After becoming experts in how to concede first the Blues let a lead and much needed points slip for the second week running as Norwich came from behind to earn a point amidst an edgy atmosphere at L4…..
The first half display was impressive with Baines and Oviedo showing some nice stuff down the left. Oviedo was hugging the flank high up the pitch with Baines looking to go inside towards goal at all times. Our goal was an example of Oviedo providing good width, with Hitzlsperger playing a nice ball over the top for him to chase onto and deliver for Naismith to slot home. It was the Scotsman’s third strike in his last three starts. Naismith should really have sealed the game in the second half when he was put clear on goal only to deliver a Geoff Thomas style chip into the corner flag. Baines was unlucky not to get a couple of goals with his dribbling a constant menace to Norwich. The wing back was visibly pissed off the more the game went on with the output of Jelavic in particular irking the lateral schemer; at one stage Baines angrily confronted the Croatian after he didn’t ‘show’ for a one two as Norwich began to get more of a foot hold on the game.
Overall we had the chances to put the game to bed but were again wasteful in front of goal; Osman’s shooting in particular was about as convincing as his paedo mussie. As the game went on we became more cautious and at one stage when Pienaar got the ball in a crossing position there was no Everton player in the box and 5 Norwich defenders. This ‘what we have we hold’ approach rarely works and puts massive pressure on a defence which is currently incapable of defending crossing situations into our box
In the second half Norwich came out more aggressively. As noted in the preview they are happy for you to have the ball and will sit deep and look to soak up pressure. Trailing by a goal, Hughton looked to press us further up the pitch andoff the ball as a team they were superb in terms of work rate. Last season we noted how they cover more distance than any side in the league and Tettey epitomised this spirit with six interceptions – the most of any player on the pitch. This presing made it more difficult for us to play out from the back and resulted in more panicky long balls as the half went on.
The switch of Morrison for Hoolahan was a signal of intent of what was coming in terms of an aerial onslaught as the game headed to its closure and crowd anxiety reached boiling point.
We had a look after the Reading game last week at the issue of conceding from set plays. We’ve now shipped seven goals from dead balls (corners/free kicks/pens) which is more than we conceded in the whole of last season. Our approach to defending dead ball deliveries is like most sides in the top flight; we will bring most /all players back and outnumber opponents which enables us to adopt a mixture of man and zonal marking. This was the same last season.
Stopping dead ball situations arising needs to be priority one. Only Stoke (182) commit more fouls than ourselves (172) and whilst Pulis mob have six footers in all positions and specialise in defending such situations, we don’t have the artillery with a pint sized midfield and few big physical types. The situation was exasperated yesterday by the absence of our main aerial dominator Fellaini as Norwich won a stack more aerials than we did with Holt in particular dominant, winning 7 of his 9 headers. Baines was the games top performer on the ball however he was guilty of getting too tight to Morrison for the foul which led to the free kick Norwich equalised from albeit it looked like Morrison’s fall was as much down to him losing his footing.
If you look at the starting point from the free kick we are too deep defensively. As an example, Barcelona’s recent game at Celtic pitted a side who were aerially strong against a Pique-less Barca who had no six footers in the side. Barca’s approach was to keep a very high defensive line when the ball comes in so when the ball is delivered over them it’s still going to be a fair distance away from the goal for a forward to attack. Or you get an off-side decision.
The bulk of the issues we have faced in dead ball situations have been from players switching off and not showing the required focus / concentration for 90mins. Fellaini against McAuley and Coleman v Le Fondre last week spring to mind. The warning signs where there in the first period when Bassong had a great chance, unmarked from a corner. As the ball comes in Howard takes a step of his line, then retreats whilst Bassong goes behind Heitinga to head home. Both Howard and Heitinga were identified by Moyes post match as the chief culprits of Everton’s latest defensive disaster. Howard should have come even if its just to punch away whilst Heitinga hasn’t got a clue where Bassong is; the not so dynamic duo are a complete pair of biffs.
You could be forgiven for thinking this match report was a copy and paste job from last week given the nature of the performance and dead ball woe. This was another disappointing result and one that leaves us flagging in the ‘chase’ for fourth with tricky fixtures coming up against Arsenal, Man City and Spurs. It’s easy to rue the loss of key personnel but ultimately we should have put Norwich away in the first half when we had the opportunities. Credit to the Canaries, they are limited on the ball but work very hard and this tactic upset our rhythm in the second period and got them a deserved point.
Last season I recall only one point being accrued from home games against Bolton / Blackburn leading to a similar mood of despondency which was then followed by back to back wins against the league’s premium fat cats Man City and Chelsea.
You wouldn’t put it past the Blues surprising us all over again.