There was a portion of play in the Stoke City game that pretty much encapsulated everything that is driving everyone crackers about this present Everton side.
The ball was passed around almost every inch of the pitch in intricate triangles, like when someone touches every square on a chessboard with the knight, and then, as the Goodison crowd purred their delight, Steven Naismith finished the move by turning a blind backpass into a perfect through-ball for Marko Arnoutovic who was only denied by the alertness of the sprawling Tim Howard. No, really.
Watching them do stuff like that, well, sometimes it makes you feel as if we should change our club motto to whatever the Latin is for ‘For Fuck’s Sake’.
Because the song inevitably remains the same. Everton under Roberto Martinez produce some stunning football and you would find very few people willing to argue with his ideas of how the game’s meant to be played – this is the School of Science after all. But there is little to no margin for error with the Spaniard’s total football in a league packed with super-fit teams who are increasingly adopting high-pressure, counter-attacking styles.
The opposition recognise when Everton’s passing is getting careless and, more pertinently, the running off the ball has become less consistent. In the closing stages of games the men on the ball, particularly the defenders, have less options and are easier to pressurise into errors. What’s more, the Blues’ inconsistency in front of goal – the incredible Romelu Lukaku aside – means that even very ordinary teams almost always still have something to play for as we enter the inevitable NBA phase of matches.
When you are so committed to attack at the expense of defence then you have to make it count and get out of sight.
If the other team’s players can see Everton are getting ragged then, how come the Toffees themselves always seem stunned when the roof caves in? Martinez has to take the largest share of responsibility for this, but the players themselves also need to be a bit more assertive and simply make better decisions. The body language sometimes reads ‘Yeah, I fucked up, but what do you expect – he makes us play this way.’
When Martinez arrived it was always clear that when things went badly for him it would result in these massive crises of faith among the support. Like the wine-fuelled arguments with your other half – the ones that start off about ‘the way you said it’ and end up with your clothes on the front garden amidst declarations about the life you could have had if she had taken her pill like any normal person and you could have taken that job in Seattle instead of being stuck here with her miserable fucking face and a Goth kid with a septic nose piercing – Martinez defeats almost always lead to deep existential angst concerning his methods.
On one hand he might be a fatally flawed manager whose insistence on a Barcelona-style possession game borders on a type of mania, a crutch that he relies on so heavily because it is the very foundation of his managerial being. He is, perhaps, a footballing Father Karras, whose belief in the God of pure football is actually confirmed, not shaken, by the demons of directness that are sent to tempt him in the Premier League desert.
Or, perhaps, he is an absolute visionary who refuses to be swayed from what he knows is the correct path. He doesn’t think we should stop doing what we are doing – we should just do it better. The Leicester / Watford style – not dissimilar to what served Everton well under David Moyes – will get you so far for so long, especially with limited resources, but maybe Martinez thinks that his ‘philosophy’, when we get it right, has limitless potential.
On the bright side, for everyone who for years said they just want to see us have a go and play some decent football, we are certainly exciting to watch at the moment. The injury-time winner at Newcastle, from a corner forced thanks to Martinez’s commitment to attacking until the very last breath, was arguably the moment of the season so far. It’s also worth remembering that for spells against a good Stoke team we appeared unstoppable, with Lukaku looking like one of the best centre-forwards to ever play for the club. Which he is.
The ending was at once predictable and farcical though, from the calamitous build up to Stoke’s equaliser through to the absolute bollocks penalty awarded by a linesman who was being laughed at for 90 minutes because of his inability to made a decision on a single offside call.
Tim Howard’s come in for loads of stick again and we seem to be headed for a horrible situation with him, with the sarcastic cheer when he caught a cross and his ironic applause in reply only highlighting his deteriorating relationship with the supporters. The pressure is going to mount on the American every game now – and for someone with dubious confidence that’s a real concern.
Dropping keepers isn’t like ‘resting’ an outfield player. It’s a massive statement – essentially that you no longer have faith in someone – and so it’s not something you can ever really recover from in terms of your relationship with them, and management is all about relationships. If you are also not completely convinced about the understudy either – and Martinez obviously still thinks that Howard remains better than Joel Robles – then that is a genuine sleepless nights type of conundrum.
The real solution is clearly to buy a new keeper in January, but finding one available who is good enough to come straight in and command the respect of the other players will be no mean feat.
Still, it’s a little bit sad to see another player who has been at the club so long playing out his final games in such an atmosphere.
Another somewhat dejected-looking figure is Arouna Kone. The Ivorian grafts away and does a lot of good work dropping deep and holding the ball up but he completely shits the bed whenever he gets anywhere near the goal and overall he is like, well, the Chocolate Eclair in the box of Heroes. Just doesn’t quite fit in.
We’ve blown so many winnable games now we really do need a stand out performance against Spurs on Sunday to lift the mood around the club. Having James McCarthy and his best deputy Tom Cleverley missing through injury certainly won’t help us on that score. It certainly can’t be any coincidence that our recent run of truly horrific defensive displays have coincided with McCarthy, who fills more holes than Ron Jeremy, being absent from the side.
Elsewhere, there is apparently an American consortium looking at buying the club but no one seems at all excited by it. They clearly don’t have Manchester City or Chelsea money to waste on us, while at the same time the club are about to start tapping into that ludicrous telly money, so who really stands to gain here? What do they bring to the table that benefits Everton?
And on that cheery note, here’s to a Happy New Year!