AUTUMN LEAVES START TO FALL
Mickey Blue Eyes
"You know the formula: m over nought equals infinity, m being any positive number? Well, why not reduce the equation to a simpler form by multiplying both sides by nought? In which case you have m equals infinity times nought. That is to say that a positive number is the product of zero and infinity. Doesn't that demonstrate the creation of the universe by an infinite power out of nothing? Doesn't it?"
ALDOUS HUXLEY, Point Counter Point (Urbana-Champaign: Dalkey Archive Press, 2001), 135.
The August "transfer window" was, as always, a bad CGI movie. While you laugh at its lousy artificiality you feel a slight technical admiration for the way it is made, a bit like watching a Cold War American propaganda film. You also come away shaking your head at the state of human nature, an additional feeling that some people would be better off with a cilice around their neck instead of around a leg. There's never any point getting your underpants in an uproar, because if the lunacy wasn't in football it would be in some other bizarre soap opera: so you grin and poke fun at its perpetrators, though you know the whole tedious bullshit repeats in a mere hundred and twenty days. I show you the footy future ad infinitum, shorn of illusion. Of course if you have any common sense you'll ignore the hype and neuroses and deal with reality. But that's up to you. Beyond a squat level there can be no meeting with such stone-dead insensitivity, nor should there be.
Nevertheless, naturally it led to a general sense of anticipation for the home match with Aston Villa. Two quite awful opening performances had us grumbling with irritation that accomplished players should play so badly. But coldly, Mikky, Yak and Becks are gone and as much in our past as Dixie Dean, Duncan Ferguson and Bert Freeman and all the other footy heroes; all sensible supporters wish them well. Inevitably the first squad built entirely by David Moyes begins to dissolve into the ether as Time and Everton move on with the addition of season-long loans Royston Drenthe of Holland and Denis Stracqualursi of Argentina. Now the team shape will be recast. Of such events are the corporeal world made. The actual season continues between the kick-off and final whistle. Delusion evaporates during that precious hour and a half of playing time, the core reason we are all supporters.
The team formation looked like sort-of-4-5-1 to me: defence with Tony back in, midfield with Seamus back on the right and centre mids of Felli/Jack/Leon and Bily on the left, with Tim as striker. Leon actually played - sorry about this - "in the hole," sort of between Tim and the centre mids. I think. I didn't suppose a lightweight twin strike force of Tim and Leon would amount to much, so I revised my pre-match forecast of a win to a draw. The new boys were on the bench, as was Nev, not yet match fit.
For the first time since the last winning home derby game Goodison Park had a good feel to it even though the final gate was only 32,700, the kind of attendance likely to be almost everyone's league norm as the financial slump gets traction. And it was immediately apparent both Royal Blues and the crowd were up for it. When this happens in unison there's no better place than an Everton home match. The buzz is palpable, team determination obvious. There's nothing like a live game even though in this case the Brummy Bashers team bought less than half their ticket allocation and the away section upper tier was completely empty. Armchair computer and TV ersatz watchers, eat your livers out.
It was a sharp playing tempo from the beginning and we should have had a penalty within a couple of minutes when Tim Cahill got bowled over in the right side penalty area by Richard "Weekly Howler" Dunne. The referee waved play on in a fashion that reminded you of the Three Monkeys. It set the pattern for a weird refereeing performance. Not that it stopped the Blues from overwhelming the Brummies for the entire first half; they looked much more fluid, much more positive and determined than the first two matches. After five minutes Jags got a good header in from a right side corner and beat their keeper to the wide only for their striker Bent to head it off the line at their left post. It became a measure of just how much the away goal was under siege.
Villa had no answer except to occasionally knock someone over or boot the ball to safety. Four Everton players stood out during this period - Marouane Fellaini, imperious (from beginning to end), Jack Rodwell, a new lease of positive life, Seamus Coleman, who time and again made ex-pinky Warnock look static, and Sylvain Distin, an absolute rock in defence. Hapless Villa could hardly get out of their half and managed one long range speculative shot.
The first goal came just under the twenty minutes mark after a throw in on our right side midway in their half. Felli stroked - it's the only way to describe his passing when he's in this mood - the ball back to Jags just over the half way line, right side. A long ball forward fell short and a defender completely mistimed his headed clearance and it skidded backwards off his head to Leon Osman on the edge of the box and he knocked it on to Tim Cahill on the right of the penalty area. For a few seconds it looked like he had lost the opportunity as he went further right with the ball, but he swivelled quickly and laid it inside beautifully to a forward run by Leon and he clipped it home left footed. It was a brilliant piece of football and well deserved. You could feel the stadium lift even further.
Then a tight move down the left between Bily and Bainsey laid the ball back to Jack on a left side closing run and he hit a shot from outside the box that took a massive deflection past their left post with the 'keeper completely wrong footed on the other side of the goal. Had it gone in it would have been a fitting reward for Jack's much more determined and aggressive performance. He and Felli had completely snuffed the Villa midfield.
At half time we discussed the team's regenerated play. Could it be that now they couldn't rely on Mikky and his dominant personality and passing, that they had to do it all by themselves? If that holds good we could be in for an interesting season after all. As ever, time will tell. Certainly Jack looked every inch the player he has long promised to be.
The second half started much the same as the first. Within minutes Bainsey burst down the left after a passing exchange with Felli, got into the left penalty area almost on the goal line, got charged over from behind with the strange referee only metres away, and, guess what, no penalty. Like many of the decisions in this game it was baffling, though that wasn't one of the words that cascaded out of an outraged Street End. Another goal then, you felt, and it might have turned into a rout. But as the half wore on the pattern of play shifted imperceptibly until the enemy began to make an occasional foray forward. Not surprising, really, given their near invisibility previously. Still, it was strictly relative, and typified by a quick raid down their centre right mid when one of theirs went on a strong run, got chased all the way by Distin and then twice dispossessed by tremendous tackles at the edge of our left goal area. Oh the Park End did enjoy that one. The cheering would have startled a passing constable on Walton Lane.
There's no holding back fate when it turns against you though. And a few minutes later that's what happened. Villa made a scrappy move down their left before someone sensibly played it inside to an unmarked Petrov - the only time he escaped Jack's clutches - and he cracked an unstoppable right footed curler from twenty five metres past Tim Howard's left hand. The defence got caught too deep for this one, though there's no denying how good the strike was.
Thankfully it don't stop our forward drive into the Street End, or Seamus's persecution of the stretched Brummy defence. Eventually one of his determined runs led to another right side corner with twenty minutes left. It was taken left footed by Bainsey, a wonderful missile on a curling, dipping low trajectory to the far post, virtually impossible to defend against; Tim got a point blank header in, saved equally wonderfully on the line. The ball went up in the air and came down in slow motion with a cluster of Blue shirts scrambling for it and a Brummy charged arse-over-tit into Jags's back and even this referee couldn't deny the penalty. Bainsey gave the keeper the eyes to his left and hit it home to his right as he dived the wrong way.
Three minutes later Roy Drenthe subbed on the left for Bily, who had been his normal frustrated and frustrating self. He looked a lot stronger and more determined than the Russian, a completely different type of player; the Villa right back floored him right away to make a point. A few minutes later it's safe to say he wished he hadn't when the Dutchman did exactly the same to him. There were no further attempts at intimidation. Well, you wouldn't want to meet Royston's Mohican on a dark night either. He did a few useful, muscular runs when he got the ball, vaguely reminiscent of Pienaar at his best. He also doubled back to cover for Bainsey at critical moments in what might prove to be a potent partnership.
Then Ross Barkley came on for a tiring Seamus with nine minutes left and almost immediately went on a dazzling left-to-right run across midfield that took him past three desperate Brummies. Had he got through it would have made Beck's goal against Chelsea look small beer. Alas, a minute later Villa equalised again in a breakaway. They got two on one centre right mid and quicky came forward, from where it was played wide left. The two went into the box where Sylvain was on his own, no Jags, and a cross came in to the edge of the goal area, no Tim effort to punch clear and it got headed home. It was a bad goal to let in.
With five minutes left Apostolos Vellios - still only nineteen but looking a lot older - came on for Cahill and almost won it when a Villa defender at centre right mid made an awful hash of a back pass. Vellios was on it in a flash, got round their keeper and rightly rolled it immediately toward the open goal while two Brummies chased helplessly as it trickled just outside the post. A little more power and it was a cert. Oh well.
And so it ended in a draw, two points lost but a greatly improved and welcome team performance. If we are ready to criticise when they play poorly we must surely be ready to praise when they play as well as they did in this game. So well done to David Moyes and everyone he picked. Together, you did us proud.
Now if only they can keep this up...........