday, and a slightly different atmosphere but no less challenging I suspect as we travel to Loftus Road. The wide open spaces of the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, to the snug, cramped confines of W12. Two big challenges, overcome them both, and our season has somewhat better definition than it at one time appeared…..lose them both, and our season is back in crisis. “One summer a swallow doesn’t make” is a bit early for the time of year, but just because we beat an insipid Newcastle today, let’s not rush to hang the bunting out just yet.
But let’s celebrate Alcaraz’ finest moments in a blue shirt.