Friday 27 April 2018

Toothless Toffees made pay by Ebanks-Blake

The only common ground Everton and Wolverhampton Wanderers share at present is an ability to dismantle pre-season predictions. The idea of a return to Europe for David Moyes and a retreat to the Championship for Mick McCarthy, both championed only a week ago in some quarters, needs revising already.

A hard-fought, controversial but deserved point courtesy of Sylvan Ebanks-Blake's late equaliser, maintained Wolves' fine start to the season. For Everton, however, there was a second successive Saturday of self-inflicted frustration as their inability to punish opponents undermined their lofty aspirations again.

Moyes has the components in place to challenge for Champions League qualification except the ingredient that allows the cream to rise: a top-class goalscorer and one who can complement the quality of the Mikel Arteta, Tim Cahill and Steven Pienaar supply line. As it is also the most expensive, that deficiency may undermine Everton's efforts to consistently compete with the elite for some time yet.

With Yakubu Ayegbeni declared "not physically in shape" by the Everton manager before the game, it fell to Jermaine Beckford to lead the attack and find the penetration that was sorely lacking at Ewood Park. No mean task for any striker against a resilient, well-drilled Wolves team, and particularly one making his first Premier League start having leapt from League One into the top flight from Leeds United in the summer.

McCarthy's side's disciplined defending and a prodigious work ethic survived intact as they frustrated Everton throughout a dominant first half by the home side. Everton began as they finished at Blackburn, controlling possession, winning free-kicks in dangerous areas and attempting to work their way through a rigid defence. But they struggled to create any chances of note until a contentious breakthrough just before the interval.

The greatest problem for the Wolves goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann was his kicking until Cahill scored. Four times Hahnemann put the ball straight into touch, and McCarthy's ire on the touchline visibly and understandably increased with each one. Moyes struck an animated figure alongside him too, although his frustrations stemmed from the prolonged failure to turn dominance into chances.

John Heitinga drew the first save of note from Hahnemann with a rising drive from 25 yards after dogged work on the edge of the area by Cahill. Otherwise it was keep-ball minus an end product for Everton until referee Lee Mason provoked uproar on both sides in the build-up and execution of the opening goal.

Four minutes before the interval Arteta tricked his way into the visiting penalty area and was tripped a yard inside by Stephen Ward. Mason, standing over the incident, took an age to penalise the foul but awarded it on the 18-yard line when he did so. That was Everton in a rage.

Arteta's free-kick struck the wall and squirmed through, but as Jody Craddock went to clear, his leg was caught by Cahill, who then converted the loose ball high over Hahnemann. That sent Wolves apoplectic, but their protests went ignored.

Wolves took the game to Everton thereafter. Constant pressing by the visitors left them vulnerable to the counter-attack but, despite Beckford squandering one glorious break, they were undeterred and levelled with a superb counter of their own with 15 minutes remaining.

As with Cahill's goal, the Wolves equaliser was laced with controversy. Adlene Guedioura dispossessed Beckford's replacement, Louis Saha, deep in his own half and then left Heitinga in a heap as they challenged for a 50-50. Mason allowed play to continue and Henry released Kevin Doyle down the right, raced into the Everton area and, when a low cross arrived from the Ireland striker, stepped over the ball to allow Ebanks-Blake to convert a simple tap-in.

Sunday Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport