x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Moyes slips up as Everton find their feet

Within a fortnight, Everton had lost their first two league fixtures, their most coveted centre-back and their reputation for defensive dependability.

Everton's Leighton Barnes scores a  last-minute penalty to beat Wigan at Goodison Park yesterday.
Everton's Leighton Barnes scores a last-minute penalty to beat Wigan at Goodison Park yesterday.

LIVERPOOL // Within a fortnight, Everton had lost their first two league fixtures, their most coveted centre-back and their reputation for defensive dependability. The consolation yesterday was that all David Moyes lost was his balance. While his side stumbled briefly, they ended the match on a firmer footing. They trailed for six second-half minutes before Louis Saha and Leighton Baines salvaged their first win of the campaign. The light at the end of the tunnel was generated by Everton's powers of recovery, not Wigan's luminous away kit. This was a comeback to provide evidence of the spirit and teamwork for which Moyes' men have become known.

It was required after Paul Scharner gave Wigan the lead. Tim Howard had been largely unoccupied before Mario Melchiot found Charles N'Zogbia and the merits of deploying a left-footer on the right flank were apparent as he cut inside to curl a cross. At the far post, Scharner escaped the attentions of Tony Hibbert to plunge forward and head in. It was the start of a frenetic few minutes, when Jordi Gomez struck the post.It was soon proved to be a turning point. Baines whipped in a corner and Saha rose to head in his - and Everton's - second league goal of the season. A second set-piece brought an injury-time winner. The previously excellent Emmerson Boyce brought down Everton's substitute striker, Jo, and the former Wigan left-back Baines lifted his spot kick into the roof of the net.

Such was the pressure Everton exerted that the goal had been coming. Mike Pollitt had thwarted Jo and an unmarked Tim Cahill had headed wastefully wide from Hibbert's cross. Saha had almost supplied it, too, attempting to apply a finishing touch to Joseph Yobo's header as Hendry Thomas cleared off the Wigan line. He ensured Moyes was inadvertently involved in the comic interlude on an attritional afternoon. When Thomas was seeking to avert an Everton throw, the sliding midfielder's momentum took him into the Everton technical area to upend Moyes. It suggested the Honduran was a braver man than most, though no damage was done to the often fearsome Everton manager. It was, nonetheless, the most notable moment of the first half. Everton, their confidence dented by damaging defeats to Arsenal and Burnley, had probed in vain for an opening.

Cahill was the instigator of many of the moves and the beneficiary of a reshuffle. The Australian was given a more advanced position when Moyes dropped Marouane Fellaini, whose cult status derives more from his hairstyle than his recent form. Granted greater freedom, Cahill rolled in an inviting cross from the left flank and the advancing Saha's shot struck Pollitt before rebounding on to the Frenchman and past the post. After the concession of nine goals in their last two games, Wigan showed an understandable lack of ambition and the Everton defence had rather less to do, though Howard was required to make a late save to deny the substitute Scott Sinclair.

Ahead of the American, Sylvain Distin made an assured debut after his midweek move from Portsmouth. Moyes' more expensive addition, the Russian Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, was confined to a two-minute cameo as a replacement. It spared him some aggressive challenges. The Wigan manager Roberto Martinez was brought north from Swansea on the basis of some silky passing football in the Championship. Their approach may have altered after thrashings from Manchester United and Blackpool, but Wigan displayed a rather more forceful side to their game yesterday. They collected five bookings to incur a mandatory fine from the Football Association, though on this occasion justice may have been done.

Some 21 hours previously, the referee Lee Probert, while fourth official at Old Trafford, had deemed kicking a water bottle worthy of a red card for Arsene Wenger. Thankfully for Thomas, tackling a watching manager did not bring the same sanction. @Email:rjolly@thenational.ae