The Reds went down in what proved a lively encounter with Everton at the Halton Stadium in Widnes. In a game which had two penalties for the Reds, a sending off for Jerzy Dudek and a big punch up to boot you can't say you were bored watching this one.
A huge crowd of over five and half thousand turned up to the game and before the game got started we were forced to put up with the Everton Sapphires dancing on the pitch and someone woman who screamed down the mic - apparently she was singing.
Anyway back to the game and the teams came out to a huge roar and of course the Z cars theme tune since it's an Everton home game. A late change meant Andy van Der Meyde wasn't playing for Everton but the Reds did have Aurelio, Warnock and Zenden in their line up.
Everton got the game underway and it was a physical game from the off. Bolo Zenden got the first real shot away on target but it was straight to Wright after three minutes. Everton got a very early lead though. Gabriel Paletta was adjudged to have fouled Anichebe just on the edge of the D. It looked relatively harsh but what worried m was how easily Paletta was roughed up. Perhaps a longer spell in the reserves is needed for him to adapt. Molyneux stepped up and blasted the Ball past Dudek and in to the back of the net to send half the crowd wild.
The Reds didn't panic with the goal though and soon got the ball down to pass it about. Goalscorer Molyneux really should have been booked on seven minutes when he committed himself to a tackle on Flynn - missed the ball and took the young Scot out of the game. He somehow escaped with a warning from a referee who for me was very inconsistent.
Bolo Zenden was dominant in the middle of the pitch and he had another effort on goal on eight minutes but this sailed just wide of the far post.
At the other end Everton went really close on thirteen minutes. They took a free kick very quickly but shot just wide. The free kick itself had been given against Godwin Antwi because James Vaughan was all over him. I couldn't work it out but worryingly for me early on Everton looked right up for it and our two centre backs didn't know what had hit them.
On fifteen minutes the Reds put a great little passing move together. Mannix found Smith out wide and he cut it inside to Guthrie who played Flynn through but the young lads shot went straight at Wright. A couple of minutes later and El Zhar who was looking lively and full of movement up front laid a ball off to Aurelio whose cross was headed just over the bar from the impressive Guthrie.
On eighteen minutes Antwi mis timed a tackle on Anichebe. Nothing malicious in it but the Everton striker stayed down motionless and the yellow card came out for Antwi. All of a sudden Anichebe sprang up to his feet realising actually that there was nothing wrong with him. The Reds went ballistic at the card reminding the ref about the tackle on Flynn that went unpunished but the ref was having none of it.
The game saw a second yellow card just two minutes later as Hibbert raced back as fast as he could and cynically hacked El Zhar down from behind. It was a woeful challenge and one that certainly merited the card. The Reds were starting to build up a head of steam now.
On twenty six minutes the Reds were awarded a free kick when El Zhar was brought down in the box. The ball had fallen luckily for him and I must admit I wasn't sure if he'd just slipped but the ref pointed to the spot. Nabir El Zhar picked himself up rubbed himself down and sent Wright the wrong way as he equalised the scores.
On thirty one minutes the Reds got a second penalty. Bolo Zenden picked the ball up in midfield and raced at the Everton back line. El Zhar made a good run to one side and opened up space for Zenden. As he got near he area Molyneux slid in but just caught Zenden after the Dutchman had nicked the ball away from him. The penalty was more clear this time and again it was the fouled man who stepped up. Zenden stepped up but drilled his spot kick just past the right hand post.
The game took a bit of a breather for a bit now as both sides tried to create that perfect opening. Paletta and Antwi started to cope a bit more easily at the back although it was never comfortable with Vaughan and Anichebe giving their all for their cause.
El Zhar had a chance two minutes before the interval to take the lead for the Reds but after getting some good space on the right he fired his shot well wide of the far post. Mannix then clipped a shot on target but Wright followed it al the way and collected it with ease.
Half time came and the bar was open under the stand so needless to say the queue's were huge. Up in the ground the fans were subjected to more entertainment from the dancers and that 'singer'. The interval also saw Fabio Aurelio warming down and Robbie Threlfall warming up before disappearing for the team talk.
The switch came for the start of the half and the Reds kicked off. It was a slower start to the half than the first but it wasn't long before it exploded. On fifty four minutes Dudek was off his line quickly to smother a ball after Antwi lost possession near his goal. Anichebe was bearing down on Dudek this time as he would a couple of minutes later.
On fifty six minutes came the sending off. Anichebe again went through to try and win a ball but this time as Dudek slid out to get the ball Anichebe committed himself feet first to get the ball. He missed the ball but certainly didn't miss Dudek's face with his boots. Dudek was furious with the challenge and instantly got up to have a pop at the Everton striker. That sparked a free for all in the are as virtually everyone got involved in a punch up. Not naming names but one Red I could see was certainly prepared to stand up for himself. As order was restored the ref spoke to his linesman and then called the original two players over. Dudek was clearly still fuming at the challenge. Anichebe was shown the yellow card for his challenge and then came Dudek. A straight Red and if we're being honest here there was no other choice. Dudek was angry but the minute you raise your hands you'll go and that was the end of his night. David Martin came on in place of Ryan Flynn as the Reds tried to sort out a system to play with ten.
On the hour mark the Reds were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. The Reds were allowed to take it quickly and the shot which came in flew straight in to the face of the Everton number seven who went down pole axed. It took a while for the player to come round and although he carried on for a bit he went off ten minutes later still looking groggy.
On sixty two minutes Everton got what turned out ti be the winner. Paletta clearly signaled to his keeper that the ball was his but as Martin hesitated Vaughan nipped in and pushed the ball past Martin for the lead.
The Reds had a glorious chance on sixty six minutes to score when they were awarded an indirect free kick for a back pass. I don't think anyone actually appealed for it but the ref gave it anyway. The ball was slid to Guthrie but his shot was charged down. Mannix saw his follow up blocked as well and then El Zhar shot just over the bar as the chance went.
On seventy four minutes came great comedy off the pitch. The ball went out for a throw in on the far side to me and the ball boy went to get the ball, except his mate also wanted to get it and the second one ended up slide tackling the other to get it first. Fate of course meant the ball went out again in the same are and this time the second one really went in hard on the first lad and took him out. Great comedy sketch and I remember the ball boy being escorted out by whoever was in charge a minute later.
On seventy six minutes Vaughan did exactly the same challenge on the keeper as Anichebe did and was booked. Thankfully this time David Martin managed to stay calm - although only just judging by his body language.
On seventy eight minutes Gabriel Paletta was warned by the ref about persistent fouling. Now that should be all you need to calm down. The very next attack from Everton and Paletta had one thing on his mind and that was to clear a ball coming through no matter what it took. Although I think he clearly won the ball the ref took one look at Paletta and issued yet another yellow card. Paletta was clearly being agitated by the Blues - especially Vaughan but you have to rise above that and if he doesn't it's a fear for his future.
On eighty two minutes Everton nearly scored in their own net but shot just over the bar. From the resultant corner El Zhar saw his shot sail just over the bar. As time ticked down the Reds were forced to play with nine men for a minute as Antwi limped off to the sidelines. We played with nine until play was stopped and Miki Roque could get on. After four minutes of added time the whistle went on the lively encounter and Everton took all three points.
Overall there were both positives and negatives to take from the game. The Reds played some good stuff at times and it was nice to see El Zhar get his first goal for us. He worked really hard throughout. The negative for me was the centre back pairing who just didn't cope with the physical challenge of Vaughan and Anichebe. Remembering that the Premiership is tougher that is a worry for me but it's all a learning curve.
MotM : Danny Guthrie - for me his work rate and composure on the ball was superb on the night. Bolo Zenden also played superbly in the midfield.