Everton Club Focus – Anichebe again the substitute hero but starting problems continue

Victor Anichebe scored his third Premier League goal of the season against Wigan Athletic last weekend and each of the Nigerian forward’s strikes have come away from Goodison Park. While the Toffees Academy product did find the net on his own turf in the Carling Cup against Sheffield United, since returning from injury there has undoubtedly been a great disparity between the impact Anichebe has made on his travels and that made in front of his own fans.

That may of course be mere coincidence. Indeed, a more telling statistic is that Anichebe’s league goals have each come when he has entered the fray as a second-half substitute. Against West Bromwich Albion, at the Hawthorns, on New Year’s Day, Anichebe replaced Louis Saha just after the hour mark and scored the only goal of the game in the 87th minute. Against Aston Villa, at Villa Park, Anichebe came on for Royston Drenthe with an hour played and levelled the scores within eight minutes, and against Wigan on Saturday, Anichebe was called upon with nine minutes to play and scored with practically his first touch.

It is a far cry from Anichebe’s contributions when given a starting berth. Against Tottenham Hotspur he was anonymous, but then so were most of his teammates. At home to Blackburn Rovers Anichebe was again included from the off and was again effectively absent on another bad day for the Blues, while against Tamworth, in the FA Cup, Anichebe was one of a number of Everton players who flattered to deceive against lower league opposition. This presents a second recurring theme – not only does Anichebe have a much greater impact on proceedings as a substitute than when starting, but if the rest of the team is not performing, Anichebe appears incapable of providing the spark to kick the side into gear.

At 23, it could be argued that Anichebe should be capable of more than brief, dramatic cameo appearances. Just examining the player’s age however fails to tell the full story of his career. Between 2009-10 and 2010-11 Anichebe played fewer than 30 games for Everton, much of those as a substitute, through a combination of non-selection and, especially, injury, including the 11 months spent on the sidelines after a tackle by Kevin Nolan. This has all contributed to make Anichebe a player much more versed in late entry to a game than starting from the very beginning, perhaps explaining just why the Lagos-born attacker struggles when starting but less so when he comes off the bench.

There is no easy solution to Anichebe’s quandary. One beneficial path may be to spend next season on loan in the Championship, playing regularly, adapting to the rigours of regular starts and improving on the consistency that has eluded him so far in his Everton career. Such an idea has rarely been seriously contemplated given Everton’s perennial shortage of strikers but the signing of Nikica Jelavic and potential summer additions could provide a temporary exit strategy for Anichebe, allowing him to return a much more rounded player.

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