Monday, 8 March 2010

28: Everton 5 - 1 Hull City - 07/03/2010

There has to be a cut-off point in the Premier League when you accept that you are simply not good enough. Hull City have passed that point. Simultaneously, however, they have passed the point where the players know they're not good enough. And that is a worry.

The second half at Goodison Park was a spectacular collapse, and not a jolly one to watch. Everton carved through the Tigers' flimsy rearguard like a knife through melting butter. They barely needed to try. They often didn't, and still succeeded.

Phil Brown needs to have a quiet word with both his team and himself. He reverted to the 4-5-1 system which has failed on so many occasions away from home - the lack of a victory for more than a year now tells its own wretched tale - and while the midfield was blessed with ability going forward, it was spineless in more ways than one when heading in reverse towards its own goal.

Once Brown has had his quiet word with the squad and the mirror, his chairman needs a less quiet word with him. Adam Pearson should, hopefully, be steaming the wallpaper off his manager's office with his anger. The books are improving, the ambition is set out, the estimated figure which will float into the semi-naked City coffers has been publicly revealed. And his manager and team selections look set to ruin it.

It is all the more galling to note that at half time, City were very much in the game. The score was 2-1 but there had been life and presence from the Tigers, including Boaz Myhill's first penalty save since 2006 and a stunning equaliser after Everton's opener had rocked City back on their heels. Everton may well have upped their game in the second half, but in truth they had to after being largely matched all over the pitch.

The last 100 per cent records of the season both went as Stephen Hunt and Andy Dawson succumbed to injury and illness respectively, so a new left hand side was built, with Kevin Kilbane playing behind Nick Barmby. Jimmy Bullard made his much-cheered return to the midfield and Tom Cairney kept his place alongside him. Richard Garcia replaced the suspended Craig Fagan and Kamil Zayatte was a direct alternative to the crocked Anthony Gardner. Multiple changes and, for a bit, proper results.

City had the first chance at a deathly silent Goodison Park - these bigger names really don't feel the need to get excited about playing us - when Bullard chipped a smart ball through the centre for Garcia to chase, and the Australian's attempt at a lob was charged down by a hurrying Tim Howard.

Everton responded with a Mikel Arteta run through the middle that seemed unstoppable until Kilbane got a foot in the way of his final ball. It trundled back to the Spaniard who shot over.

Amr Zaki, a calamitous selection again, made room from a Myhill goalkick but his drive went wide. He duly spent the rest of the game hiding and, when the ball did require him to do some work, diving. Everton again went closer when George Boateng gave the ball away carelessly in the middle and Leon Osman fed Yakubu but the shot touched Myhill's post.

The deadlock was broken soon afterwards when Yakubu worked an opening down the left and crossed long and high for Arteta, arriving late, to guide in a sidefoot volley at the far post with Myhill scrambling across. It was a little bit too easy.

City did respond, however, and Barmby got to a high centre from Boateng but saw Howard charge down his shot. Yet the decent effort from the Tigers looked as though it would be really in vin when a soft penalty was given as Myhill and Zayatte both challenged Yakubu in the six yard box. Yakubu tried to dilly and daly with Myhill but in the end City's custodian guessed correctly, diving low to his right to shove the ball away.

The Tigers were inspired and took ruthless advantage of Everton's shellshock to level up. Paul McShane lifted a high free kick into the box and the headed clearance landed on the chest of Cairney who, from 25 yards out, teed up a scrumptious volley into the far corner for his first Premier League goal. And what a beauty it was too.

Parity didn't last long, mind. Victor Anichebe launched an attack down the right before pulling a lo ball back for Osman. Hearing the shout behind him, he flicked an impertinent backheel into the path of Arteta who beat Myhill with a tidy low shot, placed to perfection. City tried to reply again as Bullard and Boateng swapped passes with Zaki to eventually get Garcia into the box with another late run but the chip was too high. A Kilbane long throw then nearly reached a sniffing Barmby in the area but was hacked clear just in time.

Yet a 2-1 half time score was satisfactory, and so was the City display. There was an opportunity here, a big one too. Everton didn't seem to be in top gear but nonetheless there was something further for the Tigers to contribute too, as if they had rediscovered patience and confidence the moment the influential Bullard was back in the fray.

And so the second half was a shocker.

Concerted pressure from Everton for the whole 45 minutes. City barely squeaked in response. The vibe had gone, the togetherness, the desire. It had been sucked dry from them. Heaven knows what was said or done in the changing room at the break as the players re-emerged as people whose footballing nous and heart had not just gone, but looked like it had barely ever existed.

Substitute Jack Rodwell fired across goal with Everton's first opportunity to extend their lead. Yet when that finally happened, it was down to blundering from the City rearguard that will be remembered in horror for many a long year.

Everton forced a corner, and the ricocheting effect of the ball gave Arteta a run to the byline inside the area. He chipped to the far post where Myhill seemed an obvious claimant, especially as no Evertonian was making ground to get on the end of the bll. The City keeper lost its flight at the last moment and the ball struck an unwitting Garcia square on the head and bounced into the net. As ugly an own goal as you could muster. And now it's 3-1.

Brown withdrew Barmby and Bullard - sensible in the long run, but a premature acknowledgement that the game was over, too - and threw on Geovanni and Jozy Altidore. To say that neither were effective would be an understatement, and the Brazilian looked every inch the unenthralled player back from injury that he was. Such was Everton's confidence at this point that Sylvain Distin made a run from the back and exchanged a one two to give him a clear sight of goal, only for Myhill to save.

Then, a kernel of a chance for City. Cairney swung in a free kick and a large number of heads go up but it is Zayatte's that wins the flick. It went over the bar. The next free kick was so poor from Geovanni that the headed clearance by the first man sent Yakubu in on City's goal after a powerful run, though Myhill was equal to his shot.

The abysmal Zaki was then replaced by Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink as both sides carried on strolling. City were strolling through insufficient ability; Everton through not needing to add any pace thanks to their opponents' insufficient ability. It was a car crash.

Yakubu put a good chance wide from substitute Landon Donovan's cross, with the American then finally making it four when Leighton Baines' cross from the left evaded everybody and left him all the time he needed which, as it turns out, wasn't much. It got worse, as Everton then walked, almost literally, through the beleagured and laughable Tigers defence to put Donovan in a similar position, and this time he pulled it back for Rodwell to score with a precise low shot.

Three minutes were added and they couldn't end too soon. The players' lack of appreciation of the supporters - who, like at West Ham United, were distinctly unvocal aside from one element near the rear - will further rankle with Pearson as he and his manager look ahead to Arsenal and decide what is necessary. Aside from personality transplants and a few contracts being ripped up, it's hard to know. What a disastrous day.

There comes a point where you almost want to leave the Premier League. For all the riches and profile it brings, it also brings little enjoyment for teams and supporters who know that year on year each campaign will be the same. Last season's astonishing crash to earth did make the season interesting if not necessarily enjoyable once Christmas had been and gone, but this time round it is a season lacking in craft, sense, collectiveness and away victories. It is quite depressing to think that the Tigers could yet stay up due to two other teams being even worse, and one being in administration. And it's hard to argue for that as a good thing.

Everton: Howard, Heitinga, Baines, Jagielka, Distin, Neville, Arteta, Pienaar (Gosling 85), Osman (Rodwell 44), Yakubu, Anichebe (Donovan 70). Subs not used: Nash, Hibbert, Yobo, Bilyaletdinov.

Hull City
: Myhill, McShane, Kilbane, Zayatte, Mouyokolo, Boateng, Cairney, Bullard (Altidore 62), Barmby (Geovanni 60), Garcia, Zaki (Vennegoor of Hesselink 789). Subs not used: Duke, Cooper, Olofinjana, Ghilas.