Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Moyes’ gamble fails as Sunderland force replay

Everton boss David Moyes knew he would take some flack following his weakened team selection for last week’s Merseyside derby.

The Scot opted to make six changes from the side that had beaten Spurs and extended their unbeaten run to nine games the previous Saturday – with Phil Neville, Tim Cahill, Nikica Jelavic, Royston Drenthe, Leon Osman and John Heitinga all left out.

The Toffees subsequently succumbed to a 3-0 defeat in one of the most one-sided derbies of recent years, and that is saying something given Moyes’ awful record at Anfield, leaving many fans feeling short changed by their manager’s effective sacrifice of a local derby.

Things may have been different had Everton gone on to beat Sunderland to reach the FA Cup semi-finals. But despite recovering from Phil Bardsley’s early strike thanks to Tim Cahill’s instinctive header, Everton could not break down a resolute Black Cats rearguard that grimly played for a draw throughout the second half.

The result now is a replay at the Stadium of Light, where Sunderland will start narrow favourites in the  FA Cup betting, meaning Moyes’ gamble backfired.

The club also have two games in the league to play before that replay, meaning the Scot will have to do some more juggling if he is to keep his players fresh.

However, there are reasons for the Toffees to be optimistic. Saturday's draw means they still haven’t lost to Sunderland in any competition since 2001.

Martin O’Neill’s men will also be expected to attack a lot more than they did on Saturday, no doubt being roared on by the boisterous crowd that watch football live at the stadium of light, meaning Everton should be able to have more space in attacking areas.

The semi-final draw – which pitched Mersey rivals Liverpool as prospective Wembley opponents – should act as extra motivation for both players and manager to claw their way past the Black Cats.

What better way to make up for that Anfield surrender than by beating the Reds at Wembley to reach the cup final?

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