Despite being frustrated at the final whistle last Saturday, the performance by the players – comfortably their best showing this season – gave me cause for optimism.
Let’s face it; we needed something to cheer us up following the turbulent build-up to the game, culminating in a protest march before kick-off.
I wasn’t present at the protest, part through a conscious choice and partly because I arrived at the ground late and preferred to go for a pint. So, therefore, I can’t comment and the amount of people who marched. Numbers have varied wildly according to each person’s point of view, from as little as 300 to as many as 1500. From the pictures and videos I have seen it probably numbered somewhere in the middle, either way it was a visible voicing of discontent at the board and the way they have run the club.
It was interesting to see the reaction of the crowd when Bill Kenwright was shown in the big screen during the game. At first there were a few boos before spontaneous applause. This was repeated when Kenwright appeared on the big screen a few minutes later.
The reason for the applause? I don’t think it was necessarily support for Kenwright but perhaps evidence that a section of the support, although eager for change, do not want to turn on Kenwright and make it personal.
The Blue Union released as statement following the game praising the resounding success of the march and also accusing the club of stirring things up by showing Kenwright on the big screen. To be honest I think this was unnecessary as Everton don’t control the TV coverage of the game. Yes, they have the ability to show graphics and adverts to block out controversial replays, but you can predict when they will be shown, they wouldn’t have known that Kenwright was going to be shown at that particular moment.
I felt it was a needless jibe by the BU after all their good work, especially as they have stated their previous determination not to make things personal. The whole incident just shows how splintered the fanbase is at present.
Anyway, back to the pitch and – finally – something to smile about. I was sat in the Top Balcony for this one, away from my usual spot in the lower Gwladys, so I had the chance to see how the side lined up. I’m no tactical expert but I felt the 4-2-3-1 worked really well, with Fellaini and Rodwell solid in a holding midfield role and Coleman and Osman getting forward to support Cahill (Billy was poor again and was rightly hauled off in the second half, as soon as Drenthe is match-fit I expect him to take his place). Osman’s movement in particular was outstanding and thoroughly deserved his goal. He faded slightly in the second half but after working so hard I suppose to was to be expected. Fellaini was outstanding in his defensive midfield role, having one of those games where he just seemed to be everywhere.
That unsigned contract remains a bit of a worry, and Moyes has began to prepare us for a possible departure by revealing he may have to sell should Fellaini not sign a new deal. We can’t afford to let him run the deal down like Pienaar did. Hopefully we can make a solid start to the season and persuade him to put pen to paper. But thanks to previous experience I’m not getting my hopes up.
If we play like we did on Saturday then we should have no problems this season. We deserved to win no question and had we been awarded a penalty early in the second half I’m sure we would have got them. After being on the right side of a shaky refereeing decision the previous week at Blackburn I suppose we just have to accept that these things happen. However, looking at the replays of Bannan’s trip on Baines, as well as the referee’s position, I simply cannot believe how he didn’t point to the spot.
That said we recovered to take the lead again and for a spell we were all over Villa. Drenthe came on to make an impressive cameo, as did Velios. Villa hardly threatened apart from a breakaway that saw Albrighton cross for Agbonlahor who somehow ghosted between Jagielka, Distin and Howard. Considering our defence is usually our strong point it was a disappointing goal to concede.
As I walked away from the ground I was understandably frustrated but given the chaotic build-up to the game as well as the feeling of gloom that hung over the club all summer, the match at least gave us something to cling on to.
The formation worked well, the young players who stepped up looked bright and our new signings are waiting in the wings – Drenthe scored for the reserves in midweek too.
The problems at boardroom level still remain and no doubt the activities of the BU to try and force change will continue, but my biggest fear was that the turmoil off the pitch would lead to poor results on it. Thankfully that didn’t happen on Saturday and I cling to the hope it stays that way.