For one reason or another I have been unable to put finger to keyboard and do an article, but I've had quite a bit to offer by way of thought and opinion since my last rant. From expectation, to deflation, to relief in a week.... if it was anything different it just wouldn't be Everton. Would it?
I could not wait for last Saturday. Do what they may to prevent us having our day, move the kick off, schedule engineering works on the railways, ban drinking from an hour before kick off, nothing was going to take this away from me and the lads. Friday night, drinks in Chester, anticipation, not being able to sleep (who am I kidding?!)
Before the game we were in a pub by Euston station. there were a few local loyal reds in there...from Kent. They were full of fear. "Jelavic is on form guys, I'd happily take a one nil Liverpool now, or even a win on penalties" and this was the general consensus among the loveables. As for us, it was the feeling that we owed them one, they had beaten us twice but hadn't played the REAL Everton this season yet, and today was our day.
Team selection was good, with my only reservation over whether the occasion would get the better of Magaye Gueye. It didn't - a lack of general fitness did! The first half was all Everton, despite ESPN's best efforts to hide every Everton chance, move of attacking purpose, good tackle etc. during their highlights the following day. The defence looked solid. The midfield was doing well, although Gibson looked nervy. Cahill started well linking up with Jelavic, who was proving to be exactly what we have been missing for years; a proper Everton forward. And Skrtel and Carragher were struggling to cope with his intelligent movement and quality control of the ball. And after only restricting them to half chances and a few set pieces, we were very very good value for our lead going in at half time.
Now, in Moyes shoes I would have simply said "these are shite, we're miles better than them. When we get the ball down and play it around they cant touch us. Gerrard isn't in the game, and they're resorting to long balls, which Carroll is winning but winning for us. Keep going and we're in the final." But I'm not David Moyes.
Second half was a completely different story. But wasn't unexpected. Moyes has this habit and mentality of protecting what you've got. I have the mentality of going for the kill. Especially in a cup semi final against the worst Liverpool side I've seen in a very long time. But no, Sit back, camp out, hit on the break. We stopped supplying Jelavic on the floor and resorted to long balls into the channels, with no channel runners. On the hour the unexpected happened. It wasn't a world class goal, a dodgy decision, a good footballing move, it was a Sylvain Distin mistake. Suarez finished well. 1-1. Now, again in Moyes' shoes I would have picked Distin up, told the lads not to worry and keep going, we never looked in trouble. But, again, I'm not David Moyes. He panicked.
Gueye came off, Coleman came on. Osman went to the left and Coleman played in front of Neville. Nothing wrong with that given Gueye was shattered and our only passes of a positive nature were landing in the flanks - Coleman could chase these and maybe help Jelavic out a bit. The thing which lost us the game for me was Moyes' decision to switch Tim Cahill, who had began to fade, with Marouane Fellaini, who was bossing the midfield and keeping Steven Gerrard very very quiet. They decided to push Gerrard forward more, which let him into the game, dictate the play and five minutes before time the Liverpool captain found himself on the left wing. In a moment of madness, Coleman dived in and conceded the free kick. Bellamy crossed and Andy Carroll nodded home unchallenged. That was it. Dreams shattered. Thanks. The players and the manager had absolutely bottled it. And home we went.
Why not just go at them? Why sit back in the second half? Why switch Felli and Tim? Why?
All week it went through my mind. Complete deflation and disappointment. No anger, we got what we deserved. Well, the players and manager did, the fans didn't.
So on to Old Trafford yesterday. I expected nothing. At all. But I also noted that getting nothing and others getting something could put us in danger of finishing around 13th. And, I noted the game 8 days previous and hoped for something completely different. Baines' injury was a big blow to our chances. I guessed Neville at left back with Hibbert at right back, and Pienaar in for Gueye. The rest picked itself. But no. Moyes went with a centre back, a contender for player of the year playing as a centre back, at left back, a right back in midfield and a defensive midfielder up front with Jelavic. Bloody hell, here we go again.
Distin was poor. Understandibly. Why not give him the opportunity to right his wrong of last week? Valencia gave him a torrid time and it was no surprise that a lot of their play came down our left. But, we started strong and had most of the possession. De Gea was the busier goalie and I was delighted to see Hibbert whip a very good cross in to Jelavic, bang in form, and cleverly played on Rafael to win a header which looped over De Gea and into the net. 1-0 and £80 in my pocket! Well deserved. I have to criticise Hibbert, Jagielka and Neville for the equaliser.
Nani drove down the left wing patrolled by Hibbert. Everyone knows Nani has no left foot. Hibbert shows Nani straight onto his left and we get a goal kick..... hang on a minute! Hibbert shows him onto his right. Nani throws in a peach of a cross. Neville tells Jagielka to move forwards to mark the forward while he marshalls Rooney. But he didn't. He completely misjudged the cross and Rooney had a freebie 6 yards out. 1-1 right before half time. Not a bad scoreline though.
However, after the second half was like a carbon copy of Wembley. The only difference was Fellaini was doing really well playing in a more forwards role. Ferdinand and Evans couldn't cope with him and Jelavic all game. However, Distin was struggling to cope with Valencia. Very quickly poor defending cost us two goals. We didnt defend well at all when the ball fell to Wellbeck. Heitinga and then Jagielka went in half hearted and the England forward finished brilliantly into the top corner of the Stretford End net. Shortly afterwards, Heitinga was sucked out of the defensive line to close Wellbeck down. Distin failed to tuck across and Nani ran past him into space. Wellbeck flicked it around the corner leaving Nani one on one with Howard, who was helpless to stop a lovely dinked finish. 3-1.
There was some controversy about the goal. In the first half, Darron Gibson clattered Johnny Evans with a very firm, but fair tackle. Evans stayed down. Everton had the ball yet let it go out of play for the United man to get treatment. On this occasion, Pienaar attempted a tackle but seemed to fall awkwardly. He was out of this phase of play. United played on, and why shouldn't they? No foul committed, no head injury. We chose to put the ball out for them, they chose to play on for us. We should have reorganised but we didn't. They scored. No argument from me and Moyes' point after the game about the referee being fair was null in my opinion.
I could believe what I was seeing. Yes, COULD. After all, I had witnessed it the week before. I didn't expect what was coming next, I don't think anyone did. We changed shape. Fellaini stayed on their back four. James McFadden came on for Leon Osman, who had a poor game. McFadden fed Hibbert who wasn't closed down at all. He again played in a brilliant cross for Fellaini, unmarked, to volley home. 3-2. Hope. Dashed some minutes later when Distin was again exposed. Heitinga moved out of position to accomodate for Distin and left a massive gap for Rooney to exploit and score his second. Great goal on their part, poor on ours, and game over. Or so we thought.
Moyes finally realised Sylvain Distin is no Leighton Baines, just as Baines would be no Distin at centre back. He replaced him with Tim Cahill. 4-4-2. Hibbert, Jagielka, Heitinga, Neville, McFadden, Gibson, Cahill, Pienaar, Fellaini, Jelavic. Positivity. Moyes going for it? Surely not.
With 8 minutes to go after some good play down the left, Neville found himself with the ball in a central area. Unexpectadly he had loads of time to pick out Fellaini with a chipped pass. The Belgian won the header which fell to the alert Jelavic to half volley in for his second and our third. The following blues in the corner behind the United goal felt a glimmer of hope here. We were on top. Arguably the best footballing move of the game began with about one minute left on the clock. Cahill made an excellent sliding challenge in the midfield and the ball came to Neville, who started some lovely football through the midfield resulting with Pienaar on the left of midfield. He fed Cahill, who played it to Neville. Neville passed a through ball to Fellaini who had escaped Evans. Pienaar cut inside and lost Rafael. Fellaini turned and fed the South African who couldn't miss from six yards. 4-4. Fans going wild, falling over seats, black eyes from the limbs everywhere, and the King Kenny Wembley Flag (pictured!) out big and proud!!!
Into injury time and a moment which was as big as Pienaar's goal.The ball found its way to Rio Ferdinand (thankfully) 18 yards out. He hit a left footed half volley and Tim Howard produced a game saving stop, getting a full hand to the ball to push it over the bar. From the corner we cleared and the referee blew.
Full time. 4-4. A very well deserved point and slight disappointment at the sloppiness of the United goals which could have cost us a further two points. But, before the game I'd have taken a point. No doubt.
Moral of the story? Attack teams and when you go a goal up, go for another one. You don't have much to lose. Don't camp out on the edge of your own area, invite pressure onto us, stop feeding arguably the most in form striker in the league right now and walk on very ropey ground.
This is what happens when you go at teams, play the football which we are capable of and have a forward who can't miss even if he tries right now. And this is what frustrates me about the game last week against Liverpool. What if we would have done what we did here. We would probably have one hand on the FA Cup. And what frustrates me even more is that that lot have only won two games in about the past million. Both against us. But it's ok, it will suit me down to the ground if us and them keep on keeping on!
What do you think? Feel free to leave your thoughts below.
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