Date: 14th February 2011 at 12:55pm
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Simply awesome. That is all I have to say about my Valentine’s meal with Mrs X, brought forward a day due to my having to drive back to Manchester tonight. A nice bit of baked camembert, some beef bourguignon and a bit of crème brûlée. I know it all seems a bit 1970’s, but I highly recommend it if you are having difficulty thinking what to make for your beloved tonight. If you are into that kind of thing. I never like to presume.

Prior to the meal, we sat down to watch the game, Mrs X translating for me whenever Jamie Carragher spoke. A strong team was named by St Owen, with the inclusion of Elmander on the right not exactly a surprise but still making the team look a little lopsided.

The game started well, very well. Bolton were camped in Everton’s half for so long they could have set up a tent and a flag and got the coffee out. Sturridge set his marker up early when winning a corner that the English Cahill nodded over. Sam Ricketts, after his near miss against Wolves, meandered forward with the ball before shanking a shot wide, SuperKevinDavies was giving the Everton defence a torrid time chasing every ball and was followed by every member of the team, Mark Davies and Stuart Holden claming the midfield from Arteta and the Aussie Cahill.

It is at times like this that goals need to be scored, something that we usually have problems doing. When we did, it came with a bit of fortune. Paul Robinson and Anichebe came together but it was no more than a clearance by the Everton striker. Lee Probert, the antitheses of Mark Clusterberg, gave the softest of free kicks. Matty Taylor swung the ball into the box and Gary Cahill, from a starting position of just outside the box, wandered in and glanced a header off Johnny Heitinga, which wrongfooted Tim Howard. A goal ahead and totally deserved.

After that first ten minutes, it was obvious that we would sit back a little and allow Everton into the game. Elmander received the only card of the game shortly after for sliding in on Baines but Tim Cahill’s free kick was woeful.

Baines and Cahill then linked up for what was probably the visitors best chance and showed the problem with Elmander playing on the right but, as it quickly turned out, licence to move inside. The England left back swept down the left and played over a great cross. If Tim Cahill had had anything about him he would have dived for the ball. As it was he swung a lazy foot at it, didn’t connect and the ball bounded harmlessly wide.

While Everton were having a lot of the ball, they weren’t able to do anything with it in the final third and when the ball did find its way across the half way line, the forward line ran after it, no matter whether it was a lost cause. This was epitomised by Sturridge running down Tim Howard, causing him to screw a clearance.

Soon after, a collective breath was drawn. Arteta played a defence splitting pass and Anichebe ran through. After him, long legs pumping, was Zat Knight and, as Anichebe shaped to shoot, Zat got in front of him. As he did his leg buckled underneath him and then Anichebe seemed to fall on it. Zat may not be having the best of times, but he doesn’t stay down unless he needs to. A few minutes of intensive physio followed before he tried to run on his leg. He immediately went down again and had to be stretchered off to an ovation. Lying on the stretcher, he applauded back. Everyone then applauded David Wheater on for his league debut.

The rest of the half was more of the same. Bolton ceding possession to Everton but defending well, Wheater slotting in nicely next to Cahill. When Everton did get through, they found Jussi alert, especially when sliding out of the area to deny Coleman but needing to let go of the ball. However, this was the most he had had to do in the first half, no shot bothering him to the extent that he had to make what you can call a ‘save’.

During the half time break, Ray Winstone advised us that Everton were 13/2 to win. I almost spat out my Peroni and had a go at the screen, but then remembered that it was Ray Winstone and that he WILL eventually find you, so I let it lie.

The home team started the second half better without making many inroads. Fellaini, the only man in the Premier League who can challenge SuperKevinDavies for fouls, fouled Sturridge, but Matty Taylor’s free kick found nothing but the wall from a promising position. Getting the ball out of the danger area, Fellaini appeared to use his hand to move Stuart Holden’s face out of the way. It was clear that the Belgian had no idea where Holden was, but I’ve seen them given. Soon after the same player won a corner and, for the first time in the game, the away side looked up for it. However, the defence stood firm, Jussi plucking a couple of corners and crosses out of the sky.

A second change came and, although Lee came on, it was Matty Taylor making way, with Elmander moving to the left. Whether this was to confuse Everton or not, it seemed to wrestle the game back into Bolton’s favour, especially when Everton responded by taking off Bilyaletdinov and Coleman and replacing them with Beckford and Osman.

The effectiveness of the substitutions came to fruition six minutes later. Gary Cahill challenged for the ball that caused the ball to spin into the air. Chung-Yong Lee challenged for the ball and fed it on a plate for Sturridge who lashed the ball into the net with his left foot. Three games, three goals and more of an impact than the watching Jack Wilshere initially made.

The game then degenerated into little more than niggly fouls and wasted crosses. Bolton thought that they had scored a third when Sturridge made his way past an Everton defender but his touch was heavy. He still seemed to have caught it on the dead ball line and backheeled it into the path of Stuart Holden who lashed in a third. To the naked eye, it did seem that Sturridge had caught the ball but replays showed that it had just, just, gone over the line.

Everton finally called Jussi into some sort of action as Jose Baxter, on for the tiring Anichebe, flashed a shot across the goal. It looked like it was just going wide, but Jussi wasn’t to know that and pulled off a save to his right. Elmander then had his own chance from the left after SuperKev had teed him up, but the Swede put too much fade on it and it went wide.

And that was that. With a minute left, Sturridge came off to a standing ovation, to be replaced by Muamba and the whistle came shortly after.

All in all, a well deserved win. David Moyes has lamented that this was the worst he has seen Everton play in his time there. But, even if this is the case, they weren’t allowed to play by a hardworking Bolton side. Since the game against Chelsea, they seem to have been shocked out of their torpor and are now beginning to play something like they did before Christmas. Sturridge has brought a new dimension to the side, his running allowing Mark Davies (as highlighted in MOTD2) to come forward more, which allows Stuart Holden more of a holding role.

Elmander’s move to the left seemed a bit bizarre when Lee came on, but it proved effective. Elmander has always been a willing runner so adding this new facet to his game, whatever the issues over his contract may be, can only be a good thing. What it says for Martin Petrov remains to be seen.

The injury to Zat Knight appears not to be as serious as it could be, but David Wheater slotted in nicely next to Gary Cahill, passing well, positioning well and bringing the ball out of defence when needed. He now has two or three games to bed himself in and it remains to be seen whether Zat claims his place back. Zat did still appear to be playing like someone who has been smacked over the head just before the game before his injury, but the run to block off Anichebe reminded us of his play last year.

If we can take this form into the cup game on Wednesday then we shouldn’t have too much to worry about. The only worry is that Sturridge is cup tied.

 

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