Hibbert o.g 16
Everton’s first Premier League game of the festive period ended in a draw – Seamus Coleman’s first half effort levelling Tony Hibbert’s unfortunate own goal that had given West Ham the lead.
The extra few days afforded Everton by the postponement of their Boxing Day clash with Birmingham City did nothing to ease David Moyes’ defensive headache. The absence of Phil Jagielka and his likely centre-back replacement John Heitinga saw Tony Hibbert drafted to an unfamiliar central defensive role, but the right-back performed well considering. With Victor Anichebe also missing, through suspension, Moyes chose to bring Mikel Arteta straight back into the starting XI and employ Tim Cahill as an improvised centre-forward.
For a side containing two defensive midfielders, four full-backs, only two of whom were in their natural position, and no natural strikers, Everton’s attacking play was surprisingly fluid, in the opening 45 minutes at least. The trio of central midfielders were often tidy in possession, working the ball across the pitch tidily and attempting to pull West Ham out of position. The presence of Cahill as the side’s makeshift centre-forward also added to the Toffees’ smooth build-up play, but the Australian is not the sole answer to the team’s goal scoring problem, not least because he will only play once more before leaving for Qatar and the Asian Cup, and Moyes has a few days yet before he can add to his forward line. Cahill’s natural propensity for dropping deep at times emptied the forward area, leaving Everton little choice but to pass the ball in an unthreatening sideways manner.
It was Jack Rodwell who acted as Cahill’s principle support from deeper areas. The teenager has been pushed by Moyes to surge forward with greater regularity, an attempt to exploit the midfielder’s gifts of pace and power. Rodwell, however, can be hesitant in possession, seen when he was robbed inside his own half to provide West Ham with an attack, but while the 19-year-old develops the mental discipline needed to play in the holding role currently occupied by Marouane Fellaini, a more attacking brief suits his game better. Rodwell was replaced just after the hour by Yakubu and while the introduction of the Nigerian at least provided Everton with another body in a forward position, the striker’s impact was minimal and did nothing to suggest the manager was wrong to go without a legitimate forward for the best part of an hour.
With Yakubu barely troubling the West Ham defence, Jermaine Beckford barely getting a run out and Louis Saha only leaving his seat on the bench to warm up, Everton’s main failing is plain to see. Indeed, it has been the same one all season – a severe lack of menace from the forward line. In leaving three fit, first team strikers on the bench and selecting the group of Cahill, Fellaini, Rodwell and Mikel Arteta, Moyes put his faith in the strongest area of his team, the midfield, but the dearth of reliable forwards must be rectified next month.
18 Neville – 2 Hibbert – 15 Distin – 3 Baines
23 Coleman – 10 Arteta – 25 Fellaini – 20 Pienaar
62 – 22 Yakubu on for 26 Rodwell
90 – 16 Beckford on for 20 Pienaar
93 – 7 Bilyaletdinov on for 10 Arteta