Arteta 72, Pienaar 89
Second-half goals from Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar saw off Bolton Wanderers and gave Everton three points on a wet and grey afternoon at Goodison Park in a game that, for the most part, was almost as bad as the weather. The home side were uncharacteristically sloppy in possession while Bolton’s resolute defending and constant pressing made for a good away performance but not much of a spectacle.
Wanderers’ game plan was ultimately undone in the 70th minute when Gretar Steinsson was sent off for tripping Yakubu as the Nigerian raced clean through on goal. Arteta netted the resulting free-kick and from then on there was only one winner, but for much of the prior hour or so Owen Coyle’s side denied the Blues the time or space to play the slick football that has become their trademark and went close to opening the scoring themselves. The efforts of Bolton were only a contributory factor to Everton’s malaise, with the Toffees’ own lack of focus the root cause of what threatened to be a frustrating day. Arteta in particular must have mis-controlled the ball nearly as much in this one game as in his whole Everton career previous.
Both teams’ seasons are looking likely to peter out in a blaze of mid-table mediocrity, with Everton’s hopes of European football looking slim despite Birmingham City’s defeat at the hands of Sunderland, while Bolton now sit eight points clear of the relegation zone and, barring a collapse of epic proportions, will be back for another Premier League outing come August. David Moyes – about to celebrate eight years in charge of Everton – has rarely led his side into the closing months of the season with little to play for and will find the final eight games of the campaign only slightly more tolerable than if the Blues were fighting for their top-flight status. But for a disjointed start to the season, Everton would be squarely in the Champions League mix thanks to their post-New Year form.
Bolton, conversely, have gone through a spell of inconsistent results since Coyle’s appointment – indeed, Wanderers currently sit 10th in the Premier League form table, about as inconsistent as it is possible to get. On Saturday’s evidence, Coyle is smartly ensuring his Trotters team is difficult to break down away from home while using the intelligent hold-up play of Kevin Davies to launch counter-attacks. On-loan Jack Wilshere has provided the Whites with a much-needed burst of skill, flitting about the field with pace and taking up dangerous positions. All the youngster lacks is the experience to make the most of his promising situations, cutting in from the left in a manner reminiscent of Everton’s own pocket-sized dynamo, the South African Pienaar.
Despite their defeat, Wanderers can be proud of their performance – in fact, the only negative of Bolton’s day was the needless Munich air disaster songs, aimed at Everton’s former Manchester United players, emanating from the away section. On the field, Everton were asked to break Bolton down and failed to do so until Steinsson was dismissed, but this result keeps the Blues on the fringes of the European places while doing little damage to Bolton’s safety hopes. With just pride to play for, both teams can be proud of their performance here.