EVERTON employed tactics borne out of realism and Jack Rodwell was their leading pragmatist. Manager David Moyes sent his side to Manchester City on Saturday lunch time with the target of stifling the Premier League’s second most prolific attack whilst maintaining the hope his makeshift frontline could muster a goal.
The Blues’ boss made no apologies for his strategy and rightly so.
As much as it annoyed the home side and their fans it was one which gave an Everton team, so far removed from the luxury of riches at Eastlands, the best chance of levelling the playing field and making it eight wins in nine against City.
The linchpin to the Blues boss’ masterplan was Rodwell, a player who has struggled to find definition in the Everton midfield since his senior debut against AZ in Alkmaar in 2007.
Injuries have played a significant role in the 20-year-old’s inability to hold down a starting place however recent signs – the departure of Mikel Arteta providing greater opportunities being a help – are that Rodwell is gathering a sense of identity.
Although tasked with the labour intensive role of man marking Man City’s marvellous David Silva at the Etihad Stadium, Rodwell passed this test of maturity and discipline with distinction.
It is also safe to assume his Spanish is a little better today after spending early afternoon always within ear shot of the former Valencia man.
By shackling their most creative outlet, Everton and Rodwell restricted City to just six shots on target throughout the 90 minutes as their forwards were bereft of the usual supply line.
The majority of shots were from distance and rarely with Tim Howard’s goal firmly in sight – the opening goal was no exception.
During the first-half in particular, Everton’s back four were as comfortable as you would hope to be at Eastlands thanks, in big part, to Rodwell.
Ultimately, Moyes’ men soberingly fell to two late goals but they deserved better; Rodwell in particular.
It was no coincidence that Silva – who had created 18 chances from open play before kick-off, more than any other in the league – was subdued as Rodwell stalked his every move for the best part of 80 minutes until Moyes relieved him of the job.
Silva took the plaudits and celebrated the three points after his perfectly weighted pass for Milner with a minute remaining of normal time but it told nothing of how he had toiled under the persistence of Rodwell. The youngster showed levels of concentration which have sometimes been missing in his career.
Such was Rodwell’s dedication and application to the role of pest that he even followed Silva towards the touchline at one point in the opening 45 minutes, unaware the Spaniard was merely receiving instructions from his manager, Roberto Mancini.
That the 20-year-old still produced a telling performance even after picking up a booking for a mistimed challenge on Silva after just 19 minutes, is further credit to him.
The caution placed Rodwell and Everton’s game plan in danger of imploding, so Moyes briefly took his foot soldier off the front line.
Captain Phil Neville, earning a Premier League recall after being left out of the previous two fixtures with Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic, stepped into the role but he too quickly found it was one laced with pitfalls.
Also earning himself a yellow card, unjustly it seemed when his legs became tangled with Silva’s, Neville had his fingers burnt when the World Cup winner made the most of their collision.
Although post-match, Silva said the experience of being man marked was “strange” he was savvy enough to try and loosen the shackles upon him by giving referee Howard Webb reason to believe he had been the victim of a far nastier challenge than it had been.
So after three minutes away, Rodwell returned to breathing down the neck of Manchester City’s number 21.
There Rodwell remained until the 79th minute when, with Everton 1-0 down to Mario Balotelli’s deflected goal, Moyes released his player from his duty and urged him forward as the visitors pursued an equaliser which never felt beyond them.
But perhaps it was telling that with Rodwell no longer tracking his every move, Silva found the room to lay on City’s second for Milner and finally extinguish any thought of Everton levelling the game.
Barring a surprise tactical switch, it is unlikely Rodwell will be charged with man marking any of Liverpool’s forward thinking players in the first derby of the season on Saturday.
So Rodwell’s next challenge is to find similar influence in games when his role is less specific.