I like to see it as a positive, that we can’t agree on whether we’ve just gained a point we’d have been happy with at the start, or dropped three, having done 80+ minutes of all the hard work. For those of you that ‘checked out’ on a Win for Everton bet at half time, I guess it’s unconditionally positive! Maybe.
It is a measure of how much we have already travelled along this journey on which Ronald Koeman is taking us, that there is probably not a Royal Blue in the country that hasn’t got a tinge of “oh boll***s” about them today, a game that in the end we only lost by virtue of a poor defensive header from a player that had hitherto been excellent, and Sterling, luckily for City and especially the fans behind their goal about 10 rows back, had no time to think but stick his laces through it, and he finally came good against Everton rather than launching it in to the deepest dark recesses of the Etihad Stadium. You’ve got to a bit upset haven’t you? There’s no point (no pun) in saying “I’d have taken a point before the game started”, because funnily enough, that’s not an option, it isn’t how football works, you do actually have to play a match. Before the game, I looked at their line up, and was convinced we were going to get battered, or rather I was incapable of being optimistic about our chances, but as the game wore on, I became more and more convinced we’d win. Nervous, yes; wetting myself in agony, almost. When you get that close to a fantastic win, however it is engineered, you’ve got to be a little bitter and twisted. And if Besic had played an orthodox ball in to Calvert-Lewin in a breakaway near the end, who knows what might have been.
Critics say we were like the old days under Moyes, and we parked the bus. Funny thing, perspective. Funny thing, context. On Sunday, Chelsea deployed a similar tactic against Spurs and Conte is hailed as a hero, deploying the old-fashioned but effective Caternaccio tactical plan – in other words, a strong and earnest defence, set up to score on the break. Perhaps we didn’t have the balance right, and with only Rooney and DCL up top, breaks were always likely to be fleeting things as we were outnumbered, and only 50% of that strike force could be described as having sufficient pace. There is nothing wrong with what Everton set out to achieve, as in from the first whistle, but arguments will rage for a while yet as to whether we took the initiative in the second half when we were a goal and a man up.
A moment to reflect on when the strike force achieved its objective. Sane, clearly brought up on watching videos of Sylvain Distin at a Wembley semi final, all loose limbs and ineffectual defence, lost out to a hunting pair of DCL and Holgate, the latter advancing on the City box to release the former to cross for Rooney to side foot home. This was an obvious celebration of a 200th PL goal, but it should also be a celebration of the obvious learning and education of Calvert-Lewin. He had chances against Stoke and Hajduk Split that he attempted on his own, and he tried an early one of these against City when the cavalry had shown no sign of turning up, but here he was, the provider. Don’t for a minute believe that Lukaku would have done the same, but revel instead of a young English Centre Forward putting the ball on a plate for one of England’s finest ever strikers (discuss). And then there’s the celebration proper, much to the obvious delight of the City faithful:
I love this photo. Not for the dozen or so fans offering Rooney some two-fingered feedback, I look at the happy chap in the blue hoodie, standing, a couple of rows back; but most of all I love the lad in the Red Cagoule, centre of shot, three rows back. Clearly some City fans were pleased to see Rooney score!
And welcome an Everton with a bit of snide. No longer the soft touch? With Rooney in the ranks, irrespective of whether he’s captain, you know he’ll offer the ref some ‘advice’. Calvert-Lewin is a kid, but knows enough how to exaggerate the impact of Walker’s barge, but was probably just playing for the free kick, as no way was a yellow deserved. And then there’s our very own Morgan Snider-lin, a brilliant tackle but a wafting trailing leg catches the acrobatic Agüero to receive his own second yellow. Not that he went quietly….
I’d watch your back Sergio if I were you, not just at Goodison, but if you nip down to the chippy in Alderley Edge or wherever you live, make sure you keep your eye out for an angry Frenchman who might want to do more than nick your battered sausage. He might want to insert it. Yes, I’m biased, no way a yellow, but he gave Madley a decision to make, as did Walker, and not unusually, young Bobby made a bad one.
On we go, off to the delights of Split, which I’m told is beautiful, but I’m fearful will be the scene of some rufty-tufty between usually benign travelling Blues, and preying Croats and complicit police, and that’s before there’s even a game of football breaking out. Be safe Blues. No time for bravado, the police have a reputation for asking questions some way down the priority list after smacking you over the head with a baton first.
And then Chelsea. Same tactics again? Or more expansive? Revenge needed for our humiliation there last season, but they’ll be wanting to put right the wrongs of their last home game, so it’ll be tough. But we’ve proven we can cope with ‘tough’.