1. Howard repays Martinez’ faith (but May should be the end of the road).
Tim Howard responded to recent criticism with his best performance of the season, making a number of first class saves to repel Manchester City. His diving stop to deny Yaya Toure in the first half was the most impressive, but various blocks (shown in the diagram below) from Sergio Aguero in the second half were equally as important.
It was not just his shot stopping that was improved, his all round game was much better and on more than one occasion he took pressure off his back four by collecting a cross or punching a ball clear.
Roberto Martinez will feel justified in his resoluteness to retain Tim Howard as his first choice goalkeeper, but despite his impressive performance, which all Evertonians hope will be maintained until the end of the season, his time as a top class goalkeeper is drawing to an end. His biggest critics will point to recent displays and claim that one performance does not undo the wrongs we have all witnessed in the first half of the season. I have believed for some time that Martinez will not, barring a calamity, drop Howard, the fans therefore need to get behind the American and back him to the end of the season, which in all likelihood will be his last in an Everton shirt. Martinez has hinted as much in recent weeks, without confirming that Howard’s time at Goodison Park is almost up.
“We have an incredible squad, a group of players here that I’m excited about and I’m looking forward to seeing them develop and Tim Howard is a big part of that. Whatever happens at the end of the season you cannot guess it now and it would be wrong to try to guess that.”
2. Experienced heads bring a touch of realism.
Everton’s football this season has been exciting and expansive, but unfortunately the team have failed to deliver the results their attacking play has deserved. In recent games, we have seen a new found resoluteness to Everton’s play, with just 2 goals conceded in four matches since the turn of the year. Granted, one of those games was against Dagenham and Redbridge and we should place much credence on that result, but the other three games were against sides in the top four of the Premier League.
So what has changed to bring about this change? Certainly a slight tactical shift, with Arouna Kone dropped in favour of a more orthodox midfield player, but also a change in the managers thought process. On Wednesday night, Leon Osman started his first Premier League match since last season and his experience and knowhow was vital in Everton taking control of the match, particularly in the opening 45 minutes. After the break Everton were forced back, but Leon Osman stuck rigidly to his job, tracking back and providing Leighton Baines with excellent support on the left hand side. When Osman was withdrawn, Steven Pienaar took up the mantle, using his skill and professionalism to draw fouls from Manchester City players and in the process eat up some precious time.
Leon Osman may not have been a popular name on the teamsheet, but his performance was crucial in Everton securing an important point away at the Etihad. If Tom Cleverley or James McCarthy return from injury ahead of the Capital One Cup Semi Final second leg then I would expect Osman to drop out of the side, but if the duo are adjudged unfit, the Leon Osman will provide Everton with an excellent option on the left hand side of the midfield.
3. Jagielka’s return highlights just what Everton have been missing.
Since Phil Jagielka has returned to the Everton side they have played twice and the Blues have kept two clean sheets. The skipper’s impressive recovery from injury has highlighted how much Everton have missed him, with a potential 10 points lost due to his absence. Since Jagielka injured his knee in the 2-1 defeat to Arsenal Everton have dropped points from winning or drawing positions in the following games:
- Bournemouth (2 points dropped)
- Norwich City (2 points dropped)
- Leicester City (1 point dropped)
- Stoke City (3 points dropped)
- Tottenham Hotspur (2 points dropped)
Those 10 points would put Everton inside the top four and in a very good position to mount a push for Champions League football. The Blues can do very little about those dropped points, but they must make the most of Jagielka’s return and push for a strong second half of the season, which could still end in glorious fashion.
4. Stones’ last minute panic.
Every Evertonian would have taken a deep breath when John Stones slid in to bundle Raheem Stirling to the floor in the dying moments of the match. It looked a certain penalty and I waited nervously for the referee to point to the spot. Thankfully he did not, but it highlighted a possible chink in the armour of John Stones. After all this is not the first time that John Stones has been involved in a last gasp penalty decision in recent weeks.
Against Stoke, Stones was harshly punished, but his rash decision to slide into a tackle in the penalty area presented the referee with a decision to make. On both occasions the referee has got the decision wrong, one in favour of the Blues, one against and they do say that decisions even themselves out over the course of a season.
If I was Roberto Martinez I would be speaking to John Stones, highlighting the perils of diving in to a tackle. A bit of last minute panic would appear to be the only weakness in his incredible calm persona, but making such a poor decision, twice in the space of 3 weeks, indicates that Stones still has room for development.
5. Shocking decision not to delay kick-off.
The decision not to delay the kick-off of the game was a real kick in the teeth for loyal fans of both Everton and Manchester City. Anyone who attempted to travel to the game will be well aware of the awful traffic issues around Manchester, not just on the road network but also the tram system as well. The game however, kicked-off as normal, with thousands of fans still outside the ground leaving large sections of the Etihad sparsely populated. A delay of 30 minutes would have been a sensible decision and one that would have rewarded loyal supporters who were trying to make their way to a game after a long day at work. I am aware from their Twitter account that the Everton Supporters Trust are already looking to speak with the police and the two clubs to understand why the decision to proceed as normal was taken and it will be an interesting one to follow, especially considering 8,000 Evertonians will be making the return trip to Manchester in 2 weeks’ time.