Well at least this result made a change from drawing with really average teams.
David Moyes said that he was as pissed off as he has ever been after a game, but it couldn’t have come as that much of a surprise to him as an all too familiar pattern of play saw the Blues dominate the early stages, fail to open up a decent lead and then allow very limited opponents back into the game courtesy of hopeless defending.
Thomas Hitzlsperger, Der Spirit-Level, was a surprise starter in place of the injured Phil Neville while Steven Naismith continued on the right while we await the return of Kevin Mirallas.
In the first half Reading were shocking – the worst side Everton have faced this season. Indeed, the Toffees should have been ahead within the first couple of minutes when first Adam Federici blocked a Phil Jagielka effort from close range and then watched as the unmarked Nikica Jelavic volleyed Hitzlsperger’s cross into the turf and harmlessly wide. It was a passage of play that summed up much of the rest of the half.
A goal did arrive on nine minutes though as a Reading defence that looked like chickens with a fox in the coop every time the ball came into their box failed to deal with a straightforward bouncing ball, allowing Naismith to score from six yards.
After that it was the usual procession of Leon Osman pea-rollers, some decent saves and plenty of shrug-inducing misjudged final balls from Everton as they walked the ball to the edge of the home side’s penalty area with impunity. Jelavic and Marouane Fellaini should have run riot against such a disorganised back four, but the pair of them looked too casual and failed to get hold of the ball and do the basics consistently.
Jelavic’s only notable contribution should have seen a penalty awarded when his fierce shot was blatantly handled by Sean Morrison. It was the second Stonewall spot kick – so blatant it caused a riot in a gay bar – that referee Martin Atkinson failed to award. The first was when early-90s Dennis Leary-looking tripe-hound Kasper Gorkss clearly clattered Naismith.
1-0 at half-time then and you just knew that Brian McDermott’s team talk would be along the lines of: ‘We should be dead and buried here, so see this second half as an opportunity – be a bit more aggressive and we will get chances’. With some of those sort of crouching fist pumps he does thrown in for good measure.
Lo and behold, after only five minutes Martin Atkinson gave a bollocks free kick against Hitzlsperger, it got lofted into the near post area and Adam Le Fondre, hardly the most fearsome target-man, found himself free to head past Tim Howard.
Only Sonny and Cher playing over the public address system would have made the whole mood feel more like Groundhog Day.
Fellaini hit a post with a header and Hitzlsperger volleyed narrowly wide, but there was no real conviction from a generally sloppy and off-colour Everton team.
To top it all off, on 78 minutes winless Reading took the lead from the penalty spot courtesy of a ridiculous challenge by Seamus Coleman. The young Irishman’s enthusiasm is always commendable but in all honesty, the Southampton game aside, he has looked something of a liability during this spell covering for Tony Hibbert. He makes too many bad decisions when he’s under pressure – none more so than his leap into the back of Le Fondre. It looked like someone trying to break down a door but realising while in mid-air that it’s a lot harder to do in real life than it is on television. Even Atkinson couldn’t miss it, and similarly Le Fondre was always going to do the business from the spot.
It’s hard to know what Moyes is meant to change about his team given that most of what they have been doing this season has been exemplary. Even at the Madejski, where the second half was really disappointing, they should have scored at least two or three before the break, and that’s besides the two denied penalties.
The return of Mirallas will obviously be a welcome one, and dare we say it Hibbert’s too, whenever he’s fit. The forwards could do with being a bit more aggressive – they look as if they give balls up a little bit too easily at times and hardly won a free-kick all game – and the defenders might consider not conceding at least one soft goal every single game.
Other than that, we are still in fifth place, but it’s not lost on anybody that a mass of points have been dropped unnecessarily over the last month or so. And the upshot of that is we are now going to have to beat some pretty good teams if we want to maintain any genuine ambition of a fourth place finish.