Gravesen rises above the mediocrity to keep Everton among elite

Birmingham City 0 - Everton 1
Click to follow
The Independent Online

What with Birmingham City's lamentable scoring record and Everton's determination to regroup following two defeats, this fixture was devoid of potential to do to Saturday tea-time what the north London derby had done to Saturday lunchtime.

What with Birmingham City's lamentable scoring record and Everton's determination to regroup following two defeats, this fixture was devoid of potential to do to Saturday tea-time what the north London derby had done to Saturday lunchtime.

A goal glut at St Andrew's these days is when both teams score on the same day - something that has happened only twice there this season in eight meetings of Premiership clubs - so the turgid proceedings came as no surprise.

That the decider came from a penalty was a further telling point, although the Lee Carsley shot that earned the decision was worthy of being the decider.

In the event, Muzzy Izzet's double-handed palm over the bar - and inevitable red card - meant the honour of match-winner fell to the Republic of Ireland midfielder's lookalike, Thomas Gravesen.

He, amid a mass of mediocrity, was excellent. Never before has he scored more than two top-flight goals in a season. Now he has got three, plus one in the League Cup, almost before the Christmas lights are up.

Whereas the several-time Everton target, Robbie Savage, cut a manic figure in the home "engine room", Gravesen was an all-calming authority; cool under pressure, with the knack of breaking up Birmingham attacks and the ability to pick out colleagues with the comfortable pass.

With Izzet banished for the final 21 minutes after his recent return from injury, the Merseysiders' fifth away league win of 2004-05 was stitched on.

But they had a late scare when Dwight Yorke, having stepped off the bench to save a point for a 10-man side at home to Charlton Athletic in September, should have done the same here, only to blaze horribly over with just Nigel Martyn to beat.

The build-up between another substitute, Stan Lazaridis, and Savage was of a quality out of keeping with Birmingham's latest colourless performance; one that leaves them with only one goal in six matches - their surprise winner at Liverpool nine days ago.

The Birmingham manager, Steve Bruce, reacted to criticism about the use of only Emile Heskey up front by saying he had already given Yorke a go up there. No wonder he is pinning his hopes on Clinton Morrison's return for what suddenly looks a dare not-lose game at Blackburn Rovers next Sunday.

"It's hard to put a finger on it," said their defender, Matthew Upson, who at least had the consolation of a Saturday evening recall to England's squad. "We can't grumble because, over 13 games, there's no luck or freakiness about that. The table doesn't lie.

"It's just soul-destroying when you go 1-0 down and we need more belief that we are going to score." Birmingham finished 11 points and seven places ahead of Everton last season, then went on another major spending spree while cash-strapped Goodison prepared to wave farewell to Wayne Rooney.

Now, they are 14 points and 12 rungs below Dave Moyes' men. Mind you, even the fourth-placed club trail them by four.

In a game of few chances, this was a victory built on solid teamwork and admirable defence, the latter well seen to by the rocks that were David Weir and their captain, Alan Stubbs. Ironically, both, like Gravesen, are out of contract in the summer.

"People are waiting for that bubble to burst," Stubbs said. "It's an incentive for us to keep them waiting."

Goal: Gravesen pen (69) 0-1

Birmingham City (4-5-1): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham (Yorke, 73), Upson, Gray; Johnson, Savage, Izzet, Clemence (Lazaridis, 61), Gronkjaer (Anderton, 81); Heskey. Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Clapham.

Everton (4-1-4-1): Martyn; Hibbert, Stubbs, Weir, Pistone; Carsley; Osman (Ferguson, 88), Gravesen, Cahill, Kilbane; Bent (Watson, 90). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), McFadden, Naysmith.

Referee: R Styles (Waterlooville).

Booked: Everton: Kilbane. Sending-off: Birmingham: Izzet.

Man of the match: Gravesen.

Attendance: 28,388.

Comments