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THOMAS Hitzlsperger believes Everton’s defeat by Reading must act as a wake-up call if they are to recapture their momentum in the race for fourth place.
The former German international made his full debut at the Madjeski stadium as the Blues squandered a first half lead and a string of chances before the hosts hit back to record their first win of the season.
A furious David Moyes said afterwards he was as angry as he had been at his side, and Hitzlsperger, 30, knows they must show significant improvement as West Brom overtook them in fourth spot in the Premier League table.
Victory for West Ham over Stoke City tonight would see Everton slip back further to sixth, and even though there is plenty of the season remaining the midfielder hopes to help produce a reaction when Norwich come to Goodison on Saturday.
He said: “Maybe it was a bit of a wake-up call but we will see how we react against Norwich. We’ve got the quality and the character to bounce back but we’ve got to prove that. It’s disappointing and frustrating because it’s a game we should have won.
“We’ve had games before this season when we didn’t play well for 90 minutes but got the right result but we just didn’t finish the game off in the right manner.
“The first half we were in total control of the game and the gaffer told us at half time that we should have scored more goals. The chances we had we should have been more in front, and should have had a penalty with the hand ball. But nevertheless it was a completely different game in the second half, they took it at us and we were just defending and gave a lot of free kicks and corners away and that’s why we lost the game.”
After the visit of the Canaries at the weekend Everton face a daunting run of fixtures with Arsenal, Manchester City, Spurs and Chelsea all in opposition next month.
Hitzlsperger’s display was one of the few highlights during a difficult afternoon on Berkshire, and he hopes to be able to help Everton progress before his short term deal is up for review in January.
“December is going to be tough in terms of the teams we’re coming up against and we’ve got to play well for 90 minutes in this league otherwise you’ll struggle. We found that out the hard way. We shouldn’t be looking ahead at Man City, Spurs or Chelsea it’s Norwich at home on Saturday and it’s a game we need to win.
“I was really pleased to start. I’ve been here a little over two months and it as nice to run out, but I wish we’d won the game. Personally it was good to be on the pitch and I’ve worked hard for it, but I want to play more now and raise my game as we all have to at times. I’m just delighted to be here.
“It’s different playing competitive games. The lads make it easy and they’ve always made me feel comfortable but it’s been a long time since I’ve played at that level and it may take me a few more games. There were a few good things about my game as well as a few bad points. I need to reduce the mistakes I made and see the positives. I had a chance to score a goal so hopefully I’ll put them away next time. The gaffer told me to see how it goes and when there’s a chance to go forward to do it.”
DAVID MOYES’S glare said it all. Asked to explain how Everton had contrived to lose a game they had looked ready to walk through, the Blues boss could muster only a disbelieving shrug and a candid, one-sentence assessment.
Never before, he said, had he been more annoyed after a game.
It is some statement, given the Scot is fast approaching 11 years in the Goodison Park hotseat, but this defeat will have hurt. A lot. It was the kind of afternoon Everton have been looking to leave behind, the kind of defeat they simply don’t suffer any more.
Or so they thought.
The Blues’ start to the campaign has been an impressive one, both in terms of results and performances. Always a resilient outfit under Moyes, this season Everton have born the hallmarks of a genuinely top-level side; packed with match-winners, and able to pick up points through suffocating, controlled displays.
Last week’s comeback victory over Sunderland, a triumph of patience and cold, clinical finishing, served only to underline the Blues’ progress, extending their unbeaten Premier League run to eight games in the process.
But if Everton fans have learnt one thing over the years, it is that optimism is always best served cautiously. That eight-game run contained only one clean sheet, whilst in each of the last six matches prior to this they had conceded first.
Defensive reliability, for so long a given with Moyes’s sides, has been compromised by the development of a more attacking outlook. Everton have been relying on their forwards to dig them out of self-made holes over the past few weeks.
And, no matter how good those attackers are – and Everton’s are – they cannot do so every week. And when they have an off day, as they did here, then the consequences are inevitable.
Make no mistake, Everton can have few real complaints here. They can point to two strong first-half penalty appeals which were waved away by referee Martin Atkinson – his popularity amongst Blues fans continues to rocket – but the reality is that this was a self-inflicted loss, against a side that should not have been given the chance to beat them.
Reading were, before kick-off, one of only two sides without a Premier League win this season, and for 45 minutes it was plain to see why. Brian McDermott’s men were abject, unable to pass the ball accurately, too slow to win it back and petrified by anything played into their defensive third. Everton were able to control the game at a canter.
Yet their dominance was rewarded only by Steven Naismith’s ninth-minute strike. Nikica Jelavic, Phil Jagielka, Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar all saw chances go begging, as Reading’s defence creaked under even the slightest pressure.
Yet 1-0 is rarely a scoreline to be comfortable in. And as Reading upped their game after the break (it wasn’t difficult), Everton’s dipped alarmingly. Having retained the ball at ease in the opening period, their midfield struggled badly after the break.
Defensively, it was not pretty. Adam Le Fondre and Jason Roberts are, at best, a decent Championship strikeforce, but their work-rate and endeavour unsettled John Heitinga and Phil Jagielka in the second-half. It was Le Fondre, the former Stockport, Rochdale and Rotherham striker, who proved to be Reading’s match-winner.
For Seamus Coleman, meanwhile, it was an afternoon to forget. Slow to react as Le Fondre beat him to Nicky Shorey’s free kick for the first goal, his barge into the striker’s back in the penalty area late on was brainless, and left Atkinson with no choice but to point to the spot. Le Fondre, of course, converted.
Moyes hinted afterwards that the absence of a number of senior players had not helped Everton’s cause.
Already without Kevin Mirallas, Tony Hibbert, Victor Anichebe and Darron Gibson, they had lost Phil Neville on Friday, with the skipper now expected to be sidelined for up to eight weeks.
It means Moyes’s squad, stronger than it has been for many a year, will now be tested to the full, especially with Marouane Fellaini’s yellow card for dissent ruling the Belgian out of next weekend’s home clash with an improving Norwich City.
That game now assumes great significance. Everton face a tough-looking run of fixtures between now and the New Year, tackling Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea, as well as trips to Stoke and West Ham, in the next seven weeks.
They are still sitting prettily inside the Premier League’s top five, and it should not be forgot that this was just their second league defeat of the campaign.
But if they are to continue to progress, then they can ill afford too many afternoons like this one.
That three-hour drive home will have felt a lot longer on Saturday evening.
DAVID MOYES admitted Everton’s defeat to Reading had left him as angry as he had ever been as Blues boss, with the Scot critical of his side’s inability to kill the game off despite a dominant first-half performance.
Everton slid to just their second Premier League defeat of the season on Saturday, going down 2-1 at the Madejski Stadium to a side which had not recorded a league win prior to kick-off.
The result sees the Blues replaced in the top four by West Bromwich Albion, and left Moyes seething at his post-match press conference.
“I’m probably as p***** off as I have ever been after that,” he raged.
“It was incredible.
“We didn’t punish them. We always left the door slightly ajar for them to come in, and they did do.
“We gave away a couple of corner kicks and a free-kicks in the opening 10 minutes of the second-half, we encouraged pressure by giving the ball away a couple of times in our own half quite simply, and we didn’t pass the ball as we had done in the first-half. We gave them encouragement.
“After a result, this is the most annoyed I’ve been, because it should have been the other way.
“But we couldn’t do it, and you have to give Reading credit because they hung in there.”
Moyes’s side had led through Steven Naismith’s ninth-minute strike, and spurned a host of chances to double their advantage.
They had also seen two strong penalty appeals waved away by referee Martin Atkinson in the first-half, but the manager was more concerned with his side’s failings than those of the match officials.
“I am not angry with the referee,” he insisted.
“He should have given a penalty kick in the first-half.
“The ball hits (Sean Morrison’s) hand when it is going in, and he doesn’t give it, but I am more angry with my team because we should have scored more. It is down to us to do so.
“The players have been correctly praised for the way they have played. That goes for today as well, but not in the second-half. The way they played in the first-half was outstanding, but that isn’t enough to win a game is it?
“We played that well against Fulham, and against Sunderland, but we are not scoring the goals and when we are getting the opportunities to put the game to bed then we are not taking them. You have got to give Reading credit too. They upped it and tried to do better, which they did. But I think we helped them to do so.”
Moyes, who saw Marouane Fellaini pick up a yellow card that will rule him out of next weekend’s game with Norwich City, also confirmed that Phil Neville would be out for “six to eight weeks” after undergoing a knee operation on Friday.
“We missed his leadership,” said the Blues boss.
DARRON GIBSON made his long-awaited Everton comeback from a thigh injury as Everton's U-21s drew with Reading.
The Republic of Ireland midfielder has not featured for the Blues since limping off during a 2-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion in early September.
His thigh strain was complicated with tendon problems which have seen him miss eight games, but the former Manchester United man is now in contention for a first-team return against Norwich on Saturday.
Gibson played 63 minutes as Alan Stubbs’s side were held to a scoreless draw at Goodison yesterday, and his return gives Moyes some positive injury news, after captain Phil Neville was ruled out for up to eight weeks after undergoing surgery on a knee problem.
Neville, 35, underwent the procedure on Friday and although his absence is a blow, he took to his Twitter page to insist he could return in less than two months.
IT WAS that familiar pattern of a typical Everton game this season.
Fall behind to a soft early goal, fleetingly look unconvincing, but fight back to secure a victory with a mixture of resilience and belief.
Then when it’s all over, the manager reflects on what might have been if his team had picked up more points.
Except this time it wasn’t David Moyes’s side that stuck to the script. Instead it was lowly Reading, without a win all season, who gave themselves a mountain to climb before grabbing a thrilling triumph.
“I’m so pleased for the players. It’s been coming. We could have had more points but that is not relevant now,” said Brian McDermott, as Moyes seethed elsewhere in the bowels of Reading’s Madjeski stadium, battling to bite his lip enough to ward off an FA fine for savaging blundering referee Martin Atkinson, or letting rip at his players for a truly lacklustre second-half display.
Beforehand, the travelling Toffees joined in as the KC & The Sunshine band hit Give It Up was played in the ground, gleefully adapting the words in an ode to Nikica Jelavic. Little did they know during a one-sided opening half that dark clouds loomed, and the only thing Everton would be proffering was their eight-game unbeaten run.
It’s tough to ascertain what was worse; how Everton squandered countless opportunities to destroy a hapless Reading in that first 45 minutes, the sudden realisation that any more injuries could seriously undermine their hopes this season or how another display of myopic officiating from referee Atkinson proved so damaging.
The Blues should have had a cast-iron penalty when Sean Morrison blocked Jelavic’s goal-bound shot with his arm, and might have had another when Steven Naismith was upended by Kaspars Gorkks. Atkinson, who dismissed Jack Rodwell last season for having the temerity to tackle Luis Suarez, was having none of it.
But as Reading continued to defend laughably, it seemed only a matter of time before Everton took the lead. A succession of comic errors in the host’s defence allowed Naismith to ghost into position, as Marouane Fellaini distracted Reading’s defence, and the ex-Rangers forward stabbed home his close range effort. It looked set to be the first goal of a rout. If only.
Finally an international footballer, Leon Osman was visibly full of confidence and class before tiring in the second-half, but he will know he should have finished when through on goal. He was not the only one to be profligate in the first-half – skipper for the day Phil Jagielka should have scored earlier when he found himself in space at the far post but connected poorly with Leighton Baines’s cross to volley over the bar.
And Steven Pienaar, who was again some way below his sublime best, should have increased their lead after good work from Jelavic saw the Croatian pinch the ball from a ponderous Morrison and set his teammate free, only for the play-maker to fizz a left-footed effort wide.
Despite their weak start, Reading might have struck back when Tim Howard was beaten to a long punt forward by Adam Le Fondre, but the striker fired over. If only he was so wasteful all day.
The one-way traffic continued after that scare. Jay Tabb cleared off the line from Jagielka on the stroke of half-time, but surely Reading would produce a reaction after the break? They did.
McDermott’s men came out seeking to atone with vigour and went straight on the attack. Soon they were level when Le Fondre got across Seamus Coleman and netted with a glancing header from Nicky Shorey’s free-kick. Moyes was quick to point out before the contest that Coleman is still learning the full-back art, and his fortunes continue to ebb and flow.
A costly error at Fulham, impressive against Sunderland and excellent for Ireland against Greece, he made an outstanding recovery tackle as Reading poured forward. But he will be furious at himself for the clumsy barge on Le Fondre, which allowed the forward to score from the spot and complete Reading’s revival.
From seeming comfortably in store for a win, Everton suddenly faced a scrap for a point. They nearly hit back instantly as Fellaini’s header from 10 yards struck a post, but fortune had abandoned them.
Difficult spells in games such as these require calm heads and leaderships, which is one reason why Phil Neville will be missed during his possible eight-week absence following knee surgery. He will watch next Saturday’s must-win game with Norwich from the stands, as will Fellaini who was booked and must serve a one-game suspension, although it is perhaps better that the Belgian sits out the clash with the Canaries and is able to face Arsenal and December’s testing fixture list with a clean slate.
There is no need for panic, Everton’s potential this term is still vast, but they need to build some sort of points buffer with Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs on the horizon. That’s not to suggest Everton can afford to cherry pick games – they can’t. Another winnable game went begging, West Brom and West Ham are showing no signs of relenting behind them. If only.
Everton have already slipped back down to fifth below the Baggies and injuries are proving to be a concern – there have already been too many ‘if onlys’.
DAVID MOYES has called for retrospective action to sort out diving.
The Everton boss reckons that cheating could be stamped out if the FA decided to look at cases a day after each round of Premier League matches.
He first spoke out about the problem last month by insisting divers would turn fans away from football.
And Moyes said: “It’s too difficult for referees now and this would be quite easy.
“Why can it not have a panel to review the games if there’s suspicions of diving?
“If we did that it might stop people falling around and diving.”
David Moyes claimed Everton cannot “mix it with the top teams” if they lose to strugglers like Reading.
Moyes’s side totally dominated the first half, scored one goal through Steven Naismith and could have had two penalties.
But just like at Fulham in their last away game, Everton threw away points when they should have won as they allowed the home side to come back after the break.
Instead of moving within a point of third place, Everton drop out of the top four after only their second defeat in 21 Premier League games.
The Scot, who admitted he had never been so angry after a game, said: “I have told them I am not happy they are not winning those games. If we realistically want the opportunity to mix it with the top teams then we can’t lose games like that.
“We will have games in which we’ll play badly, not win and have to take it. But we have to win games when we are on top.
“Our play has been excellent but we are just not looking like we are going to get three or four goals at the moment. We should be, but we are not.
“When you’re in this league, you can’t give away points.”