Expectation weighs heavy for Everton

The Merseysiders are held to a 1-1 draw against Wolves, leaving Everton without a win so far this season.

LIVERPOOL // Expectation has its perils. Earlier this month, such astute judges as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger were expecting Everton to be the interlopers in the top four this season. Two, seemingly winnable, games and a solitary point later, it is already apparent David Moyes's team will have to take the hard route to get there. An equaliser from Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and questionable officiating were twin hindrances to Everton as Wolverhampton Wanderers emerged from Goodison Park with a point.

Coupled with a defeat at Blackburn Rovers, it amounts to an underwhelming start to the campaign, something Moyes acknowledged in a monosyllabic response. That more was anticipated by Everton's esteemed admirers owes less to their summer dealings - for the third successive calendar year, Moyes has merely broken even - than the sense that, with their squad almost fully fit, injuries should be less of an impediment than they were 12 months ago.

But other difficulties have emerged. There have only been a handful of efforts on Tim Howard's goal thus far but Ebanks-Blake's leveller, like Nikola Kalinic's strike for Blackburn, was costly. Everton were left to lament a host of chances they spurned. It explained an interest in Craig Bellamy, though Moyes admitted that he was unable to afford the Welshman's wages on loan from Manchester City. Without a striking addition, the greatest threat, as is often the case, came from an attacking midfielder. Having already opened his account for the campaign, Tim Cahill was denied by a point-blank block from Marcus Hahnemann in the final few minutes before a looping header from Louis Saha landed on the roof of the net.

The Frenchman, whose career has been blighted by injuries, replaced Jermaine Beckford, who appeared raw on his full debut in the top flight and wasted a clear opening. The man Evertonians departed cursing, however, was not the former Leeds United man but Lee Mason, the referee. He refused a hat-trick of appeals for penalties in the first half. The last was the clearest, with Mikel Arteta being tripped by Stephen Ward inside the area. Mason opted for a free-kick. That, indirectly, it brought a goal may have spared him further opprobrium.

It was classic Cahill. There is a resourcefulness to the Australian that is often apparent when he scores. It was clear again, the blend of positional instinct and natural competitiveness making him a likely winner once Arteta's free-kick rebounded off the Wolves wall. Cahill took one touch to control the ball; his second defeated Hahnemann. While Arteta's new five-year contract, believed to be the most expensive in the club's history, and the attention in Steven Pienaar are indications of Moyes's ability to unearth bargains, there is a case for arguing that recruiting Cahill was his finest piece of business.

"We played fine in the first half and you could only see the victory going one way," Moyes said. "Even at 1-0 we had a couple of really good opportunities to get the second goal." But it did not arrive and instead Wolves struck with their first shot on target. Adlene Guedioura released Kevin Doyle, who squared for Ebanks-Blake to tap in. Mason was, once again, in the spotlight with Guedioura's challenge on Johnny Heitinga preceding the break.

"Some referees would have given it," Moyes added, but this one did not. Not that he was complaining. Nor, indeed, was his Wolves counterpart. There was a characteristically blunt appraisal from Mick McCarthy: "We were hopeless in the first half," said the Wolves manager. "That's my responsibility because I was fiddling around with the team a couple of times, none of which worked. We should have been more than one down, but weren't. But I think we deserved a point."

sports@thenational.ae

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