Everton drew 1-1 with Birmingham City in a game where the hosts fell behind and then, once they had drawn level, spent the rest of the match camped in the visitors’ half but struggle to break down the resolute defence of Alex McLeish’s side.
John Heitinga replaced Phil Neville in Everton’s only change from the team that beat Newcastle United 2-1 on Saturday, while Birmingham made a raft of alterations from the XI that lost to West Bromwich Albion at the weekend. Both sides were forced into further switches in the early stages as Mikel Arteta and David Bentley were each withdrawn due to injuries. And with Everton lacking the craft to open up Birmingham’s defence as the game wore on, it was the Carling Cup winners that coped best with their loss, taking the lead within 10 minutes.
Jean Beausejour gave Birmingham the lead after 17 minutes with a header past Tim Howard, but Everton were not behind long as Heitinga placed a spectacular 20-yard effort into the top corner just after the half hour. It was a timely reminder from the Dutchman that he was on the pitch since the World Cup finalist was anonymous before and largely ineffective after, failing to offer the kind of support the bright Jack Rodwell needed as the young midfielder dominated possession but was hamstrung by a lack of movement around him. Leon Osman, the most impressive player on the field, was consistently looking to break forward from his, left midfield role and Leighton Baines was his usual bundle of energy, but threat from a more central attacking player was too seldom seen.
If the first-half was an even affair, the second was overwhelmingly tilted in Everton’s favour, in terms of possession and territory at least, if not clear-cut chances on goal. Those that Everton did create were half-sights at best as Birmingham were content to defend from their 18-yard line and had only Cameron Jerome and later Nikola Zigic to trouble the Toffees defence. Both Jermaine Beckford and Louis Saha had opportunities that they should have done better with, the former twisting and turning his way into a more difficult angle, while the latter hesitated and had his effort blocked by Jordan Mutch. As Everton persisted and pumped balls forward they became bogged down 30-yards from the Birmingham goal and the forward’s movement stagnated, leading to frustration from the stands and on the pitch.
The draw undoubtedly does Birmingham more favours than Everton, taking them out of the relegation zone on goal difference from West Ham and closing the gap from West Brom, Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers to a single point. Everton also move up a place in the table, five points behind Liverpool in the last European place and six from the bottom three, almost the very definition of mid-table. As the season progresses, Everton must replace Arteta’s creativity to end the campaign on a high, while Birmingham need more of the same committed defending to avoid the drop.