Everton: Weak At Set Pieces But Superb Pienaar Winner Keeps Us In Top 6

Despite Distin's balls up of a back pass and Lukaku's sluggishness, this was a crucial Everton win that keeps The Toffees competing for a European place.
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Despite Distin's balls up of a back pass and Lukaku's sluggishness, this was a crucial Everton win that keeps The Toffees competing for a European place.

On a day when several Premier League teams conspired to score some fantastic goals, it was great to see Everton snatch three points in style.

The home tie against Hull City Tigers did not run as smoothly as it might have, thanks to some questionable defending at set pieces, but we were ultimately inspired by a glorious winner by Steven Pienaar.

Everton were fortunate that the first goal stood, to be honest. On eight minutes, Kevin Mirallas drilled a sweet shot from outside the box towards Hull’s right post. Loan midfielder Gareth Barry looked to be offside as he appeared to get the slightest of touches on the ball. He even appeared to claim the goal as the players celebrated. The ref couldn’t have seen it. Hull can count themselves very unlucky.

Barry was involved in most of the game’s talking points, including when he probably should’ve been sent off after an over-the-top-of-the-ball challenge on Hull’s Aluko. Instead he got a caution, just minutes after he avoided a yellow for a lesser, but still punishable, foul. Afterwards, Hull boss Steve Bruce spoke with that post-match managerial blend of sour grapes and wounded diplomacy. He remarked on Barry’s professionalism and his disappointment that both the Mirallas goal was allowed and that Barry wasn’t properly punished for the Aluko challenge. Perhaps he had a point, or maybe Hull City Tigers at least deserved one from the game.

This home tie was a strange one for Everton, as they dominated possession but looked uncertain at the back and couldn’t find the same lethal dynamic that saw them put three past Newcastle a fortnight ago. Lukaku, apart from a few early chances when he scythed through the Hull defence, looked sluggish. He did have international duty with Belgian earlier in the week, so it’s no surprise he wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Sympathy should be shown for his 68th minute replacement Kone, who Evertonians have yet to see the best of. He missed an easy chance to put us three up, when Coleman crossed and Kone worked some space in the box to rattle the Hull upright from just a few yards out. A few minutes later, he tried to make amends with a shot that was parried. It wasn’t his day. But he looked lively for the time he was on. Perhaps Martinez should consider dropping Lukaku for a bit? Perish the thought.

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Everton’s second goal was straight out of a Roy of the Rovers’ Christmas strip. Wily South African Pienaar, who has been so vital to Everton’s best football for the past few seasons, had been out since August with a hamstring injury. He waited to come on for Osman in the 56th minute, blessed himself and looked to the sky as if searching for a message. 10 seconds later, it was delivered loud and clear. Howard launched the ball long, Lukaku got a head to it and it fell to Barkley. He released the always-dangerous Mirallas down the right, who crossed it low for Pienaar to finish with an ingenious tap. It was a slick move, worthy even of Arsenal, and Pienaar’s finish topped it off.

Although important to Everton’s attacking options, it’s a positive sign that his absence hasn’t concerned us as much as it might have – a clear sign of the times at Goodison Park.

As for Hull City Tigers (whose recent name change could’ve involved an updating of the team motto to ‘They’rrre Grrrrreat!’) were not destroyed by Everton’s passing game. They were especially dangerous from corners and both Faye and Davies should’ve done better with their chances. Their goal came when Aluko wrestled past Baines and managed to drive a cross towards Sagabo who slammed it in at the near post. It wasn’t a particularly impressive day for the Everton defence, summed up when Distin was closed down trying to play the ball out, only to turn and whack the ball with force back to Tim Howard. He could only deflect it out for a Hull corner.

But it was Pienaar’s divine intervention that ensured it was Everton’s day. He’s a fascinating player, at times world class, at others incredibly frustrating. Perfect for Everton, in other words. His skill on the ball can be Ronaldinho-esque on occasion and few are as good in the Premier League at linking up play. But his shots are often weak, as if he’s afraid to pull the trigger when needed. All the more satisfying then, that he took his chance against Hull so emphatically. I for one was over the moon when he followed a nondescript spell in north London with a return to his spiritual home in Liverpool 4.

Although an exciting spectacle for neutrals yesterday, Evertonians will hope that Martinez can stop us looking so lightweight at corners. Otherwise Pienaar won’t be the only one at Goodison looking to the skies for help, come mid-season.

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