[AMERICANS ABROAD] Apparently, the soccer gods wanted more drama than merely the return of Landon Donovan to Everton for a second loan stint Wednesday at Goodison Park. Compatriot Tim Howard’s astonishing 102-yard goal, injuries to three Everton players, and a Bolton rally from 1-0 down to win, 2-1, overshadowed Donovan's efforts on a night lashed by stinging rain and gusty winds.
David Ngog and Gary Cahill scored 11 minutes apart in the second half to wipe out Howard’s goal, and with those three points Bolton lifted itself out of the Premier League’s bottom slot. Everton’s loss ended a four-match unbeaten run.
Donovan got the start on the right side of midfield and it’s unlikely Coach David Moyes intended for him to play the full 90 minutes. Yet his effectiveness until tiring in the second half and an injury to crafty Leon Osman, who’d been along with Donovan the main catalysts for Everton, prompted Moyes to keep him on the field, since several other players weren’t able to do so.
Defender Phil Jagielka left late in the first half, and his replacement, Jack Rodwell, himself departed after halftime. Osman went off and straight into the locker room eight minutes into the second half and from then on Bolton controlled most of the play.
Donovan had forced a foul from Sam Ricketts in the opening seconds and confidently meshed well with his teammates, several of whom he played with during his previous loan two seasons ago. His ball to Osman set up an exchange from which Osman hit a shot wide. Donovan’s touches and runs during buildup play created several chances; a clever move and near-post cross in the 11th minute set up Denis Stracqualursi, making his first Premier League start, to steer a shot wide.
Yet Stracqualursi only rarely combined with forward partner Louis Saha and despite much intelligent movement and interplay out of Everton’s 4-4-2 formation opposing keeper Adam Bogdan seldom looked threatened, that is, until the soccer gods got playful.
“We tried to go with two center forwards, if we hadn’t some might have questioned it,” said Moyes to the team’s Web site. “Apart from the goalkeeper and bits from Landon it was hard to say much positive.”
In first half stoppage time Donovan darted past Ricketts in the penalty area and went down as Ricketts nicked him from behind. Referee Phil Dowd decided the contact insufficient to call a foul and the half ended, 0-0.
Bolton started the second half in a much livelier mode, and only a superb kick save by Howard’s left foot maintained the scoreless deadlock. Then with his right foot Howard connected fiercely with a Sylvain Distin back pass; propelled by a strong wind, it veered sharply and easily cleared Bodgan’s desperate lunge on the bounce.
“I was just trying to clear it up the pitch,” said Howard. “I was happy to see it go in but certainly from the goalkeeper’s union standpoint I felt bad for him. Those things happen.”
Howard is the second American goalie to score in an EPL match and the second to lose the game. In 2004, Brad Friedel scored a late equalizer against Charlton but Blackburn then conceded the winning goal.
“It’s part of the game,” said Howard. “At this level, goalkeeping’s very, very cruel.”
Just four minutes after his goal, Howard had to pick the ball out of the net when Ngog exploited a turnover with a low shot into the far corner. Howard then repelled another shot from Ngog with a flying parry as Everton tried to regain momentum, but sub Cahill failed to influence the match and Donovan faded as his legs got weary.
In the 78th minute Howard punched a ball out to the edge of the penalty area, and when his teammates failed to clear the danger, Bolton captain Cahill found enough space on the right side to drill a shot home. Everton mounted a late push to win a free kick a few yards outside the penalty area in stoppage time, and a wicked attempt by Leighton Baines beat Bogdan but not the crossbar.
“We didn’t deserve to be in front,” said Moyes. “Bolton deserved to win the game. I’ve got no qualms with the result; you can’t perform like that and expect to win. Give Bolton a bit of credit. They worked really hard to get the result, but we didn’t perform as well as we have been doing. Bolton stuck at it and got their rewards.”
Everton plays again on Saturday in the third round of the FA Cup against Tamworth, a non-league team in the English Conference, which is in effect the fifth division. The 90 minutes put in by Donovan could prompt Moyes to rest him; Everton plays an important league match Wednesday against Tottenham and Friedel.
But if Osman is sidelined for any length of time -- no injury updates were released after the match -- sitting Donovan may not be a viable option.