Everton didn't play Oldham off the park today by any means, but ultimately you can't have any qualms with the day's returns: three goals, a relatively comfortable victory, a boost of confidence, some positive energy, and (most importantly) a date at Goodison Park with Wigan Athletic, with a trip to Wembley Stadium on the line.
- With Marouane Fellaini ruled out because of a mysterious "injury" (that's literally the only official description I can find, though it may be related to the knee laceration he suffered over the weekend), Phil Neville returned to the starting eleven and Leon Osman was pushed further forward. It definitely seemed like the fan base was nervy heading into this one, and can you blame them? Everton haven't exactly given us much reason to be confident over the last month.
- Both sides seemed a little tentative early on, though a silly foul by Jonathan Grounds allowed Leighton Baines a free kick from an ideal position. Baines shot straight into the wall, however.
- Yet it didn't take long for the Toffees to find the all-important opening goal, and with the fans on tenterhooks it was more vital than usual to score early and relieve some of the tension. Enter Kevin Mirallas, rested over the weekend and looking to recapture his early season form after some prodding from his manager. The setup for the goal was simple enough: a cute little cross played into the box by Darron Gibson, which was perfectly weighted for Mirallas to flick neatly past Dean Bouzanis for the 1-0 lead.
- The Latics almost responded immediately, and it was nearly a dream return to Goodison for former Everton player Jose Baxter as his cheeky chipped effort looked to have beaten a stranded Tim Howard. But Baxter will be ruing his luck, as his shot struck the woodwork cleanly and was cleared (but not without suspicion of a handball by Gibson). It was as close as Oldham would come during the first half.
- Referee Michael Oliver might have ignored the Gibson handball on the grounds that it was unavoidable and failed to benefit the Blues, but he was left with no choice but to whistle for a penalty on the other end when Lee Croft clearly swatted at and made contact with a loose ball in the box. The entire sequence was an absolute mess for Oldham and the spot kick could have been given before for a foul on Nikica Jelavic, but Baines almost wasted the opportunity when his penalty left a lot to be desired. Bouzanis was unable to make the save though, and Everton led 2-0.
- The home side continued to see more of the ball and produced a couple of more chances before the break, but Jelavic saw his header go over the crossbar and a deflection took all of the sting out of a Leon Osman effort in stoppage time.
- In Brian's article about Everton's offensive woes, Mike pointed out in the comments the strangely high percentage of scoring chances that have fallen to Everton center-backs this year. Well, Phil Jagielka ended up with one of the best chances of the match when he found the ball at his feet with only the keeper to beat from mere yards away, but he bombed his shot maddeningly high over the target. Yeah, this is probably why he's not a striker.
- Soon after that, Seamus Coleman (who had his second positive showing in a row coming back from injury) did brilliantly to break free down the right and send an enticing cross into the box. But in the end, Osman had to stretch to reach it and was only able to bunt it forward gently into the hands of Bouzanis.
- Down by two goals and running out of time, Oldham's caretaker manager Tony Philliskirk threw his FA Cup secret weapon into the fray, former Arizona State student Matt Smith. Robbie Simpson was also introduced, and it was he who would have had a tap-in had it not been for the intervention of Neville, who was at full stretch to direct a dangerous cross out of Simpson's reach and out of play.
- Then the Toffees were finally able to do something they have found immensely challenging this year: score the goal that effectively eliminates any hope the opposition had of a comeback. It was another bad moment for Bouzanis, who found the traffic in front of him difficult to handle and couldn't find a redirected flick by Osman. A lot of the credit for the goal has to go to Jelavic, who was inches away from making the final contact with the ball and undoubtedly bothered Bouzanis into missing the shot completely. So 3-0 to the Blues, and (you would hope) game over at that point.
- But of course this was an FA Cup match, so Smith had to get his name onto the score sheet somehow and unsurprisingly the goal ended up coming on a corner kick. What was surprising (or maybe not) was the completely mindless defending by the Everton players as no one picked up Smith in front of Howard, making the finish relatively simple in the end. Perhaps it was a miscommunication, but these goals conceded on set pieces are growing uglier by the game.
- There was one more howler in store for Everton as Gibson missed a wonderful chance to restore the three-goal advantage, but after great work by Mirallas and Jelavic he skewed his shot worse than Jagielka. But in the end it didn't matter, as Oldham failed to generate any more clear chances and bowed out after a commendable cup run. For Everton, it was a job well done and a victory that might instill some confidence in the players for the busy weeks ahead.
(in order of performance)
Gibson 8 (MOTM), Mirallas 8, Coleman 7.5, Baines 7, Neville 6.5, Pienaar 6, Jagielka 6, Howard 5.5, Jelavic 5.5, Distin 5.5, Osman 5.5, Naismith (84) n/a, Hitzlsperger (89) n/a
I hate myself for doing this, but I'm going to get ahead of myself here and start thinking about how the rest of this FA Cup campaign might play out. If Everton beat Wigan (I shouldn't have to say this, but obviously far from a sure thing), that leaves three possible opponents for the semifinal draw. Barring a massive upset, two of those teams are likely to be Premier League giants (Manchester City and either Manchester United or Chelsea). However, the other team is assured of being a team from the Championship (either Millwall or Blackburn Rovers).
So if Everton are able to book their ticket to Wembley, the draw is going to be absolutely huge. It comes down to having to beat one big team or having to beat two big teams to lift the trophy, and while the former is entirely doable the latter is going to be quite a bit trickier. The overall point though? Everton have a great opportunity, perhaps their last great opportunity under David Moyes, and we'll all be watching in anticipation to see if they can take it.
Who was your Man of the Match v Oldham Athletic?
Tim Howard (0 votes)
Seamus Coleman (4 votes)
Sylvain Distin (1 vote)
Phil Jagielka (0 votes)
Leighton Baines (0 votes)
Kevin Mirallas (9 votes)
Darron Gibson (6 votes)
Phil Neville (1 vote)
Steven Pienaar (0 votes)
Leon Osman (0 votes)
Nikica Jelavic (0 votes)
21 total votes