We could probably reduce the match report and indeed the rest of the season to three simple words. Is. Anybody. Arsed?
The nitrous oxide-crazed youth of today would probably be even more succinct.
We’re not getting relegated, thanks to the recent run of wins that was blighted only by Seamus Coleman’s handball at Swansea that was like someone trying to slyly scoop a bit of cack out of a birthing pool without embarrassing the mother. But we’re not going to qualify for Europe either, so there’s just the prospect of perhaps malevolently ruining other teams’ seasons now. Obviously each place in the table means a bigger slice of the big, over-stuffed, cow-horns-sticking-out-and-gravy-oozing-out—all-over-the-inside-of-the-Aga Premier League pie, but that’s hardly something to get emotionally erect over.
Maybe if we thought we could see the foundations being built for next season it would be a trifle more intriguing, but there’s not been much to get interested in apart from the much-needed injection of urgency in the form of Aaron Lennon. He’s done great, even if he does play like the kid who would go ‘around’ people at school by booting the ball about 50 yards wide and then legging after it while everyone else just stood and watched him before dispossessing him when he eventually ran it back, dead sweaty, towards the bit of the tennis courts you were actually playing on.
The better players are all linked with moves elsewhere, which is inevitable, but while last summer you could see why people would have been keen to stay, because there was a real buzz about where the club was heading after Roberto Martinez’s first season, following this weird, directionless campaign you could imagine a few of them thinking that the grass (money) might be greener elsewhere.
Kevin Mirallas is one who it’s widely believed thinks he can prosper beyond Goodison Park, and being left out of the side recently has certainly added to the perception that all is not right between the Belgian winger and the manager. He was brought in from the cold for this game against the achingly ordinary Burnley – which is fair enough, because they’re Burnley – and although he looked rusty he still managed to score the clinching goal on 29 minutes. A decent move down the right culminated in a low cross from James McCarthy which Arouna Kone left – thankfully – for Mirallas to initially mishit his snapshot. Fortunately though he got a second chance to stab the spinning ball past Tom Heaton from close range.
Oh what blessed relief, especially as the Toffees had already missed a penalty following a foul on Lennon that, according to the Sunday papers, was actually outside the box.
Following the shit-storm surrounding Mirallas’s miss from the spot against West Brom, you would think that there would have been stern words in the dressing room and a hard and fast policy put in place to prevent the same sort of embarrassment occurring again.
You would though, wouldn’t you? That’s what would happen at a serious club. Even if the manager said ‘sort it out amongst yourselves’, John Terry or Wayne Rooney or some other win-at-all-costs bastard would be pointing fingers and laying down the law.
Not at our fucking happy clappy band camp though.
Leighton Baines, once the naughtiest fullback in the Premier League, has been moping around like a fucking goth in Lanzarote with his parents for ages now, and this time didn’t even attempt to step forward and take the penalty. Honestly, he’s got ‘massive spammies and shit suicide attempt with half a box of Nurofen and a can of Scrumpy Jack’ written all over him.
‘Leighton, what are those scratches on your arms?’
‘Just shut up! You’re not even my real manager.’
There might have been some logic if Mirallas had stepped up again, sort of saying ‘honestly, I know I missed that one but I am actually boss at these, I’ll show you’ – you could kind of get your head around that.
As long as he’d scored like, obviously.
But instead, Ross ‘blocked shot from the edge of the box that was never going in’ Barkley placed it on the spot, took a couple of steps to one side like Jonny Wilkinson, therefore indicating exactly where he was going to put it. And then did.
Some yard dog got sent off for them before half time, but Everton never really pushed home the advantage in the second half. There were chances, but we never looked like smashing the granny out of them, even when Romelu Lukaku made his return to the side, replacing Mirallas who was lucky to only receive a booking for a wild tackle on Conan-headed occasional goal-botherer George Boyd.
With only the one goal lead, you were always waiting for some horrific, typically Everton balls up, but the closest the visitors came was when rather pedestrian-looking hot prospect Danny Ings put a late free header over the bar.
Martinez has got a big job this summer, especially compared to last when it was just about tying down the backbone of the squad and in particular getting Lukaku on a permanent deal. He has a system that, when working seemed to elevate us to new heights – we always talked to being ‘more than the sum of our parts’ – but that seems to have really been questioned, by the players and supporters alike, so to his credit he does appear to have adapted to an extent so we’re not as doggedly suicidal at the back any more. However, the philosophical flip side to that new-found pragmatism is that we now only look like the sum of our parts. We’re just another side with a mid-table wage bill, destined to more or less beat most of the teams that we should but never consistently trouble our monied superiors.
He can’t win, basically.
What he does have to at least do though is reassert himself and give the impression that he’s in charge and not just going with the flow and hoping everything turns out ok, which is how he looks sometimes. He can’t convey strong leadership with what he says, because no one really listens to his post-match babbling any more, but what he does with the squad will be key, because the whole thing looks ripe for a cull and a shake up. Some senior players look ‘stale’ – to put it politely – and it doesn’t look as if there is any great competition for places.
While we are always going to be limited by our finances, as we have been for decades, Martinez has to find a way of reigniting the spark, the hope, that he has the key to us scratching our way further up the Premier League food chain. Even if it’s just an illusion, it doesn’t really matter, just as long as there’s something. Football fans live on emotion, be it hope, despair, anger or ecstasy, as long as the game keeps the engaged then really they are being entertained, getting their money’s worth, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. It’s boredom and apathy that are the real enemies, the unacceptable emotions, and they have been prevalent this season – thanks to a combination of factors, not least the staccato nature of the modern fixture list – and that’s what Martinez needs to tackle as he heads into a season that could have a huge bearing on the rest of his career.
Jesus, imagine if we’d lost.