The identity of the scorer of Everton’s winning goal against West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday may have raised a few eyebrows, but the reaction of the same player to being dropped for the last two Premier League games will not. Having lost out to Tony Hibbert in David Moyes’s first XI in recent weeks, Phil Neville returned to the fold for the League Cup and netted a spectacular extra time winner to put the Toffees into the next round.
Neville’s reaction to his exclusion was in stark contrast to that of Louis Saha. While the manager has brushed off the striker’s response – and it really was on the minor end of the scale of player strops – Neville, as prolific a tweeter as his French teammate, maintained a dignified silence ensuring that the manager was not forced to answer any more awkward questions. Such a professional response was not a surprise for the consummate professional who must have been as frustrated as Saha at watching from the sidelines. However, given that prior to the Aston Villa game Everton’s start to the season had been distinctly underwhelming, few could argue that changes needed to be made. The performances – and results – since suggest Moyes made the right moves.
It is a sign of Neville’s desire to be victorious that he popped up on the edge of the West Brom penalty area so late in the game – having played nearly two hours of football – and a sign of his quality that he had the initiative to shoot when Royston Drenthe rolled the ball in his direction. Neville may not score many – only five in 236 Everton appearances – but when he does find the net, his goals are invariably stunning. Witness the searing drive at the tail end of last season against Wolverhampton Wanderers for further proof. But this effort came with Neville’s left foot, flashing past Baggies goalkeeper Martin Fulop in an instant and giving Everton a win they eventually deserved, although when the winning goal finally came, it was completely out of place with the rather turgid play that came before it.
That sort of ground-out win may be something Everton have to get used to in coming weeks, facing as they do Manchester City away, Liverpool at home, Chelsea away and Manchester United at home before the end of October. Results against the same opposition last season were mostly encouraging but they largely came in the form of hard-fought, backs-against-the-wall performances rather than anything more fluid. Considering the form shown by both halves of Manchester in the embryonic season Everton may have to dig even deeper, but whether Neville is in the starting line-up or given another watching brief, the leadership of the club captain will be vital to the Toffees’ cause. Neville may not be the most technically-gifted player at Goodison Park but there are few who can match the same dedication and determination of the former Manchester United player, now firmly in the blue corner.
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