Everton 2 - 0 Dagenham & Redbridge
With Ste having bought his ticket for this one only to be unable to make it, Katja made the last-minute decision to take his place and I drove, picking up Gary and Sue on route. Full houses and big attendances are always nice at Goodison Park, though I did appreciate the quieter walk up the ground and more spacious pub, until we got to Gwladys Street where it was all of a sudden bedlam. A crowd of 30,918 against lower-table League Two opposition is certainly not to be sniffed at.
With that, I'm glad Roberto Martinez did the fans justice by resting the correct players, whilst still giving much-needed game time to some of the fringe players, and also accommodating a couple of younger players. The perfect balance found from Roberto. I'm glad he didn't do what Jurgen Klopp did, for example, and field a largely reserve team as, like Liverpool, we can seldom afford another fixture with the busy, and crucial January period we are amidst.
Just on that actually, why is it a massive deal for the team with the fifth biggest wage bill to have an injury crisis? Arsenal have suffered similarly and we have our own problems. I remember back in 2001-02 and 2009-10 Everton being completely decimated by injury, though somewhat doubt the media even batted an eyelid. Anyway, enough about them, back on to us...
With Robles retained in goal, and Baines, Stones, Barry, Barkley and Deulofeu rested, while Coleman, McCarthy, Cleverley and Lukaku were all injured, Galloway, Jagielka, Oviedo, Gibson, Lennon, Pienaar, Mirallas and Kone were all given an opportunity as we attacked the Park End in the first half, and we were nearly ahead within three minutes when Steven Pienaar headed over the crossbar with a presentable opportunity from a really good Bryan Oviedo centre with his right foot.
Darron Gibson dictated all our play in the middle, suggesting he may yet have an Everton future with us (he probably is the perfect foil should anything happen to Gareth Barry, after all... if he can stay fit himself of course), whilst Dagenham & Redbridge stuck to their task gamely with a spirited display. Neither goalkeeper was tested too frequently in the first half (Joel Robles not actually dealing with a single shot on target all game) with Funes Mori forcing Mark Cousins into a good save with a distant drive.>
Our Argentine centre-back also attempted a speculative overhead volley in the first half. Okay, it sailed harmlessly wayward, but his goal threat from set-pieces (two goals already this season) is apparent and is a useful feature of his game. He didn't survive the first half, forced off with a nasty head injury, and it was great to see Matthew Pennington make his Goodison Park bow as his replacement. Hopefully Funes Mori is stitched up and returned quickly.
Prior to that, we had broken the brave resistance of the Daggers when another good ball from Bryan Oviedo, this one from a free kick after Lennon was fouled, was headed in smartly by Arouna Kone. Dagenham & Redbridge offered little attacking threat throughout, though kudos to Christian Doidge for battling gamely up front with precious little to work with. Everton ahead at the break.
At half time, Everton did some fantastic community work. You may have heard of the tough challenges facing young Noah from Southport who suffers with a muscle-wasting disease known as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I nipped to the loo so I'm not sure if he featured at the break or not, but it was his 12th birthday and it was fantastic for Everton to help raise awareness of his condition and make it such a special birthday for him. Generous supporters and players from Everton and Dagenham & Redbridge donated a total of 1,152 cards. You can donate to help his cause here - https://www.gofundme.com/teamnoah.
Everton weren't done there either. They showed a heart-warming video on the big screens of two young Evertonians Denver and Kyle opening their Christmas presents – that being an invitation to come along to the Dagenham & Redbridge game to meet their heros Phil Jagielka, Romelu Lukaku and Leighton Baines. Denver, only nine years old, has bravely suffered 15 different brain operations, whilst his elder brother Kyle, 10, has helped him along the way. The video is worth a watch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqYXnlL_hQI. The boys were then introduced to the crowd and came out onto the pitch at the break. One of them was asked by Darren Griffiths who we would want in the League Cup Final should we get there? "Liverpool". "Why?" asked Darren. "Because they're rubbish" said the boy. Amazing work by Everton. Very well done.
Back to matters on the pitch; with Everton attacking the Gwladys Street in the second half, it was more entertaining for us and was more enjoyable than I imagined it would be. Arouna Kone almost scored on two separate occasions (I wish he had the confidence to shoot more regularly) and most of the footy was played in the Dagenham & Redbridge half. I was glad Kevin Mirallas was given the opportunity to exorcise some demons from the penalty spot as I think his long absence from the team generally stems back to 19 January 2015 when he fatefully took the ball from Leighton Baines and missed his spot kick.
Kevin worked ever so hard against Dagenham & Redbridge and cut a frustrated figure, irritating Dagenham & Redbridge players and referee throughout. I felt he might react and get himself a silly red card at some point but he thankfully retained his discipline. He was taken down in the penalty area, Darron Gibson was quick to get over to him and point at him to say it was the Belgian's penalty, and thankfully he sent the keeper the wrong way. Nice also to see Kevin tapping his badge towards the Gwladys Street in his celebration. 2-0 and game over. Our only penalty so far this season, by the way.
Roberto also gave Steven Pienaar as much time as he could on the pitch before giving Leon Osman some game time, and also gave Leandro Rodriguez his dÃ©but, albeit in the last minute. The visit onto the pitch of the cat made everyone chuckle though the feline wasn't the only intruder. I'd left by the time the pitch invader ran the whole length of the field from the Park End to the Gwladys Street. That would have been funny to see, the moral of the story - never leave early. The conditions heading home were awful, not a good day to realise you've a hole in your trainer!
So into the FA Cup Fourth Round we march. What are the chances we get Manchester City on Monday's draw?
Robles: Certainly not a game to judge him on though he did manage to draw himself some daggers from Bryan Oviedo early on as he dithered when he could have collected a ball, resulting in Oviedo having to put the ball out for a corner. Some simple words of advice from captain Jagielka followed: "Talk". We won't know what Robles can do until he gets a run of games. Last time he got that, he kept three clean sheets in a row and was then dropped so there may be credence in the theory that he could do a good job for us. For whatever reason, however, I'm not so sure. I don't think he or Tim Howard are really the answer and a new goalkeeper is required regardless. 6
Galloway: Got forward well and did his job defensively. Final ball often lacking. 6
Funes Mori: Was doing well until that nasty head injury. Hopefully he won't be out for long. 7
Jagielka: Back in the swing of things seamlessly though not really tested throughout. I expect he'll start at The Etihad on Wednesday. 6
Oviedo: Did well in a slightly unfamiliar position. His ability to put a ball in on his wrong foot is useful. With Coleman out and now possibly Funes Mori also, he may be required at right back on Wednesday. 7
Gibson: Patrolled the midfield and took the responsibility of our pass-master with an influential game. Could be worth keeping as would be useful if anything happened to Gareth Barry. 7
Besic: Quietly effective throughout. I think he may be in for a run of games, especially whilst James McCarthy is out. 7
Pienaar: Great to see him back. He was in and out of the game throughout but getting 77 minutes under his belt will be invaluable in his fight for fitness. 6
Lennon: Also seemed to drift in and out of the game. 6
Mirallas: Was very involved throughout and had a very busy game and deserved his goal. If Tom Cleverley doesn't make it I've an inkling he might start on Wednesday. My man of the match. 8
Kone: Began up front and seemed to end up on the left. Could, and perhaps should, have gotten more goals than just the one, and it's difficult to judge him on this game given the opposition, but who knows, maybe he can do a stand in job for a short time if Romelu Lukaku fails to recover from his current injury. 7
Pennington (for Funes Mori): Coped well in quite a comfortable game. 6
Osman (for Pienaar): Got involved. 6<
Rodriguez (for Lennon): Difficult to judge as not on for long.