Everton 1 - 2 Manchester UnitedWhilst our mind-numbing Premier League season has flitted away over the last month or so we have spent a fair bit of time pre-game in the pub discussing our trip to Wembley. Ste mooted a departure time of 6am which, though no problem for an insomniac like myself (I actually awoke at 2am and was unable to get back to sleep!), I found a bit strange given the game wasn't to kick off until 5:15pm.
This proved to be a master-stroke from Ste however as, upon arriving at Stanmore station a little after 9:30am, there were very few spaces available in the car park. Had we have set off at around 8am like I would have suggested, there is no way we would have gotten a parking space there and would have had to figure something else out. The drive down was a breeze too and we arrived in what felt like no time at all. Gary and Sue in the back seats, and joined by Rob, a Manchester United supporter who lives just around the corner from me who was at a bit of a loose end with regards to travel.
Arriving at about 10am we saw little point going straight to Wembley, so stayed on the train a little longer, getting off at Baker Street. Coming out of the station I said, "What we need is a Weatherspoons. Somewhere to get some breakfast and a beer" and turning right as we walked out in all it's glory was The Metropolitan Bar, a Weatherspoons. In we went, getting a good table and it was a comfortable travellers rest for us for a few hours where we could relax with Everton and Manchester United supporters enjoying the morning and early afternoon. My sister, who lives in London, joined us for a little while, as too did a London-based Irish Evertonian Leslie, who I have gotten to know via ToffeeWeb.
At around 1pm, we went on to Wembley, deciding on The Torch to enjoy the afternoon outside amongst loads and loads of fellow Evertonians. We bumped into some of the fella's who sit next to us in the Gwladys Street and a few other mates from home. It was a fantastic party atmosphere with everyone in great spirits and blue flares going off time and again. When the smoke on one of them had evaporated it was launched in the air, landing directly in Sue's drink which was just hilarious. Ian, a friend of Gary's who lives in Brighton, though unable to get a ticket for the game, also joined us. Even Michael Ball was there chatting with the fans and posing for photos. It was a great time, really good fun before we walked down Wembley Way for the main event. Gary and Sue even bumped into Derek Mountfield and Pat van den Hauwe as they neared Wembley Stadium.
We'd since seen the team news in the pub and we were made up that Gary's inkling that Phil Jagielka would make the team was correct. He partnered John Stones in defence with Mohammed Besic drafted in to right back to replace Bryan Oviedo after the latter's personal hell in Wednesday's Merseyside derby. With Gareth Barry unavailable, Darron Gibson was sensibly drafted in to the middle alongside James McCarthy with Aaron Lennon and Tom Cleverley (I'd have gone with Kevin Mirallas myself) on the flanks with Ross Barkley supporting Romelu Lukaku in attack. Tony Hibbert provided additional cover from the substitutes bench. Ex-Blues Wayne Rooney and Marouanne Fellaini featured for Manchester United as did the promising youngster Marcus Rashford. Anthony Taylor officiated.
Though a poor display in the first half, Romelu Lukaku will have been very disappointed with his first touch with two first-half opportunities both of which he really should have done better with. One I think was going wide before Wayne Rooney cleared just short of the goal line though it was difficult to tell what was happening out there in the sun. At the other end, Jesse Lingard forced Joel Robles into a good save.
Both sets of supporters were vocally getting behind their team though Manchester United began to get a stranglehold on the game and had us under quite severe pressure as we approached the break. As is the way with Everton lately the pressure told and Marcus Rashford did well to slip in Marouanne Fellaini who smashed the ball past Joel Robles to put Manchester United into a deserved lead at the break.
At the break, amongst the crowd people were squabbling with each other whilst a couple of the guys in front of us were so drunk they were literally falling over. There seemed to be very few stewards about also. In the dressing room, a big half-time was required from Roberto Martinez and it could be his last.
In fairness to Roberto Martinez, he did get an excellent reaction from his players in the second half. We did what we haven't done for some time now and really had a go at Manchester United with Ross Barkley and Aaron Lennon particularly instrumental with driving us on. The Evertonians, desperate for long-awaited success, reacted and got behind the team.
It was Ross Barkley who was allegedly felled in the penalty box by Tim Fosu-Mensah to give Everton a gilt-edged opportunity from the penalty spot. The penalty award looked a tad generous to me but we certainly weren't complaining. I noticed Lukaku call for the ball immediately, though Sue saw him take the ball from Leighton Baines. Up stepped Lukaku and, just as he did with his last penalty against West Ham United, the Belgian changed his run-up, making it perhaps more obvious were he was going to put the ball and David de Gea saved well down to his right hand side to huge applause from the Manchester United supporters. The eventual follow up shot was also saved by the Manchester United goalkeeper.
I thought this might have killed Everton but, on the contrary, the players somehow seemed more inspired, more determined. Gerard Deulofeu replaced Aaron Lennon. I'd have liked to have seen two wingers on the pitch though in any event, the substitution was an effective one as it was the Spaniard's low centre which was diverted past David de Gea by Chris Smalling. Everton level. Evertonians erupted. Manchester United on the backfoot.
Sadly we couldn't finish them off. A beautiful delivery from Leighton Baines deserved better but was headed wide on the dive by Romelu Lukaku whilst Phil Jagielka and John Stones were at their defiant best at the other end to keep out Manchester United. Phil Jagielka showed remarkable courage and determination to get himself through the game and he will be in bits today, both physically and emotionally.
As we neared stoppage time Jagielka went down injured and you worried he may not be able to continue though he dragged himself up. Heartbreakingly it was to be our undoing as in the 93rd minute, with all supporters anticipating extra time, Ander Herrera got the better of James McCarthy and poked the ball through for Anthony Martial. I think if Phil Jagielka was not nursing such a painful injury he may have been able to fling himself across the box in time to get a goal-preventing block in, but that he couldn't do and Anthony Martial finished to the jubilation of the Manchester United supporters... and the shock and despair of us Evertonians.
It was truly gutting and the team didn't deserve that. Kevin Mirallas was introduced in vain to desperately salvage the draw but it couldn't be done. Everton out. "It's never us" said Ste at full time. I couldn't put it better. We never fluke these things. We never fluke anything.
I felt a bit devastated for some of the players at full time. For Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert and Tim Howard, though they didn't get on the pitch, it represents their last chance of winning anything at Everton. Likewise probably for Darron Gibson. I thought it would have been a good opportunity for Roberto Martinez to come onto the pitch and applaud the fans as he may not get another chance to do so.
We trudged off dejectedly and it seemed to take an eternity to get to Wembley Park Station though once we did get to the car and reconvened we were out of Stanmore and on the road home pretty quickly. In discussion on the way back, the majority of us felt that now is the time to call time on Roberto as three years is enough time and we've gone backwards and not won anything. Manuel Pellegrini would be the obvious choice for me given he's won things, knows the Premier League, lives in the Northwest, is available and carries himself with dignity, but if the board can go out and find a Mauricio Pochettino or a Ronald Koeman Ã la Southampton I won't be complaining.
The journey home was grim and we couldn't thank Ste enough for driving us there and back. We were going well until we hit the horrendous roadworks on the M6. What genius thought it a good idea to leave it down to one lane with so much traffic coming that way I just don't know. Especially as there were no trains available thanks to the late kick-off. It was quite appalling really and the idea of getting last orders in the pub had long, long since evaporated when I was finally dropped off at home come 2am.
So thanks for your efforts, Roberto. A genuinely nice man and I wish him well elsewhere, but that's enough for me.
Onwards and upwards Evertonians. The good times will come back and when they do, you'll look back, and you wouldn't change a thing.
Robles: After initial doubts he's impressed me incredibly these last six games or so and I feel we may have a number one after all without the need to go out and spend big on a new one, even if we do of course require back up. You always felt he needed a run of games to show what he can do, and now he's starting to show it. 8
Baines: Did well at both ends of the pitch. One of his better performances of the season. 7
Jagielka: A colossal effort from Jagielka and I was gutted for him more than anyone else I think given how he'd pulled himself through the pain-barrier to get through the game. 8
Stones: Also did well. He and Jagielka represents our best two at the back and their performances together in the early part of the season hint at what could have been achieved had they both remained fit for the season. If only... 7
Besic: Well he's not a right back, lets be clear about that but he did his best and didn't let us down. 6
Gibson: Not bad. Struggling for fitness a little bit but gave it a good go against his old club. He'll likely be moving on in the summer and I hope he can find some fitness. At 28 years old he should still have a lot to offer in the game. 6
McCarthy: Will be disappointed to have lost out to Hererra for the second goal and he was all at sea in the first half though he did well for the most part of the second half as Everton notched it up a few gears. 6
Cleverley: Busy throughout though I'd like to have seen us go for it and swap him for Kevin Mirallas on the flank to try and force the win. 6
Lennon: Was contributing before substituted though
Deulofeu was a good introduction as it proved. 7
Barkley: I thought he was excellent at driving us forward as we chased the game though others tell me he should have been taken off as he was becoming a bit of a passenger. I didn't see it that way and though this probably won't be popular, I felt he was our best player out there. My Man of the Match. 8
Lukaku: Will awake frustrated and disappointed as he missed the opportunities, all very presentable ones including a penalty, to win the game for us. Not a good day to have an off day though he has been off colour for some time now. 5
Deulofeu (for Lennon): Made a difference and created the goal. 7
Mirallas (for Gibson): Not on long enough to judge.