Everton v Middlesbrough, Goodison Park, 30th September 2007
The visit of Middlesbrough would be the first Premier League game at Goodison since the defeat to Manchester United.
The draw, in the home leg of the UEFA Cup, against Metalist Kharkiv was followed by an exceptionally poor performance away at Aston Villa, in which Everton lost 2-0.
Manager David Moyes took the opportunity to rest a few players for the League Cup 3rd round match away at Sheffield Wednesday. On the bench were first team regulars Leighton Baines, Phil Neville and Andy Johnson. In for them came Nuno Valente and Lee Carsley.
All credit to Sheffield Wednesday. They held Everton for almost an hour, until James McFadden put Everton in to the lead with a simple tap in after good work by Yakubu.
Yakubu was playing his first game since Leighton Baines had demanded more from him in the press. Since his move to Everton he had looked far from a £11.25 million player. But reacted well to the constructive criticism levelled at him and begun to show what he could do.
A second goal by McFadden was quickly followed by a third as this time McFadden turned provider for Yakubu, who raced in on goal to score his second of the season.
The final result was 3-0 to Everton, but lets not get carried away. Everton were playing a team who are bottom of the league below them. What is more worrying is that Sheffield Wednesday competed with Everton for most of the match. And it was only in the last half hour, when the pace of the game got to the Wednesday players, that Everton clinched the win. But a win is a win and Everton moved into the next round.
Middlesbrough will be a more difficult opponent. Though their season hasn’t had a great start, they have still managed to accumulate 8 points with wins against Fulham (away) and Birmingham City (home). Coupled those wins with impressive North East derby draws against Sunderland and Newcastle.
Just as it seemed their season was about to take off they lost to Tottenham Hotspurs in the League Cup.
But they will come to Goodison expecting to get a result, and their biggest motive will be Yakubu. Their former star centre forward practically went on strike when he handed in a transfer request, and this will be the first time he has faced his former team mate’s. They will see this as a perfect opportunity to make him regret his decision to leave.
Hopefully the same motivation will see Yakubu wanting to get one over his former team, providing he starts on Sunday.
David Moyes has a big decision to make about which strike partnership to go with. Both Yakubu and McFadden have shown that they can hit the target, while Andy Johnson has had a difficult time in front of goal. Though the work rate he puts in for the team is probably double that of Yakubu’s and McFadden’s put together. Johnson is likely to be on the bench. Other changes could see Leighton Baines return to left back as Nuno Valente has an injury. Right back Tony Hibbert could also miss out through injury. His position will probably be filled by Phil Neville.
Everton have to see this as a must win game. After Sunday they travel to the Ukraine for the difficult return leg of the UEFA Cup tie against Metalist Kharkiv. Following that is another tricky trip, this time to St James Park to face Newcastle in the league. Then there is arguably Everton’s biggest league game of the season, at home to our local rivals Liverpool.
So if Everton don’t win against Middlesbrough it could be a long time until we do get a victory.
Middlesbrough are a hard team to play against. Maybe not the best at passing the ball around, but they are well drilled and well organized.
Though they have never been much of a force in the Premier League, under their former manager (and the now England manager) Steve McClaren they became a mid table club, who managed to have some impressive cup runs. Most notably losing in the final of the UEFA Cup.
Since McClaren left it’s fair to say Middlesbrough’s fortunes have taken a downward turn. A lot of their big name players have left the club. And those brought in to replace them aren’t really of the same standard.
Manager Gareth Southgate was happy to welcome back the former Real Madrid centre half Jonathan Woodgate, and the Egyptian forward Mido. Both had been out through injury.
Middlesbrough line up would see the Australian Mark Schwarzer in goal. In defence would be Luke Young, Woodgate, David Wheater and Andrew Taylor. A midfield made up of Gary O’Neil, George Boateng, Fabio Rochemback and Stuart Downing. Up front Mido and Dong-Gook Lee from South Korea.
Substitutes for Middlesbrough would be Chris Riggott, Seb Hines, Brad Jones, Lee Cattermole and Tom Craddock.
Everton would see one of their own starts returning in Mikel Arteta.
After a promising start to the season the Spaniard hadn’t been in the form. This was exacerbated by a training ground injury that had put him on the sidelines for a few games. Everton had missed his flair and creativity, and his return to the team would be seen as a fresh start for the midfielder.
Also returning to the first team was Tim Howard who would replace Stefan Wessels in goal. Wessels would be justified in felling a little hard done by after aptly deputising for the American while Howard was injured.
Tony Hibbert kept his place at right back. While veteran defender Alan Stubbs would keep his centre half partnership with Joleon Lescott, after impressing in the mid week League Cup win against Sheffield Wednesday. Leighton Baines would return to left back.
With Arteta back on the right of midfield, the centre would be manned by Phil Jagielka and club captain Phil Neville. On the left would be the South African Steven Pienaar.
After playing so well against Wednesday, Yakubu and James McFadden would continue their partnership up front.
On the Everton bench was Joseph Yobo, Lee Carsley, Wessels and Victor Anichebe. Also named as substitute was the out of favour Andy Van der Mayde, making his first appearance in the first team squad for some time.
So, with the match live on TV, referee Mike Riley got the game underway.
Just a small note on the referee. I don’t usually like to comment on them till after the game. But Mike Riley is one of the worst referees in English football.
It’s not that he makes mistakes (as all referees seem to, all the time!), it’s that he has no control over the game.
A quiet match, with him in charge, is likely to see a hat full of bookings. While a game with bad tackles and indiscipline will see the players go unpunished.
Not many people like referees, but when his name was announced there was more booing then is normal.
Everton started well with some nice touches, but it was Middlesbrough who had the first shot. Boateng finding him self with room in the Everton area could only drag his shot wide of the goal. He would regret the missed chance as Everton soon won a corner at the other end.
Arteta swung in the ball. And after the Middlesbrough defence could not clear it, Lescott rose, unchallenged, to head the ball down into the bottom left corner for his forth goal of the season.
1-0 to Everton.
Everton continued to play well, though Middlesbrough could still be dangerous on the counter attack.
Such was the case when O’Neil had the whole of the Everton goal to aim at from 8 yards out. But his weak shot was straight at Howard.
Again Everton came forward, but Middlesbrough restricted them to shots from outside of the box. Although Everton were getting them on target, them all seemed to be straight at Schwarzer. It was hard to tell if that was because of good goal keeping or bad finishing.
Another attack by Middlesbrough saw them win a corner. The ball fell to Mido who could only watch as his fierce shot was blocked by Stubbs.
At the other end Everton got them selves another corner. Again Arteta crossed it in. This time Yakubu found space to rise 6 yards out. But he miss timed his jump and ball flew off his head and over the bar.
Then came Middlesbrough’s best chance of the game. A cross into the Everton area would see Dong-Gook Lee get a powerful header at goal. It looked like a certain equaliser until it rebounded off the cross bar and away.
Up until this point the game had been finely balanced. Everton having most of the ball, but Middlesborugh creating by far the better chances in front of goal. That changed after the Dong-Gook Lee attempt. Seeing yet another chance missed speared Middlesbrough on. They began to take control of the midfield, not allowing Everton to clear the ball from their own half.
Time and time again Neville or Jagielka failed to clear the ball or tried to do too much with it, only to see a red shirted Middlesbrough player take control of the ball.
The middle of the half saw Everton come under pressure and it was only some last ditch defending and the claming presence of Stubbs that kept Middlesbrough from getting the goal they deserved.
The frustration in the Middlesbrough team began to show as a few late tackles started to creep into the game. Referee Riley could have clamped down on it as soon as it had begun. But his ineptitude to control the players would see the persistent fouling continuing. Finally (and about 10 minutes to late) he booked O’Neil for ‘unsporting behaviour’.
With almost 10 minutes left in the half Arteta drifted in from the right, found space at the edge of the area and shot. Again, as had been for most of the half, the shot was straight at Schwarzer.
There was almost a physical sift in the pattern of the game. A sense that the opportunity for Middlesbrough to score had passed.
The game became a midfield battle, but there was still enough time for Everton to get down the flank. The cross found Piennar, but the little winger simply could not get high enough to direct his header, and the ball was over the bar.
As the half came to a close Mido found he self booked for a poor challenge on Lescott.
At the half time whistle there was a deep breath taken by the fans. The game had been exciting, and some of the football played had been a joy to watch. But it had been far to close to be comfortable.
Everton had taken the lead, Arteta’s return had given the team a more attacking look, and McFadden was getting better and better up front. But you had to wonder, if Everton had been playing a better team, what would to score have been? Simply put they were too lack lust in the centre of the pitch. They allowed Middlesbrough far too much time and space.
Middlesbrough would be disappointed that they could not take advantage.
The second half began much the same way the first had. Everton continued to try and pass the ball around but maybe they were a little lightweight when it came to holding the ball up. Middlesbrough still looked organized when it came to defence.
An awfully late challenge by Dong-Gook Lee on Lescott saw him become the fourth player booked. Rockemback had been the third booking of the day after showing dissent to the referee. But Riley turned a blind eye when one Middlesbrough player deliberately elbowed Arteta in the face.
Now many teams have realized if you can contain Arteta, Everton find it difficult to attack. But this blatant attempt to injure him should have seen the Middlesbrough player red carded. Unfortunately Riley failed in the first duty of a referee, to protect the well being of the players.
Another poor attempt at goal by Middlesbrough saw Everton attacking quickly. McFadden made a fantastic run down the inside right and played the to the left of the area. Piennar with a lovely first time touch found Arteta on the left wing. Arteta played a first time ball back to Piennar who had managed to lose his marker in the area. And Piennar made no mistake sliding the ball into the Middlesbrough goal.
2-0 to Everton.
With almost 30 minutes left the game was practical over. With all the chances Middlesbrough had wasted surely they weren’t going to get two goal this late in the game, were they?
Mido had taken a knock on his ankle and was making a big deal of limping around. Although minutes after Everton extended their lead, he was given the ball near the Everton area, and unleashed a powerful shot that had Howard beaten, but just scraped the top of the cross bar. That was his last meaningful contribution of the day. He was taken off for Carddock. But his shot should have been a warning to Everton. If you don’t concentrate for the whole 90 minutes, you could let the oppression back into the game.
Everton made a substitution of their own, taking off Yakubu and replacing him with Anichebe.
Yakubu still wasn’t at his best, but his presence on the field had worried the Middlesbrough defenders. But they would find Anichebe a hand full, as the young forward has more about his game then Yakubu does a present.
To be fair to Yakubu he has continued to improve. At this rate it will only be couple of months until we start to see the best of him.
The match continued with foul after foul as Everton looked to slow the game down. After another poor tackle, by Dong–Gook Lee on Stubbs, the South Korean was taken off for Riggot. No doubt Southgate was worried Dong-Gook Lee would get him self sent off, the way he was playing.
Middlesbrough tried to cause more problems for the Everton defence by pushing Wheater up front. But apart from winning a few headers he was contained.
Another substitution for Everton saw Yobo come on for the impressive McFadden. This cued a reshuffle on the pitch. Yobo partnered Stubbs in the centre of defence, with Lescott moving to left back. Baines moved up to the left wing, allowing Piennar to play just off Anichebe in attack.
The moved slowed the game down even more, as the Middlesbrough players found it hard to play through a congested midfield. As the match came toward it’s end, another Everton substitution saw Carsley come on for Arteta.
With a defence five man midfield Middlesbrough were reduced to pumping the ball forward.
With out another meaningful attempt at gaol the match ended.
Everton 2 Middlesbrough 0.
Great, I finally get to write about a win. But it was a hard fought one. Middlesbrough disserved to get something out of this game. They created some good opportunities in the first half, and they dominated the centre of the pitch.
Neville continues to give away the ball far too much, but Jagielka had a stinker of a game. He managed to do his first job, which was to break up Middlesbrough attacks. But after he had won the ball he would give it straight back to the opposition. The sooner Tim Cahill can recover from his injury the better.
It was good to see Arteta back on the field. Everton had missed him, as he is by far the most talented player we have.
Piennar had his best game for Everton, and deserved his well taken goal. He has probably done enough to keep his place in the team. If he continues to perform well, his loan deal to Everton may become a permanent one.
Another player who impressed was the Scot James McFadden. He has been at the club for some time and although he has the ability to play, he has rarely shown it on the pitch. Are we finally seeing him mature in to the player he promises to be? After a couple of very good games, lets hope so.
There are still question to be answered by Everton. Their next game is in the Ukraine for the 2nd leg of the UEFA Cup 1st round tie against Metalist Kharkiv. Another clean sheet will be invaluable out there, but Everton must score at least once. And it’s hard to say for certain that they will.
The next game I’ll be writing about will be the Merseyside derby. It’s by far the biggest league fixture of the season. It’s a match that sees the form books go out of the window, as the two team’s, Everton and Liverpool, compete for the bragging rights to the city.
Liverpool will come fired up after losing 3-0 last season. While Everton will be looking to put a huge dent in Liverpool’s title challenge.
Should be interesting to say the least.