Toffees turn the tide
For some time, David Moyes has been telling his Everton players that they must turn draws into wins if they are to qualify for the Champions League. His side responded by turning a defeat into a victory. It may just make their season.
This was the strangest of afternoons at Goodison Park. For the opening 45 minutes, Tottenham were outplayed. Yet they survived, prospered, went in front through Clint Dempsey and looked set to strengthen their grip on fourth place. Everton looked short of confidence and out of ideas.
In a matter of seconds, everything changed. Steven Pienaar headed a 90th-minute equaliser against the club who gave him only five league starts in 12 months, in the process scoring Everton's 1,000th Premier League goal. Then, in the second minute of stoppage time, Nikica Jelavic touched in a Darron Gibson cross, and Moyes leapt from his bench in delirium. In next to no time, his team had claimed fourth place for themselves.
"As finishes go, that's as good as we've had," Moyes said. "But we've had a few where we've lost points like that recently, so we were due one."
He had a point. Three times this season, Everton have been denied victory after conceding in the 90th minute - against Newcastle, Fulham and Norwich. Moyes' side had drawn seven out of nine league games before Tottenham's visit. Their European hopes were being threatened by an inability to finish teams off.
But if Everton's manager has been frustrated by late goals this season, he has nothing on Andre Villas-Boas. Tottenham's manager heads this season's 'If Only' table. If Premier League games finished after 80 minutes, Spurs would be top. Instead, they are fifth, having conceded ten goals in the final ten minutes of their 16 league games. The two they conceded in the 90th and 92nd minutes at Goodison Park were particularly hard to take.
"It's been our story in the Premier League this season," Villas-Boas said. "It's something we are aware of. We have to improve in seeing games out."
Tottenham had their chance. Leading 1-0 with six minutes to go, they saw substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson's shot from the edge of the penalty area bounce off the top of the bar.
"It's a difficult blow to take," Villas-Boas added. "We didn't play well in the first half, improved a lot in the second."
But it would be wrong to paint this as a Tottenham hard luck story. Everton were the better side. Their first-half build-up play was excellent, with Gibson repeatedly finding gaps in the Tottenham defence with his passing. That the visitors got to the 45-minute mark without conceding was as much down to fortune as fortitude.
Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and centre-back William Gallas both made very timely interceptions when Jelavic was ready to score, but Everton did not help themselves with some hurried finishing. Leon Osman took an air shot at a Jelavic cross, while Seamus Coleman and Pienaar both rushed shots wide of the near post when more composure was needed.
Moyes' side could cry misfortune too, as two loud penalty appeals were rejected in the final two minutes of the first half. Dempsey got away with lifting his arm towards the ball, although television replays suggested it hit him on the chest.
Gallas had no such defence when Pienaar smashed a shot at him a minute later, with referee Kevin Friend deciding that the centre-back's handball was unintentional.
After seeing a strong penalty claim turned down in Everton's last home game against Arsenal, and a harsh one given against them in their last away game at Manchester City, Moyes found that hard to take.
"I thought we had another difficult day with the officials, and I thought we had hardly anything that went for us," the Everton manager said. "Not a thing."
Moyes acknowledged that the half-time loss of Kevin Mirallas, making his return after four games out with a hamstring injury, affected his side's momentum. Mirallas limped off with an injury that will be assessed over the coming days. "We don't think Kevin's done his hamstring," Moyes said. "We just felt as if he'd tightened up completely."
Even so, substitute Steven Naismith missed a decent chance before Spurs began to assert themselves.
Jan Vertonghen had a fierce free-kick pushed aside by Tim Howard, then headed Kyle Walker's corner straight at the keeper. Everton lost their way. And a minute after Osman had forced a decent save out of Lloris, they lost a goal.
Dempsey took on substitute Tom Huddleston's pass and looped a shot over Howard via a slight deflection. Spurs, it seemed, would claim victory without hamstring injury victim Gareth Bale.
At that stage, Everton were in the curious position of having both scored and conceded 999 Premier League goals. For Moyes, the situation was becoming an emergency.
But with time running out, Pienaar steamed in to guide Coleman's cross into the corner and bring up the 1,000th goal. Everton's fans enjoyed the 1,001st even more. Gibson crossed from the right, Apostolos Vellios missed with an attempted overhead kick and Jelavic poked in the winner.
"It shows the players have the belief and persistence that will keep them going," Moyes said.
When the race for Champions League places is as tight as this, those qualities could just make all the difference.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Darron Gibson. The midfielder is fully back into his stride after missing nearly three months with a thigh injury. It is a curious statistic that Everton have only ever lost one league game with him in the side, but it may not be a coincidence. His cross created Jelavic's winner to cap an impressive performance.
EVERTON VERDICT: For long spells, David Moyes' had all the right moves but lacked the confidence to make them work. Excellent approach play was let down by off-key finishing, and it looked as if they would pay for that. The fact that they kept going to the end said much for their spirit. The fact that they got reward may just kick-start their season.
TOTTENHAM VERDICT: Andre Villas-Boas would probably have taken a point at half-time, so little did his players contribute to the opening 45 minutes. Having seen off all that Everton pressure, they grew into the game and should have seen it out after going in front.