What we really, really needed this weekend was to go to the home of a struggling side and get a straightforward victory.
An early goal from Romelu Lukaku, perhaps, followed by long spells of possession and then Aaron Lennon scoring a breakaway second after the break. The obligatory defensive error gifts them a consolation but we always look dangerous on the counter-attack and in the end Quique Sanchez Flores concedes that we are a top side and it’s always difficult when you concede so early against such impressive attackers.
That was exactly the pressure release we needed. Wasn’t what we got though. Although that’s obvious, just by looking at the scoreline up there, and watching the match and that.
It’s been a weird week, with all the bollocks about Leighton Baines’ relatively innocuous chemistry comment being blown up into our very own ‘Panama papers’, and loads of punters who go on about ‘not believing any of the shite that journos come out with’ seemingly buying into it and, it seems, going all Twilight.
Are you Team Leighton or Team Bobby?
Presumably airspace over Vicarage Road was crowded so protests regressed to the tried and trusted daubing on the duvet. It’s ace, as it gives everyone something to get all riled up about on their computers at work. Whether it’s ‘them having the right to say what they want about that fucking phoney’ or ‘them not fucking representing me and my views’, it’s more interesting than the football.
Let’s be honest, constant telly coverage and the petri dish of social media mean that feeling ‘represented’ by your fellow fan – regardless of who you support – is a ship that sailed a long time ago.
You only have to read up on what’s been going on at FC United, an organisation whose very genesis was born out of a singular vision of what a football club should and shouldn’t be, to realise that, well, sometimes everyone just isn’t going to get along, and everyone is going to want to have their say.
As ever, all this becomes moot if Everton just go out and play alright and win some games. The ‘Martinez Out’ banner will go right back on the divan as soon as we score more goals than the opposition. Christ, win in the semi-final, which admittedly seems fucking fanciful at this point, and everyone will join in with a rousing rendition of:
‘Roberto had a dream, it never involved bedsheets and a silk screen…’
For that to happen though, there has to be an element of getting back to basics, because against Watford they were again, just as against Arsenal and United, absolutely anaemic going forward. We have all pretty much accepted that the defence is shakier than Michael J Fox’s autograph, so it stands to reason that when you are creating next to nothing in attack you are going to have some ‘clear opportunities for improvement’, as the manager might say.
Whatever your opinion of Kevin Mirallas – and he’s almost as divisive as Martinez – he’s an experienced international and the Blues certainly improved in the late stages against Watford when he replaced Gerard Deulofeu. The Spaniard’s talented but needs to be stronger on the ball and spend more time grafting than moaning and messing with his weird barnet that looks like the product of a power cut in Sweeps.
The Belgian’s scything low free-kick almost created a winner, as Heurelho Gomes could only palm it to another struggling youngster, Lukaku, whose follow-up shot struck the crossbar.
The third in the triumvirate of talented tyros failing to make much impact lately is Ross Barkley who, following a decent first half of the season, looks like he’s gone back into his shell. When he plays well the whole country sits up and takes notice and the media start to talk about him being a must for a starting place at the Euros. When he’s not on form though there’s simply no two ways about it, he is absolutely, astonishingly shit.
You just can’t play in central midfield and have so little impact on the game. If it’s not going your way then dig in and at least make life hard for your opposite number. Grind him down with your persistence and determination until he gets discouraged and then your opportunities and the space you need might start to materialise.
At least James McCarthy, who hasn’t had a great season by any measure, tried to do that, and was rewarded with the opening goal in first half injury time. The farm-faced enforcer chased down the careless Miguel Britos, levered him off the ball and then showed unusual composure to fire low past Gomes.
Huzzah, we thought. This seems like the veritable ‘platform’ – whatever that means in this context – we need to get a good result. Unfortunately, said structure was erected by Curtis Mayfield’s road crew, as the home side were level within about three seconds.
Sports psychologists – imagine having the brass neck to tell people you did that for a living – could probably write whole theses on where John Stones’ head is at presently. ‘All over the shop’ would almost certainly be the annotated conclusion, as once again he had a foot in the Toffees conceding a daft goal.
Stones spent most of the first half toeying clearances into the stands – as if to say, ‘here you go, is this what you want?’ – when he found himself with the ball at his feet, facing his own goal, as Troy Deeny*, who always looks like he’s wearing Sitting Bull’s bison headdress, put him under the mildest of pressure. As we all know, this situation is pretty much the canvas where Stones creates most of his unique art. And eschewing the broad brush stroke of spinning and cracking a clearance towards the halfway line, the Caravaggio of the Cruyff turn send a bastard of a backpass to Grimsby in goal, who was left little choice but to shank the ball behind.
In fairness to Stones here, ultimately he conceded a needless corner. Statistically, very few goals are scored from them, and all that jazz. However, this is Everton, and so inevitably Jose Holebas ran in at the far post, headed the ball against Seamus Coleman and saw it deflect into the roof of the net from close range.
As Noel Coward famously said: ’twat of a goal’.
To say that we need an improvement at Crystal Palace midweek would be a huge understatement. Play like this again and the atmosphere at Goodison against back-on-track Southampton will be positively cataclysmic. It seemed unthinkable at one point, but if there’s not some sign from the players that they believe in Martinez and want to perform for him then it now seems conceivable that he might not be in charge for even the derby, never mind next season.
It really does feel that only Everton could paint themselves into this sort of position when they’re so close to actually getting their hands on some silverware.
- * It probably wasn’t Deeny, but we’ve been fascinated by his dead weird head for ages.