Oct 252014

There’s still nothing better than a trip to Goodison Park.

I haven’t had the chance to get there as often as I would have liked this season, due to work commitments, but I was there last Saturday to watch the win over Aston Villa.

I have to say, the one thing I took from the day was just how good the atmosphere was. Considering Everton were 17th at the start of the day, it would have been easy for the fans to be a bit apprehensive, a bit quiet, a bit concerned.

And I know what a crowd like that can do to players. I’ve run out in front of that kind of crowd at Goodison, and it wasn’t a nice experience.

On Saturday, though, the supporters were first-class from first whistle to last. And I think the players responded perfectly.

As wins in the Premier League go, it was one of the most comprehensive you will ever wish to see. I can’t think of a moment in the game when Everton were not in control, I can’t think of a time when they looked like conceding, and I always felt they were capable of scoring whenever they felt like it. And so it proved; the goals came at good times, and the winning margin could easily have been greater in the end.

There was plenty to write home about; two wonderful assists from Leighton Baines, including a pinpoint cross with his right foot, a full-back crossing for a full-back to score, another goal for the prolific Phil Jagielka, the welcome return of Ross Barkley, and a much-improved performance from Romelu Lukaku.

And a clean sheet, too, which is always pleasing. Especially given the start we have had to the season in that respect.

Ok, Villa posed precious little threat, but it was good to see Everton defending solidly, and having the platform to go and attack, which they did very well.

I always think the Blues are a much better side when Steven Pienaar is in it, and the South African again brought the best out of Baines down the left, as showcased perfectly in the well-worked free-kick for the third goal. Though quite what Alan Hutton was playing at, I’m not at all sure!

All in all, a perfect afternoon’s work. And a very enjoyable one too.


Fans did the club proud

Forget the negative reports in the French press, Everton supporters did the club proud in Lille this week.

I don’t know how many fans made the trip across the channel – various reports indicate it was more than 15,000 – but what I do know is they made Thursday night feel like a home fixture for Roberto Martinez and his side.

When you play away from home in Europe, there is always the prospect of an intimidating atmosphere to take into account. With Blues in full force, that was never going to be an issue in Lille. Home advantage was negated. Northern France was Scouse, to say the least.

I saw Roberto say afterwards that seeing so many supporters making the journey had made him proud to be connected with Everton, and I understand completely what he meant by that. I used to love seeing our travelling fans, up and down the land, singing and supporting the team wherever we went.

There aren’t many better sets of fans around, trust me.

The trip to Wolfsburg in late November looks like it could be a decisive fixture in Group H, and I expect that it will be similarly well-attended by Evertonians. They will want to get over there and support their side, and hopefully watch them clinch a place in the knockout stages in the process. EasyJet and Ryanair best be ready.

Good luck to them. Blues deserve the chance to enjoy their European away days more than anyone. Hopefully they can turn Germany blue as well.

Bad press for Europa League is undeserved

The Europa League gets a bad press, especially in the group stages.

But judging by this week’s Champions League fixtures, there is a problem which could need addressing in that competition pretty soon.

There were heavy wins for Chelsea, Atletico, Bayern Munich and Shakhtar. One-sided games, which make a mockery of the tournament’s reputation as the most competitive around.

I’m a huge fan of the Champions League, but even I know that the group stages tend to be little more than a warm-up exercise. And 90% of the time, you know exactly who will qualiy from any given group.

If weeks like this become the norm, things must change. It’s not just the Europa League which has meaningless games.

*Click here to read Greg O’Keeffe’s verdict on the fans who travelled to Lille

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