Moyes bemoans familiar failings

IF ever a game could sum up a season, this might just have been it for Everton.

Plenty of bright play and a stack of chances received the rather desultory reward of a single point thanks to some profligate finishing and the Merseysiders will sit down for Christmas lunch just two points clear of the relegation zone.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov’s sixth-minute strike was all the hosts had to show for their early dominance, although Louis Saha had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside minutes after the Russia international had opened the scoring.

There was, therefore, a touch of inevitability when they were caught cold by Sebastian Larsson’s equaliser, plundered with Birmingham’s first shot of the match midway through the first half.

It was much the same after the interval and even when Moyes sent on Ayegbeni Yakubu and switched to 4-4-2 Everton could not make the breakthrough.

“I’m frustrated because we had opportunities in a game which I feel we were in control of and should have won,’’ Moyes said.

“I didn’t think Saha’s disallowed goal would be the turning point at the time because I thought we were dominating the game and playing so well we would go on a score more goals

“I thought our play was fine but I thought in the final third we were wasteful.”

Everton can now boast just one victory in 11 and, while performances have improved since their autumn nadir at Hull, where they were three down by half-time, they will continue to fret about relegation until they develop more of a cutting edge.

They were given the perfect launch pad here in the fifth minute when Tony Hibbert’s throw was cleverly chested into the path of Bilyaletdinov by Saha and the Russian cut inside on his left foot to beat Joe Hart at his near post with a 12-yard drive.

Saha had the ball in the net moments later from Tim Cahill’s reverse pass but was flagged offside, although television replays showed the Frenchman had timed his run to perfection.

Moyes was disappointed Saha’s effort was disallowed and also that the officials failed to spot an incident when Stephen Carr appeared to handle the ball when he challenged Saha.

“It’s a goal. And then Stephen Carr punches it off his head – I’ve seen that as well,” he said.

Tim Cahill also went close for Everton in a one-sided opening 20 minutes before Birmingham turned the atmosphere at a freezing Goodison Park crowd even more frosty with a surprise leveller.

Larsson picked up the ball in midfield, played it in to Christian Benitez on the edge of the penalty area and continued his run to collect the return pass and clip a shot past Tim Howard.

The goal drained some of the confidence from Everton but the visitors still allowed them too much possession and Saha’s back-header from Leighton Baines’ inswinging 29th-minute free-kick went just over.

Birmingham, however, sensed they always had a chance against a patched-up defence.

Just before half-time Lee Bowyer threaded a pass through to Cameron Jerome on the edge of the penalty area and only a last-ditch tackle by Hibbert prevented the striker having a clear shot at goal.

Everton began the second half as they had the first and eight minutes after the restart Cahill’s diving header at the near post went just wide from Baines’ cross while Saha curled a 25-yard effort over.

The crowd screamed for a penalty on the hour when Marouane Fellaini’s cross to the far post was volleyed by Baines straight at Scott Dann and Roger Johnson cleared the danger as referee Stuart Attwell waved play on. Everton managed to retain control of the game but despite their endeavour they struggled to find the necessary creativity in the final third and Alex McLeish’s side were able to soak up all that was thrown at them.

McLeish’s team are now unbeaten in nine Premier League games and remain focused on the top end of the table, not the bottom.

“It is a good end to the run up to Christmas,” he said. “We were hoping we would remain intact on this unbeaten run up to Christmas Day.

“To come to Goodison, not play that great and get a point I suppose is a fantastic bonus.”

McLeish accepted his side had got lucky with some of the officials’ decisions.

“I know Louis Saha was not offside. We have had some like that go against us but it shows you, in a split-second decision, how difficult it is for the linesman,” he said.

On Carr’s possible handball McLeish added: “Looking from the dug-out I thought someone threw their arm up and people are telling me that now but no-one seemed to bat an eyelid.”

REFEREE: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire) 5: Everton should have been two ahead by the time Birmingham levelled.

MATCH RATING: ** Not a classic, perhaps inevitably in the conditions.


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