I met up with Will in Guildford at around 10.30 for the journey north and had the third degree from him because I was a few minutes late. He was revelling in the fact that he had been at our prearranged meeting point on time – a world first! Nevertheless, I had to take the banter full on and we were soon well on the way up the motorway. Will announced that he needed to empty his bladder after only ten miles and I pointed out that he could have availed himself of facilities in the building where I work and the place where we met. He said never mind he’d wait until we got to his brother’s pub to which I replied that the Bagington Oak was a long way for a man whose bladder was tweaking. Impressively, Will did last the course and we made it up to Chris’ place in good time. A pint and an excellent onion bhaji wrap later whilst Will and I lost a couple of quid in the general knowledge battleships and cruisers game in the pub, we were all set to move on to St Andrews.
I had managed to get a discounted ticket for the game which I had given to Will and so he was sitting in the seat directly in front of me. Will’s old school mate Rob and Rob’s girlfriend, Heather joined us and completed our little group. Will immediately started going on about our beloved manger’s tic tacs, his euphemism for tactics on the grounds that they are indecipherable. He complained that once again we had four central midfielders strung across the pitch with not a single naturally left footed player among them, a centre half playing left back and therefore we were too narrow and unbalanced. He was of course absolutely correct and as I believe I mentioned in my last post from the Pompey league game, the glaring problem down our left flank had to be addressed if this very good Everton side were not to exploit us. Clearly the warning had not been heeded. We have been getting away with it against poor opposition such as Pompey and Wigan but Everton, whom we aspire to be like have quick and clever players overseen by a savvy manager who would have needed no degree in football coaching to highlight where our major weakness was. He put Victor Anichebe on Ridgewell and the latter could not cope with the Nigerian born player’s pace, power and strength. Anichebe won everything both on the deck and in the air against Agent Ridgewell so much so that when the latter did eventually win a header in the 42nd minute against the Everton man a loud ironic cheer went up from the stands.
The first twenty-five minutes were the worst I have seen from our side all season. Everton used the guile of Arteta, the skills of Cahill and the pace and artistry of Piennar and strength of Anichebe and Yakubu to dance merry circles around our static defence and narrow midfield that chased vainly after shadows. Piennar fired the first warning shot across our bows with a curling effort that was destined for the far corner before Hart intervened with an excellent full length save. We looked shaky from set pieces and it was a matter of time before Everton scored. Ridgewell was guilty of not getting tight enough to Anichebe and moreover allowing him to turn in our box to unleash a fierce left footed shot into the roof of the net with Hart stranded; truly awful defending compounded four minutes later. Piennar dragged Bowyer wide to the by-line. Bowyer was attempting to fill in for Ridgewell who had tracked Anichebe across to the centre thus vacating the space. The cross was dinked up and over Johnson who got under the ball which allowed Yakubu the easiest goal he will ever score from inches out at the far post; twenty-three minutes and two-nil down and I could only see us playing Bangladesh to their England such was their domination of the game. We were all over the place and to this juncture had been out manoeuvred, out thought, out paced and outplayed. Then within four minutes a huge stroke of luck occurred; an in swinging ball from Fahey towards Jerome somehow nutmegged Jagielka and trickled past the flailing Howard just inside the far post for a lifeline back into a game that we had never been in. Jerome got the faintest of touches having taken a swing at the ball as it went by which was just enough to confuse defender and goalkeeper alike. Suddenly, Blues gained some control and were on the front foot for the first time. Jagielka prevented the equaliser just prior to half time when Dann’s goal bound downward header was diverted for a corner. Everton were relieved in the end to hear the whistle for the break but not before they almost added a third themselves from Baines’ swerving free kick that was brilliantly saved by Hart and gathered at the second attempt.
Blues were much better in the second period and moved the ball quicker and more accurately. A launched ball from Hart was headed down by Jerome to Gardner who swept the ball first time from 18 yards into the bottom corner of the net at the Tilton Road end to the delight of the 24,000 plus crowd. From a train crash of the first quarter of the game the salvage operation was definitely on and 2-2 was the unlikely score-line. I read on one of the Everton blogs this morning that basic defending would have prevented both Birmingham goals and the writer is of course right but Everton’s shortcomings in the defensive error department paled into insignificance compared to the ones committed by Blues and pub team defending would have prevented Everton’s efforts which had naturally been ignored by my fellow blog writer. Proper defending would have rendered this a 0 – 0 stalemate but mistakes are what make football the game it is. Blues were now on top and put the visitors under a fair amount of pressure for twenty minutes or so until the game once more evened out and both teams had a go at snatching the winner. It could have gone either way but in the end both teams settled for a draw. I feel this game illustrated just how far Blues need to go before they can be considered serious contenders for a European place which I still believe is highly unlikely. Everton look the better equipped and are frankly a better side with a stronger squad. Blues can count themselves fortunate to have gained a valuable point especially after such an atrocious start but on the flip side of the coin they are to be congratulated for not throwing in the towel and scrapping their way back into a game that was lost. Two years ago there is no doubt that Everton would have won this game and it is to the great credit of the players, Alex McCleish and his back up team that they have developed a steely resolve to salvage such disasters. Quick wide players (one must be naturally left footed), a proper left back, a top striker (or two) and cover at right back required in the summer and I suspect things will be better next year.