- After a timid start, the match roared to life before the ten minute mark when Everton had a flurry of chances to open the scoring. When James Tomkins brought Steven Pienaar to the ground, Leighton Baines was assigned the free kick and played a beautiful ball into the perfect spot for Sylvain Distin to meet. But the defender got his finish all wrong, sending his header straight into the grass and harmlessly over the crossbar.
- Just a couple of minutes later and Everton actually had the ball in the net, but the goal was inexplicably disallowed by referee Anthony Taylor. From amongst the trees, little Leon Osman rose highest to head the ball cleanly past Jussi Jaaskelainen off of an Everton corner kick, but apparently Victor Anichebe was getting a little too cozy with the keeper for the liking of the referee (or maybe it was the linesman, I honestly can't remember). In any case, it was the first of several baffling decisions by the officials on the day.
- As a side note, I think everyone should be aware that I actually made the effort to look up how to spell "Jaaskelainen" :)
- It didn't take long for the home side to take advantage of their lucky break, as Carlton Cole finished off a neat move with a powerful finish from outside the box that beat Tim Howard to his right. Mark Noble and Matthew Taylor played crucial roles in the buildup, and in truth it was a very nice goal scored by West Ham. John Heitinga (who made a strong case today for a return trip to the bench) might have done better at closing down Cole, but it wasn't an egregious error. It just stung a little more knowing that Everton had gone from up 1-0 to down 0-1 in no time at all.
- There was little else to report from the first half, though Everton continued to distance themselves from the Hammers in the possession battle. A decent long-distance drive from Pienaar was stopped by Jaaskelainen, and later the keeper took the safe route in tipping a mediocre free kick from Darron Gibson over the bar. But the real theater was still to come.
- As the match was set to resume, I thought for a second that it had begun to snow at Upton Park, but upon further inspection it was just more of those bubbles that West Ham fans like to produce in ridiculous quantities. I can't decide if this is a cool tradition or just plain weird, but I guess it's better than throwing balloons onto the pitch.
- I defended Nikica Jelavic last week, but today's performance brought back memories of "Saha '11," "Beattie '07," and "Bent '06." Suffice it to say, it wasn't good. When he wasn't drifting offside over and over and over, he was missing sitters from right in front of the goal. Even when fortune shined on Jelavic he could not take advantage, like when a Pienaar pass ricocheted off of Osman and directly into his path for what should have been a simple finish. I'm still a committed follower of the Jelavic Road, but right now he looks tired and beaten down, and it might benefit Jelavic to come off the bench for a match or two.
- Even down 1-0 against a staunch defensive unit, Everton kept plodding and eventually they were rewarded. Pienaar, who I thought was absolutely sensational all afternoon, crossed the ball beautifully for Victor Anichebe to meet with an equally fantastic glancing header. The Nigerian couldn't have placed his shot any better, as the ball eluded Jaaskelainen and found the bottom corner of the goal to knot the score at one apiece. The traveling Everton support was boisterous, and given their domination in possession there was no reason to think that the Toffees couldn't go on to find the winner.
- That task was then made exponentially easier thanks to a gift from the clueless Anthony Taylor, who decided that a high boot by the goalscorer Cole was worthy of a straight red card. It was one of the most clear-cut yellow cards I've seen this year, but with absolutely no malice involved in the challenge it was never a sending off. But Everton had a game to win, and they desperately needed to make their numerical advantage (however little they deserved it) pay off.
- And thanks to more hard work from Pienaar (and a little help from Baines and Osman as well), they were able to do exactly that. Everton did a very nice job of patiently breaking down their ten opponents, and the buildup eventually resulted in an ugly goal that bounced off a couple of defenders and ultimately off of Pienaar and over the line. As always, it doesn't matter how you score them.
- It was all Everton at this point, and Pienaar saw another good effort caught by the keeper soon after his goal. But West Ham were desperate, and before everything was said and done they managed to fashion two chances they will be kicking themselves for missing. As the rain began to fall, substitute Modibo Maiga set up Kevin Nolan for a half volley that whistled barely wide of the post. Then with time running out, Nolan broke free of the defense in another "heart-in-mouth" moment for Everton fans, but the striker poked the ball wide of the target again.
- Finally, just to cement this as the weirdest game of the year, Anthony Taylor sent off Darron Gibson deep into stoppage time for doing almost exactly what Cole did earlier in the half. Because of his earlier decision Taylor really had no choice but to show Gibson red, but it never should have gotten to that point in the first place. Both teams have indicated that they will attempt to have the suspensions rescinded, and both should have a better than decent chance at winning their appeal. Everton fans will have their fingers crossed, because the prospect of two matches without Gibson and Fellaini is not an inviting one.
(in order of performance)
Pienaar 8.5 (MOTM), Baines 8, Osman 8, Gibson 7, Anichebe 6, Howard 6, Neville 6, Jagielka 6, Distin 5, Heitinga 4.5, Jelavic 3, Naismith (86) n/a, Oviedo (89) n/a, Duffy (90) n/a
So, one of the worst displays of refereeing you'll ever see, but in the end it was Everton who emerged victorious. While there is no doubt that the sending off of Carlton Cole fatally damaged West Ham's odds of winning the match, Everton were also the victim of a horrible call when Osman's goal was disallowed in the first half. What do you guys think, which team benefited more from the Anthony Taylor Show? Did Everton deserve to win?