It was pouring with rain over Merseyside and Goodison was dripping with nostalgia. Sir Geoff Hurst and Ray Wilson appeared with the ball used in Wembley’s World Cup final. An actor came dressed as Dixie Dean and the players were introduced on the big screens as Subbuteo figures.
There were two flicks that decided a tough, hard game that saw Everton propelled into the kind of League position their history demands they occupy. The first, from Gareth Barry, may not even have touched the ball but deceived Allan McGregor in the Hull goal enough to render him motionless as Kevin Mirallas’s shot cannoned in off the post. One-nil as David Coleman would have said had this been 1975.
Steve Bruce was not so sure. Barry, in his view, had definitely touched it and was standing “a yard offside”. The Hull manager also thought the midfielder fortunate to have finished the game.
The tackle that saw Danny Graham taken off on a stretcher after barely a quarter of an hour was worthy of a yellow card. The one on Sone Aluko, in Bruce’s eyes, merited something more. “It was over the top, a horror tackle,” said Bruce. “He was lucky to get away with it. Did he touch it? Just look at the way he reacts, he knows he has touched it. At Everton you need the big decisions to go for you.”
The second flick was more emphatic and less controversial; a lovely touch with the side of his boot from Steven Pienaar who converted Mirallas’s cross, having been on the pitch for precisely 27 seconds. The announcement of his name had barely blurred into the rain when he was running over to pick up a South African flag that had been tied to the Park End.
Pienaar had not played since the third game of Everton’s season, which like the first two was drawn. Had the game flowed slightly differently, this match might also have finished with a point apiece. Hull’s combination of grit, determination and no little skill could have been rewarded with something more than plaudits.
In his years at Wigan, Roberto Martinez used to dread the game following an international break as his players journeyed back from distant corners of Africa and Latin America. Managing Everton has meant shorter journeys, but the fears remained.
“I was really worried by this fixture,” he said. “Not just because of the international break but because of the way Hull play. There were too many tired decisions. It could not be a pretty performance; it had to be a really professional performance and it was a professional win.”
This game had echoes of Hull’s last journey across the Pennines that had seen them play exceptionally well in the first half at Manchester City and lose 2-0. This ought to have been 3-1 but Arouna Kone, having been superbly set up by Seamus Coleman and with the goal not just at his mercy but on its knees, somehow contrived to shoot against the post.
The afternoon finished in sunshine and with a rainbow over Goodison, which might be an omen for someone – even the side that finished pointless. Curtis Davies kept Romelu Lukaku in check and Aluko recovered well enough to hold off Leighton Baines and cross low and accurately for Yannick Sagbo to score his first for Hull. At the time, the boy from Marseilles seemed the substitute that would change the game. Compared to the one Martinez was to make, it counted for nothing.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Howard: Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; McCarthy, Barry; Mirallas, Barkley, Osman (Pienaar, 56); Lukaku (Kone, 68).
Hull City (4-4-1-1): McGregor; Rosenior (Boyd, 66), Faye, Davies, Figueroa; Elmohamedy, Livermore, Huddlestone, Brady; Aluko (Quinn 73); Graham (Sagbo 16).
Referee: Neil Swarbrick.
Man of the match: Pienaar (Everton)
Match rating: 7/10.
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