Lower leagues can teach big teams a thing or two

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Matthew Lewis/Getty ImagesArriva Stadium: Home of seventh division Marine F.C.

International breaks create a void in the typical football-filled weekend, especially when the alternative is an England side cantering towards mediocrity. As a result, the lack of all things Everton led to a Saturday afternoon watching local side Marine, who reside in the seventh tier of the football league. More than 135 league places separate Everton and Marine.

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Even before heading inside the unconventional Arriva Stadium, which is also home to Everton Ladies' team, it is clear this is light-years away from the razzmatazz of the Premier League. While ticket prices at the top of the English game threaten to cripple supporters, the cost at Marine is 10 pounds for adults and five pounds for concessions, and accompanied Under-11s get in free.

Furthermore, the production of an Everton, Liverpool and Tranmere Rovers season ticket ensures a five pound adult ticket. Compare this to the upcoming Merseyside derby; there are obstructed views on sale for 43 pounds in certain stands. There is no disputing the gulf in quality between these two levels of football, but the gap does not come close to this almost 900% price divide.

Once inside, the contrast between the Arriva and Goodison becomes all the more apparent. The attendance for this match was 382; Everton regularly boast a gate around 100 times that figure. The only seating is in the stand nearest the turnstiles, with sheltered and unsheltered standing areas making up two of the other sections, while the far side is home to the dugout.

The side with the dugout has no room for spectators, though, as it backs onto the gardens of the next street. House numbers appear in clear sight on the protective metal fencing, presumably so club employees know where those wayward clearances ended up.

In terms of the result, with two positive sides chasing victory, the 1-1 draw seemed fair. The two goals arrived early in the first half and were fit to grace a much higher level. Danny Quinn tied the home defence in knots prior to lashing in from the edge of the area, while Andy Fowler restored parity with a 25-yard thunderbolt.

Catching the occasional Marine match in recent seasons when international duty breaks up the season, there is a similarity between the Evo-Stik Premier Division side and Everton. Both are attempting to adopt a style of football that is easier on the eye.

Another standout aspect from this match, which also draws interesting comparisons with Everton, was the defending of free kicks and corners. Under David Moyes, the Blues usually had eleven back when defending set pieces -- the opposition scored when Moyes changed tact one week, leaving Yakubu on halfway, and it proved the death knell for this short-lived experiment.

Initially, though it seems dependent on personnel, Roberto Martinez left one player on halfway. However, the new boss has since returned to the conservative method favoured by Moyes. There was, however, quite brilliant disparity between the Moyes/Martinez tactic and that of the visiting team here.

Heading into this fixture in 14th place, though able to point to a 2-0 win in the corresponding fixture earlier in the season, league newcomers Barwell employed a bold three men on halfway routine. Lining up in a 4-3-3 system, which is refreshingly inventive for this level, the visitors left their three forwards up whenever Marine had an attacking set piece.

Everton and many others higher up the footballing ladder could learn from this, even if three on halfway is a tad cavalier, as it frees up space and minimises the number of attacking players able to move forward for the dead ball opportunity.

Akin to their opponents, Marine also utilised an imaginative formation. The Mariners used a 4-4-2 by definition, but the midfield setup comprised of a diamond, with one sitting midfielder, two narrow wide players and a creative player behind the two-man attack. The home side varied this in the second half, switching to three central midfielders behind the advanced midfielder.

Overall, away from the circus of the cash driven top-flight and without the windfall of monstrous TV deals, it is pleasing to see that sides in the lower reaches can still teach a thing or two to the big teams, whether it is reasonable ticket prices or innovative defensive techniques.

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