Malcolm Dawson writes…..it could have been a perfect weekend for Pete Sixsmith. In fact it could have been a brilliant week as there was footy on every day, starting with the Under 21s’ game on Monday and ending with the senior side’s visit to Merseyside yesterday. It didn’t quite work out like that with a raft of disappointing results and extra time in an FA Vase tie meaning he had to miss a cracking concert at The Sage on Saturday night and then witness the shocker at Goodison.
NO GOOD AT GOODISON
It would be correct to say that I have had better footballing weekends. I saw a grand total of 20 goals over three games which, even for the most demanding football fan would seem to guarantee a wide smile. Alas, eleven of them were conceded by clubs in which I take an interest, hence the gloomy cloud that is sitting over Sixsmith Towers this morning.
It started on Friday night where I saw a competitive FA Vase game between Bishop Auckland and South Shields, which the Mariners won by the odd goal in three. The attraction here was the appearance of one Julio Andres Arca in the Shields side. The former Willow Pond player (I seem to remember him playing the odd game for Sunderland and Middlesbrough) turned in a solid performance in midfield supported by such luminaries as Lee Paul Scroggins and Brian Smith. Rumour has it that Julio is on “gate money” – £1 for every attendee above 200. Shields’ last home gate was 1100+.
Saturday was a trip to Worksop (just) in Nottinghamshire for Shildon’s FA Vase game with Handsworth Parramore, a Sheffield based club who own Worksop Town’s former home at Sandy Lane. The Tigers are tenants much to the chagrin of their loyal support. Shildon were joint favourites for the Vase along with the reborn Hereford club. Alas, no longer, as they fell at the first hurdle, losing 5-4 to a stronger and savvier Handsworth team whose centre forward Kieran Wells scored a hat trick as the Railwaymen slumped to a 5-4 defeat after extra time.
The Shildon manager blamed his defenders and thought that his team were naïve in not closing the game down immediately after taking a 2-1 lead. Their cause was not helped by a needless sending off when the score was 4-3 and there was plenty of time to get back into the game. The afternoon was a major disappointment for the hundred or so who travelled south but who at least had the opportunity to visit The Mallard, an excellent pub on the westbound platform at Worksop station.
Some of those who witnessed that defeat then set off early on Sunday morning for Everton. The Durham bus was by no means full, which gave ample opportunity to sleep, read the papers, listen to the cricket and wonder why experienced coach drivers find it difficult in setting the heating correctly on their coaches. After boiling and freezing in equal proportions, we parked up at 10.30 giving those who wanted to, time to look at the dignified and moving billboards that Everton had placed opposite Stanley Park celebrating the life of Howard Kendall.
The floral tributes alongside the Dixie Dean statue were from his family and it showed the love and affection that the supporters of this great club had for a Durham lad who played for and managed them over four decades.
I strolled down to the Leigh Arms, scene of a few decent pre and post-match drinking sessions, only to find the metal shutters up and an air of decay around another lost pub. It still had its Higsons signboards up, a beer that has become better with memory.
So, it was to another anodyne Wetherspoons that I sampled my single pint of the day, a Caledonian Brewery wheat beer called Flying Dutchman, an appropriate drink, we thought, for Patrick van Aanholt. John McCormick joined us and we had an amiable chat about life, liberty and the pursuit of three points although we decided that one would do.
And off we went to The Old Lady, a grand stadium in a world of bland new builds and one which we should cherish for all its imperfections. The wooden seats were reminiscent of Roker and there is still evidence of the Leitch lattice work above our heads as well as on the Gwladys Street stand. The Z Cars theme brings back memories of Wednesday nights sat in front of the Ferguson or Bush and waiting to see if Fancy Smith or Charlie Barlow walloped somebody and there was an impeccable silence for those who had lost their lives in foreign wars.
By the time the stadium erupted into applause after four minutes to remember Kendall (memo to Evertonians – don’t do it every game as it dissipates the effect) we had hit the post and looked good. Both wing backs were pushing forward and the balance of the team looked right. When we struck the woodwork again, it looked even better. And then……
The disaster started when Arouna Kone, a less than prolific striker since his move from Wigan Athletic, showed that there is much more to his game than merely ramming the ball into the net – although he did show us that later. His wonderful pass to Delofeu caught us in a state of defensive narcolepsy, as Van Aanholt was caught out of position and in a foot race with Billy Jones the young Spaniard was the only winner. He stroked the ball home to give Everton the lead. Ten minutes later, the supplier turned finisher when he rammed home a fierce shot as our defence (I use that term lightly) backed off Kone and allowed him a free shot which he accepted. Cattermole, already struggling with an injury, lost him completely while nobody else thought to go and make a challenge and perhaps make things a wee bit harder for him.
By now, the optimism had drained away as quickly as the beer had in the pub and Everton had more chances which they did not take. The central defensive trio were creaking and the full backs, looking good going forward, were far less keen to drop back quickly and it was apparent that Everton were happy to bide their time and pick us off. Cattermole disappeared down the tunnel and was replaced by a heavy looking Rodwell.
He received a generous round of applause from the home crowd who clearly sympathised with a young man who had followed the gold to Eastlands and had ended up as a sub in a rag bag of a team that, on this performance, is unlikely to dodge the relegation bullet this season.
A lifeline was thrown to us at the end of the half when the industrious and effective Defoe got onto and converted a long punt up field by Coates and it was even-stevens when M’Vila played a sublime ball into Defoe who brought Van Aanholt in and the full back’s cross was headed in by the hard working Steven Fletcher.
At 2-2 we needed to settle down, stifle Everton and unsettle the crowd. We did none of these and they proceeded to run riot. All four subsequent goals were avoidable, although three of them were very well taken and Lukaku would have headed in the third had Coates not got his boot there first.
It shows that our recruitment “policy” over the last three years has been an unmitigated disaster. The first choice central defenders are injured and we are left with a man whose best days are long gone and a Uruguayan plodder who can only play with O’Shea to talk him through a game. As a boy, I sometimes winced as Cec and Len (Power plus men in the words of the old Fulwell End song) stumbled through games but the current full back situation is an embarrassment and could well be a major part in the inquest that will follow our seemingly inevitable relegation/Great Escape Vol 3. The last half decent full back we had was Bardsley, the last decent one was probably Chris Makin.
I used the word rag bag earlier and that is what we are. Everton had a purpose and a style, one that Martinez has developed and they are a long way away from the more prosaic teams offered up by David Moyes. Their front three had pace and verve and completely destroyed our defence. Lukaku was outstanding, showing intelligence and movement and so much better than Steven Fletcher. Not that Fletcher had a bad game, but Lukaku has the luxury of having players behind him who feed him well and in Barry and McCarthy they have a central midfield who organise, think and who, on this performance, are four steps ahead of their opponents.
It was a chastening experience but utterly predictable after the shenanigans of the previous week. The manager has to coax a much more disciplined performance out of this lot for next week. He is already talking about moving those on who do not show what is required of him and there are five of yesterday’s starting line-up who should be looking to their agents now as I believe they have no future at this club.
Some small rays of sunshine in that going forward we looked better than we have for a while and a there was a decent cameo from Duncan Watmore. He may get the opportunity to turn cameos into full appearances, but not yet. The older players need to show the younger ones how you can take on board what a new manager says – problem is too many of them have heard new managers too many times.