Smash and grab

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Everton 0-1 Wigan

Saturday 24th September 2005

How many of us are now reappraising our chances for the season?  Expectations of struggle may have, so far, failed to materialise but does that mean that the rest of the season will be plain sailing?  Look at the season so far and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise.  Yes, we were unlucky against Chelsea, but struggled to get a foothold against Charlton.  Apart from the first couple of minutes Sunderland was a battle to hold on, the win at West Brom may have been deserved but it didn’t come easily and Boro handed us the initiative on a plate.  We’re showing a strength that few outside the club expected but at the same time we haven’t yet looked what you might call comfortable.  Yesterday was another example of this.

Jewell thought we were poor in the first half, it sounded dour on the radio and according to both Sky and the BBC the only noteworthy incident was a “see them given” penalty shout for the Toffees.  Hardly surprising when you consider that Everton started with one man up front, that man being McFadden, who’s spent a great deal of his career, since coming south, playing in a wide position.  Something akin to us starting with Johansson as a solo striker.

The second half was a little bit different.  Latics had obviously got a rollicking, and the tempo was picked up accordingly.  Within two minutes it paid off.  Despite a crowded box, Roberts managed to control an over hit cross, turn and pull the ball back to Camara who had plenty of time and space to shoot, an unsighted Martyn could only parry and Damien Francis was on hand to tap in his first for the club.

From this point on we were the better side, or at least for a while.  Bent’s introduction gave Everton more options up front but their only real chance was the disallowed Cahill header.  To be fair the decision looks a bit harsh, but when you’re down, you’re down and I’m hardly likely to argue with the ref over this one.  The final throw of the dice was to throw on Ferguson.  Long balls will always be dangerous when this fellow’s about and it gave us a 5-10 minute spell at the end of the game where we were basically doing little more than hanging on.  That said, big Dunc will cause havoc for more than one defence this season and not for the first time we coped admirably.

For us this was another game that we could quite easily have lost, but another sign that we aren’t completely out of place.  Everton are a big club and Goodison is a hard place to play.  Upton Park, in our first similar test, there was no sign of that yesterday.

For Everton, you have to wonder.  Pre season it was said that Europe may distract them and that it would be a step too far for last season’s heroics to be repeated but I don’t think anyone could have expected a start like this.  Whether defeat to Latics was the final straw, or so embarrassing by itself, I don’t know.  Either way it was enough for the team to be seen off with the loudest booing I’ve heard for a long time.

I’ve said on more than one occasion that a game is our first real test of the season, and yet again I though this would be it, but yet again we weren’t pushed that hard.  Six games in, I’ve reappraised my stance on that.  Our first real test won’t be this team, or that one; our first real test will come when things stop going our way.  After a start that is unexpected, at the least, what happens when we struggle for form? 

Our players have shown that whilst our squad has some obvious deficiencies, so do a few others.  They’ve also shown that the mentality that Jewell put in place to get out of the Second Division reaps rewards in the top flight, but will it be enough if we take a couple of batterings at this level?  Much has been said about how this team “knows how to win” but equally we’re going to need to know how to lose, how to learn from defeat and come back a better and stronger team.  Usually that lesson involves at least one relegation (Charlton, Middlesbrough, Bolton and West Brom for example) the smarter option would be to learn it in the top flight.

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