On being a goal down

Tony Hibbert's best chance of stopping opponents

Tony Hibbert’s best chance of stopping opponents

Thanks largely to Tim Howard, mercifully back in form after his extended World Cup hangover, Everton went into the closing stages of the Derby just one goal worse off, a soft free kick expertly converted by an otherwise anonymous Steven Gerrard. “There’s always a chance in the last ten minutes” I told my son – cliches within a family being excusable. And so it came to pass – or rather to screaming half-volley, as Phil Jagielka exorcised an early season demon or two with a Goal of the Month contender.

Truth be told, I had given up on my expected chance arriving. Too often, despite having Naismith, McGeady, Eto’o and Lukaku on the field, and an enterprising John Stones making an extra man in midfield, there were only two Blue shirts in the box as crosses were played in – decent sides get three in there and the best have four. Overloading the penalty area played a big part in the “David Beckham is a world class player” myth – so often Manchester United had so many targets for his crosses that he could barely miss. Everton’s crosses missed all day long today.

But (and wasn’t it nice to see opponents suffer for the same fault that so often has dogged Everton when we hold a one goal advantage) Liverpool were forced deep, deep in stoppage time and they couldn’t get out to block our captain, who had taken up a good position for his wonder strike. He might never hit a ball as sweetly again – but that doesn’t matter now.

Two other points can be taken from the match, both regularly mentioned here. Tony Hibbert isn’t far off 34 and, with just 11 appearances since the end of the 2011-12 season, could hardly have been expected to slot in against Raheem Sterling. It was a relief to see him put out of his misery with the arrival of Tyias Browning, another local lad, but bigger, quicker and stronger. It was an encouraging cameo from twenty-year old, who can expect rather more game-time before the season is out. One can’t say the same for dear old Hibbo.

Gareth Barry, just three days younger than Hibbert, was lucky to avoid a second yellow card with some injudicious tackling and his “arm in front of the face” block. He was fortunate that James McCarthy (like my Man of the Match, Tim Howard) had re-discovered his best form just in time to cover runners and block and tackle for the full 95 minutes. It’s not uncommon for players to lose half a yard, but Barry doesn’t have that luxury, as he was never quick in the first place. Maybe, like Leon Osman, Barry might be better deployed in the last twenty minutes of a match to shore up the coming midfield axis of McCarthy + Besic / Gibson or to keep things tight for an hour before giving way to McGeady or Osman, introduced to open up tiring defences. Ninety minutes, twice a week, looks too much just now.

Cameras panning across players and fans decked in red and those decked in blue, told you everything about how the clubs will view the sharing of the points – but it is just one point like any other. At least that’s what I keep telling myself…

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