A tight and close game at Goodison Park unfolded on Saturday as both Everton and Blackburn Rovers demonstrated their credentials for a successful season. The game ended 1 – 1 after Rovers had taken the lead through the prolific early season form of Roque Santa Cruz.
For the first time the internationally world class strike pairing of Benni McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz was trailed by Mark Hughes.
As the sun basked on the Goodison pitch and fans were still flooding to their seats Mike Riley blew top begin proceedings. Everton started strongly, forcing Rovers onto the back foot early on.
This appeared to ruffle Rovers as a number of niggling fouls and needless free-kicks were conceded allowing Everton to mount a few decent chances.
Firstly Andrew Johnson found a bit of space at the edge of the area before unleashing a thunderbolt of a shot at Brad Friedel`s goal. Friedel did well to parry it despite it being straight at him. Following this was a drilled free-kick from Alan Stubbs, in a similar manner to the one the which deceived Paul Robinson at White Hart Lane a couple of weeks ago. Alas, whereas was Robinson watched on helplessly, Friedel made a smart block.
However, the direction and tempo of the game was changed on 15 minutes following a wonderfully executed over-head kick from Morten Gamst Pedersen.
He ghosted in behind the Everton defence to control a loosely lofted ball by Robbie Savage on his chest. In the same movement he produced a wonderful over-head kick which looped over Tim Howard but bounce back off the bar.
Roque Santa Cruz was displaying all the qualities of a world class striker by anticipating a rebound and he scuffed a short into the ground and back towards goal, deceiving Howard as it crept in at the near post.
This altered the dynamic of the game considerably. Everton started to look desperate as Rovers took control of the game. Further chances were created notably for Chris Samba who rose to head a corner at goal only to see it headed off the line and David Dunn was thwarted by a superb save following a wonderfully executed shot from nigh on 30 yards.
Rovers were demonstrating a great quality of movement, passing and link up play with McCarthy and Santa Cruz combining well on occasions.
Everton couldn`t get into the game as David Dunn was running the show in the middle of the park. He was displaying all the skill and qualities of a once young and abash Rovers fan dancing his way through defences with the only difference being the new found maturity to his game.
As Rovers continued to control Everton continued to lose their discipline and its amazing how Phil Neville avoided a yellow card, maybe even a red for some of the challenges made. The same could be said for a horrible stamp by Andrew Johnson in the second half, again allowed to get away with.
Rovers went in at the break, ahead and in control.
Following a couple of changes, one just before half-time and one at half-time, for Everton their approach changed.
The second half began with Rovers expecting an Everton onslaught, but all that materialised was a quiet rumbling of a far off stampede, it was going to happen but it was going to take a while.
Alas, whereas Everton continued to pump balls forward, snuffed out by the colossus Samba, who was thwarting everything Everton tried, Rovers appeared to be content to sit back. Very few chances were created by Hughes` men as they appeared to defend their lead.
Everton created their first real opening on 58 minutes when some indecision was latched on to by Johnson and he centred for Phil Jagielka who headed miserably wide with the goal gaping.
This was a rare opening for Everton but an equaliser was forthcoming. An error by the impressive Santa Cruz allowed Everton to keep possession and Arteta, who had been subdued for long periods, to whip a ball into the near post that was deftly re-directed by James McFadden through a crowded box and into Friedel`s near post.
Everton were roused and they charged forward to the battle cries of their vociferous fans but couldn`t muster another chance. In fact it was Rovers who could have won it in the last minute as a free-kick from David Bentley was tipped onto the crossbar and substitute Matt Derbyshire couldn`t direct his volley on goal.
A fair result, one we would have taken before the game but despite not taking all the points it showed the great ability and potential this Rovers team has.
Made some smart stops. Although a few questionable decisions were made at times.
Put in a really good defensive display this time.
Put everything on the line for the cause once more.
A tower of strength.
Looked a little nervous at times.
Drifted in and out of the game but was a constant threat with his deliveries.
Excellent skill to create the opener.
Looked a little all over the place at times.
A brilliant commanding midfield display.
Santa Cruz 8
Neat goal, good movement and link up play too.
Looking settled alongside Santa Cruz, not as dangerous on Saturday though.
Missed a great chance at the death.
No time to impress
Despite no time to impress held the ball up well.