Last week, after statistically dominating QPR, Everton eventually succumbed to defeat. Thankfully this weekend the Toffees' fortunes were reversed, after a snatch and grab job at Ewood Park. You make your own luck in the Premier League and, especially last season, Everton often peppered the penalty areas of inferior opposition without coming away with a win. As David Moyes stated afterward, his job is to win, and win they did.
However, these three points were painfully attainable for Blackburn, and Rovers fans will still be cringing about the game now. Steve Kean’s side dominated the shot count 21-11, they had a higher number of corners than Everton and sent in more crosses into the penalty area. Despite this, puzzlingly, Everton had almost 60 percent of the play, without too many ideas about how to penetrate a Blackburn defense well marshaled by Chris Samba.
The Toffees’ savior was Tim Howard, who delivered one of the best all round displays of his Everton career. He prevented a second timid Premier League showing end in another loss, by single-handedly thwarting Blackburn on numerous occasions. The American number one made some impressive saves, including a crucial second half penalty stop.
Blackburn later fluffed another penalty as well as countless further openings. In the dying embers of the game they then had the exacerbating experience of seeing Everton stroll down the field, win, and slot home a controversial penalty, and steal all three points.
Here are five current talking points surrounding Everton, sparked by Saturday’s very welcome result.
As touched upon, Tim Howard produced a high class display that demonstrated all of his often underrated goalkeeping credentials. Howard arrived at Everton after failing to convince the hierarchy at Manchester United that he was worthy of a starting slot. He quickly found himself also needing to win over a Goodison Park faithful, treated to some fine displays with Nigel Martyn in goal.
Now in his sixth season at Everton, he has firmly established himself, and has only missed four Premier League games in the 192 since his debut. A reflection of the high regard he his thought of comes in Bill Kenwright's controversially leaked conversation from a couple of weeks ago. In the exposed transcript, Howard is mentioned, along with three other players, as a name Everton simply will not entertain bids for, despite their financial frailties.
His shot stopping and communication are both phenomenal, and few goalkeepers continually relieve defences by claiming or punching away so many menacing crosses. At times in the past, Howard has struggled with positioning and handling of long range swerving shots, but these facets of his game have greatly improved in recent campaigns.
With so many of the world’s finest stoppers residing in the Premier League, Howard does not always receive the adoration from those outside of Goodison Park. However, at 32, in goalkeeping years he is poised to reach his peak. He may well be entering his most consistent period in football.
As Edwin van der Sar retires and compatriot Brad Friedel enters the twilight phases of his career, perhaps Howard will now be included in more debates surrounding the Premier League’s best goalkeepers. On Saturday, he stood up for Everton and helped drag them over the line. If he continues to perform as he did this weekend, few could argue against this.
Goodison Park is renowned for being one the most daunting places for opponents to visit. The atmosphere is often rabid as opposition players are taunted and Everton cheered on by fervent hordes of animated supporters.
However, with growing unease around the plight of Everton’s transfer activities, concern at the handling of the clubs assets and worry about the club’s future direction, the current atmosphere has a prominent air of anxiety surrounding it.
Last season Everton badly missed having a clinical finisher. Goodison Park witnessed many points dropped to supposed weaker teams who basically replicated what Everton did to Blackburn on Saturday. With still little recognised goal threat within Everton’s ranks, if the Toffees do fall behind (as against QPR) the crowd appear quick to become nervy and agitated, which soon pervades through to the players on the pitch.
This uncomfortable surrounding is obviously not present at away grounds. If, during these away trips, David Moyes could install an element of siege mentality into his players, his troops may quickly warm to the lack of expectancy and profit from their travels with extra points.
After showing such obvious promise during his Premier League debut, Ross Barkley endured a more testing afternoon in his second league outing. After a steady 45 minutes, post half-time the youngster suddenly seemed to suffer a couple of mental lapses which resulted in a string of glaring errors.
Despite his hasty exit, hooked off moments after producing a final error which handed Blackburn their first penalty, he still showcased moments of promise. In fact his 54 minutes on the pitch were notably more productive than many of his contemporaries.
During those 54 minutes, he created three chances, more than anyone else made in 90 minutes. He also took on and beat more players than anyone else and showed just why Stuart Pearce selected him, at 17, for his latest England Under-21 squad this week. So far this season he has seemed Everton's most likely scorer, reeling off 5 shots in two games, more than any other Everton player.
Barkley will undoubtedly shine for Everton, and should rapidly become a vital cog for David Moyes. As with most young players, patience and encouragement is vital to their progression. He will learn from Saturday's setback and come back with enhanced experience. These early lessons will become pivotal in the shaping of his career, although fortunately, it does not seem as though Barkley will require many.
For years Tim Cahill has been the heartbeat of Everton, a catalyst behind so many memorable results during David Moyes’ regime. On Saturday, he did not start, and despite his below par showing the weekend before, many attributed this to a reported midweek illness.
However on Twitter, before travelling to Australia, he released a couple of interesting tweets:
"Good win and fans were class as always. Farewell to emerton gutted I only played 35mins in his last game in uk. #goodluckemo."
After becoming inundated by questions from his 126,000 followers, he then released another tweet.
"OZ BOUND #notinjuredandwasntrested."
From this, it seems the Australian’s temporary run of ordinary form has left him off the team sheet for the first time in his Everton career. His benching was a scenario a minority of fans had been keen to see for a while, unhappy with his late season form last year. Yet it may only now become remembered, if this trend continues, just how vital Cahill truly is to Everton‘s cause.
His passion, commitment, link-up play, aerial dominance and, of course, renowned potency in the box, is a primary asset for Everton and David Moyes. Any step away from the team should only be temporary, perhaps allowing Cahill the chance to reflect and strike back stronger.
Loyally fulfilling his international commitments, being thrust in and out of games often partially jet-lagged, one wonders how often Cahill is at peak fitness and able to mentally be engaged 100 per cent. A small period of time away from the starting line-up could ultimately prove beneficial for the Aussie who, until international duty disrupted his form last season, had registered nine goals before the new year, seeming destined for his best Premier League goalscoring season.
Cahill has very much become part of the furniture at Goodison Park and is adored by so many Everton supporters. With pace never a quality central to his game, he seems destined to remain a key figure at Everton for many years to come.
As discussed in last week’s post, Everton needed to address their balance in midfield after defeat to QPR and did so this weekend. With Mikel Arteta on a flank, the midfield looked more stable against Blackburn, however centrally, behind an advanced Leon Osman (in the Tim Cahill role), Everton sat Marouane Fellaini with Johnny Heitinga.
Whereas Fellaini disrupts possession, spreads the play, and is a conspicuous presence in every game he plays, Heitinga offers so little to Everton in midfield. He seems to ghost through games almost unnoticed, apart from when he commits his customary reckless foul. He provides little creatively, passes laterally and seems strangely eager to stand off approaching opponents.
Although Heitinga splits Evertonians, most agree his initial signing was a coup for Everton. Many admire his post match passion, hard man on-field image, and his support of Everton via Twitter. Whilst others find him lazy, sloppy in possession and too willing to coast through games on autopilot.
In midfield, Fellaini must play the deeper role, as he still partially contributes to Everton’s attacking dimensions despite primarily focusing on regaining possession. If Arteta and Barkley play on the wings and Cahill returns in midfield, the other slot must be between Osman and Rodwell. Especially when partnering Fellaini centrally, in midfield Heitinga stifles, Everton's creative ability. He therefore puts too much pressure on a few fellow team-mates to produce.
Moyes will never drop Phil Jagielka from central defence but has always appeared uneasy with the proposition of Heitinga and Jagielka as a pairing. Distin’s extra height and natural left foot strikes an easier balance for both players.
If Heitinga is not going to play in defense, he is a sellable luxury Everton cannot currently afford. His wages and fee may as well be recycled, as he offers little in midfield and isn't getting games in defence. Too late now, but Everton would have been better off cashing in on him this window and seeking a loan move for a player such as Nedum Onuoha.
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