DON'T ASK ME
Mickey Blue Eyes
It was the kind of week guaranteed to stir football gossip - deeply paranoid at the best of times - into comic whirlpools: 'Arry cleared of tax evasion, John Terry rightly stripped of the England captaincy (again), Fabio Capello resigned in high dudgeon as England manager (and then said "It was a misunderstanding" when back in Italy), 'Arry in the frame as replacement for Fabio, and apparently Moyesy to Spurs in his place. Once the dominoes go down there's no stopping them. Altogether it was knockabout stuff hard copy hacks pray will keep them in a job.
What historians a thousand years hence will make of it is anyone's guess, probably as much as we make of the invention of ludo or quoits. For the England job loveable cockney 'Arry is a favourite of London-based media (that is, all of it) just as appalling narcissist Kevin Keegan once was...and likely with similar results. There's a good comedy script in there somewhere, but try not to break a rib laughing.
Much more footy serious, we had a difficult game against Chelsea and its Russian gold, the kind of manna from heaven many fans see as The Ideal but then castigate as Having No History. This dichotomy was emphasised last time we played them at Goodison with ten men; free transfer Jermaine Beckford ran virtually the length of the field with the ball challenging Newton's Laws of Motion and his own uncertain control before he looped it home. We promptly sold him to Leicester for a clear profit, thus proving something or other to aficionados. In this match our hope was Denis the Firecracker would again put himself about and cause embarrassed mayhem to the wayward David Luiz and other hugely expensive imports. Anything would be better than our miserable surrender earlier in the season at VulgarGrad. Like everyone else I wanted a repeat of the Man City game, but frankly I didn't have a clue what to expect. It's been that kind of vertiginous, maudlin season.
It was a cold, dry day as Our Boys lined up, though nowhere near as bad as everywhere east of Merseyside. Thankful for small mercies we noted the team was almost the same as last week, Phil in for Hibbo at right back the only change. Royston subbed for Steven Pienaar with a quarter hour left and Hibbo and Shane Duffy came on for Darron Gibson and the Firecracker in the last three minutes.
The opening phase was quick and exciting, very like the Man City match. And then Peanuts scored after five minutes. I had to pinch myself after I got up from the floor. Ironically it followed a misplaced pass from him that gave the enemy a throw-in midway in their half on our left. Whoever took it made a complete hash of it and virtually threw it on to Pienaar's head, from where it was headed into the middle for a combative clash between Tim Cahill and Fat Frank Lampard; there was only going to be one winner and it wasn't Frank. The ball shot up into the air forward and into their penalty area left side, whence materialised Peanuts on a forward run through their static defence and, dreadlocks bouncing, he chested it forward then bladdered it left footed on the half volley past Cech from the left angle of the goal area. It was the kind of certainty absent for almost all of the season.
Immediately the crowd were up for it, and so were the team. As at the City game, the noise rolled down from the stands on all four sides: Evertonians getting their own back on fate. You couldn't blame them. Not that Chelsea were a spent force. They have too many good players for that. Still, their formidable possession football was mostly AWOL in this game and they were often prone to uncertainty and broken play. It even extended to Petr Cech when he inexplicably hit a routine clearance straight to Landon Donovan on our right and fortunately had only to deal with a shot straight back at him; a lob would have won the joust but you only have split seconds to make your mind up and Donovan's shot was left footed into the bargain.
Most of our game was based on non-stop chasing and harrying to prevent them settling into a comfort passing zone. This occasionally had the effect of drawing Our Boys around the ball in schoolboy clusters, which naturally left us open to an incisive pass or two. On one such occasion we had four players battling in the middle but the Rent Boys got it out to Matta - splendid little player - wide right and closing into the penalty area. Once inside the angle he rolled it right into the path of Sturridge bang centre of the D and unmarked. It looked a cert, but Phil found himself in front of the shot and diverted it by a midge's fart over the bar. A few minutes later a near identical move left Lampard with the same kind of chance he's so often buried against us. Alas for him, the few extra pounds he carries these days meant he screwed it, bouncing, wide of Tim Howard's left post. And really that was the sum total of their most threatening attacks of the day.
Then we had an attack down our right that ended with a wretched misspass from Gibbo. Chelsea dawdled with the clearance and The Firecracker stole it, swivelled right of the D and hit a shot Cech had to save low down on his left. To this fan Chelsea looked like a deflated balloon. We on the other hand looked as though Moyesy has finally stopped sulking for the season and given everyone a good arse-kicking, including himself. In fact the change, however temporary, is due to the balance provided by the wing play of Donovan and Pienaar, two completely different types of player; also both of them look as though they have never been away. This stretches defences in ways we haven't managed all season. It also gives a little bit of extra room in the middle for Denis, who again put in a rampant chainsaw-type performance. The enemy was never able to settle. We got better as the game went on and by the end were clearly the better side, including, amazingly, aggressive - yes, read that again - passing and intent. Chelsea looked as though they couldn't wait to get off the pitch. Once again everyone in defence played as though their lives depended on it, one absurd Tim Howard punch excepted. Very often our midfield simply swamped theirs.
One event seemed to encapsulate the difference between the two teams: John Heitinga, centre right mid in our half, sent a crossfield air pass fully sixty metres to wide left. It looked doomed to finish in the crowd. Instead, Pienaar dropped back, caught and killed it right on the touchline, angled inside, drifted away from two tackles and then touched it back wide to the waiting Bainsey. Yet another immaculate long cross landed right on the Firecracker's head but he couldn't get enough power on his header and it bounced straight to Cech. Had it gone in the Street End would have swallowed Denis lovingly forever. As it was, Neil said, "Fuckn 'ell, if he'd scored that Argentina could have had the Malvinas back," and Alan said, "We would've done a deal over the oil rights too." If not ecstatic, many of us were walking on air by then.
So naturally the Firecracker goes and gets one with twenty minutes left. This too emphasised the difference. An untidy battle for possession on the half way line wide right ended with a tremendous thudding tackle from Phil Neville on Ashley Cole - oh how the crowd loved that! - and he stuck it through to Landon down the touchline. The American checked inside at an angle, Denis scissored right from midfield and received the pass clear and closing right side penalty area with only Cech in his way, the hapless Luiz dangling between hell and Steven Pienaar. As the Firecracker hit it, the Chelsea 'keeper did instinctively what any great 'keeper would have done: he dropped to his right to cover an angled shot. But Denis hit it straight down the throat of where he had been standing and all Cech could do was wave it goodbye off his left hand. It was the Pampas Bull all over again. How the Street End embraced it. That was it, except for Tim to make a close-in save late on to redeem himself from the stupid first half punch-instead-of-catch.
Next up, Blackpool in the FA Cup. But remember Reading at home last season? So don't count your chickens just yet. Me? Buggered if I know what to expect next........