ROBERTO'S SECOND ¡OLÉ!
Mickey Blue Eyes
If I were seeking a neocon journalist job in Corruption City, Mistake-on-Thames, Saturday's fixture against West Bromwich Albion would be headlined as a managerial battle of Tempestuous Brilliant Latino V Dour Taciturn Jock. But since I would rather bare my behind to the sun in the Rub' al Khali in July......I won't. Quite rightly we treat such Lahndan alien neocon spivs as the innermost scrapings of a Sumo wrestler's jock strap. Or, worst of all, an employee of the Daily Mail or Rupert Murdoch.
In fact the game was potentially a nicely balanced contest between two very good sides. A game of football, that's all.
Meanwhile, doubtless ale houses and message forums have been aquiver with he-said-she-said tittle tattle of the transfer cattle market. Every ale house has its shaved-head, end-of-the-bar, hate-filled, tattooed know-it-all who actually knows nothing and has a big mouth and an empty head to prove it. Why anybody bothers with any of their tedious claptrap is beyond me. Like most people, all I want to do is watch a good footy match and leave the shaved heads to disappear up their own sphincter. We can do without them, though of course they have always been there and always will be. (You doubt it? See this fifty-four years old BBC TV comedy broadcast http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gpNwhZX8DM)
This time round I was lucky enough to be invited again to Dixie Dean Suite corporate, courtesy of Chris, the lovely Michelle and son Matthew. What could be better or more civilised? The verbals get lively too. Chris is right wing Gestapo and considers me a danger to what's left of the Empire: presumably elderly tories are quaking in their sheepskin lined boots in Anglesey and the tea rooms of Hoylake. All in all, a promising afternoon lay ahead. It got even better when a quietly composed Roberto Martinez appeared, said some carefully chosen words, and was followed by Kevin Campbell, who came around the tables and gave me an opportunity I have always wanted, to say thanks for all those goals that saved us from relegation and possibly a generation in the lower divisions. The man radiates warm enthusiasm for life, still apparently fit as a fiddle.
The first home match of the season always has a sense of occasion. The start of the Roberto Martinez era added to it, optimism everywhere, weather perfect, Goodison and its new pitch looking gorgeous. Preliminaries out on the pitch included a good tribute to Dave Hickson and an impeccable minute's applause. As the crowd roared up all around you, you could only feel sorry for those who opted for the bloodless sterility of a VDU or TV or their own version of cynicism. Times have changed muchly since the teams would come out, have a ten minute casual kick around and then play a footy match.
Still, none of us really knew what to expect. Albion had a good start to a reasonable season last time out, beat us in fact, and might prove hard work in the initial weeks of a new season. They would be no pushovers despite losing their opening match to a last minute penalty. There was bound to be a measure of uncertainty in our play as the team adjusts to whatever system it is Roberto wants them to play. Don't ask me, I can't be arsed with statistics and diagrams and pseudo-technical jargon that too often passes for footy chat these days. The game is a simple one in its basics: Run. Kick ball. Pass. Score. As often as possible do it better than your opponent. Win, good. Lose, bad. Draw, grumble.
Actually, the game was similar to the previous draw V Norwich, this time without the goals. We had by far most possession and attempts on goal, played prettily, and Felli hit a post, but it was again strangely unconvincing. In fact Tim Howard had to make two superb saves to keep things equal during two breakaway attacks. Had we gone behind you had the feeling we would be unable this time to get an equaliser. Late substitutions made little difference. Due praise for Albion, though. They closed everything down and kept their shape, their centre defence and midfield in particular. Their breakaways might be sparse but every one of them looked dangerous as we pushed further up the pitch.
For us, the Felli experiment continues as he plays in his preferred deeper position. It's only two games but I am unconvinced by it despite his mister-everywhere activity. My biggest encouragement came from his obvious developing combination play with Ross Barkley, who yet again belied his young years with another maturing performance that occasionally verged on arrogant. If Felli stays, they could be potentially lethal together.
The tempo stepped up in the second half and we threatened a breakthrough that never came despite substitutions of Arouna Koné and Steven Naismith for Nik Jelavic and Kevin Mirallas for the final quarter of an hour. The Mirallas substitution had a quieting affect on the crowd because everybody expects him to do something new every time he gets the ball. Gone, there was a feeling only the sheer weight of attacks would breach the enemy. Alas.
So once again we felt as though it was two points dropped, even though, really, a draw was a fair result. We only had ourselves to blame. Plainly, we need the killer touch as much as ever. If it could match approach play we would win every game by six goals. But it doesn't, and frankly I can't see it happening at the moment. Fingers crossed I am wrong and the new system delivers in due course.
Suitably chastened, post-match, post-farewell toasts to Chris, Michelle and Matthew, I walked to the pub to meet Plewsy and co. Venue wise, it was chalk and cheese, from the sublime to the ridiculous, from civilisation to a wall of simian gabble, where bar-flies sweated freely and were undebauched by the refinements of toilet. I fled to a corner with Plewsy, where we were pursued by his self-proclaimed best looking brother, Ian. Soon I was as bad as everyone else. Football does that to you, as if we didn't know.
Roll on the season and that first win.