After the frustration of the Tottenham game you couldn’t really ask for more than a match at home straight away against one of the Premier League’s strugglers.
Familiar failings undid the Toffees at White Hart Lane – they enjoyed loads of possession but after the first half an hour or so, when they had a handful of chances, they really struggled to turn that sense of ‘control’ into something more threatening. We do 80% of the work brilliantly, arguably as good as anyone, but without any genuine centre-forward, never mind the hugely expensive ones leading the line of our nearest competitors, it often feels like we’re dependent on either a bit of luck or an incredible team effort to get the ball in the back of the net.
Leon Osman, teed up by the hardworking and intelligent Steven Naismith, drew a great save from Hugo Lloris in the early stages, but after that, as the Blues worked the ball to the wings with ease, you never felt any great conviction that the eventual ball into the box was going to really hurt the Spurs defence.
When you are struggling to score, lapses of concentration at the other end will often prove doubly punishing, and the winning goal, scored on 64 minutes, only served to underline that. Kyle Walker took a quick free-kick on the halfway line, chipping the ball to Emmanuel Adebayor as the Everton defence all turned their back on the play. Before they could fully recover the spindly striker had already beaten Tim Howard low at his near post.
Roberto Martinez tried to force an equaliser by subjecting Spurs to ‘death by jinky winger’, throwing Gerard Deulofeu and Aiden McGeady on alongside Kevin Mirallas, but despite one great slaloming run by the Belgian that was always going to end up with a mad shot into the crowd, the home side always looked capable of defending their 18-yard box in the face of Everton’s constant probing and wing-switching.
It wasn’t a terrible performance, but perhaps it was an indicator of the limitations of the squad that we couldn’t even get a point against an ordinary-looking Spurs side that, despite the upturn in fortunes under Tim Sherwood, hasn’t fully recovered from the sale of Gareth Bale and the dubious spending of André Villas Boas.
Meanwhile Liverpool were smashing the granny out of Arsenal and moving five points clear of us. There is still ‘a lot of football to play’ as they say, but at the moment it’s hard to envisage us winning two more games than them during the remainder of the season. They seem to be through on goal with two or three passes every time they attack at the moment where we must surely have more touches in the opponents’ area without troubling the keeper than any other side in the division.
There’s talk of the massive Lacina Traore of the Jacomo fire sale cardigan making his first appearance against Palace as Martinez at least has more players of indeterminate fitness to choose from. Perhaps he can provide a bit of focus and some end product to compliment all the neat and tidy approach play.
One of Everton’s most hair-pulling performances of the season came in the corresponding fixture at Selhurst Park, when their passing game was undone by a packed defence and a number of breakaways that fortunately had Jerome Thomas and Yannick Bolasie on the end of them and not Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. That was the old relegation-doomed Palace as well, before they parted ways with Ian Holloway and appointed surprise package Tony Pulis as manager.
You have to hand it to him, he had become something of a joke figure at Stoke City – his name sort of shorthand for a particular brand of unsophisticated football – and it’s probably fair to assume that a lot of Crystal Palace supporters were dubious about him getting the job, especially with exotic figures like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer out there being touted at the time. In a short space of time though Pulis has made Palace a much tougher proposition to face. Not only that, he brought in a couple of decent attacking players during the transfer window, Tom Ince and Joe Ledley, adding more goal threat and improving their chances of survival no end.
Fair play like.
For Everton it’s really a question of carrying on as we have been, hoping that Traore does adapt quickly, Romelu Lukaku recovers from his injury and reproduces his early-season form, and that as the likes of Deulofeu and Ross Barkley get fitter we can pick up a bit more momentum, picking up points and hopefully progress in the increasingly important-looking FA Cup.
Because even though it was just a narrow defeat at Tottenham, when the stakes are so high the margins for error become increasingly fine. You can’t help wonder now if we require a consistent run of wins for the remainder of the season that is just a little bit beyond this present squad.