THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE ERRATIC......AND ETO'O
Mickey Blue Eyes
Beautiful north east Lancashire has had a bad reputation since the Witches of Pendle rode broomsticks through the northern suburbs of Burnley in 1612, and got strung up for their efforts. Eighty years later the madness was repeated in Salem, Massachusetts; somehow the crones had flown the Atlantic before the invention of jetliners. As a result, paranoia is now embedded in US culture and unlikely to dislodge in our lifetime or even that of our children. Using this doubtful syllogistic "logic" - well, we are footy fans after all - we can blame Pendle for the Cold War and McCarthyism (Joe, not James). Plainly Burnley has a lot to answer for despite the best efforts of Hayley Mills and Alan Barnes in Whistle Down The Wind and the genius of Arthur Miller in scribing The Crucible.
This historic guilt excludes Burnley Football Club, one of the founders of the Football League, who last had a great team back in the 1960s. At the time they were League Champions and FA Cup Finalists. Then they were struck by a creeping curse, probably laid by Blackburn Rovers fans sticking pins in raggedy poppets. A few decades later they had to win the last game of the season to stay in the Football League, which they did. Since then they have been promoted twice to the Premier League after plummeting yet again, a dizzying experience by any measure. Given the current economic model of the game, some Evertonians remain blissfully unaware how easily that could have happened to us - in fact to anybody who failed to adapt to a rigged neocon spiv economy, for which see Leeds United, Portsmouth, Birmingham City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United, Sunderland and many others, including, ironically, 1990s Manchester City, to say nothing of the bankruptcy rate at all levels of the professional game (and F1 motor racing if you want to check it out). All of which makes the Burnley story even more sports-heroic and their survival so praiseworthy.
We had several tremendous matches with their great team. My main memory of these is of Christmas 1961 when we won 3-1 at Turf Moor on Boxing Day then lost 0-3 the following day at Goodison in front of 75,000. Six years later we went to Burnley as Cup Holders, drew 0-0 and then won the replay 2-1 with two Alex Young goals. In the latter game at centre forward the enemy had Very Large and Very Rough Andy Lochhead, immortally dubbed "Fuckn 'eadlock" by the Street End. In later Evertonian gatherings Gordon West, in his cups and funny with it, always maintained the great Brian Labone was "terrified" of Headlock, which Brian, also in his cups, vehemently denied. If he was afraid of the mad balding Jock, it never showed. Wonderful times, but we have moved on long since. Nostalgia can be nice, occasionally welcome, but not really constructive.
Sunday, pre-match in the league table we were fourteenth on nine points and Burnley was nineteenth on four points. We had scored sixteen goals and they had scored four. We had let in sixteen goals and they had let in thirteen. We had won a paltry two games and they none. Make of the figures what you will; like virtually all such statistics they could mean anything. For ninety minutes it would still be eleven V eleven. Given our form thus far we were just as likely to lose as we were to win, the implication being a tedious draw. If enough Burnley fans summoned the ghosts of the Pendle witches we were a dead cert to go down to cursed defeat and drop back into the cauldron of double, double toil and trouble. Frankly, I would rather have my toe nails pulled out by hot, sizzling pliers wielded by, talking of evil witches, Margaret Thatcher.
Team: Howard, Coleman, Alcaraz, Jagielka, Baines, McCarthy, Barry, Naismith, Eto'o, Lukaku, Osman. Ross Barkley for Lukaku just over the hour, Steven Pienaar for Osman with ten minutes left.
It was a 3-1 win for us, but for a long stretch there was only a goal margin in it and Burnley had enough spirit to look as though they might grab an equaliser if we failed to put it beyond them. Fortunately we had Samuel Eto'o in genius form and it was he who made the difference. Otherwise, it was another slow step to rehabilitation. Emphasis on slow, though hugely welcome for everyone desperate to see the end of our near disastrous opening phase.
Eto'o bagged the first within a few minutes of the start, thus setting his mood for the match. It was a splendid goal, everything good in football, a beautiful flowing move of one touch stuff, and a deadly finish. Not that it looked that way when we kicked off: the ball went backwards and ended up with Tim Howard while your correspondent ground his teeth. From there it went to Barry at right side defence for an untidy up-and-under toward the centre circle, at which point someone waved a conjurer's wand and it transformed into magic. Lukaku's first touch was excellent for a change and he laid it back to Eto'o on a forward run to the right, from whence it went wide and forward to Naismith, then threaded cross field left to Lukaku (again) - Eto'o (again) - Barry - Osman - Bainsey on a deep run to the goal line wide left, and yet another of his deadly head height specials to left side of the goal area, and Eto'o (yet again) bulleted it home with a header. It was about as perfect as anything you will see this season. I am unsure who was more bemused, Burnley or me. That was the good.
Afterwards we made a couple of raids led by Eto'o through the centre, including a hopelessly optimistic shot from twenty five metres by Rom which bounced harmless and wide. The score came early enough to wind up the home side too and they played a few high, long balls into the centre in the by now widespread knowledge that our centre backs are having a torrid season. This led to a couple of corners, the second of which came when Eto'o did Jags' job and headed behind. Eventually it was cleared scruffily to our right, everyone moved out, Seamus and Bainsey got wide and over the halfway line, Our Boys remaining three defenders played it across the back line right-to-left to Barry and he played a routine forward ball to Rom left side of the centre circle, whose first touch was a back pass that was, well, shit, actually, because it went straight to one of theirs in the middle. From there, their striker scissored right past three spread-eagled defenders, collected a good pass in the clear, rounded Tim and buried it for the equaliser. That was the bad, as it has been all season. By now we simply roll our eyes and say, "Here we fuckn go again." You might as well get used to it because it cannot change in a hurry.
Naturally the goal acted like an electric shock on Burnley and understandably they kept trying the long air ball, but Jags and Alcaraz were steady enough, though likely it will be a different story against taller and more skilful opponents. To their credit enemy heads kept up and one long range tremendous shot from the centre whistled just wide of Tim's right hand post. A single slight touch from a forward would surely have sent it home; instead, their man drew back at the last moment thinking it a score.
Ten minutes later we were back in front, Eto'o at the heart of it again. Once more the ball was played across the back four in a straight line, left to right this time. Eto'o dropped back to right of the centre circle to help out. From there he transferred it back left to Jags, onward and wider to Bainsey, then to inside left and Barry, then to Rom forward slightly centre left, swap with Naismith, then back into the centre to Eto'o, a few paces forward and a pass angled forward left to Naismith on the edge of the penalty area, back in to Lukaku around the penalty spot and moving right, shut down by two defenders and another closing. It looked like the chance was gone. Somehow Rom dug it out and managed a right foot cross shot back left that hit the ground and bounced slowly in over their 'keeper's dive. That was the good again, not as sweetly certain as the first but still high quality close passing.
The remainder of the half saw a few hairy moments at both ends of the pitch. In their case, mostly through high balls and another long range shot. In our case Naismith hit the top of the bar with a slow dropping header after another Eto'o inspired move down our left. It could have been 3-1 or 2-2, the story so far of this weird season.
Within minutes of the restart it should have been 2-2 when Alcaraz continued the Laurel and Hardy centre back show and failed with an easy clearance that their man should have headed in as it looped into the air. Luckily he failed. We countered with some powder puff but nice one touch stuff that ended on two occasions with Eto'o trying his long range luck without success. There were a few other efforts that looked more half hearted than anything and the game looked to be petering out as we played safe ball. That was the erratic.
The substitutions made a difference, particularly down our left where Ross Barkley showed the effectiveness of actually turning with the ball and moving forward instead of playing it backwards or sideways. And right at the end it was this slight edge which produced yet another Eto'o Moment, this one truly world class that must have rolled back the years for him. Had it been performed by anyone in the Mainstream Media Four it would have produced on-screen onanism from its plastic presenters. It really is what we pay to see live and always will - TV is no substitute. When one of your own team does it, it resonates even more. It built up almost casually from a Bainsey throw in on the left, inside to Barkley, back to Barry, forward to Barkley again, turn, forward to Pienaar, on to Eto'o on a forward run outside the left of their D, a slow almost casual turn inward, a look up......and an utterly exquisite curving chip that never went much above head height and bent around their 'keeper left hand. It was better than good. It was vintage Eto'o.
So, another good win, another demonstration that we stand somewhere between attacking heaven and defensive hell. When it works it can beat anyone in England, as we already know. When it fails we feel like we are at Rorke's Drift and out of ammunition. But for the time being we are back on the right road and what can be more existential than that? At the time of writing only table topping Chelsea and Southampton have scored more than us, only rock bottom doomed QPR have let in more. Go figure that, numbers people.