Lennon opener cancelled out by superb Alli strike
Spurs purr in first half but Besic intro turns tide in thrilling game
Despite intense pressure Blues tighten up at the back
Everton earned a point against title-chasing Tottenham in a thrilling 1-1 draw at Goodison Park.
Aaron Lennon put the home side ahead against the run of play after 22 minutes with a sumptuous half-volley against his former club.
But Spurs found a deserved equaliser in first half stoppage time as Dele Alli controlled Toby Alderweireld’s long punt and struck a low volley beyond Tim Howard.
Everton’s first half performance left a lot to be desired, as Mauricio Pochettino’s side took control in their bid for a third successive Premier League win.
But the Toffees rallied in the second half, and the introduction of Muhamed Besic on the hour mark looked to tilt the match in Everton’s favour. Despite the Bosnian’s 25-yard volley and Ramiro Funes Mori’s header, Hugo Lloris kept it level as both sides went for all three points.
Everton looked down and out before Bosnian bite turned the tide
Spurs enjoyed 59% of possession during Sunday evening’s 1-1 stalemate, with the majority coming during the first 45 minutes of the game.
After back to back wins, Pochettino’s side looked every bit the title contenders many pundits up and down the country are now billing them as, and it was clear to see why in the opening exchanges.
Only a handful of teams have come to Goodison Park under Martinez’s possession-obsessed tenure and taken the initiative in controlling the game through ball retention. The likes of Tom Carroll, Christian Eriksen and Alli took charge of an Everton midfield that isn’t used to conceding possession for too long on their own turf.
When possession was eventually turned over, Everton looked far too exhausted to enjoy the ball while they had it and sloppy passing and frantic clearances returned the ball back to Spurs. And with passing accuracy of 84% the visitors didn’t seem very keen to repay the favour. Everton were chasing shadows.
The second half brought about a rallied home side but it wasn’t till Besic’s introduction on the hour that this Everton side jolted into life. If Everton were Irvine Welsh’s heroin-overdosed Mark Renton mid-use, unmoved and lifeless in the first half, then Besic was the adrenaline shot in the arm administered by a frumpy Scottish nurse in the second.
Suddenly there was energy in midfield. Where Spurs midfielders had previously enjoyed aeons of time on the ball, they now had a biting, snarling Besic on top of them within seconds. Within minutes, Gareth Barry, Tom Cleverley, Leighton Baines, in fact every blue shirt had followed suit, breathing down the necks of every white shirt before they could enjoy a second more in possession.
The Bosnian’s presence changed the game in Everton’s favour and despite the game opening up at both ends by the full-time whistle, it was the home side -spurred on by a by-now raucous Goodison- that looked more likely to win it.
On this evidence, there is certainly a case for Besic to feature more frequently. The hard-running usually undertaken by James McCarthy has been sorely missed, and while Cleverley’s work-rate cannot be brought into question, the ex-Man Utd midfielder doesn’t offer the same toughness and defensive steel of Besic.
Signs that Blues are learning from recent defensive woes
Spurs dominated the opening exchanges and their incisive passing opened up the hosts on a number of occasions. Twice the visitors hit the woodwork, but for Spurs’ 19 shots only 4 of them made it on target.
Everton were credited with 25 blocks to Spurs’ 14, making more clearances (33-26) and coming out on top for interceptions (23-19). Such stats are indicative of a team who looked to plug the various holes in a leaking defence; a defence which has shipped 7 goals in their last two home games.
And the general team performance in that respect was a lot better against a Spurs side who have scored just two fewer league goals than free-scoring Everton (36), joint fourth with rivals Arsenal (34).
Consider also that the Blues conceded less fouls than their opponents (8-11), won 52% of their tackles compared to Spurs 26% and enjoyed air superiority (67%-33%). The outlook is at least encouraging ahead of a trio of meetings in January with the Premier League’s top scorers Manchester City. And with skipper Phil Jagielka to return, there is at least a trickle of optimism that Everton’s defensive woes of last year will be left in the overflowing sea of goals shipped in 2015. A swelling 63.