Malcolm Dawson writes….Peter Sixsmith was not held up on the journey over the Pennines. He was there to see the whole thing through and for the second year in a row, the trip to Goodison was one he was glad he made. Everton hasn’t been much of a happy hunting ground for SAFC in recent times but this was a big result. Of course there is still much to do but time is running out and we are out of the relegation places. Next week a resurgent Leicester City will be no pushover but by the end of that game we may easily know if we will be watching Premier League football again next season. Pete is certainly more confident than he was a few weeks ago but takes nothing for granted. Here is his account of a good day out on Merseyside yesterday.
Napoleon once said “Bring me lucky generals.” On that basis, the ghost of Bonaparte is stalking the Stadium of Light as we carried a fair amount of good fortune in our second successive win at Goodison Park. It’s not that we didn’t play well in a limited kind of way. The players’ concentration levels were light years away from that exhibited in the Palace game and they were disciplined, organised and completely committed to the cause.
The two Sebastians typified that. Coates, who has hardly played since his arrival from Liverpool, was tremendous in the middle of the back four and played a significant part in keeping Lukaku as quiet as a Labour supporter was on Friday morning. The Uruguayan read the game well and put in some great tackles when he had to, as well as blocking the ball on numerous occasions. The other Seb, the Swede Larsson, did exactly what it says on the tin. He harried and carried all over the pitch and was always there to pick up a loose ball and move it on. Sometimes the unspectacular is needed and Larsson gives us that in spades.
However the two outstanding players were regulars; The Giant Pantilimon and Cattermole. Both were simply magnificent and showed that, should we go down, there will be a queue of Premier League clubs looking to employ them next season. TGP kept us in the game in the first half with two stunning blocks and was the personification of calmness and authority as he controlled his box in the second. A stream of corners from the Toffees came unstuck as he punched them away, caught them and, on one occasion, calmly raised a giant paw to swat away a header that looked to be heading in. Cattermole had the kind of game that would have him as a shoo-in for an England place if he played for a more fashionable club – or indeed, one that Roy Hodgson is actually aware of.
This was his kind of game, a “backs to the wall – let them come at us” kind of encounter, where he could exhibit all of his abilities as an interceptor, tackler and shrewd passer. He squeezed the life out of Ross Barkley, a player who looks destined to end up at Sunderland via Manchester City and end up as a “whatever happened to” midfielder, à la Rodwell. Gareth Barry was withdrawn relatively early as he lost the battle with the former Boro man and in the last half hour Cattermole was magnificent. It was his interception and pass that set up the second and clinching goal.
The goals were not things of beauty like Messi’s on Wednesday night. They were probably the scrappiest pair I have seen in a win at Everton, but they were worth their weight in gold. Danny Graham stuck out a leg to divert a weak shot from Gomez for the first and Defoe bundled his over the line after an excellent combination from the two subs, Johnson and Fletcher. Both made a real difference when they came on. Johnson had replaced a tired Danny Graham and his ability to hold the ball and take defenders on gave us an outlet. Graham’s departure left Wickham alone up front, not a role that he enjoys. He had done well as the third striker in the first half and even better when he dropped behind Graham and Defoe in the second. He has so much potential but just lacks the bite that a top class player needs. Maybe next year?
Fletcher’s arrival gave us someone who would hold the ball up and it was his run across the box (complete with falling down) that allowed Johnson to set up Defoe for the clincher. Jermain’s last goal was the stunner against the Mags – this one was a tad more prosaic.
As the game finished, there must have been a shudder around the Sports Direct and the KC Stadium. Although it was hardly “the shot that rang around the world” it was a statement of intent that these players will not lay down and die and that the Head Coach has got them organised. It’s not smooth flowing football and the purists will not be purring, but it is effective and it shows that the players will listen to someone who asks them to do the possible rather than the impossible. Defenders now win the ball and release it quickly up front. Midfield players move the ball quickly. Forwards no longer have to wait for the ball to arrive to them. It is simple, straightforward and, on the evidence of the last three games, effective.
There is much to do. Leicester are on a genuine roll and will not want to get dragged back into the trouble from which they have almost extricated themselves. Hull go to a torpid Spurs side needing the points while Newcastle could well be QPR’s last Premier League visitors for the next millennium. No room for complacency then – but I don’t think Dick Advocaat does complacency.
Finally, a word of praise for Everton supporters who showed their class on several occasions after the game in the Soccerbus queue, on the platform at Sandhills station and on the train back to Birkdale. They are very much like us; a proud club, somewhat over shadowed by arrogant neighbours and with a real feel for the game. I look forward to making their acquaintance again next season.
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