It took a special kind of referee to make West Ham United and Everton fans leave a game feeling disgruntled. Anthony Taylor is such a man.
Complaining about the performance of match officials is one of the most depressing aspects of modern fandom and more often than not comes across as little more than sour grapes. But my complaints here don’t emerge from post-match bitterness. Everton won the game, and in no small measure benefitted from Anthony Taylor’s poor performance. But despite this I still think that the referee ruined the fixture.
There were two sendings-off in this game, one of which arguably had a significant impact on the final result. In the 67th minute, when the score was still 1-1, Carlton Cole received a straight red for a challenge on Leighton Baines. At worst this was probably a yellow. Although Cole’s boot connected with Baines’ chest, the Everton defender had stooped to head the ball and so arguably put himself in harm’s way. There was no malign intent in what Cole did. This was a referee officiating to his own personal rules and who, by the standards of the game, make a colossal cock-up.
Having set his own parameters of what constituted a ‘red-card’ offence, it was arguably no surprise that when Darron Gibson challenged Mark Noble in a similar way towards the end of the game, he too became a victim of Anthony Taylor’s unique form of maverick football justice.
But these were merely two of several blunders that Taylor made. Things had started off badly early on in the game when Everton were denied what was a perfectly legal goal. Leon Osman’s header, from a typically precise Leighton Baines corner, looked at first sight, second sight, third, fourth and fifth to be incontestably legitimate. But not for Taylor. Despite being positioned ten yards away from the goalmouth, he thought it best to consult the opinion of a lineman situated fifty yards away regarding a possible infringement by Victor Anichebe on the Hammers’ goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen. This suggested a referee who was not entirely confident in his own ability to officiate this match effectively.
Refereeing is unquestionably a tough job and a largely thankless one. Do everything right and no-one really gives a toss. Make one mistake and you have the ire of the fans, the players and the management raining down upon you. And it can’t be a pleasant experience to have forty thousand people calling you a ‘bastard’. But as difficult as the job is, referees can’t be beyond legitimate criticism. Taylor turned yesterday’s game into a farce. Fans of both clubs can only hope that each red-card is rescinded. While this won’t redress the sense of injustice that West Ham United fans will naturally feel, at least it won’t rob each club of two players who regularly feature in their starting elevens.
Beyond the incompetent officiating, there was plenty to be pleased about in Everton’s performance yesterday. Once again, the team displayed the tenacity that has seen them come from behind several times this season. This is feature of the Moyes-era, the capacity for the side keep going until the end of the ninety, never letting their collective heads drop.
The win also proved that we are far from a one-man team. Some predicted that the loss of Fellaini would reveal how shallow were the foundations that the current Everton renaissance has been built upon. But although making Anichebe the focus for much of what we did yesterday revealed how effective Fellaini is compared to his stand-in, the way that the team played and the fact that we got the result reveals that Everton are about more than just the Divine-Afro.
The win also reflects well on the side because we were without so many key players. Not for the first time this season our first and second choice right-backs were unavailable. This meant Jagielka shifting to fill the gap and Heitinga being brought in as centre half. This unsettled the back-four and contributed to the fact that Carlton Cole was able to play so effectively while he was on the pitch. Heitinga simply couldn’t cope with Cole, a fact illustrated during West Ham United’s goal, when the Hammers’ forward turned the Everton centre-half inside out.
If, to the defensive absentees, you add the missing Fellaini - one of the side’s most potent weapons - and Mirallas - one of the side’s most creative players - then you can begin to see how under-strength yesterday’s team was. So to travel to West Ham United and come away with anything must be seen as great achievement, even if the points were taken under controversial circumstances.
The only blot on the landscape with regard to the game is the continued form of Jelavic. There were two occasions yesterday when the Croatian should have scored. One chance in particular was a golden opportunity where it seemed harder to miss than to score. On both occasions you cannot imagine the Jelavic who played so effectively last season spurning what was offered.
At the moment he’s seems a shadow of the player he was when he first arrived at Goodison in January. And it’s a shame because if he was able to recapture that form, there is no question that Everton would be higher up the table. Every other area of the team is currently firing on all cylinders. We remain tight at the back, strong in midfield and creative when going forward. All the side lacks at the moment is the killer instinct up-front.
Until Jelly finds his form, or Moyes brings in someone else to take the strain, Everton’s position in the top six is always going to remain tenuous. The team needs firepower and it needs it quick.