Everton had to scrap and fight, but in the end a vicious strike from an unpopular substitute confirmed safe passage to the fifth round of the FA Cup. Now the Toffees will seek revenge as they meet an old cup foe with a spot in the quarter-finals on the line.
First of all, fair warning: this match report is going to be a bit abbreviated, considering I (and everyone else) didn't actually get to watch this game live and had to make to do with radio commentary. Listening to a football match on the radio is interesting, especially when the announcers are unashamedly biased. You kind of have to rely on someone else to draw your opinions for you, but until ESPN acquires the rights to the FA Cup this is the way it's going to be sometimes.
Heavy snow in and around Bolton nearly caused the match to be called off (mainly due to slick roads around the stadium), but the snow stopped just long enough to give the grounds crew a window to prepare the pitch. The area around the Reebok was another story, with the home team sending out a call on Twitter for volunteers to shovel snow out of the pathways around the stadium. But when 3:00 rolled around, everything was ready to go and the match kicked off as scheduled.
As expected, Kevin Mirallas made his full return to the Everton team, starting on the right wing in a rare 4-4-2 formation with Nikica Jelavic and Victor Anichebe as the forwards. And Mirallas definitely made his presence known in the opening fifteen minutes, curling a shot around the post and seeing a free kick eaten by the Bolton wall. But all of the positive vibes were shattered when Mirallas limped off with yet another recurrence of the same hamstring injury he has been battling all year, not making it even twenty minutes this time before being subbed. David Moyes said after the game that he was hopeful the injury isn't too serious, but we've heard that before so I'm not getting my hopes up that he'll play anytime soon.
However, Everton spirits were lifted when they managed to score the opening goal moments after Mirallas left the pitch. There was undoubtedly an element of luck involved in the finish, as Steven Pienaar redirected Anichebe's initial shot without knowing a great deal about it. However, Leighton Baines deserves some credit for creating the chance with a clever run down the left and a nice cross to pick out Anichebe in front of goal.
Unfortunately for the Blues, the lead did not last long, as Bolton found an equalizer roughly ten minutes later through their young English striker Marvin Sordell. It was lax defending by the Everton back line as no one picked up Sordell's near post run, and in the end the finish was all too simple.
By all indications, Bolton continued to improve as the match went on and ultimately played one of their best games of the year, while Everton struggled to find the innovation needed to create quality chances. With the traveling support desperate for a goal to finish off the Trotters, Moyes's decision to replace Jelavic with John Heitinga was never going to be very popular, and the crowd let him hear their displeasure.
But football is a funny game, so of course it was Heitinga who popped up to deliver probably the best finish of his Everton career in stoppage time, right when it seemed as if a replay at Goodison Park was all but assured. It was a chaotic scene as the ball bounced around the penalty area following a corner kick, but Heitinga finally controlled on the edge of the box and unleashed an unstoppable rocket through the traffic and past keeper Andy Lonergan.
The Everton players celebrated the winner wildly, though Phil Neville went a bit overboard when he started screaming like a maniac at the visiting fans (as seen in the picture above), presumably because they had booed Heitinga's introduction earlier. Neville apologized on Twitter after the game, saying that his adrenaline took over while thanking the supporters for making the treacherous trip to Bolton.
So all in all it wasn't a masterpiece, but it was a much needed win nonetheless that ensured Everton would be in the hat for the fifth round draw. That draw took place about an hour ago, and Everton were handed yet another away tie, this time with League One stragglers Oldham Athletic. This is an interesting match-up for a couple of reasons. For one, Oldham were the team that knocked out Everton (at Goodison Park no less) in the third round of the 2008 FA Cup, so this will be a chance for the Toffees to gain some revenge.
This will also be the second team from Merseyside in succession to make a trip to Boundary Park, and Oldham will be looking for their second consecutive Premier League scalp. Hopefully you got to see Oldham defeat Liverpool 3-2 earlier today, because it was very, very fun to watch. Brad Jones is garbage.