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v Crystal Palace

Sunday 21 September K.O. 16:00



Goodison Park | 8th August 2012 19:45

Everton v AEK Athens

Tony Hibbert's testimonial dreams came true as he finally broke his goalscoring duck in front of an enraptured Goodison Park.

So prodigious has been the defender’s barren run in front of goal the fans vowed fireworks if he ever indeed bulged the net.

So when the 31-year-old – the owner of the longest spell without a goal of any current outfield player in English football – chose the occasion of his own testimonial to crash home an unstoppable free-kick in front of the Gwladys, it was fireworks we got.

The fans soaked up the moment that many thought would never come.

Some spilled on to the pitch in frenzied jubilation, but as the initial madness gave way to sustained acclaim, they quickly returned to their seats and the Evertonians revelled in a special moment for one their own.

Tony Hibbert goes for goal

Hibbert had said in the build-up that the last thing he wanted was a gimme. This was no gimme.

Ushered across by his teammates, he loped on to the end of Leighton Baines’ set and thumped a fierce shot low into the bottom corner of the AEK net to spark exultant scenes all around Goodison.

Either side of that momentous strike there were slide tackles, unfussy defensive clearances, cool-headed interventions and a long-sleeved jersey rightly bound by the captain’s armband.

Earlier, Blues’ fans had already been treated to the hugely-encouraging sight of Steven Naismith banging in a 30-minute hat-trick.

Although the chances of him wrestling that match ball away from a certain teammate are probably as remote as Hibbert following up with a hat-trick of his own against Manchester United on the opening day of the Premier League season.

The summer signing from Rangers has looked bright in his fleeting appearances so far and, appearing in a proper game at the home of his new employers for the first time, he took just 39 seconds to make his mark.

Nikica Jelavic congratulates his former Rangers teammateNikica Jelavic congratulates his former Rangers teammate, Steven Naismith

Steven Pienaar was the creator as he lofted a pass into the yawning space behind the AEK back four and the impish new boy scrambled in and dinked a cute finish over the stricken keeper’s head.

What wasn’t in the script was the instant reply.

Dimitrios Sialmas did well to hack out a cross from a lost cause, and once Sylvain Distin’s inadequate clearance had bobbled to the edge of the box, the baby-faced Fountas arrived to return a clean volley beyond the motionless Tim Howard.

The 16-year-old celebrated wildly and rightly so.

His teammates were more circumspect and as well they might have been.

Parity lasted a mere eight minutes as Naismith added his and Everton’s second.

It was all too easy as Baines and Pienaar combined with their usual effortless grace and the latter spooned the ball to the back stick for Naismith to nod home unchallenged.

The Scotland international scored nine in 15 for Rangers before a season-ending knee injury last term, and his eye for goal was clear for all to see here.

How often the crowd's pleas for Hibbo to shoot fall on deaf ears. Not tonight.

Tony Hibbert is mobbed after scoring against AEK AthensTony Hibbert is mobbed after scoring against AEK Athens

In a sign of what was still to come, the full-back unleashed a wicked 25-yard strike that had the keeper panicking to tip over.

Pienaar’s resultant corner caused mayhem in the AEK box, but Naismith was cool and lashed home his third at the back stick.

The Blues looked like scoring every time they went forward and Naismith almost had a fourth before the half was out, his stinging volley flashing dangerously across the face of goal.

Marouane Fellaini, Naismith and Howard all made way at half-time to be replaced by Magaye Gueye, Seamus Coleman and Jan Mucha, and the hosts were quickly into their stride again.

Nikica Jelavic got his first sight of goal but failed to make the most of Coleman’s slide-rule pass, while Gueye drilled a low shot narrowly wide.

Five minutes later he was treated to a shooting tutorial as Hibbert served up a moment sure to go down in Everton folklore.

The celebrations were appropriately extravagant as the last and best goal of the game was scored by the man we were all here to see.

Congratulations Tony. What a night.



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