One in the eye for the little guy

THEY continue their belated and impressive push for Europe and although they boast a midfield with as many little attacking midfielders as Arsenal, Mikel Arteta has demonstrated that Everton’s little chaps can certainly look after themselves too.

Perhaps the biggest surprise about Arteta jabbing Morten Gamst Pedersen in the eye was the fact that he failed to hit the target with his first attempt, which is most unlike the Spaniard.

Having already put his team ahead by converting a penalty that he earned for himself, Arteta reacted to a challenge from Pedersen by pointing his finger at the Norwegian, jabbed it into his cheek and then pushed it into his eye.

Had Andre Marriner, who for some reason gave both players yellow cards, spotted what happened he would have sent Arteta off, ruling the Spaniard out of the final three games of the season. It may not sound quite like Ali/Frazier but the finger jab seems to be just the latest in an unlikely rivalry.

“I probably shouldn’t have reacted like I did but there have been a few times – not just today – when he’s made bad tackles,” Arteta said. “I don’t mind it when they’re fair or tough, I accept it with no problem but with him it’s different and he knows that – I told him after it today as well. I made a mistake, I shouldn’t have reacted and I apologise for it. I probably got more upset because I was out for so long and don’t want a stupid challenge injuring me again.

“I wasn’t even touching the ball, he just trod on my ankle. It was stupid. If he did it because he wanted me to react then he got what he wanted, which I shouldn’t have done, and I’m sorry for that.”

On the positive side, this was another significant marker in a campaign that Everton just do not want to end.

With two defeats in 21 league games, unbeaten in eight, with a reliable striker this lot would be dangerous and even in this significant victory – just the third time Blackburn have been beaten at Ewood Park this season – they were without Maroune Fellaini, Leon Osman and Jack Rodwell.

Although Rodwell is still an emerging talent and Fellaini has not built on a fine opening campaign, sixth-placed Liverpool, who are just two points ahead of their neighbours, who looked in relegation trouble before Christmas, would struggle with their equivalents removed from their team.

David Moyes stuck with his usual five-man midfield and few teams in England enjoy the fluidity and angles enjoyed by Everton, with Arteta, Tim Cahill and Steven Pienaar popping up all over the place with only attack on their minds.

With a year left on his contract, Pienaar looks like he will be off in the summer but, having served eight years at Goodison Park, Moyes appears more comfortable than ever with the situation and will back himself to replace the South African with a cheaper alternative.

“I’m very excited,” Moyes said. “It’s the best group I’ve had and even today we were without some important players. We’ve got potentially a top squad.”

Just 18 months into his job, Blackburn’s Sam Allardyce feels the same about his group of players. Arteta was tripped by Ryan Nelsen and scored from the spot but Rovers responded with a wonderful drive from Steven Nzonzi, a lanky Frenchman signed from Amiens for £400,000 who has impressed in 32 league appearances this season.

Yakubu came off the bench to score from close range but Jason Roberts thumped in another equaliser before Tim Cahill tapped in a winner in the final minute.

Although Keith Andrews was jeered once again by the home supporters and had an altercation with a fan after he was substituted to ironic applause, at least Allardyce is pleased with the progress being made by Nzonzi.

“There is not a better find for the consistency he has shown over the season,” Allardyce said.

“He has managed to hang in there and has managed to cope with the pressure that is on him every week and there are not many people that turn out in your first time in the Premier League to play as many games as he has.”

MATCH RATING: **** – Not a huge amount riding on it but that did not come across with both teams slugging it out in search of victory, with some great goals thrown in.

REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands) 6 – The penalty was an easy decision but he should have sent Arteta off and it was hard to see why he gave him a yellow card.

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