Everton Club Focus – Anichebe returns to deliver three points at West Brom

Everton made a winning start to 2012 with a hard-fought victory over West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns. Victor Anichebe returned from injury to score the only goal of the game and stake his claim to be the striker David Moyes has been searching for. The Nigerian’s introduction also marked a change in approach from Moyes, who made the rare decision to play with two strikers for the final half an hour of the match.

It is impossible to say for certain whether the addition of an extra forward was the true catalyst of Everton’s victory – the points might have arrived regardless with a solo centre-forward, there is no way of knowing – but comparing the isolation of Louis Saha to the proximity of Anichebe and fellow substitute Denis Stracqualursi, the Toffees looked a more fierce prospect with that second striker on the field. By having Anichebe and Stracqualursi in tandem there was greater opportunity for link-up play between the two, and the time Anichebe and Stracqualursi spent together created more problems for the West Brom defence than the entirety of Saha’s lone furrow.

An equally beneficial change in Everton’s formation brought on by the switch to 4-4-2 was to put two players in positions more suited to their talents. Tim Cahill went from earnestly trying to support Saha with little success to playing a more conservative central midfield role, perhaps the best use of the Australian now his goal scoring touch has gone missing. Leon Osman was the second player to alter positions, although his switch was much more subtle. The midfielder spent most of the game on the right wing but when Cahill was withdrawn into midfield, a gap behind the strikers was created, to be filled by some dangerous diagonal runs from Osman. The tactical tinkering – and throwing of caution to the wind – reaped rewards on this occasion.

For Anichebe, it was a reminder of the potential he displayed upon first breaking into the senior side in 2006. Just 14 goals have come since then – in 122 appearances, many of them from the bench – and never more than five in a season, as Anichebe struggled to match his gifts of immense strength and above-average speed with adequate technique, consistency and composure. But the second-half strike against the Baggies showed the first and third of those missing qualities. To have the presence of mind to hook the ball – left-footed – towards goal in the middle of a goalmouth scramble, and the technique to do so properly, is something that might have been beyond Anichebe in the past.

Having that sort of impact on a regular basis is now the challenge facing Anichebe. Much of that will depend on the opportunities given to the 23-year-old by Moyes but Everton are clearly in need of a striker, yet finances will largely dictate their success in adding to those forward ranks. If Anichebe is to plug the gap, now is the time to prove it.

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