A winter break? Say it aint so.
The festive period is without doubt my favorite part of the English football calendar. Games come thick and fast, the third round of the FA Cup is on the horizon and it’s the time of the season when in the Premier League the table really starts to take shape. Everyone has played everyone now, and teams can craft and refine their ambitions for the remainder of the campaign.
For match going supporters, it is also a wonderful time of year. Going to the game provides a great opportunity to get out of the house, drag yourself away from the chocolate and mince pies, and just take a bit of a breather from the sometimes relentless Christmas celebrations.
Granted, Boxing Day isn’t really an ideal day for a game and when the fixtures come out during the summer, you’re praying for a home game. If you get an away tie, then getting halfway across the country when public transport runs a reduced service can be a bit of bother.
But getting to home games isn’t that bad. Someone needs to drive though, which means no festive drinks for one poor soul.
Sunderland were ideal opposition in many respects. Bottom of the league, no away goal in two months and an awful record on Merseyside. A routine win to maintain the good mood around Goodison Park?
Well, not quite. Leon Osman conspired to fall over the ball in comical but disastrous fashion, and the Toffees were facing a penalty and the prospect of playing 70 minutes with ten men.
Roberto Martinez’s side still dominated proceedings but some last ditch defending and marvelous goalkeeping kept Everton out. Sunderland clung on and Everton were left to reflect on their first home defeat of 2013. The Black Cats certainly deserved something out of the game, but some of their time-wasting was a little embarrassing; keeper Vito Mannone was slowing the game down as early as six minutes in.
We had a boxing day party to attend at my grandparents that evening, and with the majority of the family being of a red persuasion, my dad and I readied ourselves for a fair bit of stick. Things looked even bleaker as Liverpool took an early lead against Manchester City. Great.
But in the end, none of us were overly happy and we drank the night away bemoaning the respective incapability’s of Osman and referee Lee Mason.
The next contest was just three days later against Southampton – see why I love the festive period? – and a game I’ve admittedly been a little hesitant about for a while. The manner in which the Saints team press the ball was always going to cause problems for an Everton side intent on playing out from the back.
The fixture was shaping up to be even more troublesome when you consider Everton were without their captain Phil Jagielka and the suspended duo of Gareth Barry and Tim Howard. Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas were also rested, with Martinez preferring the industrious qualities of Bryan Oviedo and Steven Naismith on the flanks.