EVERTON FC paid dearly once again for wasting a string of chances as Norwich City grabbed a late equaliser at Goodison Park.
Having taken a first-half lead the Blues looked to have done enough to earn a hard-fought three points against Chris Hughton's side, but there was always the chance they would be made to regret several squandered opportunities to seal victory.
And so it was again, as Sebastien Bassong's 90th minute header denied Everton the chance to stay on the heels of West Brom in the mix for fourth spot in the Premier Leagye table.
Just one win in their last seven games suggests that early season optimisim has stalled for now, and with a string of tough fixtures ahead of them David Moyes must hope his side can become both more ruthless in front of goal and defensively robust.
Everton had made two changes from the side which lost after taking the lead at the Madjeski stadium last weekend. With Marouane Fellaini suspended Bryan Oviedo started on the left flank, and a late injury to Seamus Coleman meant a defensive re-jig with Sylvain Distin returning to partner John Heitinga, and Phil Jagielka deployed at right back.
There were no signs of disjointed jitters though, as the hosts quickly carved out the game’s first chance when Leon Osman turned smartly and flashed a left-footed shot just wide of John Ruddy’s post.
And fears that those various changes to Moyes’ personnel would have a detrimental effect on their football were proven further unfounded when Everton took the lead in stylish fashion on 12 minutes. Thomas Hitzlsperger, starting his second game, scooped a pinpoint pass to Bryan Oviedo and the Costa Rican international ghosted past Steven Whittaker and picked out Steven Naismith who had made a clever late run, and the Scotland international side footed emphatically home.
The Blues took control but as their half-chances mounted, it quickly became imperative that they double their lead or risk a repeat of the reverse at Reading. Nikica Jelavic played a deft pass to Naismith who was denied by Ruddy coming quickly off his line, then the Croatian was spared the embarrassment when he steered a simple header wide from Hitzlsperger’s corner as referee Mike Jones spotted an infringement.
Half time came with no further advantage for the hosts and in the second Ruddy thwarted his old side again when Leighton Baines shimmied past a string of yellow shirts to go through on goal and sting the keeper’s hands. Then Osman rolled a shot across the face of goal as the missed chances ominously increased.
Grant Holt went close at the Park end with a thumping header, and the nerves around Goodison weren’t eased when the Blues broke and Naismith only had to slide a simple pass across to a supporting Jelavic who would surely have scored but the Scot crossed wildly instead and saw his delivery trickle out for a goal kick.
Sure enough their wastefulness was punished. Baines fouled substitute Steve Morison, and Javier Garrido sent in an inviting free kick which Howard failed to deal with and as Heitinga slumbered, Sebastien Bassong stole past him and scored with a header.
It was a calamitous ending and if Moyes was angry in Berkshire last weekend, his temper will certainly not have dulled on Merseyside this evening.