If ever a confidence builder was needed, it was this evening. A potential banana skin proved to be a very useful exercise, earned a small amount of money for the club and put Everton in the hat for the draw for Round Three of the Carling Cup, where no doubt we will get Arsenal, away.
My prediction in the match preview of a starting XI was almost right. The boss rested Tim Howard, Phil Neville & Sylvain Distin who were all substitutes, and gave game time to Mikel Arteta and Marouane Fellaini who were both deemed not fit enough to start the game against QPR.
Tony Hibbert replaced Neville at right back. Phil Jagielka, who was named captain against his former club, was partnered by John Heitinga whilst Leighton Baines made up the back four.
Fellaini was joined by Jack Rodwell in the middle of midfield with Mikel Arteta playing on the left and the exciting Ross Barkley on the right. Leon Osman sat just off Victor Anichebe.
Everton started off brightly, moving the football around nicely and with some purpose. Arteta, Osman and Baines linked up nicely numerous times down the left and on more than one occasion when the full back delivered, Fellaini and Anichebe were being wrestled away from the ball. The Kojack impersonating referee missed the antics of the defenders every time.
Stephen Quinn was proving to be pivotal to the visitors patterns of play. On the rare occasion he managed to find a pocket of space, the midfielder looked assured in possession and tried to create. On 28 minutes Quinn found himself in possession on the left wing after a poor clearance by Jagielka. He delivered a very difficult cross to defend and Richard Cresswell slid in to place the ball passed Jan Mucha.
The response was instant. Jack Rodwell, who is rather frustrating with his sideways attitude at times, decided to venture forward before playing a one two and finding himself with space inside the 18 yard box by the by line. He pressed towards goal and side footed a pass across the front of goal. Steve Simonsen could have done a lot better in the visitor's goal but could only deflect the ball into the thigh of goalscorer Cresswell who took the ball over the line. 2 goals in 3 minutes for Cresswell.
6 minutes later, Everton extended their lead. Leon Osman, picked up the ball on the half way line and was fouled. Kojak played the advantage as Osman powered forward. The midfielder, who is most definitely the best five a side player at the club, was fouled a second time but shrugged the challenge off before spreading the ball out to Ross Barkley. Barkley's shross - that's shot come cross - fizzed across the front of Steve Simonsen's goal and managed to find the instep of Victor Anichebe's left foot. 1-1
Just before the break, after beginning to pass the League 1 side off the park, Mikel Arteta strode forward confidently with the ball. The Spaniard showed the home crowd what we have longed to see on a more regular basis from him by picking his spot and curling a low shot past the diving Simonsen. The only danger from now on was complacency.
Personally, my concern was resorting to long ball football, which the visitor's defence would love. I was confident if we stuck to our plan and used the football on the floor. And we did.
Ross Barkley was involved in every move of attacking emphasis, either by tucking inside to provide the space for Tony Hibbert to run in to and link up the attack, or by hugging the touch line, receiving the ball, and then cutting into a central area to try to slide a team mate in or have a pop himself.
Leon Osman continued to be pivotal, using the ball nicely, working hard and showing the neat and tidy touches we have come to expect from him. He almost capped a fine performance when receiving the ball from about 25 yards out and letting a drive fly, only to be denied by the post.
Leighton Baines hit the wall a few times with some free kicks (probably saving his best for the weekend) and so Mikel Arteta took over at the next opportunity. Arteta sent the ball around the right side of the wall but the ball crept past the post and ended up in the Gwladys Street.
Victor Anichebe had a chance to finally put the tie to bed when he capitalised on a mistake by the defender which left him one on one with Simonsen. The Nigerian forward, who scored his first goal since March 2010 tonight, may as well have passed the ball back to the keeper, or put it out for a throw in as he took an absolute age to decide what to do with himself. Eventually, as the crowd waited for him to place the ball past the keeper, he was tackled.
Louis Saha came on on 65 minutes for Jack Rodwell, who limped off. Phil Neville replaced the excellent Osman and Jose Baxter gave Ross Barkley a rest; Barkley leaving to a standing ovation.
With around five minutes left Sheffield United tried to salvage some pride, and very nearly did. Their centre half came forward with the ball and was allowed the freedom to get his shot off from 20 yards, forcing "Mad" Jan Mucha into a smart tip over. From the resulting corner Mucha was called into action again, but this time to make a simple catch from six yards out.
Full time - Everton 3 v 1 Sheffield United
Job done, thank god, and on to round three.
Jan Mucha - 6 - not much to do, no chance with goal, good save towards end.
Tony Hibbert - 7 - got forward as much as possible, also defended well. Solid.
Phil Jagielka - 6 - made two mistakes, one of which cost a goal. Assured second half.
John Heitinga - 7 - consistent game, solid throughout.
Leighton Baines - 7 - nice, neat link up play, good deliveries, defended well.
Ross Barkley - 7 - another good performance, sometimes tries too much, involved in everything.
Marouane Fellaini - 7 - solid performance, showed gulf in ability, held midfield very well.
Leon Osman - 9 - excellent all round performance, involved in every move, deserved a goal.
Jack Rodwell - 7 - more involved as time passed, tried to go forward more, work led to own goal
Mikel Arteta - 8 - linked up well with Baines and Osman, had purpose, took responsibility, deserved his goal
Victor Anichebe - 7 - led the line well, made some good runs, good work ethic, poor composure when one on one
Louis Saha - 6 - worked hard when came on, showed some nice touches, another 25mins under belt
Phil Neville - 5 - not much to do, held midfield well
Jose Baxter - 5 - tried too hard to impress, linked up well when going forward
By the way, we witnessed a piece of history tonight - Tony Hibbert was caught offside.
As always, comments welcome.
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