Ah, bless him, it happens so infrequently, poor old Jags still doesn’t really know how to celebrate.
But coming a few days after his glum face looked out at us from our TV screens, Phil Jagielka was all smiles after toe-ing in a goal that will forever mark him out as an Everton legend. A goal at the Stretford End to go with his streaky (?) number against Liverpool at the Kop end in 2014. He didn’t know how to celebrate then either. Instead, last night, he held up a 2 and a 3 fingered gesture (in a nice way) to the sky, to dedicate his goal to a recovering Seamus Coleman; yes, recovering, not dead, although the gesture in the general direction of heaven could easily have been misinterpreted (other religious destinations are available).
Having struggled to mount a favourable word or two for a single player (or manager) after the Anfield defeat, I find myself more at ease and wondering who to praise most after this gutsy and enterprising victory-that-should-have-been-had-we-held-out-just-seconds-longer. Instead, just a point. A measly point. And in those unprotected seconds we plummet from the dizzy heights of 5th back down to 7th, where we’d started the game. Looks better than mid table though doesn’t it, and no I’m not “satisfied with 7th”, but it’s better than 11th, and it’s clearly a measure of our progress and intent that we’re as bothered by this result not being a win, as anything else. This wasn’t plucky little Everton, snatching a point off the Champions (United are Champions aren’t they?), in a back to the walls display, or something closely resembling a result by a lower league side at the Theatre of Misplaced Complacency and Entitlement in a cup game. No, this was a damn good display by an Everton side that controlled a lot of the game, and frankly should have completed the job by making better decisions in the final third, when the pass seemed the only option not considered and Rom or Ross blew it. But I’m not blaming them, it’s a team game, win, lose or draw together, and whether you’ve put your whole shift in, or marginally more than you normally do (“shhhh….”) we’re Everton, and we deserved to win that game, blue-tinted glasses notwithstanding.
The heroes for me come in clutches. Lining up soon, apparently, to take their pensions, will be Clutch No.1: Barry, Jags and Williams. Despite their combined age of 100+, their bodies-on-the-line display was outstanding last night. Pity Ash used all his body, and not the legit bits. Still, it typified what he was trying to do for the team, his face said it all, once he’d removed his shame from under his true blue shirt; no shame Ashley, this was a game made for you, your favourite, none of those whipper-snappers jinking their way past you and your fellow Dad’s Army Vets, just all up and at ’em instead. So of course you should shout and ball at your team mates (and at a ref who seemed incapable of giving Everton a free kick for snarky fouls from Young, Fellaini, Ibrahimovic, Bailly (love your coffee liqueur mate) and the extraordinarily poor Rojo), that’s what teams do when they’re fighting together, be it ‘on the beaches’ or a little further inland and on Blighty, at the Theatre of We’d Have Won The League If We Hadn’t Drawn So Many Games. Yeh, well you did, so you haven’t, and you won’t if you don’t decide to pass a ball forwards, not backwards or sideways.
I don’t care if Williams and Lukaku have an on field spat. Good. I do too when my blood is up and I’m fighting to win every game (even though it’s only me as a spectator), and provided they hugged and kissed in the dressing room, that’s fine by me. They seemed ok at one stage…
My next clutch (don’t) goes to Wardrobe Teeth Joel, and his plucky bewildered-looking young full back, Mason Holgate. Both came in for a fair amount of stick on Saturday, and probably with some justification, but they were hardly alone in their performances. Last night was heaps better, with the Over-Large Robles (he’s built like a wardrobe all over, never mind his tegs) leaping hither and thither to make at least two excellent saves, and to command his area. He would probably also have saved Shaw’s shot had Ash not intervened. This was the Robles that kept Stekelenburg on the bench, not the Tilting at Windmills Don Quixote of Anfield. Holgate was also guilty of losing the ball in possession, or misplacing a pass or three, but last night, loads better. He still looks like he can’t quite believe he’s playing, and I remember that in Galloway, but a few more games, and he’s going to be ace. Loved him standing up to Ashley Dive too after a typical unpunished foul from the United winger-turned-full-back.
My third clutch has to be the Management. Not sure they got the balance right on Saturday, with too much experience on the bench, and far too much youth on the pitch. Better balance last night, but the substitutions may just tell you something. Off, with justifiable huff, came Mirallas, and on comes Pennington. Youth for experience, let alone a different position – but Koeman could see what was going to happen, and he added the height and pace of the lad at the back by sacrificing the Belgian loose cannon at the front. And then, off comes Ross, for the not-much-younger Calvert-Lewin, and not Valencia, which would have been most armchair pundits’ choice. What’s all that about then? There’s no doubt C-L is not as good as Valencia, but Valencia may well go back to West Ham in June (almost certainly not wanted by RK, and almost certainly wanted by West Ham), so put on the young legs to run around and defend from the front (which he didn’t do very well by the way), but more importantly, play the long game. Let our Dom experience the pressure of fighting for victory at the Theatre of Why Can’t We Score Surely They Should Just Let Us, because it’ll make him a better player next season; Ronald playing the long game? Put Pennington in that bracket too, his only two appearances this season so far coming at Anfield and Old Trafford, so get him big game experience, because after all, we’ll probably still finish 7th unless those above us have a melt down, or indeed, looking over our shoulders, unless we do. So make sure that we get ourselves in the strongest position to improve next year. No Kone on the bench either, for that experienced head, no, just 5 more members of the U23 squad. Unsy must be proud. I know I am.
There we are, an unapologetically partisan piece from me on this occasion, with no apology for not mentioning the disallowed goal, and with perhaps a little more grace and apology for not calling it the Theatre of Dreams. Couldn’t resist it.
Back to GP on Sunday, give our heroes a right Royal Blue welcome and keep building to the end of the season and beyond. I’m taking my boots up with me, reckon I could do a job at Centre Back (provided I don’t need to head it, tackle, or run – but apart from that…)