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Rovers 0 Everton 2.


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Scotty's Match Report

Just when I thought I could predict the team up pops Hughes with another interesting selection. When I first heard it I was sure we'd be playing 4-5-1 and matching Everton man for man, but it turned out that Bentley played as a second striker in a 4-4-2 formation. Thompson played wide-right and Reid came in for Savage in the middle.

We started brilliantly. For the first 20 minutes we simply blew Everton away with a fantastic display of controlled attacking football. Bellamy constantly stretched their defence and got in behind them with intelligent runs, Tugay knitted our passing together in midfield, and we had a threat down both flanks with our full-backs linking up well with our wide-men. The only thing we didn't do was score.

Pedersen missed a sitter in the first five minutes, he hit the post five minutes later, and we won numerous corners and free-kicks, but the goal just wouldn't come. Everton had to change their shape to cope with us, putting a defensive midfielder on Tugay and leaving Beattie isolated up front. And it worked.

Our attacking play was slowly stifled and Everton started to come more into the game. For the next ten minutes nothing much happened as both teams cancelled each other out but then, totally out of the blue, Everton scored. And what a bad goal it was to concede. A long punt from their defence was missed by both Beattie and our defenders. The bouncing ball was then flicked on by Everton and McFadden beat Gray to subsequent bounce to nod past a poorly positioned Friedel. That's three 50-50 challenges that our defence lost in the lead up to the goal. Not good enough.

Five minutes later came the defining moment of the match. More bad defending saw Beattie attempt to flick the ball past Todd. Now there's no doubt the ball hit Todd on the arm, and there's no doubt that Beattie would have been clean through had the ball not hit Todd on the arm, but there's also no doubt that Todd knew nothing about it and his handball was completely accidental. It wasn't even worthy of a booking. Sadly the linesman thought differently and clearly advised the ref to send Todd off. It's the second time that Halsey has wrongly cost us a game this season.

The resulting free-kick nearly resulted in a goal, Arteta just firing wide, but Everton did go two up shorlty afterwards. We reshuffled our defence by moving Reid to right-back and Neill to centre-half but, ten men or no ten men, our defending was shocking again for Everton's second. Beattie again won another header, Osman held the ball up well unchallenged, and he placed a great ball straight into the path of Arteta who finished expertly.

Game over.

Zurab came on for Thompson at half-time which allowed Reid to go back to the centre of midfield and Neill back to right-back.

We started the second half well and Pedersen missed another sitter when he failed to apply the finish to a great ball from Neill. Who knows what might have happened had that gone in, but that was as good as it got for us. We huffed and puffed, continually looked the better team, but Everton's extra man cost us in the end. Due to their extra numbers in midfield we continually hit the ball long and Everton's defenders just lapped it up. Strangely, Hughes waited until 15 minutes from the end to put Kuqi on, someone who might have been able to win some of the long balls we were playing, and by then it was too late.

So, another game lost against a team I'm convinced we're better than.

Our defence was poor today, and has been for a while. We lost too many headers and we allowed the excellent Beattie to bully us. Nelsen and Todd were equally culpable, as were the full-backs, and Friedel didn't exactly cover himself with glory on the first goal. We looked more solid when Zurab came on, but by then Everton were content to see the game out rather than attack for a third goal.

We started well in midfield but faded badly. Tugay was majestic at first but, once Everton started to close him down, he disappeared. Reid was energetic and supported the attack well but all too often his passing and control let him down. Pedersen missed two sitters today and didn't do much else. Thompson just didn't do much. Emerton came on too late to really make an impact.

Bellamy was excellent again and was easily our man of the match. Bentley started well, all good touches and neat passes, but faded when a more physical presence was needed after the sending off. Kuqi wasn't great when he came on but the game was over by then - he should have been on at least 15 minutes earlier.

It's hard to sum up today's game as we were clearly the better team, yet we got beat 2-0. There's no doubt the sending off cost us dearly, but we also were guilty of giving two incredibly sloppy goals away. Our defending has been really poor recently and it needs to be addressed. Ultimately though I just left the game feeling angry that another crap team had beaten us.

I also question Hughes's team selection and tactics. There's no way in my book that Reid is a better central midfielder than Savage. For all Savage's histrionics he can control and pass the ball far better than Reid. And there's no way that Bentley is a better striker than Kuqi. When I heard Bentley was playing I assumed he'd be the attacking midfielder in a 4-5-1 formation, but he played as an out an out striker today. Kuqi would have been a better bet in my opinion, and it was staggering that Hughes waited so long to bring Kuqi on. I also thought that Emerton should have come on a lot earlier than he did. We desperately needed someone in the second half to run with the ball and link our defence and attack, Emerton could have done that.

We lost a crap team today, just like we did against Newcastle and Liverpool. We're in a run of winnable games and we need to start winning some, if not most, of them to prove that we're as good as I think we are. I'm not worrying yet but next weeks game is looking like an awfully big one now.

Rovers : Friedel, Neill, Todd, Nelsen, Gray, Thompson (Khizanishvili 45), Reid, Tugay (Kuqi 66), Pedersen, Bentley (Emerton 83), Bellamy.

Subs Not Used: Savage, Enckelman.

Sent Off: Todd (31).

Booked: Bellamy.

Everton: Martyn (Wright 45), Hibbert, Yobo, Weir, Neville, Osman, Arteta (Kilbane 63), Davies, Van der Meyde (Ferguson 58), Beattie, McFadden.

Subs Not Used: Kroldrup, Bent.

Booked: Arteta.

Goals: McFadden 28, Arteta 45.

Att: 22,064

Ref: M Halsey

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