Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Match Report: Everton 1-1 Norwich

Same old, same old.

Everton's latest home encounter, Saturday's visit of Norwich City, was depressingly predictable. Dominate for 20 minutes, fail to score, concede a twat of a goal from a set-piece, end up chasing the game. Thank goodness for Royston Drenthe, whose introduction from the bench was the key factor in Everton grabbing a point from this one.

David Moyes' Team Selection Tombola saw Magaye Gueye and Leon Osman come in for the injured Seamus Coleman and dropped Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. Drenthe returned to the bench, where Conor McAleny was preferred to Apostolos Vellios. Tim Cahill and Louis Saha continued in 'attack'.

It's becoming a broken record but we are utterly impotent up front. On Saturday, Saha at least looked half-likely to score - forcing a couple of saves out of the excellent John Ruddy and going inches wide with a first half turn and shot - but Cahill might as well have not been there. The Australian is in an absolutely horrible run of form. He's adding nothing to the team and is snatching at everything he does - be it a half chance like the one laid onto him by Phil Neville in the first 10 minutes, or simply controlling the ball to hold play up. It's looking increasingly like he would benefit from a run as an impact substitute - he was certainly more effective in that role in the wins against Fulham and Blackburn earlier in the season. At the moment, his selection simply isn't working.

So to the game - and as mentioned above, the first 20 minutes was completely one sided. Gueye looked lively, linking well with Baines a few times, but the full-back's delivery was slightly erratic in spells. Fellaini had the first half chance - his shot well smothered by Ruddy - and Osman saw his effort cleared off the line by Russell Martin. Everton were well on top, Tim Howard again with nothing to do -  and then, as ever, the opposition score with their first attack. Heitinga gave away a daft free kick, needlessly pulling back Wes Hoolahan, which was lofted into the box. Jagielka made a hash of the header away, and as the ball was prodded back into the box it was controlled by Grant Holt. Heitinga made a powder puff challenge, Tony Hibbert also hesitated slightly, and Holt spun and knocked the ball in off the far post. Bollocks.

The remainder of the first half was slightly laboured and Norwich grew into the game more. Saha had a couple of snapshots - one agonisingly close - but the goal clearly knocked the home side's confidence (again). That's another issue we have at the moment - previous Moyes sides would have just pulled their socks up and gone and got two goals, especially against limited opposition. If this Everton doesn't score early - and we rarely do - they look nervous all game.
No changes at half time, and the second half reverted to type - almost constant Everton pressure, with Norwich breaking when they could as the blues committed men forward. Osman saw a couple of shots well saved by Ruddy and Saha should have done better with a near post header, but the game changed when Moyes introduced his substitutes - first, Denis Stracqualursi replaced Cahill on 60 minutes, then Drenthe for Gueye on 70. Stracqualursi was involved straight away, winning a good header to set Saha through - again Ruddy saved well. The big Argentine has been a bit of a figure of fun this season, but his performance was vastly improved on Saturday. He is still suspect on the floor, but in the air he was strong, aggressive and dominant, against a centre half pairing who had barely been challenged by Cahill. He deserves the praise given to him after the game by Phil Neville, and hopefully can continue to improve.

Drenthe was the real spark, however, and as soon as he came on Everton looked more 'at it'. His speed and skill make him our most potent attacking player and, even if there has been a spat with Moyes, he has to play against Swansea. We just look 100% more likely to score when he's on, and the equaliser duly came, with the Dutchman playing a big part. A decent passing move fed Drenthe on the right. He skinned his full-back, cutting in on his left foot, and shot at goal. The shot was somewhat scuffed, but Leon Osman reacted quickly to redirect it past Ruddy. Nine minutes left, game on.

As an aside, an unnoticed part of the goal was the role of Tony Hibbert, who made a great overlapping run to give Drenthe the space to go at his man. Hibbert's attitude was an example to everyone on Saturday - more than once he took responsibility and carried the ball deep into Norwich's half, trying to keep the ball on the ground too. He even had a half chance after Osman and Baines worked well down the flank, but mis-hit his left-foot shot.

There was only one team looking for the winner after that - Drenthe stung Ruddy's palms with one rising drive, then bamboozled the keeper with a howitzer of a shot which Ruddy somehow blocked up over the bar. A great tackle by Tierney denied Stracqualursi as he bundled through, and McAleny - on as a late sub for Saha - snatched at two late chances. In the end, though, Everton just ran out of time.

When you look at the stats for the game - Everton had 26 shots, for example - it's clear that the Toffees were the dominant side. A home draw against Norwich just isn't good enough, though. Let's be honest, they were rubbish - a limited side with a good attitude and two big forwards who fought for everything - and you have to put those teams away. QPR, Stoke, Norwich at home - 1 point. Crap.

The Swansea game on Wednesday is now absolutely massive. Everton simply have to win, or face the prospect of being right in the dogfight to avoid relegation. Drenthe will surely start and be key to this, and Moyes has a big decision to make in attack, as to whether he perseveres with Cahill. He is well paid to make such decisions, and at the moment - despite the arguments and counter-arguments on the club's finances - both he and his playing staff are under-achieving. This needs to stop, quickly, or there could be some really tricky times ahead.


Everton - Howard, Hibbert, Baines, Jagielka, Heitinga, OsmanNeville, Fellaini, Gueye, Cahill, Saha
Subs - Mucha, Distin, Bilyaletdinov, Stracqualursi, DrentheRodwell, McAleny

MOTM - Hibbert, just, from Osman and Drenthe.