We all feeling a little better now?
There’s nothing like a late winner to get the adrenalin pumping – and they don’t come much later than four minutes and sixteen seconds into ‘Moyes-time’.
Not since Simeon Jackson’s late winner, in that never-to-be-forgotten 3-2 win over Derby, has the old place shook with such raw and raucous emotion. That the River End stood as one (how ironic) for those pulsating closing stages speaks volumes of the magnitude and drama of the occasion.
In many ways those final fifteen minutes put the ‘winning v entertainment’ debate to bed once and for all. While for 75 minutes the general standard of fare on offer was of the average variety, I don’t suppose any of the 25,000 city fans present would swap them given the 19 minutes of drama and pure sporting theatre that followed.
And therein is a perfect snapshot of the key difference between sport and entertainment. While a West End show is virtually guaranteed to entertain, it can rarely evoke same the unbridled passion that followed yesterday’s Grant Holt late-show. If the price to be paid for that barnstorming finale was the aforementioned 75 minutes, then who cares – well, other than the BBC’s Mick Liggins it seems, who felt the need to remind us all about it on Canary Call.
For Everton’s part, I’m sure they’re feeling a little aggrieved that they departed the Fine City pointless, particularly having controlled the games for long spells. While it was one of those days when you always felt that City had a foothold in the game, there’s no denying the visitors enjoyed the better quality possession – with Gibson and Osman giving us a masterclass in keeping in ball. And love him or hate him, there’s no questioning the quality of Fellaini – credit therefore to the shifts put in by Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner and the way they restricted him and Jelavic to so few goalscoring opportunities.
Credit’s also due to Chris Hughton for taking the gamble of playing two up-top and Wes Hoolahan, although he was the first to admit that the 4-4-2, with the Irishman starting wide on the left, was of limited success. Typically, the issue with Wes being handed the left-wing role is two-fold: how to get him on the ball enough in the right areas to hurt the opposition, and the limited amount of protection he’s able to provide his left-back – both of which came to the fore yesterday.
Having said all of that, even on one of his less successful days, the little Irishman still put in a shift and worked his socks off. You can still be sure that Sir Alex will be highlighting how dangerous he can be at around 2:45 next Saturday afternoon.
Without question, the turning point of yesterday – and possibly the season – was Kei Kamara’s thumping header, courtesy of that superb delivery from Robert Snodgrass. In a flash, what was already a good 30 minute cameo became a great one, when the charismatic Sierra Leonean chose that precise moment to joyously become the first player from his country to score a Premier League goal.
Kamara’s 58th minute introduction certainly changed the mood of the place – all a bit tough on Luciano Becchio who put in a tireless if unproductive shift – and there’s no doubting he adds a new dimension to the attack. Faced with the twin threat of Holt and Becchio, Distin and Jagielka were clearly happy to play a high line, comfortable in the knowledge that neither were going to out-run them if the ball were played in behind. The introduction of Kamara changed all that and, faced with power and pace, the visitors defended deeper and the game opened up.
Throw into the mix the splendid way that Snodgrass forced the dangerous Leighton Baines to play the latter stages of the game in his own half, often back-pedalling, and the stage was gradually set for the late onslaught.
Having kept themselves in the game –especially in those difficult opening twenty minutes of the second half when a second Everton goal would have secured the three points – Hughton’s men went on to show a spirit and desire far belying a team apparently on the cusp of a relegation dogfight
Instead the energy and verve shown on the pitch was embraced by the Yellow Army and, once Kamara’s header had flashed past Tim Howard there was only going to be one winner. With the momentum having swung firmly in City’s favour there remained an underlying feeling that there was still going to be another chance in the game.
As it happened there were two… the first one being brilliantly blocked by Distin when Holt looked certain to score from close range; the second – courtesy of a rarity that is a Russell Martin cross from the left – was on a plate for the talismanic Holt to end his recent barren run. Despite one or two other yellow shirts lurking in the vicinity there was only ever going to be one winner to the race to crash the ball home – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Earlier in the week I’d been asked by an Everton website to do a Q&A ahead of the game during which I reminded them that by playing City they were virtually guaranteed to be last on Match of the Day. As it happened we achieved a creditable fourth that – unless I was badly mistaken – was accompanied by a mumbling Shearer saying we’d had a ‘great season’. While that particular description may have been a little over the top – and ignores our very bleak mid-winter – it does at least acknowledge our existence. Progress indeed.
So… after several fair to middling days we’ve finally had a good one, and how good does it feel.
Entertainment v. winning? Give me a City win any day.
On the Ball City…
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