It’s been written in instalments this, so the Stoke bit was completed before we went to St. James’ Park. Hopefully the tone is a bit sunnier at the end then, because after the defeat to Stoke it all started to feel a bit Ron Burgundy: ‘Well that escalated quickly’.
It wasn’t long ago that Roberto Martinez’s name was being mentioned in connection to the manager’s job at Barcelona and while it obviously seemed unlikely, such was his reputation after his first season at Goodison that it certainly wasn’t completely laughable. He looked like a man on the fast track with almost limitless potential, such was the impact he’d had on an already pretty decent Premier league outfit. That’s all in stark contrast then to this weekend when the Daily Mail have got Steve McLaren lined up as a potential replacement. That’s a ludicrous story, certainly, but it’s an indication of the Blues’ burgeoning ‘crisis club’ status.
The first half against Mark Hughes’ collection of Gripper Stebson clones actually saw something of an improvement on the dire showing at Southampton, with the side pushed forward and a noticeable emphasis on pressuring the away team deep in their own territory. With John Stones, Kevin Mirallas and James McCarthy back in the team too it was pretty much the Blues’ strongest side. The game might have panned out differently too if the Toffees weren’t undone by some poor refereeing and clever play by Bojan Krkic, Stoke’s Dennis Wise.
Jon Walters was only shown yellow card when hauling Leighton Baines down as the fullback burst through the centre for a clear run at goal. Then, in remarkably Everton fashion, Mirallas’s free kick struck the wall and rebounded out to Bojan who set out on a 60 yard race with McCarthy. The Irish international matched the former Barcelona man stride for stride but was left powerless as he cut across his path and hit the turf for a penalty. Bojan took it himself and was never going to miss.
A goal down to that shower of squaddies, when everyone is low on confidence and your centre-forward is visibly melting before your eyes, is not a pleasant place to find yourself. There were half chances to equalise, spurned by Mirallas, Gareth Barry and Steven Naismith, but the most telling, and some might say damning, indication of the crowd’s mood was how many people left with about 10 minutes to go.
Under David Moyes that game would have ended – or maybe even started – with Marouane Fellaini on the edge of their box, wrestling and elbowing and getting the crowd whipped into a spitty frenzy.
That’s not the Martinez style though, and the team adopt pretty much the same approach in the last minute as they do in the first, regardless of the score. There’s almost certainly a load of statistics that support a theory that if you simply have X amount of possession then over the course of the season you will win Y percentage of the games, and that’s certainly how it feels at times: that we’re witnessing some sort of theoretical experiment and that one match doesn’t represent a big enough sample size to fully appreciate it.
Almost the polar opposite of ‘taking one game at a time.’
This seemingly over-analytical approach feels like it can rob the individual matches of their theatre and drama though: when we’re not controlling the game as the plan dictates, and seem unwilling to waver from our proscribed methods in pursuit of a change of fortune.
This was always going to be the danger for Martinez though, and we said as much at the very start of his time in charge – when we are in charge of games we will look great, but when we’re not then it will appear bloodless and limp, passing for passing’s sake and then being undone by one big welly up the pitch by the opposition. And that’s where we are at the moment.
Talk of Martinez getting sacked is clearly ridiculously premature as Bill Kenwright has shown in the past that he is reluctant to pull the trigger, and justifiably so. The fans, while visibly unimpressed at the moment, are very easy to win around simply by winning games, and most people do still remember how great we were last season. The biggest danger the Spaniard faces is if he starts to alienate the players – if they think his style is making them look like mugs and they are losing faith in it and him then he could be actually end up in big trouble. There are just little things that make you wonder sometimes too, like the freezing out of Sylvain Distin for a spell, and the reluctance to give Steven Pienaar a game while always looking desperate to have Samuel Eto’o involved.
Is it possible that having no Leon Osman available, as a starter or substitute, has also had a bigger impact on the team than many would care to admit? In fact, is another big issue that our slickest footballers are nearly all approaching the end of their careers, and some of the young futures of international football who were meant to replace them are struggling to fill their boots?
Going back to the style of play again, you wonder sometimes whether the players hide behind ‘the system’ a bit when things aren’t going well. There were times against Stoke when they were being pressured at the back and the whole crowd could smell the danger but they still took ridiculous risks – Stones is the worst for it – and then almost shrugged when they lost possession in a dangerous area. Is there a tendency for them to almost say ‘what do you expect, he makes us play like this’ when they just make plain bad decisions?
Again, it’s just conjecture, as you only ever try to second guess body language and speculate on changing room politics when things are turning to rat shit. Hopefully we can look back up the page and laugh at it all after Romelu Lukaku has romped through the open spaces of St. James Park and we’ve wellied Newcastle United out of sight.
Okay then, maybe not.
You have to credit Martinez in as far as he didn’t seem to take the Stoke defeat lightly and certainly made significant changes to the line-up for the trip to Newcastle. The biggest was dropping Lukaku for Arouna Kone, although revisiting the Philip Lahm role for Baines in central midfield, with Luke Garbutt coming in at fullback, certainly ran it close.
After only five minutes it looked like an absolute masterstroke too, as Kone coolly turned home Seamus Coleman’s low cross after a great through ball-from Aiden McGeady. Kone did everything you ask of a centre-forward – his runs were conventional, his teammates knew where he was going to be, and he got the ball under control first and foremost without trying to do anything too clever. No flicks without looking or going on runs far too early when there’s no way he can be played in. If he stays fit he starts ahead of Lukaku now, no question.
After half an hour though, the stoned-cartoon-rabbit-looking Pappis Cisse levelled the scores, volleying home from eight yards as Everton singularly failed to deal with a deep cross to the back post. The telly showed that Cisse should have been sent off earlier, for clotheslining Coleman at a corner, but while that’s irritating, and playing an hour against ten men might have done the world of good for us, the state we are in presently, the referee’s failure to spot it doesn’t excuse the way Everton played for the remainder of the game and particularly the nature of the goals they conceded.
The game was tough enough – with Moussa Sissoko looking like Jonah Lomu as he ran right over the top of Gareth Barry whenever he pleased – without Everton shooting themselves in the feet.
McGeady’s blind pass as we tried to break out of our box just past half time was almost unforgivable. The ball was quickly worked to Ayoze Perez whose shot through Coleman’s legs left Joel Robles helpless and rooted to the spot.
Jack Colback then sealed the result when substitute Ross Barkley completely mis-controlled a nothing ball into the box, allowing the Newcastle midfielder a simple finish.
Kevin Mirallas scored a cracking consolation when Baines took a break from legging round like a headless chicken – in fairness to him, at least he was trying – and fired a long raking pass into the Belgian’s path. His finish was unerring, clipping the ball over Jack Alnwick in the Newcastle goal, but the big push for a winner was unconvincing. Indeed Perez smashed a shot against the inside of Robles’ post as the Geordies looked just as likely to extend their lead as the game got stretched and frantic.
Indeed, whisper it like, but the closing stages were very reminiscent of so many of those mental games that Wigan Athletic were famous for under Martinez.
It’s time to get the mountain bikes and the karaoke gear out here.
It’s hard to know what else to suggest. If you start making even more changes for the next game do you risk just destabilising the whole team? But if you don’t, do you then look as if you are merely accepting poor performances?
Sacking Martinez would be madness. He offered a glimpse of a different future than any of us thought possible last season, when we played a style of football that at times utterly terrorised even the wealthiest, bloated clubs in the richest league in the world. To give up on that vision now, in favour of some solid citizen who will get us back to ‘two banks of four’ and ‘first and foremost hard to beat’ would feel short-sighted and downright cowardly.
If that’s what’s required then give you-know-who a ring, tell him to get that knotted hanky off his head and come home.
No, we backed Martinez when he sang ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ and we in turn sang his name when letting off blue smoke-bombs while ragging Manchester United home and away last season, so he’s earned the right to get himself out of the mess – and it is a fucking mess, make no mistake – he and the players find themselves in at the moment.
Happy New Year!