This is being written on the train, again with no internet connection, so facts and that are open to interpretation. However, on the plus side, the shock and awe is still fresh in the memory, which is good for more of a ‘mood piece’ than any sort of serious reportage.
Almost typed that last bit with a straight, er, keyboard?
So then, the match.
In the extensive pantheon of right royal Everton balls-ups there must now be a sub-folder marked PALACE_SNAFUS. We can’t even profess to being taken by surprise by the South Londoners given that the game was pretty much identical to the Champions League choker right at the end of last season.
The Everton team was different to the one that played in that fixture; indeed it was unrecognisable compared to the one that beat Wolfsburg 4-1 in midweek, with Christian Atsu and Samuel Eto’o making their full debuts, John Stones replacing the injured Seamus Coleman at right-back and Leon Osman coming in for Steven Naismith.
It all started swimmingly too. After only nine minutes Osman flicked a cute ball through the centre of the Palace defence, Romelu Lukaku powered through, held off two defenders and calmly slipped his shot past Rodney Bewes and into the bottom corner.
The visitors must have made about three successful passes in the opening 20 minutes as they struggled to contain Everton’s fluid movement and neat passing. However, complacency and carelessness continue to plague Roberto Martinez’s team and it only took one slack pass from James McCarthy and a couple of clubbing first-touches from Lukaku to give the otherwise bewildered Eagles the ‘foothold’ in the game that they really never deserved.
Again, typical of this Blues outfit that is admirable in so many other ways, it was an absolutely nothing ball straight through the middle that marked the beginning of their undoing. Neither Stones or Tim Howard took charge of the loose ball in the box, the young defender tried to usher it back to his keeper and former Martinez favourite James McArthur got in between them and the panicked Howard hauled him down.
Mile Jedinak smashed the penalty high into the net. He was never, ever going to miss.
Howard then atoned for his error in the second half when he completely missed a straightforward ball hoisted into the box and watched in horror as it bounced off the back of Campbell’s head and into the net.
Unfortunately he doesn’t know what ‘atoned for’ means.
With half an hour to go and only a goal behind things weren’t rosy but there was still plenty of time to pull things around, equalise and possibly even push on for a rousing fightback winner. There certainly didn’t seem to be any need for a Ken Kesey double substitution, but Martinez appeared to differ in his opinion. When Naismith and Kevin Mirallas came to the touchline the obvious candidates for replacement were the marginalised Osman and either Lukua or Eto’o. Absolutely nobody would have picked Stones and Atsu, especially as the Ghanaian had finally begun to get a ‘bit of joy’ down the right. Well, he finally went past someone and got a cross into the six-yard box.
Eto’o and McCarthy formed a new right flank partnership, the midfield looked an absolute shambles and amidst the jumpers for goalposts confusion Osman lost possession, the ball was fed across the Toffees’ penalty area and the unmarked Yannick Bolasie gratefully stroked a shot into the Park End goal.
Darron Gibson replaced Sylvain Distin, Gareth Barry went to centre-half and McCarthy had so few options bringing the ball from the back that he eventually just kept coming until Scott Dann brought him down for a penalty. Baines did what he does but despite Everton’s frantic efforts and occasional good work from Mirallas on the left, they never managed to force an equaliser.
Everyone’s looking at the defence, and rightly so given the amount of goals they are conceding, but right across the team there is a lack of composure. They don’t keep the ball or control the – Lord forgive us for the use of this word – ‘tempo’ of the game they way they did at their best last season. Lukaku’s poor hold-up play remains an issue, as does the over-reliance on the ageing Barry who is still the most intelligent player we have by a mile. Similarly, expecting a consistent 90 minutes from Osman seems like wishful thinking and you can feel the serious boo-boy vibes building around the ground.
Martinez has overseen dramatic, almost unprecedented changes at Goodison in only a year, but still, whenever you begin to think that we are genuinely on the cusp of a whole new Evertonian epoch – a complete Premier League paradigm shift even, in terms of outlook and our position in the whole English football ‘scheme of things’ – they always seem to find a new and exciting way remind you that, yep, it’s still good old Everton.
The soft cunts.