Everton countered on corners

Posted by Richard Jolly

Matt Smith celebrates his injury-time equaliser for OldhamPA PhotosMatt Smith celebrates his injury-time equaliser for Oldham

Set-piece specialists expect to end the season having scored more goals from dead-ball situations than they have conceded. Three goals followed corners, often a strength of Everton's. The hitch for them was that while two goals came from their corners, they could only celebrate one of them.

That goal, their second, hinted at their approach; pack the six-yard box, get in-swinging deliveries and head in from close range. It was the method that brought Marouane Fellaini's recent equaliser against Aston Villa. Here it was notable that Kevin Mirallas, the taker, had three targets in the six-yard box – Leon Osman and Nikica Jelavic at the near post and the scorer Phil Jagielka in the middle – plus Fellaini on the edge of it at the far post, with Sylvain Distin in close proximity.

Indeed, Osman, while one of the shortest players on the pitch, was deployed to attack Mirallas' corners in the second half, a move that is reminiscent of Manchester United's recent gambit of sending Patrice Evra up for set-pieces. He may have a surprise factor, but it also kept him out of harm's way, as Oldham's first goal illustrated.

One reason why Everton can be counter-attacked at corners is that, whereas many teams send two of their back four up for a corner, they often have three men 100 yards from their goal. Leighton Baines takes many of their corners while both centre-backs, Distin and Jagielka go up to try and meet them; indeed, the Frenchman was in Oldham's six-yard box.

None of that is necessarily a problem. As is commonplace, Everton had a numerical advantage on the half-way line when they took their corner. Oldham left just Lee Croft up, and even he was 10 yards inside his half. The two men Everton left on the half-way were their right-sided players, Phil Neville and Osman. Their difficulties began when the latter showed a midfielder’s instincts rather than a defender’s caution when Oldham broke, trying to nip in front of Croft to win the ball, losing out and effectively taking himself out of the game (a natural defender would have been more likely to stay goal-side of Croft). That meant Neville had to come across to the Oldham winger, leaving space behind him. When his cross-shot went across the Everton box, it came down to a race between two men who had been on the edge of the Oldham box when Baines took the corner: the back-tracking Darron Gibson and the scorer Jordan Obita.

Oldham's second leveller showed they had copied Everton, packing the six-yard box and boxing goalkeeper Tim Howard in when Matt Smith headed home. The Athletic substitute had escaped an Everton replacement, Shane Duffy, brought on only two minutes earlier to mark him.

If the outcome was familiar for Everton, draw specialists in the Premier League, so was the way David Moyes manoeuvred his players around. One of the ways the Scot is able to get by with a small squad is because of the myriad of options he nevertheless has; virtually every outfield player is comfortable in at least two positions.

It was illustrated as Victor Anichebe and Steven Pienaar swapped positions for much of the first half, with either the Nigerian partnering Jelavic and the South African on the left or the supposed striker operating as an unconventional winger and the midfielder in the hole behind the sole forward. The added difficulty for defenders, and advantage for Everton, is that they are such different players. Anichebe's goal came when he was alongside Jelavic, but also entailed a role reversal. The Croatian, the smaller of the pair, won the flick-on for Anichebe to run on to.

Equally Anichebe's chance, just before the break, came when Pienaar was playing in the hole and provided a pass for the overlapping ersatz winger to run onto. Anichebe's half-time withdrawal for Mirallas prompted a reshuffle to show the flexibility of others: Osman moved in to the centre of midfield with Fellaini shifted into the role he has occupied for much of the season, just off Jelavic.

A couple of weeks ago, Moyes said the Belgian can play in three positions in his system. Referring to them by the shirt number, he said his biggest buy can be the No. 4, 8 or 10 and that he is probably at his best as a No. 8. At Boundary Park, however, he was the No. 4 for the first half and the No. 10 for much of the second before retreating to a deeper role as Everton tried to hold on to their lead.

They failed: with Jelavic going off for Shane Duffy, Everton ended up playing 5-5-0 but the game finished 2-2.

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