With 22 minutes played at St. Andrews on Saturday, Everton were sitting pretty, two goals up and comfortable, knocking the ball around with confidence befitting one of the Premier League’s form teams. But before the hour mark was reached, Birmingham had levelled the scores and left a bitter taste in the Toffees’ mouth, the sour flavour of dropping two points. It is hard to find positives in the immediate aftermath of such a happening but in the cold light of day, the identity of Everton’s opening goal scorer should provide a sweet counterbalance to the acidic result.
It was Victor Anichebe who gave David Moyes’ side a dream start, netting after 19 minutes with a vicious left-footed effort that Joe Hart had little hope of stopping. That was the Nigerian international’s first goal of the season since recovering from Kevin Nolan’s horror tackle a year ago, an injury that threatened to derail his promising Everton career. Anichebe’s time at Goodison Park has been one of peaks and valleys, having to endure not only that serious knee problem but also fall-outs with the manager and extended spells on the bench while celebrating some memorable goals, including vital strikes during Everton’s UEFA Cup campaign of 2007/08 which greatly contributed to him being named Everton’s young player of the year that season.
Having made his debut at the age of 17 in January 2006, Anichebe has gone on to feature 87 times for the Blues with 11 goals to his credit. Even at the young age his made his Toffees bow the quality most associated with the No.28 was sheer strength. From his first few games, Anichebe was able to bully defenders twice his age, with his more experienced opponents struggling to dispossess this confident youngster. Watching some impatient centre-backs trying to steal possession from Anichebe was like seeing them attempt to scale a mountain – such was the size of the Lagos-born striker. Having arrived on Merseyside at just a year old, Anichebe had grown into a formidable prospect. In these early years on the pitch, Anichebe was a little raw, a touch rough around the edges but that was to be expected of someone so inexperienced and it was easy to forget his tender age. In many ways, it was this naivety that was so effective, giving him an unorthodox style – almost an Emile Heskey with added skill but less know-how – and defenders at home and on the continent struggled to cope.
If scoring goals in Europe was a sign of Anichebe’s maturity, then a year later the tempestuous nature of youth reared its ugly head in a training ground bust-up between the player and his manager ahead of an FA Cup Merseyside derby replay. Anichebe had been set to move to Hull City on loan in the January transfer window, but injuries to Everton’s other striking options saw the plug pulled and reportedly led to the striker declaring himself unfit to train just 24 hours before the match with Liverpool. Anichebe did miss the game that has gone down in Everton folklore as the ‘Gosling derby’, but denied claims he swore at Moyes and had to be escorted from the club’s Finch Farm training ground. This was the time period when the Blues’ striking options were so limited Moyes was forced to call on Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini as a makeshift front pair – to some success – and Anichebe’s alleged spat did not make life any easier for the former Preston North End boss.
Whatever the realities of the incident, the precocious centre-forward was soon forgiven and played a vital role in helping Everton’s FA Cup campaign, starting from the left-wing in a 3-1 quarter-final triumph over Aston Villa, setting up Cahill’s clinching third goal. After seemingly getting his Goodison career back on track, it was a cruel blow when his season ended prematurely at St. James Park just a week later. Serious injuries to Phil Jagielka and Mikel Arteta overshadowed Anichebe’s progress but he returned to action in late January, playing the last few minutes of a 2-0 win over Sunderland. He has featured regularly since then, nominally from a right-wing berth, and has retained the boxer-like build that catapulted him to early success. The year lost through injury halted the development of his all-round game however, and he would certainly benefit from a year of regular football on loan with a Championship club, if a place cannot be guaranteed at Goodison. Everton’s academy is something of a strikers production line and if he fulfils his potential, Anichebe could be one of the best.