ONYEWU ELIMINATES HOWARD'S EVERTON
Oguchi Onyewu and his Standard Liege team last night faced the blue side of Merseyside, Everton FC, in the second leg of the UEFA Cup.
Having secured a 2 – 2 draw at Goodison Park, the Belgium's were very much in the tie. It was Onyewu vs his American National teammate Tim Howard, who going into the game, had yet to earn a shutout this season.
Everton kicked off shooting towards Hell's Section where The Reds fans were in full voice, providing an excellent atmosphere for this crucial match. Everton started the game the stronger, confidently stroking the ball around but making very little real impression against the Liege defense.
The first corner of the game was awarded to Everton with just two minutes on the clock. It came as a result of Onyewu blocking the attempted cross of Everton's Spanish playmaker Mikel Arteta who took the corner himself. The ball reached Everton's star striker Yakubu but he was well shepherded out by the Liege defense.
The first real chance Standard had to break out of their own half came on eight minutes. The Liege Captain Steven Defour picked up the ball in the centre circle and his slide rule pass picked out Dalmat who was adjudged to be offside.
The first real chance on goal fell to Everton's summer signing from Manchester United, French striker Louis Saha, with 12 minutes on the clock. Collecting the ball on the edge of the area, he drove forward and teed up a left footed shot – oh dear, clearly his injury layoff effected his aim as the ball ended up in the bleachers, well wide of the Standard goal.
Much of this game was played in the midfield and Everton were happy to keep possession and probe for gaps to exploit. During one such period with 17 minutes gone, Mr Sippel was called into action to issue the first yellow card of the game to the Liege Captain for protesting to vigorously when a free kick is awarded to the Toffees 25 yards away from the Liege goal. The resultant free kick was taken by the Everton winger Leon Osman who drove the ball straight into the wall.
Tim Howard was called into action for the first time on 22 minutes. Defour was performing a Captain's role driving forward and forced a fine save from the US' national keeper who could only push the ball sideways. It was gathered by Liege's Jovanovic in the area who dinked a lovely diagonal ball to the far post. And there was Alex Witsel on hand to ram it into the net from 3 yards out. Not much Howard could do about that one but ask what happened to his defense. 1 – 0 to Standard Liege and the Stade Maurice Dufrasne erupted with joy.
Liege grew in confidence from the goal, so much so that defensive rock Onyewu started popping up both in midfield and on right wing, distributing the ball with aplomb! It was not until the 35th minute that the next attack seriously threatened a goal. It came about as a result of the Everton Captain Phil Neville feeding the ball into Saha inside the box who lets his shot go – fortunately for Standard, straight at their keeper Espinoza.
Just two minutes later Standard were launching their own attack with Camozzato whipping in an excellent cross from the right aimed for the head of Mbokani. Howard came a long way out and effectively took the ball just in time, thereby averting any further danger to his goal. Well played Howard but again, where were the Everton defenders?
As the half drew to a close Everton pressed forward looking for the opportunity to draw level. The ball was crossed in from the left, toward Saha but Onyewu was on hand again and easily beat the Frenchman in the air. The giant American was a clear winner throughout the evening in his personal duel with the French striker.
As the second half got under way the rain started to fall heavily, but in no way could it dampen the home supports high spirits. Standard started the second half vastly improved than the first and threatened the Everton defense through Jovanovic who muscled Hibbert off the ball. The attack broke down but now the Everton boys were clearly rattled as an exchange of finger pointing ensued to the amusement of the home support.
The host's first real chance of the second half arrived with 58 minutes having passed. Bonfim drove towards Howard's goal, taking on and beating Hibbert en route. His shot, although with plenty of power, lacked accuracy and was deflected harmlessly of Everton centre back Lescott into the arms of Howard.
With 60 minutes gone, a sustained period of possession by The Reds is well appreciated by the home crowd who greeted every Standard pass with an "Ol Lay"! This added to the frustration of the Everton players as just a minute later Hibbert, trying to reach a ball, literally took a ride on the back of Witsel! That was his final contribution of the game as he was replaced by Anichebe on 62 minutes, the visitors looking to draw level with three strikers on the pitch, knowing they need to score twice in the final half hour.
On 67 minutes Everton won another corner, with Arteta trotting over to take it. He expertly fired the ball into the danger area and the Standard keeper can not hold on to it under pressure from Yakubu. The ball fell to the England international defender Jagielka who, from just 6 yards out rammed it into the back of the Standard Liege goal, despite the efforts of the defender on the line. 1 – 1 with all to play for again.
Two minutes after conceding the equaliser, Standard were attacking Tim Howard's goal. Javanovic tried his luck from 25 yards and the ball was blocked. From the resulting corner, which is aimed to the giant Onyewu, there was a collision and it is the Everton defender Lescott that came of worse. Flattened by the power of the Reds defender, Lescott was very slow to get back to his feet. It was during this break in play Everton took off Saha to be replaced by the attacking Everton midfielder, Steven Pienaar, for the final twenty minutes.
And then on 78 minutes the German referee finally gave something to Standard Liege. After a catalogue of appeals for free kicks that he had previously waved away, he gave the home team a penalty! Jovanovic, who was Liege's danger player all evening picked up the ball in the Everton half and drove at the back-peddling defense. He is eventually crowded out by two defenders and goes down in the process. After his prolonged protests eventually going too far, Everton's Leighton Baines was shown a yellow card and it was Jovanovic himself who stepped up to face Howard from 11 yards. The Liege winger firmly stuck the ball to the American's left and Howard, somewhat of a penalty specialist, managed to get a hand to it, but not enough to stop the ball nestling in the back of the net. 2 – 1 to Liege and the home support erupt with joy yet again.
Everton had to throw everything into attack now; an equalising goal would mean extra time and knowing this they did just that. On 81 minutes they were awarded a free kick out on the left touchline which was pinged towards the edge of the 18 yard area looking for the head of Yakubu. Onyewu went up with the Everton striker and excellently defended the situation, whilst taking a whack to the nose in the process. This resulted in the home team being down a man, missing their defensive stalwart whilst he went off to have the injury treated for precious and vital minutes.
The final moments of this match were an exhibition of attack versus defense. That said, the visitors were well aware of the speed and trickery of both Liege's wingers and always kept three defenders back knowing that to concede another would definitely be the end of their European campaign.
With just two minutes remaining Phil Neville was replaced by Joseph Yobo. This was far from a tactical change as clearly the Everton Captain had sustained an injury although it did give the visitors another big man to aim for as they bombarded the Liege penalty area with high balls.
In the final seconds of the two extra minutes for injury time, Everton were awarded a corner. With a deafening crowd doing everything to drive the home team on to the end of the game, the corner kick was taken by Everton with the added threat of Tim Howard in the area to attack the ball in a desperate attempt to score the equalizer. The Reds keeper, Espinoza, who has had little to do throughout the game due to a combination of excellent defending by Onyewu and his colleagues and Everton's poor final ball, gathered under pressure from Howard, which resulted n the American keeper racing back to his own goal.
That was the last of the action as the Referee blew for full time, much to the delight of the home crowd. And so the draw for the group stages, to be held on Tuesday, will have at least one American still in the competition and deservedly so.