Last time out meat faced ming Malky McMisery’s plot to bore opponents into submission by spoon-feeding them his miserable brand of percentage football diarrhoea was in full flow. Our hosts squeezed out a horrible 0-0 draw, and in the process created just 1 chance in open play and made only 2 successful passes in our box during the entire game. Insipid stuff.
Whilst we’ve been winning plenty of friends with our pretty football of late, our profligacy at the sharp end combined with an inability to close out clean sheets – previously a given – means the season has been in danger of descending into despair ‘Terry from Brookside’ style. In truth we’ve gone toe to toe with all the sides above us at some stage this season but sadly those sides just have better players than us and in a nutshell that’s why we’ve tended to be edged out in most of the big games, particularly on the road where traditionally our form dips in the second half of the season. Cardiff on the other hand are the kind of side we usually consume with relatives ease, particularly at L4, and the Bluebirds came into this one on the back of 7 away defeats on the spin having failed to score in 8 of their last 10 on the road.
Martinez made several changes from the Arsenal cup exit, with Mirallas (central) and Deulofeu (right) starting in the same team for the first time. In order to provide some balance in the attacking mid slots, Barkley was ditched in favour of the more unselfish Osman on the left. Everything else was ‘as you were’.
Cardiff went with for a 5-4-1 with Kenwyne Jones dropping to the bench and Campbell as the lone forward with Cala & Theophile joining Caulker as the centre back trio with Fabio and John at full backs.
The first half seen us attacking predominately down the right side with Deulofeu the fulcrum of most attacks. Not scoring in the opening period has been a recurring theme of the season and particularly since the turn of the year with only one goodison goal before the break. It’s particularly difficult when you are not the most potent of sides and you have to find a way through a team as unwilling to compromise their defensive shape like Cardiff, whose keeper Marshall was on top of his game and made great stops from Lukaku, Mirallas and Deulofeu in the opening half.
Probably the most interesting thing that happened from a tactical nerding perspective in the opening half was Solskjaer ripping up his 3 man central defence plan after just 25 minutes. With a wide man – Mirallas – natually dipping out to the flanks the 3 centre halves invariably only had Lukaku to pick up whereas on the wings they were getting swamped particularly on the right. Cardiff thus chose to flood the midfield with Noone supporting the left side and on the right Theophile moved to right back where he shared duties with Fabio against Baines and Osman. Mutch, Medel and Yeung formed a trio in midfield so it became more a 4-5-1 than the original 5-4-1. It didn’t really make a massive impact though and we continued to carve out plenty of openings in the first half from open play (8 to Cardiff’s 1).
Still, it wasn’t great from the Blues with the Mirallas in ‘the hole’ experiment not really working. Whilst he has some great attributes like shooting and dribbling, he’s at his best when he’s going in behind defences and he has little interest in coming short into the space between the defence and midfield blocks of the opposition.
Barkley has the ability to do this and Osman is adept at finding pockets of space but playing the role of link man is not really Mirallas bag and for me he should start wide or not at all. As an example, yesterday he registered just 1 pass to Deulofeu and 3 to Lukaku before he was subbed off. With 2 direct wide forward’s who prefer to go beyond, Lukaku’s supply-line wasn’t great although he did little off the ball for the team; in total he won none of his 9 aerial battles and failed to buy any fouls from his marker all afternoon.
Questions have been asked over Pienaar’s application this season but the his scheming with Baines remains our best attacking outlet and without him the left side’s dynamism and ability to maintain pressure on defences in dangerous areas for prolonged periods is nowhere near as potent. Osman is a class player too – although as we know he’s more effective through the middle – but he doesn’t have the linkage of Pienaar and more often than not yesterday he was dispossessed – more so than any player on the pitch infact. Whereas Pienaar is usually the most prolific distributor to Baines in deep areas as the grid above shows Distin fed Baines the most – and predominantly in non threatening areas around the half way line.
The combination did have an impact on the opening goal, however, as Baines received from Distin and played in Osman down the left flank. The much maligned veteran in turn quickly released Deulofeu – seemingly miffed at the ball not coming over to his flank in ages – and the winger then skinned Demel before drilling past Marshall who was finally beaten with the aid of a deflection.
The joy was short-lived though as Cardiff quickly hit back from a Whittingham set play that was bundled home by Cala.
Deulofeu had his moments in the game – certainly more than Mirallas who was also subbed- and perhaps should have been kept on longer but he was swiftly hooked after the goal with McGeady and Nasimtih coming on. McGeady did play very well though and his ferreting down the flanks in the last ten minutes was rewarded in the dying moments of the game. Barkley sensibly switched play to him down the left and McGeady put in a superb cross to the back post which was re-directed by Barry for Coleman to comically slice home. Coleman has now scored more goals than any other Everton right back in a single season (thanks to Gavin Buckland for that gem).
Cardiff will argue that luck was against them and no one could argue our goals where both fortuitous. However, despite our visitors playing very well and making it more of a game than the early season match they have a dependency on set plays and didn’t engineer much. We created plenty of chances from open play (14 v 4) and the fact we tend to score so late in games in nearly every home game perhaps alludes to the control and ‘death by a thousand cuts’ mantra of Martinez being at work in wearing opponents down rather than simply being lucky.
The win means we are now in line for 69 pts based on our average per game, which would give us our best finish in the top flight since the inception of the Premier League. Personally, 5th spot, the prospect of trips to the unknown back waters of Europe and seeing Moyes fail will keep this misery happy over the summer months. And all three are very achievable. A look at our points totals of seasons when we competed in the Europa League would also show that with good management and a sprinkle of additions to the squad that we can be competitive at home and abroad.