Gardner digs deep as Toffees lose their bite
Birmingham City 2 Everton 2
Sunday 14 March 2010
Craig Gardner, who came out as a "lifelong Bluenose" after defecting from Aston Villa in January, rescued a point with his first goal for Birmingham after they trailed Everton by two goals early in an entertaining tussle between two sides with designs on a place in next season's Europa League. Everton, with Mikel Arteta strutting his stuff in midfield, looked to be cruising to victory after goals by the Nigerian-born duo of Victor Anichebe, his first of the season, and Yakubu Ayegbeni. Only the agility of Joe Hart stood between the visitors and a rout, but a fortuitous riposte by Cameron Jerome gave Birmingham hope. Gardner, who had climbed off his sick bed to play, fulfilled it with a sharp equaliser.
Birmingham's manager, Alex McLeish, hailed his team's resilience. "It's so typical of what we've done this season," he said. "We get setbacks but the players just don't give in. We started slowly and Everton could have blown us away, but we came back which is brilliant against a side of that quality." His fellow flame-haired refugee from Glasgow's Old Firm divide, David Moyes, was gloomier. "The performance was fine," the Everton manager said. "The result wasn't."
Everton's shape, with John Heitinga protecting the back four and Yakubu foraging alone up front, had looked designed for security. Yet they were the more enterprising side from the outset and Hart, in Birmingham's goal, had to spring athletically to his left to parry a curling shot by Steven Pienaar and a Tim Cahill header.
Hart, however, was helpless when Anichebe took Phil Neville's pass on his right foot, turned Liam Ridgewell and fired beyond the goalkeeper with his left. The move had started with a fine cross-field pass by Arteta. Before Birmingham could respond, the Basque picked out Pienaar, who had switched to the right flank. Allowed too much room by Lee Bowyer, the South African chipped to the far post, where Yakubu headed home.
Everton were disabused of any notions that the points were already theirs when Birmingham halved the arrears. Jerome raised an arm to claim the decisive touch, although Keith Fahey's left-wing cross may have gone in without further contact. Hart made another flying stop from Pienaar's free-kick, but Everton's first-half superiority counted for nothing when Birmingham drew level soon after half-time. The goal was pure route one. Hart's long kick was headed on by Jerome to Gardner, whose first-time, left-footed shot from 18 yards gave Tim Howard no time to react.
There was still time for Birmingham to survive a penalty appeal, when Stephen Carr appeared to handle, and for Anichebe to pull up off the ball with an injured ankle. Afterwards, Everton substitute Landon Donovan threw his shirt to the fans, Moyes confirming that the American will fly back to Los Angeles today unless there is a late sting in the tale of his loan spell.
Referee: Lee Probert
Man of the match: Arteta
Match rating: 7/10
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