Today sees the visit of a high-flying Everton side to Upton Park. The last time we played them in the Premier League was about a month short of two years ago, and it was an action packed affair at Goodison Park. It was one away day that kept me on a high for weeks to come.
The match finished 2-2 in January 2011 under the watchful eye of an under pressure Avram Grant. Rumours were rife of a departure for Grant, but despite this the team put in a fantastic effort. It was without doubt one of the best games of football I’ve seen in the flesh. Of course, Everton played their part too although at times the home crowd became agitated, which is always promising for an away team.
I’ve always rated Everton as a club, both on the field and off it. I have a massive amount of respect for David Moyes, who is the third longest-serving manager in the Premier League, which these days is a great achievement in itself. Goodison Park is also a brilliant “old-fashioned” stadium, one which it would be a shame to update too much. They also have fantastic talent both then and now. Unlikely striker Jonathan Spector opened the scoring after 26 minutes and we battled to keep our lead until the 77th minute when Bilyaletdinov (easy for you to say!) made it 1-1. This made for an even more end-toend finish to the game.
As late as the 84th minute, Freddie Piquionne made it 2-1, and boy did we celebrate! Piquionne came running over to the West Ham fans in the Bullens Road Stand and took a running jump in to the sea of arms. What made it even better for me? Well, I was only about two feet away from the action. Obviously I reached over for a celebratory touch, but didn’t quite get there. That’s what it’s all about – players celebrating with the fans, and what a moment it was for all of us situated close enough to be part of the action. Not only that, we got to see ourselves on Match of the Day!
Of course, what followed somewhat dampened the spirits. The stupid rules of football led Piquionne to receive a second yellow card for “overcelebrating” and he was swiftly sent-off. Bah humbug! To really dampen the winning mood, who else but Fellaini levelled the scoring to 2-2 with a sweet strike, which left us still firmly rooted to bottom of the league.
This, I guess, leads us nicely on to what could happen in today’s challenge (should Fellaini be playing), because Fellaini is arguably one of the best players in the Premier League at the moment. Not only is Fellaini terrifying defenders of all experience levels, he is putting in a work rate that is second to none. It seems as though he can’t be praised highly enough at the moment for his footballing skill (if not for his recent conduct against Stoke), and he is a real asset in a team that are rightfully challenging for a place in Europe.
Everton will be boosted by recent results that saw them appear in the Champions League positions two weeks ago. The celebrations at Goodison against Spurs showed just what it means to the club, so they will be no pushover for us. This could be one of our most challenging ties of the season so far. We may have beaten Chelsea, got a point out of Man City and put in great efforts against Man United and Liverpool, but Everton are a well-organised side with a lot to prove. They have real stars like Nikica Jelavić, Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar to name but a few, and with the vital Christmas period maybe helping Everton to clinch fourth spot, they will be more determined than ever.
We can, of course, put up a good resistance. Without wishing to sound too negative, maybe a draw will be a good result to get today – not necessarily playing for a point for 90 minutes, but remaining solid at the back and taking the chances we might get. We have shown that we can be defensively sound, so we just need to make sure that no silly and costly mistakes happen today. Just as Everton are determined to be in the top four at the end of 2012, we are also hoping that we can be in the top half of the division, so keeping up with those around us now will be an advantage going into 2013. Today, for the sake of my Fantasy League team, I would appreciate goals from Jelavić and Pienaar, but of course that means we get to win 3-2 and everyone’s a winner!