David Moyes kept faith in the same XI that started Wednesday’s defeat against Arsenal, with Jack Rodwell again the chief aide to Saha. The Frenchman’s goals will take most of the attention but what should not be lost is the all-round contribution of Saha, and that of Rodwell, Marouane Fellaini and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, each of whom impressed for the home side on a frantic afternoon made more treacherous by the persistent pouring rain. But in a game that swung back and forth as both sides searched for a win not even the awful conditions could ruin the entertainment.
Everton deserved the win but Blackpool played a full part in the thrilling fare on show. The Seasiders brought their usual swagger and, after going 2-1 down early in the second half, switched to a front five that Everton struggled to cope with. Indeed, for parts of the game the Blues failed to truly dominate and even as the fixture entered the last few minutes Ian Holloway’s side still powered forward, pushing in vain for a way back into the tie. In truth, it took two Everton mistakes to turn the score from 2-1 in the Toffees’ favour to 3-2 to Blackpool – John Heitinga pulled out of a challenge before Sylvain Distin fell over on the half-way line – but the newly promoted side took full advantage with lightning breaks, as both times the ball was in the Everton net seconds later.
Against a side less wide open than Blackpool those errors would have been punished even more harshly by the deprivation of victory, but fortunately for Everton the Tangerines were equally vulnerable and Everton had a striker to capitalise. Saha has veered from excelling to exasperating at times this season but his display here was possibly his best in nearly three years as an Everton player – even if the No 8 had not been on the score sheet it still would have been a noteworthy performance. But equally important was the service Saha was provided, all from the left of Everton’s attack, by various combinations of Rodwell, Bilyaletdinov and Leighton Baines. If Moyes’ forwards had this kind of supply since August the manager would not have scoured the January market for a new addition.
Until Saturday, however, Saha had only scored five goals all season, but by nearly doubling his tally in one afternoon the 32-year-old reminded any doubters why Manchester United paid over £12m for him in 2004, and why Everton tolerate the injuries and enigmatic performances. With the right service, and in the right frame of mind, Saha is still lethal. Supported by the improving pair of Bilyaletdinov and Rodwell, the elegant Fellaini and the returning Tim Cahill, Saha could yet fire Everton further up the league, as Blackpool found to their cost in a sensational encounter.
18 Neville – 5 Heitinga – 15 Distin – 3 Baines
23 Coleman – 25 Fellaini – 10 Arteta – 7 Bilyaletdinov
70 – 17 Cahill on for 7 Bilyaletdinov
70 – 16 Beckford on for 26 Rodwell
86 – 6 Jagielka on for 8 Saha