Friday, 7 December 2012

Everton v Norwich: Time For Inspiration

Originally from
Since I wrote my last article, a trio of matches which began away at Fulham, continued at home to Sunderland and concluded against Reading ran their course, and Everton retrieved an opinion-dividing four points which, to be fair, was not enough. However, dwelling on those stories would be rather time consuming and irrelevant, considering I am writing this article after returning home from the match against Norwich which, on reflection, is provoking the variety of words and descriptions that you are about to read. So, I’ll get started…
I took my seat in Upper Gwladys with the routine steak pie (it has to be said, whoever makes them needs a medal) and a familiar white pole not far from my seat which would later decline me of witnessing any action within a thin strip of the field. By then, I had already read the team sheet as it circulated the internet and sensed a communal edge of unrest about it among the fans.
There were a number of inconveniences which David Moyes’ squad reflected: Marouane Fellaini was suspended; Phil Neville, Kevin Mirallas and Darron Gibson remained unavailable through injury; Tony Hibbert only made the bench and Seamus Coleman was nowhere to be seen.
Norwich arrived in the North-West boasting the Premier League’s most in-form defence on the back of an inspirational 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Carrow Road. I wasn’t overly wary of them escaping with three points; however their recent form and the accumulation of The Toffees’ dented squad made me re-consider my earlier theory of expecting a victory. The opening stages of the match told a contrasting tale to the remainder.
Surprisingly – given the recent trend and the depleted starting eleven – the Blues started well, crafting an early chance and overwhelming the Canaries in an intelligent manner, looking increasingly sophisticated and controlled with the football at their feet.
For about half an hour, this style of simplistic but pleasing play persisted, with Steven Naismith expertly finalising an unrivalled sequence as he fired into the roof of the Park End netting on 12 minutes. Hitzlsperger, who appeared to be simply re-creating the role that Phil Neville was unable to assume, lofted a beautiful ball which arced through the expectant air onto Bryan Oviedo’s awaiting chest, and in one swift, professional movement later the ball was at Naismith’s feet. Oviedo’s work-rate for the full ninety minutes needs crediting: chasing down lost hope, unearthing missing pockets of space and tackling like Tony Hibbert had been teaching him.
Leighton Baines’ efforts in the first half were almost rewarded, having cut inside and accurately linked up centrally with (his preferred partner) Steven Pienaar, to then break through into the penalty area, striking fear into Chris Hughton’s defenders. John Ruddy’s hand was Norwich’s brief saviour, however his diversion fell directly to the oncoming workhorse, Leon Osman; although the newly initiated England international could only force his glimmer of anticipation over the crossbar.
Whilst I watched during that spell, I was moderately pleased with what I was taking in: a depleted squad but a spirited performance and the famed Everton work-rate that we as Evertonians expect as often as is humanly possible. That half an hour was, overall, creditable; bar the odd mistake, of course. Although, unfortunately, from this point is where I cannot freely or frequently use flowing, pleasing adjectives to recall the remaining action.
I am not going to blame referee Mike Jones for the result, nor am I going to be that overly negative about the eventuality; nevertheless, Everton did not help themselves at all in the second half. It did, in fact, remind me slightly of the chilling experience which was last year’s fixture against Paul Lambert’s Norwich side. Even the Goodison floodlights on that December afternoon could not expel the overwhelming darkness.
To say that Saturday was exactly like that would be foolish, as the lights are, without a doubt, much brighter when the Blues are 5th in the Premier League. It was, however, the odd suicidal pass, the expressed and collective frustration of the fans now and again and the longer journey home than usual that brought the uncomfortable, vivid memories back to me.
And yet, strangely, reflecting on that time is rather pleasing when comparing it to now: a year on, and an exemplary amount of improvement later, I am filled with anticipation that when the squad returns to its usual, vibrant, dynamic self, The Toffees will not be drawing at home to a team of Norwich’s calibre – they will be seriously sweating over achieving that European place.
Ultimately then, it does not overly concern me that we dropped two points: as frustrating as it was, I remain thankful of the successful renovation that underwent on and off the field throughout the majority of this calendar year.
If anything, Sebastian Bassong’s rather annoying equaliser will represent – hopefully – an extra lap of the training pitch in a metaphorical sense for the team. Nikica JelaviƧ’s attempt to hide from the ball for significant parts of the match should not go unnoticed and neither should Mike Jones’ inability to keep a football match under control; or that every player bar Leighton Baines appeared to wait for somebody else to reignite life into an unusual Everton side, who craved inspiration and leadership. Sometimes an accumulation of irritable factors result in a disappointing end product – especially in football.
And so, as we have experienced before and will most certainly experience again, we move on from a weekend which did not live up to expectations and collectively hope that Wednesday’s meeting with Arsenal brings a U-turn in fortune: and with it as well, an in-form, towering Belgian whose charisma will most certainly raise any dampened spirits.

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