In our last game we battled Chelsea to a standstill down in the capital. This time though, against strugglers Cardiff on our own turf, a much different challenge awaited.
The starting eleven whom scrapped their way to a hard-fought point a fortnight ago all kept their places for this one. Many have been expressing their desire to see Lookman finally be handed a starting berth whilst plenty also saw merit in putting Zouma back in alongside Keane. One could even have built a strong case for Tosun to be the one to start up front with Richarlison moving back over to the left? Alas, Silva has known best plenty of times already this season and supporters had no reason to doubt his decision to stick with certain individuals.
Cardiff came into this match caught in the bottom three having only managed to scrape together 8 points since the season’s beginning, all whilst losing nine league games and failing to even score in seven fixtures. These are not altogether surprising stats when you consider that the Welsh outfit have barely brought in any new additions since coming back up.
Unlike the other promoted sides Wolves and Fulham, Cardiff do not have the means to completely overhaul their squad and cast off the players whom may now be considered dead-weight at this level. Whilst the other two splashed out on new faces from around Europe’s top leagues, the Bluebirds have had to stick with what they’ve got and hope that what they lack in quality can be made up for in desire.
They arrived at Goodison Park with a game plan that was not all that different from the one Everton took down to Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago. To bite, kick and scratch their way to a share of the spoils and to hell with what their opposition or any neutrals may think about it. Honestly, could anyone really blame them for taking that approach? Their manager may have a decent overall record against us but Cardiff themselves last beat us in the league way back in 1926. They certainly knew they were in for a hard day at the office.
Proceedings got under way and Everton started somewhat sluggishly. With the visitors content to sit deep in their own half the hosts enjoyed plenty of possession but failed to find gaps in Cardiff’s back line or get in behind. Having the ball is all well and good but if chances aren’t created then it all counts for nothing. The home crowd sat and watched expectantly but goalmouth action was few and far between and before long impatience, as it often does, unfortunately started to creep in.
It should be to Marco Silva’s credit that more and more sides are turning up nowadays and are seemingly happy to just leave with anything they can grab. Under previous regimes opposition teams came here with no fear at all, some in fact turned up with the set idea of capitalising on any fan frustration. It was tried and tested method of getting the better of Everton for a while, if a team could perhaps just weather an early bluster then the home supporters would soon jump on the players’ backs and things would quickly unravel.
However, that doesn’t appear to be the case anymore, Evertonians are more behind our team now than we have been since Roberto Martinez’s first season at the helm. Goodison is back to being one of the most difficult arenas in the country for opposing players and the manager, plus Marcel Brands too for his shrewd business dealings in the summer, deserve massive plaudits for this.
The first clear-cut opportunity for a goal came just before the half-hour. Andres Gomes, that gorgeous man, displayed some wonderful skill to waltz past several Cardiff defenders but could only drill the following effort into the side netting. A few minutes later he had another crack, this one from outside the area, but unfortunately it drifted well wide without troubling the goalkeeper.
Down at the other end Cardiff made Pickford and his defenders work very little. Leading their line was Callum Paterson, an absolute couch of man, who until recently predominantly played as a right-sided defender. With their squad badly lacking both a goalscorer or creator Neil Warnock, a man who’d be more at home with a herd of Brontosaurus’ from the Jurassic period than he is stuck in the evolving world of 2018, chose to go with the most pragmatic of gameplans. It basically consisted of just lumping the ball up field for the strongest lad in the squad to chase after, honestly that was literally it. Perhaps he was hoping they could capitalise on a lucky bounce, or intercept a weak backwards pass, or maybe even buy a cheap set-piece high up the pitch. Other than that Cardiff evidently don’t really have any plan of action whatsoever when it comes to scoring goals.
It was quickly apparent to all those in stadium yesterday, and anyone else too who was watching via a stream, Cardiff were a boxer without a punch. They came to spoil the game and stifle Everton in any way they possibly could, even if it meant their goalie embarrassingly getting himself booked for time-wasting as early as the 42nd minute. Everton were going to have keep grinding away at their rugged resistance if they hoped to breakthrough.
The only other opportunity before half time came when Richarlison found himself unmarked in the area, only to head Sigurddson’s long free-kick directly into the grateful hands of the aforementioned Etheridge. It was a real striker’s chance, one you’d think Tosun or Calvert-Lewin would love if either had been on the pitch, but the Brazilian squandered it. He may be scoring goals for both club and country but there will still be questions as to what his best position in this Everton side is. It’ll be interesting indeed to see where he’ll be deployed next for the big one.
After the interval Everton picked up were they’d left off, passing the ball around with great confidence and freedom but finding it difficult to tempt Cardiff out of their bomb shelter. Ten minutes in the home side finally found a gap, Bernard drew his marker and then cleverly slipped in Sigurdsson who had plenty of room to himself. He took a touch, successfully rounded Etheridge and then fired his shot but could only see it cleared off the line by a scrambling defender. So, so close but still no lead for Everton, though visitors barricade didn’t hold for much longer.
Just before the hour the boys in the royal blue jerseys drove forward in numbers again. Walcott, whom up until that point had had yet another quiet display, seized upon a poor first touch by Greg Cunningham to race clear into the penalty and have a shot at goal himself. His effort was saved but rebounded into the path an ever-so-thankful Sigurdsson whom duly slotted home. It was a goal Everton deserved to reward them for their dominance and will have tasted very sweet indeed for the former Swansea hero. The tension lifted and the mood much more cheerful, Evertonians sung in fine voice whilst Cardiff were left to try and gather themselves and think of a plan B.
Shortly after all that a clash down the other end between Kadeem Harris and Pickford brought the former a yellow, a cynical foul made surely out of frustration, but thankfully Everton and England’s no.1 was quickly back on his feet. Good Lord him getting injured is a nightmare scenario the manager and supporters.
Cardiff didn’t have much of an answer at all having fallen behind other than to keep hoofing it upfield and hope for something to fall and so Everton were the team who pushed on and tried to score the second goal of the day. We came close, very close, but it was sadly not to be.
Lookman and Tosun each entered the fray inside the final 20 minutes and both got themselves involved. The youngster at one point managed to wriggle his way through on goal, just like he did against Chelsea, but this time managed to set his feet and shoot to draw what was a very smart save from the keeper.
Cenk’s chance was different for the fact he knew so little about it until the moment the ball reached him. Richarlison’s effort from distance was parried away and fell into the Turk’s path but his attempted first-time finish was woeful and easily cleared away. It’s a shame he’s finding goals hard to come by right now but he deserves to have Evertonian’s faith for a while longer yet. Strikers with his work ethic are hard to come by and clearly he loves the club and the city, here’s hoping he has better luck next week.
The only sniff of an equaliser came when Cardiff, sensing it was finally time to gamble, threw balls into the penalty area and Paterson met one such delivery only three yards out but headed over. Other than that the Welsh side’s only effort at goal all afternoon was a long range drive from Victor Camarasa which failed to catch out Pickford. The whistle eventually went and the three points were Everton’s, the visitors having paid the price for their complete lack of ambition. 29% possession and only one shot on target, no sensible argument could be made for them deserving anything no matter admirably they defended.
Everton with that victory, no matter how gritty it may have been, leap into 6th place ahead of Manchester United and right on the heels of Arsenal. Most of the media continue to laughably ignore us when it comes to discussion about the battle for the European places but that should suit Marco Silva and us supporters just fine. We’re best left alone to just keep on working and improving as we continue this good start to a whole new era for the club. The new signings are all flourishly, last year’s flops are looking re-born and the future looks only to be bright.
Onwards Blues, next week’s task is only facing Liverpool at Anfield. But you know what? The way we’re growing under this new manager I’m not one bit apprehensive going into that one. Why should we be? We’re Marco’s Everton. COYB.