Howard’s way helps lift the Goodison gloom

THERE are 2-2 draws and then there are 2-2 draws.

Goodison Park saw one of the more entertaining versions yesterday, when Tim Howard’s injury-time penalty save from Jermain Defoe helped Everton escape with a point after a scintillating afternoon on Merseyside.

Everton’s current woes have been well documented and have been exacerbated by the fact an astonishing 11 first-team players are currently under the concerned care of chief physio Mick Rathbone.

One Premier League win in eight prior to this tie seemed to prove beyond doubt that their pre-season optimism about breaking into the top four was embarrassingly far-fetched.

But although manager David Moyes had to do a virtual head count before this game to see if he could get 11 bodies on the field, they do have tenacity and they do have spirit.

They displayed both traits in the most admirable manner in a match that ebbed and swayed and twisted and turned in the most fabulous fashion, although the best was most certainly saved until last as Howard blocked with his legs to rescue a vital draw.

“It could be an important point in the season because the players are seeing that we need to stick together and work hard,” Moyes admitted.

“There is a really good spirit amongst them until we get the numbers back.’’

As Goodison emptied last night, the exciting chatter was not entirely based on Howard’s performance. Instead, the home debut of Seamus Coleman generated just as much fevered discussion.

The Republic of Ireland U23 defender replaced Joseph Yobo after 15 minutes after the Nigerian pulled up with injury but if he was fazed by the occasion he deserves an Oscar for the way he suppressed it.

The Donegal-born defender, widely hailed as one of the country’s most promising prospects, was undoubtedly Everton’s best player throughout the remainder of the match, better even than Howard, despite his heroics.

The first half was a bad tempered, tempestuous affair where both sides were lucky to get back into the break with a full compliment of players.

That was summed up by Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s terrible challenge on Tim Cahill when he deliberately raked Cahill’s scalp after a tackle which cut his head and inflamed Marouane Fellaini to such an extent that a red card seemed imminent.

An early chance apiece for Peter Crouch and Defoe were both squandered – with the significance of them not apparent at the time, of course – but Defoe made amends immediately after the break when he opened the scoring at the near post.

It was the kind of swift moving and subtle play at which he excels, his run and finish to Aaron Lennon’s delivery leaving Howard helpless.

Everton’s fate then looked sealed for another afternoon shortly after when Michael Dawson brilliantly steered a diving header through the prone Everton back-line.

However, the hosts were by no means finished. Moyes immediately brought on Yakubu and Louis Saha as a sign of his intent and the message was clear: if we lose today we at least lose while attacking. That attitude was rewarded with just over 10 minutes to go when Saha made the most of a hesitant Spurs defence to thump past Heurelho Gomes to offer a measure of hope.

Then, Coleman delivered a cross to Leighton Baines, whose mis-hit shot bounced kindly to Cahill, who reacted smartly to head into the net.

If that had not spiked every heart-rate in the ground then the events in the 92nd minute certainly did, as Tony Hibbert crashed into Wilson Palacios in the box. When Andre Marriner quite rightly pointed to the penalty spot, Everton’s rotten luck seemed sure to be extended.

But someone, somewhere, was smiling on Moyes yesterday.

Howard stood tall, moved quickly and Defoe’s poor effort rattled off his shins and away to safety.

That was the cue for mass pandemonium in most of the stadium although Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp was understandably less keen in joining the tea-party.

Spurs undoubtedly have the talent to make a challenge for a top four finish and Champions League qualification but they must develop a more ruthless streak if they are to make Arsenal, the team they would most dearly like to overhaul, sweat at the other end of the Seven Sisters Road.

REFEREE: Andre Marriner (West Midlands) 5: Was far too picky about minor offences. He booked Jack Rodwell for a superb tackle in the first half which was as wrong as can be. He has the air of a traffic warden and should perhaps reconsider his profession.

MATCH RATING: **** There was no love lost at Goodison Park as both sides threw everything at each other in an intriguing and extremely entertaining afternoon.


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