EVERTON limped away from Lille with the events off the pitch arguably more noteworthy than any event during the game.In a match of few chances, the draw leaves them unbeaten and top of the group.
The match kicked off against a backdrop of tension on the streets after hundreds of Everton fans in the main square were dispersed with tear gas by police. The incident, which appeared to be triggered by undercover officers trying to arrest a lone fan, came the day after several Everton fans were treated for injuries following an ambush by a masked group wielding metal chairs outside a pub late on Wednesday night.
Roberto MartÃnez said the patchy state of the pitch was a key factor in his sideâ€™s inability to play through the thirds with the fluency and cohesion he wanted, but he was delighted by his sideâ€™s defensive display. â€œWe were fantastic defensively. We showed we can go anywhere and be ourselves. The condition of the pitch didnâ€™t help us but Lille threw everything at us and we defended really well against a very strong team, who will finish the season strongly despite their form at the moment.â€
When asked about the tear-gassing of fans in the town centre square, MartÃnez said: â€œI heard that something was reported but I donâ€™t know any details of it.â€ He described the Everton fans as â€œquite unique in Europeâ€ and said: â€œI have immense pride and an incredible feeling in seeing what we are as a football club. The day-to-day support of this club doesnâ€™t stop to amaze me. Iâ€™ve seen full families coming across, some without tickets, staying in or near the hotel wishing the players well. This game really meant something for thousands of families. We get closer to understanding what the Evertonians deserve. It gives us more strength to make sure Everton keep progressing.â€
Neither side deserved to take all three points on a night when the goalkeepers were largely untroubled despite some promising attacking play in the wide areas. Aiden McGeady had Evertonâ€™s best chances but failed truly to extend Lilleâ€™s Vincent Enyeama. The Nigerian racked up an astonishing 11 consecutive clean sheets last season and here Lilleâ€™s obdurate defensive nous held sway.
MartÃnez brought in the veteran Tony Hibbert at right-back and the big question was whether Hibbert could cope with the pace of Divock Origi, the Belgian teenager on loan from Liverpool. He started out centrally but was soon occupying space on the outside of the Everton right-back.
With the bobbly pitch not conducive to patient approach play, the game began scrappily. Both teams appeared willing to press only once the opposition entered the middle third of the pitch, which led to numerous scrappy transitions in that area.
Lilleâ€™s attacking players were keen to allow Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka to step out with the ball before triggering a midield press. It worked on three occasions, discomfiting Distin and forcing him into a hurried pass.
Everton looked like a team who had made several changes. After 13 minutes Ross Barkley needed treatment for a cut after complaining of an elbow from the Lille central defender Marko Basa. He returned to the field after two minutes sporting a bandage on his head and was immediately involved in a spell of possession by Everton as they tried to get a foothold in the game.
Two minutes later Samuel Etoâ€™oâ€™s footwork let him down in a promising position when, after exchanging passes with Steven Pienaar, he skipped past Simon Kjaer but got the ball caught under his feet and was dispossessed before he could get a shot off.
Moments later Origi, who had been popping up menacingly all across the frontline, timed his run perfectly down the right and teased Leighton Baines before floating the ball into the box only for Jagielka to clear.
After 25 minutes Lille went closest to scoring when Barkley was dispossessed on the edge of the box while dangling a leg hopefully towards the ball. The ball fell to Idrissa Gueye, who swivelled smartly and struck a fierce, low drive that whistled past Tim Howardâ€™s left-hand post. In between one or two nice touches in linking with Eto and Baines on the left, Barkley was also culpable for another threatening moment for Lille when he dallied in possession 10 yards outside the Everton penalty area and had to rely on Distin and Jagielka to shepherd the onrushing SÃ©bastien Corchia away from danger.
It was not until the 32nd minute that Everton tested Enyeama for the first time. Hibbert latched on to a long, raking pass by Jagielka in the outside-right position and nudged the ball inside to the supporting Barkley. The 20-year-old showed great touch and vision to set the ball back first time to McGeady, who unleashed a drive that Enyeama gathered comfortably.
The second half began much the same as the first, with Origi providing a threat in wide areas before the perennially creative pair of Baines and Steven Pienaar came to life. A classic combination down the left freed the left-back only for his pulled back cross to be cut out by a Lille defender.
Sensing the shift in momentum, MartÃnez sent on Romelu Lukaku for Pienaar. This optimism was rewarded instantly with a flowing attacking move involving a clever ball into Lukakuâ€™s feet by Barkley. The striker showed good vision to wait for McGeadyâ€™s run and released the Ireland international but his shot, while powerful, was straight at the well-positioned Enyeama.
Evertonâ€™s second substitute, Christian Atsu, was also quick to get involved after entering the fray with eight minutes remaining. Linking with Lukaku on the right, he quickly switched play to the left, allowing Baines to overlap Etoâ€™o. Barkley and Lukaku tore into the box expecting a cross only for the ball to be blocked and allow Lille to counter.
The final 15 minutes resembled a training-ground counterattack six-versus-four as both sides poured forward rapidly but without leaving themselves outnumbered at the back. At the end the Everton players went over to applaud the huge numbers of visiting fans in the away end. Those supporters will surely hope the rest of their stay in France is as uneventful as the match. – The Guardian