2014 has been tough for Everton away from Goodison Park, but at home they've stacked together five consecutive wins, best in the League in that span. A characteristic of all those games has been ridiculous amounts of possession and belabored finishing. The last time the Blues scored more than twice was a full three months ago, just about the same time their triumphant charge up the table started faltering.
Cardiff City is a club beset with internal strife this season, with the ownership of Malaysian tycoon Vincent Tan being widely questioned, and supposed savior Ole Gunnar Solksjaer struggling to pick up points since taking over the managerial reins. A win last weekend bought the club some breathing room and the Welsh side desperately needed some points today to get them closer to the twelve point target their Norwegian manager feels they need to attain survival.
Everton saw their trophy hopes evaporate last week away to Arsenal, and desperately needed the three points themselves to keep in contention for the top six positions that should ensure European football. They certainly started off the game sprinting out of the gates and had a couple of chances to score in the first few minutes. Man of the match Cardiff goalie David Marshall was simply spectacular today making save after save especially in the first half. He kept Kevin Mirallas out, before foiling Gerard Deuofeu and Romelu Lukaku as well.
The away side grew into the game as the minutes ticked on, and posed a threat especially on setpieces. With Phil Jagielka out, John Stones has been an able deputy but the England international's experience at setting up his defence has been sorely missed. The best chance of the half for Cardiff however fell to Frazier Campbell, but Tim Howard saved excellently with his feet.
Gerard Deulofeu was supposed to play for an hour and even as Aiden McGeady was warming up to replace the Spaniard, Deulofeu broke away from Gary Medel and finally beat Marshall with a deflected shot. Everton's lead was short-lived though, as Cardiff were pushing harder and coming closer from every setpiece they got. Peter Whittingham had come on just a few minutes earlier and had immediately grabbed the scruff of the Welsh team's midfield. He swung in a perfect freekick and Juan Cala got in ahead of Gareth Barry to bundle the ball home. 1-1 with a quarter of the game left to go.
Both teams had their chances to win it in the closing minutes, but Everton have been a force to reckon with late in games as they push forward fervently. Marshall first saved smartly from a rebound off a Lukau shot and then stopped a Ross Barkley header at point blank range in the 90th minute. In between that Solksjaer would feel aggrieved as Wilfried Zaha went down under a Sylvain Distin challenge in the box only for referee Roger East to wave play on.
With just over a minute to play in stoppage time, McGeady charged down the left wing and floated over a cross too long. It sailed over Lukaku's head but Barry nodded it back across the area for Seamus Coleman. Fate smiled at the Irishman as he hacked at the ball and it sailed off the top of his boot and looped in over the helpless Scot in goal. It took late heroics for Mirallas with his free kick against Aston Villa and Lukaku's neat finish against West Ham to get the last two wins, and this time it was Coleman who grabbed the winner.
Solksjaer had turned the game late many a time during his playing career but today Roberto Martinez had the last laugh. Sixth place, and possibly even fifth, is still Everton's for the taking with the schedule makers playing them a favorable hand. Let's see if the Blues can finish the season with as much urgency as they've been finishing games lately.