17th September 2020
Everton vs CSKA Moscow
UEFA Europa League, Matchday 1, 1945hrs
Marcus’ heart thumped inside his chest, causing a sound so loud that, to him, threatened to engulf the crescendo building all around him. European nights at Goodison Park.. He’d never experienced this, not even with Uerdingen’s European foray in the mid-90’s.. He stood in his technical area, letting the atmosphere and occasion wash over him. His players were out front, shaking hands with the Russians and then jogging off to the home end of the pitch to kick about just before the start.
Social media had been all over him for his team selection for this.
The team was announced over the tannoy, the tinny sounds almost drowned out by the roar of the crowd. “In goal, Jonas Lossl. At right back, the captain.. Seamus Coleman.. At centre back, Matt Pennington and Matty Foulds.. At left back, Fabian Delph…Next is Beni Banginime. Also in the middle, Joe Willock and Kieran Dowell….On the right wing, Macaulay Bonne, on the left wing, Fraser Hornby….and up front on his own, Erling HAAAAAAALAND!“
A big night, thought Marcus, lets hope I’m up to it. The whistle was blown and the game was on. About five minutes had passed, when Marcus noticed that a throw in their half was leaving players unmarked. He yelled to Delph to cover it, but the throw came back to a CSKA player who hoisted a hopeful ball into the box. Lossl started to come for the ball, eyes riveted on the white orb hanging in the air. He took two steps more and tensed to leave the ground, his right arm coming out to punch the ball away.. Only he never got there. Matty Foulds had leapt to clear the ball with this head. No shout!, thought Marcus, dreading the aftermath. His dread proved right as Foulds’ header didn’t have the power on it. It dropped kindly to a lurking CSKA midfielder, who laid it off to his wide open striker and all he had to do was just stroke the ball into an empty net. 0-1 (6).
Just six minutes gone. Marcus closed his eyes and groaned. So early. He stood up, strode to his technical area and told his players to keep going. It didn’t seem to work, the team seemed a little frozen in place, awed by the big occasion. Barely two minutes later, the CSKA left winger was given the freedom of Goodison to cut in and only poor finishing saved them in that instance, the ball bouncing agonisingly close to the far post as it went out for a goal kick.
Everton just couldn’t find an answer for the CSKA direct running and only some last ditch defending meant that there was no more shots on goal for a good twenty minutes. Marcus looked up at the clock, 38 minutes gone, nearly half time and time to regroup. CSKA had a throw in on the far side. The CSKA goalscorer received the ball from a knock-down and made his way to the edge of the box. He looked up and dinked a chipped ball into the box. Marcus tensed, but saw Seamus Coleman come across to connect with a header. Only it wasn’t good enough. The header lacked power and only made it just past the penalty spot where the CSKA midfielder caught it beautifully on the volley, slamming the ball into the net before Lossl could even react. 0-2 (39)
0-2 down and this could be a cricket score, thought Marcus. He screamed at his team. Show some passion! Show some pride! His anger made his eyes feel dry and hot, he could hear the jeers of the fans behind him, disgusted at the teams capitulations so far. Kick off and he was already planning the bollocking of a lifetime for the team for half time. However, from the kickoff, a ball was played out wide to the left for Fraser Hornby. He ran with the CSKA full back to the edge of the box, then cut back, wrong footing him. He steadied himself and then fired a shot at goal. The Italian legend in goal for CSKA seemed slow to react, but the ball managed to come back off the post and loop lazily into the air. A cluster of CSKA defenders grouped around the ever-so-slowly falling ball, only to be disturbed by the rampaging Erling Haaland who outjumped everyone and headed the ball into the net, via the underside of the crossbar! 1-2 (40)
Marcus leapt from the dugout and roared! THAT WAS BETTER, he thought! Half time was just minutes away and he was frantically checking his speech. The half time whistle went and he left the dugout for the changing rooms. Once inside, apart from himself and Johnny, no other coaches were allowed in. The message came through for the second half to start and the team made its way back onto the pitch. Marcus exited the tunnel with a steely-eyed glare. This would be a better half, he promised himself. Kick off came and went and Everton seemed to have a spring in their step, compared with the first half’s meek acquiescence.
A few minutes into the second half. Macaulay Bonne found himself striding forward over the halfway line with the ball. A maligned figure in his short time at the club, he steadied himself and pumped a high ball out to the left wing. The ball had too much on it for Fraser Hornsby, but also for the defender, who’s surprise at the ball going higher and faster than he could handle, saw it drop neatly at Hornsby’s feet. He arrowed towards the area and made a stunning slide-rule pass into no-man’s land between the keeper and defenders for Erling Haaland to clip underneath the keeper who seemed to go down in stages. 2-2 (50)
Goodison Park managed to knock it up a notch with the decibel level. Everton were level and in the ascendency. Marcus decided to capitalise on this and signalled to the ref and assistant referee. Up went the board. 27 – 35. Off went Macaulay Bonne, on came Richarlison. The game had become very chess-like after that goal. CSKA absolutely did not want to concede another and Everton looked terrified of losing what they had gained. Another nod to the ref and assistant. Up went the board again. 33 – 5. Off went Matty Foulds, on came Michael Keane to shore up the defence. Then disaster struck just ten minutes later. Fabian Delph pulled up lame. It looked like a hamstring problem. He looked at Marcus and shook his head. Marcus knew he was an old-enough campaigner to not do that unless he was truly injured. Up went the board. 24 – 3 . Off went Delph, on came Luke Garbutt. Marcus was very conscious of time ticking away, they were nearing just ten minutes to go and they needed to try and push further. He stood to yell and encourage the team to give it a little more. A poor cross into the CSKA box was headed out to Kieran Dowell, around 25 yards out. He controlled it, knocked it forward and then placed a measured pass into the path of the substitute Luke Garbutt who had come marauding from left back. He took a touch, moved a few steps into the box and then fired a low shot, between the legs of Fraser Hornsby and completely wrong-footed the keeper as it whistled into the net. 3-2 (79)
Marcus burst from his seat in wild-eyed joy! Finally, the boys were in a winning position. Johnny nearly bowled him over, hugging him. All they had to do was hold on for 10 minutes and change and they would have stolen three points, but three points nonetheless. 90 minutes came. The board went up showing 5 minutes of extra-time. We could hold this!, thought Marcus. A CSKA attack foundered on the edge of the Everton box. Michael Keane looked up and played a long raking ball out to the left wing and Fraser Hornsby. He took the ball on the run and headed straight for the edge of the CSKA box. Once there, he rolled the ball across the box for the on-coming Erling Haaland who side-footed home into the corner to complete his hat-trick. 4-2 (90+3)
Marcus was stunned. 4 unanswered goals and this game had turned into a delight, rather than the nightmare it promised to be. He praised the players, smiling and gesturing towards them. The kick-off came and went. A CSKA player went down injured. He was subbed off and a Russian Euro 2012 hero was subbed on. This meant that 95 minutes came and went. Hornby was tackled and the ball went to a CSKA defender, two quick passes later and the Russian hero was through on goal, pursued by the entire defence. He did not squander the opportunity however, rolling the ball past Lossl to bring the Russians within a goal. 4-3 (90+6)
Marcus swore loudly in German. This team never makes it easy, he thought. Surely the ref should blow now though? Marcus was pacing on the sideline. Yelling at them to concentrate. There was still time and CSKA were flooding forward. On 97 minutes, Coleman brought down the CSKA winger just outside the box. The resulting free-kick was headed out to the edge of the area where a CSKA player thumped a volley as hard as he could. This was in, thought Marcus. Thoughts were flashing through his head, but SOMEHOW Lossl got a hand to it to push it onto the crossbar and out, leaving the bar shaking with the ferocity of the shot. Marcus suddenly realised he’d been holding his breath. It was a second that had turned into eternity. Luckily, the final whistle sounded just after, sealing all three points for Marcus’ men.
Everton 4 – 3 CSKA Moscow