Our preparation for this encounter was perhaps aided in some part by an international break and a former employee’s alleged penchant for dalliances with ladies of the night. In the past, it always seemed as if European or World Cup qualifiers came just as were building momentum after a string of decent results, only to have to try and continue that theme some 7 to 10 days later, which was not always possible. This break in play appears to have come at just the right time as it turns out, very few first team regulars leaving the Finch Farm training complex and of those that did go away with their respective national sides earning praise for their performances from press and peers alike, Phil Jagielka’s in particular was a perfectly executed audition to break up the Terry\Ferdinand monopoly with the centre of defence, there was nothing he or Hart could have done to prevent that wonder strike from Shaquiri, the hips don’t lie.*
Obviously despite media attention homing in on another part of Mr Rooney’s anatomy other than his feet, Don Fabio felt he was of the correct mindset to lead England’s attack in Switzerland. With a professional display and his 1st international goal in 11 matches, it seemed to make sense that Sir Alex would follow suit with Capello and start Wayne at Goodison Park on Saturday.
For the first couple for years after Rooney’s departure he was subjected to some torrid abuse from all corners of Lady Goodison, in part fuelled by his young, naïve and less than respectful goal celebration but as time has moved on, foul mouthed tirades against he who famously proclaimed “Once a blue, always a blue” (notice the use of a comma, one hates to be picky Wayne but your grammar was atrocious) are now no more than Pantomime “boo’s” and “hisses”, so for Ferguson to pinpoint the reception he would receive as the sole reason for not playing him, does not add up. It would have been just as bad at any ground in the country in my opinion with the news fresh in everyone’s mind, I don’t remember Ashley Cole, John Terry, Joey Barton etc, etc, etc being rested to spare them from the inevitable, it is also unlike Ferguson to protect those who have stepped out of line, I’m sure David Beckham would have preferred a day at home rather than receiving a size 9 Puma King to the kisser?
However what the decision to leave their start player out did do, was take the attention away from an individual and in turn produce a very intriguing duel. I thought at 1-3, we had been dealt a particularly bad hand, the score line at that time was not anywhere close to a fair reflection of what had been a relatively even affair, the officials were playing their part as well dishing out strange and nonsensical decisions to both sides. The atmosphere within the stadium was reminiscent of a Derby or a European mid week fixture, so if something special were to happen on the pitch those watching would know that they had been an integral cog in the day’s proceedings.
As the 4th official raised his board aloft an additional 3 minutes were signalled to all, the stairwells began to fill with shirts both Blue and Pink ( I’m still not convinced by seeing a grown man in a XXXL Fuchsia sports top), not in protest to a dismal game or defeat but in recognition of the pending result and to get a head start on edging the car out a space half its size or being 1st at the bar in The Spellow, but leaving early is not something I do, just in case.
The next 3 minutes would be some of the most surprising I’d witnessed, as I’d previously stated, the score was misleading at this point, but beyond my wildest dreams did I think 1. Everton would score 2 goals in injury time or 2. Manchester United were capable of relinquishing what appeared to be such a superior lead. As history will now state, both of these perhaps unimaginables became a reality.
As soon as Tim Cahill once again out jumped his natural limits to pull a goal back, those around me were looking at each other thinking “we might nick a point here if we really get behind them”. The ball again came into the box from the left, Cahill headed it back, and Mikel Arteta let rip (via Paul Scholes’ shin) and pandemonium broke out both on and off the field. Due to the unexpected euphoria I am willing to forgive the gentleman sat behind me who punched both the air and my face in celebration, I’m of the understanding that the latter was an accident.
Just before time was called we had one last chance to attack and Arteta offered the Jagielka the chance to smash the ball home, instead he chose to gently roll it into the path of the on-rushing goalkeeper, I like to presume in the name of good gamesmanship, but unbeknownst to both and Van der Sar that the final whistle had in fact been sounded in the build up. Davey and Roundy stormed on to the pitch after to vent at the referee for not letting the attack culminate before the games close, I’m sure as they both reflect on that, they’ll realise that they are now both 8k down and Jags missed anyway, but it’s that sort of team spirit, passion, fight and determination that makes Everton what it is today.
A couple of seasons ago a firm but fair challenge from the skipper Phil Neville on a certain Portuguese winker was the defining moment where our seasons fortune changed, here’s hoping another memorable moment against Manchester United will be the catalyst for a historic and successful campaign, starting with the Toon Army on Saturday.
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*Thanks to Matthew Joy for the Shaquiri line.