Mickey Blue Eyes
Match day, brilliant, sunny, little wind, cold, FA Cup, Goodison Park; what more could your civilised and enthusiastic football fan want? Well, advancement into the last eight for a start. But we said much the same thing last season and Wigan Athletic dumped us out before half time. We all love the FA Cup but by Christ it doesn't half hurt when you lose that way.
This time our visitors were Swansea City, perched midway in the league table, recently shorn of their manager, fresh off the backs of a large derby match victory. Exactly the kind of opponent who might do damage in a knock-out competition. Given recent weather it wouldn't have surprised us to see the enemy turn up wearing waders and galoshes. Instead, they committed the unforgivable sin in this fan's eyes of picking an inexperienced team, presumably to insure against a vague relegation threat. The result was a few hundred visiting fans scattered in a tiny section of the Lower Bullens Stand, with the away section of the Upper Bullens Stand empty. Again. By comparison and this season's standards we stuttered with recent results and injuries and were routed in our own derby, and fielded a full strength side plus very long Ivorian debutant loanee Lacina Traore. The only other surprise selection was Joel Robles in goal. The tie had uncertain, possibly dramatic makings. Nevertheless, as usual, Evertonian expectations were high.
Alas, the game was an anticlimax and there isn't much to say for it. Team and crowd were in desultory mood at best, silence and tippy-tappy everywhere, the School of Science on Soma. Swansea were marginally the better side until they tired in the final half hour and El Bob did his substitutions sleight of hand; the enemy promptly collapsed.
But Swansea were far from asleep in the beginning, in fact should have scored inside a couple of minutes when our centre backs took a simultaneous snooze and were sliced open with a neat ball through the middle. Luckily for us it ended with a soft shot straight at Robles. Their striker looked more startled than disappointed. In retrospect the playing tempo wasn't helped when we scored the opener a few minutes later. A Mirallas free kick centre mid left looped into the box, Distin headed it against a defender, got the rebound and laid it square left for Traore to back heel home during a Rourke's Drift scramble. After which everyone seemed to settle for a gentle procession into the next round. It was the antithesis of "a typical cup-tie." "More like," someone said between snores, "a fuckn testimonial for Horlicks."
The fifteenth-minute equaliser was in keeping with the weird atmosphere. For some reason Steven Pienaar decided to loop the ball clear from the left touchline from ten metres upfield. Fine, but you don't clear toward your own goal. Awakened from siesta, the Street End watched with increasing interest as the ball sailed over Robles.....and went out for a corner on our right. Normally this would have produced the kind of comments that have the maintenance crew recoating exposed steelwork with maritime paint. Instead, there was a sort of collective, "Tsk tsk." Which changed a few minutes later to something more appropriately full blooded. Swansea did a neat triangle on their left and when a quite outstanding cross came over their man did a Tim Cahill, ran from deep, kebabed Distin and Jagielka - yet again - and bulleted a fine header home. It was fully deserved. Our Boys were all over the place, uncertainty everywhere.
Yet we had three ripostes before half time. The first was a typical Bainesy-Peanuts raid down the left, from which Pienaar hit the bar and post and Traore had only to butt the rebound firmly and it was in - sadly, he was off balance and could only redirect it to the 'keeper low down. The second was a left side free kick from Mirallas, before which the enemy lined up for what looked like a team photo. Their 'keeper got firm hands on the mid height bender and bounded it clear. The third was a run and shot narrowly wide from Barkley from centre edge of the penalty area. Apart from that it was Swansea who looked like they wanted the game and were prepared to chase to get it, though they had few direct efforts. Nevertheless, it was beginning to look like Wigan déjà vu.
The pattern of play remained the same for the opening period of the second half, the only crowd noises a series of low, justified if unconvincing rumbles to, "Gerrafuckngripwillyer!" Then El Bob made his substitutions and hey presto! it worked yet again. Well, sort of. It was that plus tiredness and loss of concentration that did for the Welshmen. I hope it doesn't sound patronising when I say I felt sorry for Swansea. But this is The Cup and who gives an existential rat's ass as long as you get through?
Until then the game had meandered on its anaemic way, Swansea snapping at everything but not testing Robles, us as solid as marshmallow. Around me, people started talking about things other than football. The highlight was a woman exiting along the row and when she reached me at the end without looking up I swung my legs sideways out of the way to let her pass, and she said kindly, "I'm pregnant, luv, I can't squeeze past." How football times have changed.
Anyway, Steven Naismith came on for Traore - at the same time, Osman for Barkley - just as Dan asked, "D'you think Traore actually shrinks when he heads the ball?" It was a bit harsh but fitted in with the general mood. Five minutes later the Scot scored a leading goal when he intercepted an angled pass back to the 'keeper on the Swansea left and 'megged him, then proceeded to chase after everything so much he diverted the crowd from discussing who was responsible for the next round of bevvies. You could feel the place lift a bit. For a few minutes even the Street End broke out into low bass uncoordinated songs. The Park End perked up too, but really the time for hearty singing had passed and we all knew it.
Then Mirallas and Peanuts missed point blank opportunities before Naismith surged through the left angle of the penalty area and got dropped for a penalty. I wouldn't have given it, but fortunately my opinion doesn't count. Bainsey duly despatched the kick for 3-1 and it was all over. Before the end we could have had a couple more, which would have been terribly harsh on Swansea. A few minutes from the end Deulofeu got some pitch time at the expense of Mirallas. Frankly I was glad to hear the final whistle. It wasn't one of our finest hours.
Afterwards on the walk up to the pub Plewsy tried to lift the mood by saying loudly we had drawn Sunderland at home in the next round. It didn't work. We were too anaesthetised by the match. Still, we were through. And in The Cup that's all that matters. Roll on Arsenal away, better still because they disposed of Liverpool; surely we can't repeat this performance?