Pedestrian Everton Stroll into Fifth Round; Fulham Watch Passively
And that’s about it. A relatively out-of-form Everton, considerably weakened in central defense, and featuring two central attackers with a total of one goal between them, had little trouble in knocking Fulham out of the FA Cup. The Mighty Whites can now go about ensuring their 17th place finish. Sad, really, because I’m running out of years to see Fulham run out at Wembley, and I honestly thought we had a good shot against this side today.
Zamora and Senderos made way for Ruiz and Hughes, but this was actually a pretty creative side. It just didn’t create much. As was the case last weekend, the only Fulham player to look threatening in the first half was Duff. Dempsey was largely anonymous, Ruiz spent too much time in the wrong half, and Our Late President seemed to have lost his close-control touch. Everybody looked as if they were doing the right thing, but nothing seemed to quite work out. Kelly and Riise were – frankly – useless in supporting the attack, and Baird and Murphy were not filling out their career highlight reels. Someone – Murphy? Hughes? Godzilla? – presented Duff with a good scoring opportunity, but the ball richocheted off Heitinga’s hand for a cor … oops; Howard Webb called the penalty. Murphy converted, and we were up 1-0. Whee!
We looked more dangerous in the second half, but it was one of those days when the killer pass was just a little over- or under-cooked, the runner zigged when the passer thought he would zag, and all like that. Zamora picked us up after Duff had run his buns off, but there wasn’t a player out there in any uniform to frighten the socks off any defense in the league. Ruiz had the chance to bag two goals and at least one assist, but it would be churlish to single him out for his poor aim, since he was actually – you know – attacking.
I haven’t talked about the defense yet, and here’s why. Hughes cemented Senderos’s ownership of the job of Hangeland’s partner. He could barely get off the ground, he was hesitant in his penalty area, and his passing was – with one or two exceptions – abysmal. He also was very easily beaten for Everton’s first. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see him start for the rest of the season. Kelly was an adequate defender at RB, but seemingly lost the ability to clear a ball upfield to anyone or anything that wasn’t either a touch line or a blue shirt. And Riise? Well, remember how I complained in late September that although JAR had been with the club for two months, he still played as if it were his first match? Well, the same was true today. His close marking was poor; his passing out of defense was marginal, and he started the flurry of 43 corners in a row that finally resulted in the equalizer by heading out probably the worst free kick in Leighton Baines’s career while under no pressure at all. Yes, with both heels on the back line, he played a ball that was going out.
Stockdale, meanwhile, looked as if he were making his first-team debut. He was hesitant, apparently not in control of the penalty area, often out of position, and – judging by the look on his face – at least somewhat in shock. Even his great reflex save off Cahill went straight up in the air and nearly was converted by the same player. Of the back five, only Hangeland played as if he were a Premier League player.
By contrast – well, when you look at it, there wasn’t much contrast. Everton’s back four was easily turned and twisted, and their attack was sporadic. Their Argentine striker had a good match [no, I'm NOT going to attempt to spell his name], Donovan was more than useful, but the player who most stood out was Fellaini. He did a wonderful imitation of a 1970s NBA player doing a wonderful imitation of Yaya Toure. He won everything in his area and directed the Everton attack brilliantly. He was the difference maker for the entire 90 minutes, so it was only fair that he got the winner. So Everton go on and we go out – the THIRD cup competition we have exited in a match with too little skill and the same amount of effort.
Oh, Marcello Trotta trotta’d on for a late debut. My first thought was, “Jeez, he’s a big fella.” My second thought was, “Why is he afraid of the ball when he has it in the opponent’s penalty area?”
Good substitutions by Jol – even the American calling the match recognized that the Sidwell for Baird substitution was important because, once we’re chasing the game, we might have to have a tactical foul, and Baird was already on a yellow. Speaking of the Americans, the FSC announcing team spent too much time talking about them. But, since I’m a Yank, let me run it through. Dempsey got into good attacking positions four times in the second half, and might have scored off a cross from Ruiz, but all that was in the second half. I wonder how he might have done had he worked that hard in the first. Howard had an average match for him, but he looked like Gordon Banks in comparison to Stockdale. He had less of a chance of stopping Murphy’s penalty than Stockdale had stopping either of Everton’s goals. Donovan – much to the chagrin of Americans on Fulham sites – was easily the SECOND best player on the pitch. He twisted Riise into a braid and wore him around his wrist. The Toffees are going to scramble when his loan period ends.
Finally, here’s a question for our manager. Why on God’s Green Earth did you sign a left back with a very useful left foot if you’re not going to give him a chance to beat Phil Bleedin’ Neville to the touch line and then cross? Why must he ALWAYS check back and pass poorly with his right?
HatterDon’s Man of the Match – The one guy who didn’t do too much wrong: Brede Hangeland. Honorable mention for Damian Duff and nobody else.
GREAT PROPS TO THE TRAVELERS, who had me singing along with them more than once.
COYW and Get Well Soon, Mark.