Obstructed View – Reflections on the Manchester City (H) Game

Hands up who expected me to start with a reference to……Leon Osman? Now that the diminutive midfielder and legendary prankster has moved on to things more media-like, I’m just wondering who is in the Everton dressing room that with a cutting of socks, a strategically placed bucket of water, or Deep Heat Rub in the shreddies, can keep our blossomed talents’ feet firmly on the ground? And who keeps us, the fans, real as well?

Remember, this is the team that barely 10 days ago had us in the depths of depression after a limp exit from an FA Cup game that we dominated and should have won; and now, we’re world beaters. Well, by all accounts, “we’re by far the greatest team, the World has ever seen”. Don’t worry, I’m not going to p*ss on our collective bonfires, there’s still room to celebrate what will be remembered by everyone that was there, everyone watching a legal (no doubt) live stream somewhere in the world, and even someone ‘watching’ on a delayed Twitter feed in an Austrian hotel with his leg in compression bandages and a pinged calf. That’ll be just me then. The memory of this game will recede quicker than a Formby tide if we don’t secure a series of wins over a generous spell in our fixture list over the next few weeks, and let’s just remember that we’ve just won 3 points, not the Champion’s League. For now, anyway.

Everyone has written eloquently about the performances of Davies and Holgate, and the icing on the cake from Lookman, and I’m not sure I’ve got much to add, even though I’ve just watched a recording of the whole game. What I will say is that Davies’ energy, vitality, anticipation and considerable skill was instrumental in victory, Holgate’s solidity was there for all to see, and Lookman’s anticipation that ‘something-might-happen-here’ given it’s Stones, and so we’re all justified in announcing a Brave New World at Goodison Park, which now needs to continue at Selhurst Park. What I would say though, having watched the game nearly 48 hours later without the benefit of adrenaline-blindness, is that both Davies and Holgate still showed signs of what has to be improved as they were occasionally turned too easily, or were wrong-sided on a player they should have been tighter to, but all of this can come from experience and minutes on pitches playing against top quality opposition like City.

Instead, I want to talk about something else. Some things in fact.

Defensively, we were guilty in the first half of giving City players the freedom of the park on our left hand side. Where was Baines when Sterling popped the ball in to Robles’ arms; why didn’t Barkley track Silva who even with enough space for a new housing development couldn’t convert mainly due to Robles’ excellent work; and how come, earlier than that, Sterling had so much room that only an inadvertent trip could save us? (and yes, inadvertent, but still a penalty). Had City converted one or two of these chances, and been given the Pen, things might have been different. But if Sterling’s cross from behind the line had been spotted last season, we’d possibly have been in a Cup Final; and, my old favourite, if my Aunt had balls she’d be my Uncle. She hasn’t, it wasn’t, and they didn’t, so we won 4-0, yah boo. But that’s still a good thing that despite giving City a pasting according to the score, we won’t be in danger of complacency when we see what else we have to work on. Will we lads? Expect an aerial bombardment, especially to the back stick, against Palace, and our track record on defending that is not great. We’ll see.

I’d like to reflect on other positives, some of which have been acknowledged, but maybe deserve more air time. The Goalkeeper. Everyone seems to be in common consent that we need a ‘real’ Number 1, but the lad that actually has that shirt number, is doing what he’s done time and time again in the last year or so. Joel Robles, the 26 year old from a southern municipality of Madrid, has only racked up 52 first team league games since his debut for Atletico Madrid way back in 2010. That’s an average of 8 games a season. Always the Bridesmaid it would seem, never the Bride, but on Sunday, as he’s done before, he gave an assured performance that seems to suggest, with Stekelenburg on the bench, that his time may well have come to take his place as the real No.1. It would seem grossly unfair to unseat him after Sunday, and indeed after most of his performances these last few weeks, but that’s not to say RK won’t revert to Stekelenburg having previously said he was first choice. But there was nothing to see on Sunday in Joel’s performance that would have you worried, and he’s also shown an ability to command his area in a way we haven’t seen for a while. Give him a chance I say, Palace will be a test of a different nature, no doubt with Puncheon et al lobbing balls in to the box for Benteke, Tomkins, Dann and Delaney, but Robles has enough about him that he should be the one to play. We’ll see.

Gareth Barry is finished apparently. I suspect he’s going to be re-christened Gareth “Give-us-an-hour” Barry as he’s certainly showing signs of wear and tear after a mere 614 PL appearances, and his pace, never an asset, is now slowing even further. But, like players like Richard Gough before him, the first yard is in his head, and he showed again on Sunday that he is no such, and is always in the right place. He has younger legs around him, and credit in part at least has to go to Barry for Davies’ performance, for the advice and instruction – you can see him talking to him all the time, and to others too. Last season saw Barry’s performances dip before Christmas, and then after a return from injury and suspension, a return to excellent form in the second half of the year, and maybe, just maybe, we’re about to see the same again. We cannot underestimate the benefit of having a fit and in form Barry in the side; he maybe just a season away from being a charismatic (?) Sky pundit, so enjoy him whilst we can. But also revel in the fact that at full strength in Centre Midfield, we have him, Davies, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Schneiderlin, McCarthy (at least for now), and then Besic, so it would fair enough to say we have some bite as well as guile in the team in that area of the squad.

An interesting thing happened against City. Lukaku was not isolated. At least until we were 2-0 up, a consequence of pressing City’s reckless and feckless backline, was that Lukaku was always accompanied by Barkley and Mirallas.

This awful photo is a collector’s piece, Lukaku jumping, with Ross to his side and Mirallas further on. Now we’re unlikely to play Kev and Ross that far forward against Palace, but it did show that a supported forward can give us a different dimension. Barkley played one of his best games under Ronald, but I’d prefer to single out Mirallas for praise. Like Barry, many supporters think he’s past his best, or indeed that his best has never quite been good enough, but we saw that his constant buzzing left and right of Rom gave City extra things to think about all game, and of course was in the right place to receive Davies’ through ball for the first goal, and also for Ross to pick him out for his goal. He played well, and I have a suspicion that we’ll see him used more like this, as it both adds a dimension to our play, but also means Lukaku is going to be more heavily involved as well, which has to be a good thing.

Enough now, you’re probably tired of reading about one of the best wins we’ve had for a few seasons (No? Ok…!) and time marches on to facing up to Big Sam, a rather different tactician to Guardiola.

Pep has his own problems, an ageing squad and a regular opposition standard that is so much higher than he faced in Spain or Germany, so let’s leave him out of it now until next season, and concentrate on Crystal Palace. A win is important, and a strong performance is the absolute minimum. We know we have the ability to build ourselves up and let ourselves down, so let’s not do it again quite so soon, eh?

Anyway, my last image is to show that there are things way more important than football, although football really can help in life…

Proud to be a Blue

Ross Crombie


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