Sunday, 19 February 2012

Everton 2 v 0 Blackpool

Saturday 18th February 2012
FA Cup Fifth Round
Goodison Park, Liverpool
Admission: £25.00
Programme: £3.00
Attendance: 38,447
Match Rating: 4

After a happily very rare Saturday without a game last weekend thanks to the big freeze, today I took advantage of the excellent "Great Escape" ticket from the train company London Midland, which meant a trip from London to Liverpool and back would cost just £9.90, as well as reduced ticket prices for an attractive looking FA Cup tie at a ground that I have been wanting to visit for many a year.

There are a couple of options for reaching Goodison Park by public transport. A soccerbus operates from Sandhills rail station, however wishing to avoid the crush that would inevitably accompany the buses particularly after the game, I opted instead to alight at Kirkdale rail station, which is about a fifteen minute walk from Goodison Park. The ground is certainly something of a throwback to former times, an all too rare and refreshing change from the many modern identikit top flight stadia. Closely packed to neighbouring terrace streets, the main stand is of a double decker variety, with a large "top balcony" perched about a two tier stand - it is impressive in terms of its size, has character but is somewhat tired and dated. I selected a ticket in the top balcony, and whilst it offered an excellent "birds-eye" view, and on entering the stand one can look out over Stanley Park and Anfield in the distance, the wooden seats were uncomfortable, legroom was minimal and a large pillar obstructed my view. On the opposite side and behind the goal to the left of the main stand are two tier stands joined together, again with many obstructing pillars, but again they have character which made them quite endearing. Behind the remaining goal is the one modern stand in the ground, a large single tier affair. The programme was fairly average for a Premier League club, unspectacular but with a decent amount of interesting reading material and a pleasingly low proportion of adverts.

Today's match would be between two teams in good recent form. As has become fairly typical in recent seasons - and even less surprising given the lack of investment in the first team last summer - Everton had a slow start to the season, stuck firmly in or just below mid table all season, but are unbeaten in their last six games, winning three of those, and have only lost twice in their last thirteen games and find themselves in tenth place in the Premier League. To reach this stage, they overcame non-league Tamworth 2-0 and then Premier League Fulham 2-1, both games at Goodison Park.Having been relegated from the Premier League last season - coming much, much close than most had predicted to surviving, Blackpool are gathering pace nicely for a return to the top flight. Having been outside the play-off places almost all season, they entered them at the beginning of this month and are now in fourth place in the Championship, having been unbeaten in their last seven games, winning five of those games. To reach this stage, Blackpool comfortably saw off neighbours Fleetwood in round three, and then Sheffield Wednesday after a replay. A glance at the team sheets showed where the priorities lie for each manager. David Moyes selected pretty much a full strength team for Everton from the players he had available, whilst Ian Holloway chose to make seven changes from the Blackpool side that had beaten Doncaster in the league in midweek.

The game certainly had an explosive start, as the home side went in front with less than a minute on the clock.Magaye Gueye swung a cross into the box, which Marouane Felliani controlled before layng the ball off to Royston Drenthe, who fired in a powerful, controlled shot just out of the reach of the keeper and into the net. Just five minutes later and it looked like a tough task for Blackpool had already become mission impossible, when Drenthe's corner was flicked on and landed at the feet of Denis Stracqualursi a few yards out, who fired home at the second attempt. One feared this might have killed the game, with the higher ranked side at home two goals to the good with just six minutes on the clock, however nothing could be further from the truth. Whilst rarely threatening to score, Blackpool played some good football, whilst Everton continued to play with plenty of attacking endeavour.

In the second half, Blackpool continued to give a good account of themselves, again rarely looking like scoring , although Everton missed golden chance after golden chance to extend their lead. In the final stages, it was Blackpool though who came agonisingly close to scoring on three occasions.Lomana Tresor Lua Lua had a powerful shot tipped onto the post by Tim Howard, Kevin Phillips saw a wonderful free kick hit the corner of crossbar and post, and in added on time at the end of the game, Blackpool were awarded a soft looking penalty for a push, but Phillips put his shot well over the bar. So a deserved victory for the home side, with it always pleasing to see the club taking an FA Cup tie the more seriously rewarded with progression.

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