Anyone who thought the Newcastle victory would lead to a relentless surge into the Europa League places by the Blues would have been massively disappointed as a gutsy but ultimately blunt display leaves the Toffees marooned in midtabe and edging closer to the unwanted Premier League draw record…..
Everton made one enforced change in personnel with Jonny Heitinga a like for like replacement for Phil Neville in midfield. Strategy and formation wise it was the same from St James on Saturday, however an early injury to Arteta would see Leon Osman switch to the left flank and Coleman slot in on the right. Birmingham also suffered an early injury to Bentley so Murphy played left mid, Larsson wide right with Beausejour the closest central midfield support to the often stranded Jerome.
The injury to Arteta was a massive blow to our chances of breaking down a Birmingham side who as mentioned in the preview are built on defensive shape and getting bodies between the ball and their goal. As soon as the Spaniard pulled up you could sense the feeling around the stadium that this wasn’t going to be our night. Fair play to Leon Osman though who slotted into the role of the most advanced midfielder and turned in a man of the match display, although Tony Hibbert ran him close to this honour with some great old school sliding tackles that you very rarely see in the modern non contact game of ‘The EPL’.
With Arteta sidelined we basically had 3 born and bred defenders (Heitinga, Rodwell & Coleman) playing in midfield and this was reflected in the lack of incision in Birmingham ’s final third. The chalkboard analysis below shows the passing of our 2 centre mids- notice how combined only 1 ball gets played into the Birmingham 18 yard box all night. Not for the first time this season our most threatening player was marauding full back Leighton Baines who was unlucky not to add to his growing back catalogue of assists with several delicious crosses, notably to Coleman in the first half.
Blues concede first again.
Not for the first time this season the Blues conceded the first goal of the game, and again the origin came down our left side, but as the screenshots show Heitinga was at fault….
Heitinga and Beausejour circled in the build up to the goal…Notice in the next shot below Heitinga shows poor concentration by switching off allowing Beausejour to drift into the box unmarked and head home
Quite damningly, it was the 7th time we have conceded from a cross into our box in our last 8 games. In games against well organized but ultimately limited offensive sides like Birmingham ,with our own attacking deficiencies you simply have to keep a clean sheet to have a chance of winning the game. This has been endemic in us now racking up 13 draws – just 3 away from equalising the Premier League record of 16 – Birmingham have also chalked up the same tally.
We struggled to create any clear cut chances and the goal from Heitinga really came out of nothing. The Dutchman did superbly to curve a shot over a host of Birmingham players and into the roof of the net after Osman’s corner had been deflected into his path. For the most part watching the permanently angry Dutchman this campaign, he has lacked application and looked uncomfortable in any position he has been asked to deploy… but this goal was a gem
Birmingham shape – Brum’s defence is built on shape, notice how they have 2 banks of four in close proximity to each other to squeeze any space between the lines. They will not compromise this shape – notice that when Saha drops deep (blue arrow) to look for the ball/create space Jiranek doesn’t track him and maintains his position. On the few occasions Birmingham’s centre backs did get pulled out of position there was no movement into the space created by Everton’s static centre mids.
The second period was pretty much the same as the first, something of a poor man’s version of the Attack v Defence exercise witnessed at the Nou Camp on Tuesday, as Everton dominated the ball but, unlike Barca, simply couldn’t find a way around Big Eck’s well drilled unit. With their fullbacks tucking in and Mutch and Bowyer sat in front of the centre backs, Birmingham were happy for us to have the ball and only pressed us once we got 35 yards from their goal.
7 points from the last 9 available represents a tidy return for the Blue although many fans will be rightly dismayed that again we have failed to put a team from the league’s lower echelons to the sword at home. We have now failed to beat any of the bottom 5 clubs in the league at home, and the problem is blindingly obvious. You can bridge the financial gap to some extent with a well organized defensive unit and through belligerence, but in the final third money talks – until the grim financial situation changes at the club I fear the results and frustration which we have witnessed this campaign will continue.