Everton FC Analysis: Darron Gibson proven to be the unsung hero as Blues slip to defeat after Irishman is injured
THE plaudits at Everton tend to go to Marouane Fellaini these days. Or David Moyes, or Steven Pienaar, or Nikica Jelavic. Blues fans have plenty of heroes to hang their hat on at the moment.
At West Bromwich Albion, though, we saw the importance of a player whose contribution is often overlooked. Darron Gibson’s exit from the game, 20 minutes in, was as vital as it was unwelcome for Moyes’ side.
With the Irishman pulling the strings in midfield, Everton had bossed the opening exchanges against Steve Clarke’s confident, well-drilled Baggies side.
The former Manchester United man’s reputation is for flashy long-distance strikes, but it is his simple, accurate passing and his subtle positional awareness which really gets Everton playing.
Always available to receive the ball from his defenders, and always on hand to pick up loose balls dropping in central areas, and never shy of the physical battle, Gibson had ensured the visitors spent the early stages of this game on the front foot. Phil Neville, in particular, saw plenty of the ball as it was worked smartly through midfield and out to the flanks.
A thigh injury soon curtailed that scheme. Gibson’s fitness will be assessed at Finch Farm this week. The hope is that the muscle damage is minimal. Everton have two weeks until their next Premier League match against Newcastle. They would love to welcome him back for that.
Once he had departed at The Hawthorns, the Blues’ game-plan began to unravel. Neither Neville nor Leon Osman enjoyed the best of afternoons, as they struggled in the face of the muscularity of Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob, Albion’s excellent central midfield pairing.
With Fellaini also struggling to replicate his early-season form, and frustrated by referee Jon Moss consistently ruling against him in aerial duels, Everton struggled to find any kind of rhythm. Jelavic is a striker who has made a living from converting half chances; here he didn’t even get that.
Fellaini did. The Belgian’s 63rd-minute miss was a howler on first viewing, and got worse with every replay. The fact that West Brom went up the other end and grabbed the lead through Shane Long within 90 seconds merely compounded matters. Everton rarely threatened to bounce back after that, Fellaini, off colour, ended the game with a yellow card to his name after a cynical hack on Long, and having ignored the run of Gareth McAuley at a corner, allowing the Albion defender to clinch his side the points.
Moyes could not conceal his disappointment afterwards, and it is little wonder. Momentum has been growing at Goodison Park over a productive summer, and a strong start to the Premier League season. The manager will have been surprised to see such a flat showing from his side.
There will, of course, be an inquest. Neville tweeted soon after the final whistle of how it would be a long two weeks until Newcastle arrive at Goodison, whilst Pienaar labelled the game as his worst in a blue shirt.
Such introspection should be expected. Moyes has assembled a side of consummate professionals, a side which, increasingly, believes it belongs in the Premier League’s upper reaches.
West Brom may have started the season well – they have now taken points off Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton in their opening three games – but this looked a winnable fixture prior to kick-off, and there was little from Albion in the first hour to suggest otherwise.
Consistency is key. It is 19 years since Everton began their league campaign with three straight wins, a surprising statistic for a club of their size. They may need to convince themselves they can compete with the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal, neither of whom have begun the season particularly well.
Moyes insisted afterwards that a return of six points from their opening three games – two of them away from home – represented a solid start. He has a point, but nine from nine would have been better, and it was very much attainable too.
And so Everton will prepare for their long fortnight. Moyes will hope his international contingent can negotiate their assorted World Cup qualifiers in that period, but it will be the fitness of Gibson which will concern him most. Ireland may not need him, but Everton most certainly do.
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