Everton v QPR
Tommy Smith’s first half goal sentenced Everton to a lacklustre defeat in their opening Premier League match of the season.
Smith emphatically exploited a rare moment of sloppy work from Phil Jagielka as QPR prevailed at Goodison Park.
It was one of very few raids into Everton territory but the Hoops gleefully accepted the gift and battened down the hatches to escape back to the capital with all three points.
The Blues, meanwhile, were left to wonder yet again how they were unable to break down a determined visiting side.
Far too many times last season teams showed that gumption backed up by a gameplan could earn you points at Goodison and this reeked of déjà vu.
Plenty of perspiration, but not much inspiration.
The few sparks of creativity they did show invariably came from the boots of the precociously talented Ross Barkley.
The 17-year-old showed a fantastic touch, vision and passing ability as he announced himself a star of the future. Barkley displayed ability beyond his years as he flayed the ball about the park, took possession in difficult areas, linked-up with his teammates, beat players and consistently threatened the visitors’ goal.
Whether passing, shooting or crossing he showcased how to cleanly strike a football and his display was the one real positive to come out of this game.
With Marouane Fellaini and Mikel Arteta deemed only fit enough for the bench, Barkley got his chance.
And with Louis Saha not quite firing on all cylinders yet, the lone striking role was handed to Jermaine Beckford, with Tim Cahill providing able support.
Neil Warnock sharpened his axe after last week’s chastening Premier League bow against Bolton, with four members of that team feeling the sharp end.
DJ Campbell and Jay Bothroyd were two of those bumped to the bench with the deployment of lumpy targetman Patrick Agyemang ahead of a jam-packed midfield hinting at the visitors’ approach.
The Blues were aiming to avoid a fourth consecutive opening day defeat for the first time in their history, but the first chance went against them – Smith’s crisp half-volley only a yard wide as QPR foraged a chance from the early scraps.
Yet almost straight away some neat work down the right involving Cahill, Phil Neville and Leon Osman saw a succession of crosses wreak havoc in the visitors’ box.
And with their rattled defenders under increasing pressure, Matthew Connolly sent Jack Rodwell sprawling to the deck. It was a legitimate shout but referee Kevin Friend was unmoved.
QPR settled and quelled the home roar until Barkley jinked in off his left midfield perch and waltzed past a few challenges before being hacked down on the edge of the box.
The Gwladys bayed and Baines obliged, the full-back whipping the resultant free-kick against the underside of the bar. Paddy Kenny gawped on helplessly as it thudded down into the turf and to safety.
Barkley was growing in stature, but just as the youngster’s effervescence had the Blues on the up, the visitors struck an unlikely opener.
Jagielka uncharacteristically squandered possession on the edge of the box and, as Alejandro Faurlin and Akos Buzsaky capitalised, the England man was caught out of position as Smith arrived to sweep the ball past Tim Howard.
Back came the Blues and Cahill’s burst down the right earned them a free-kick high up the pitch – the award sending Warnock near to apoplexy on the touchline.
Yet when Baines swung it in, the referee’s refusal to acknowledge Fitz Hall’s shove on Cahill must have been soothing for the QPR boss.
And when the Aussie failed to direct two further headed chances on target, Warnock retreated for the sanctuary of the dressing room by far the happier of the two bosses.
Everton’s early appearance for the second half seemingly confirmed that fact but they were soon in the hunt for a leveller as Rodwell tested Kenny within a minute of the restart.
Unfortunately for the midfielder that would be his final contribution as Moyes looked to inject some craft into his midfield with the introduction of Mikel Arteta.
And the Blues boss followed that by replacing Beckford with Fellaini and pushing the Belgian up alongside Cahill.
The giant midfielder responded instantly by playing in his strike partner, but Kenny saved comfortably with the angle always against the 31-year-old.
Louis Saha joined the party with 15 minutes left – just in time to watch Barkley fizz narrowly wide from 20 yards.
But even the Frenchman could not provide the cutting edge that had been missing all afternoon – a Fellaini header from a Baines’ free-kick Everton's final vain attempt at snatching a point.