Jerome 26 Gardner 52
Anichebe 19 Yakubu 22
The atmosphere surrounding St.Andrew’s before, and during the tie, was one of tentative expectation. After the end to 2009, each game is entered with positivity and ardent confidence by Alex McLeish’s Blues. The Scot has instilled that belief into his side but, unfortunately for Birmingham, McLeish’s adversary David Moyes has seen his side discover a new found confidence and the first twenty minutes typified everything Everton have been since the turn of the year.
With the Merseysiders’ particularly large travelling support also expecting a good result, Moyes’ men began strongly creating two good chances that were only kept out by the ever impressive Joe Hart. Calls of ‘England’s number one’ were subsequently heard from the Birmingham fans but soon after, potential England hopeful Hart was beaten by a stunning 19th minute Victor Anichebe finish. The striker, who was played out wide and successfully bullied Liam Ridgewell, turned smartly and smashed a left-footed effort into the top corner. If the Birmingham fans were despondent at that point, their disappointment was worsened after more slack and lazy defending. Steven Piennar, arguably Everton’s most creative outlet, was allowed to cross from the right, which Yakubu had the simple task of nodding in from a yard out. After 23 minutes, to say that it was not the start McLeish would have wanted would be an understatement, with his side looking devoid of any ideas while being out-passed by a neat Everton outfit.
Positioned next to each other in the league, this game was the perfect opportunity for both sides to state their claim as the best of the rest outside the dominant seven teams in this year’s league. Moyes must have been thinking that his side were a shoo-in to take all three points with relative ease after such an impressive start to the match. However, Birmingham then depicted exactly what they are all about, after gradually introducing themselves into the game as an attacking entity, Birmingham’s Keith Fahey created an outside chance for Cameron Jerome, one which he duly accepted, albeit with a certain amount of luck. The faintest of touches was enough to distract Tim Howard and suddenly Birmingham had found a way back into the game. The crowd were reinvigorated and earlier efforts to berate the Birmingham defence and in particular the suspect Ridgewell, were instead channelled their efforts into making things as inhospitable for the Everton players as possible. Although Birmingham could not draw level by half-time, Alex McLeish’s team talk would have been far easier.
Seven frantic minutes in to the second half, Birmingham born Craig Gardner made his first contribution of the game with a stunning left-footed snap-shot from just outside the penalty box. Birmingham had drawn level and although they were slightly lucky to have scored twice after offering little else, their endurance and sustained commitment to the cause was worthy of such a result. Unfortunately, after the equaliser, the game digressed in quality and turned in to a battle of the middle. Mikel Arteta tried his best to engineer something for Everton but neither side could successfully break down one another and the game drew to an anti-climatic end. Nonetheless, Birmingham and Everton will have left the ground relatively satisfied. For Birmingham, it was another game that showed they can compete with the league’s best, and for Everton, they had come to a difficult ground and although they lost a two-goal lead, a point at Birmingham should never be sniffed at.