Austria Vienna 2-1 Everton
The Roberto Martinez era got underway in Vienna with defeat, but the new Everton manager will not be downbeat, nor will he be complacent about the size of the job facing him if he is to reinvent the School of Science at Goodison Park.
With several players still enjoying an extended break, Martinez clearly viewed the first pre-season fixture as a training exercise, choosing to split his first team regulars between the first and second half team, with all but two of the travelling squad taking part in the game. Only the impressive Joel and Shane Duffy completed the full 90 minutes, with several youngsters given opportunity to grab the attention of the new manager.
Everton started the game strongly and it was immediately clear that Martinez would like his entire team to pass the ball and retain high levels of possession. Gone are the percentage balls down the flanks or the direct balls from back to front that were a regular feature of the David Moyes years. Unfortunately this did bring mistakes, especially amongst the back four, who struggled to retain possession when placed under pressure by the Austria Vienna forward line. Roberto Martinez will be aware that his defenders must become more comfortable on the ball and Alcaraz and Heitinga (if he remains at Everton) will be important in instilling a calmness in Everton’s rearguard.
It soon became evident that Everton were playing a 4-3-3 formation, a tactic made fashionable by Spain and Barcelona and employed regularly by Martinez at Wigan. Darron Gibson was dropping deep to collect the ball from the defence, with Osman and Pienaar operating in a more offensive midfield role. Pienaar in particular appeared to enjoy the role, maximising his freedom to link up with Baines on the left and Naismith on the right. Vellios led the line well, but to make this tactic effective, pace is an essential requirement and with Gueye and Naismith employed in the wide forward roles, Everton lacked any threat in behind the Austria Vienna backline.
The undoubted man of the match was Darron Gibson who excelled in the deep lying midfield role. All Everton’s good play flowed through the Irishman, as Gibson played effective short and mid range passes, keeping Everton ticking forward, without placing the ball at undue risk. It was no surprise that Gibson continued into the second half when most of the starting XI made way for fresh legs. He was joined by young Conner Grant who despite only playing for 22 minutes, announced himself to the Everton public with an assured performance. Grant is immaculate in possession and similarly to Gibson, does not place the ball at risk, moving it neatly and quickly, picking out his teammates with relative ease.
Rather surprisingly Marouane Fellaini, a half time substitute, appeared with the captains armband, a clear sign that Martinez feels the Belgium can excerpt a strong influence on the team if he remains at Everton next season, a fact that looks increasingly likely with few teams looking like exercising his release clause. Fellaini started well, clearly fired up to make a positive impression on his new boss, however his influence did fade and whether it was a lack of fitness or desire, he appeared to lose interest in the game as the second half wore on.
All the goals came inside the games first half, with both Austria Vienna goals coming courtesy of defensive errors. The first resulted from a misplaced Jagielka pass, which was intended for a less than alert Osman, allowing Stankovic to run clear through on goal, round Joel and calmly play the ball into the empty net. Everton were almost two down within minutes. A long ball over the top caught Duffy napping and the Blues were thankful for a good save from Joel. A second goal did arrive from the penalty spot, a free kick into the box was misread by the entire Everton defence and Duffy inexplicably handled and the referee had no choice but to point at the spot. Stankovic calmly converted the spot kick to leave Martinez’ Blues steering at defeat. Fortunately Everton were back in the game instantaneously. A brilliant ball from Gibson picked out Baines on the left. The England full back looked up and played a fantastic ball onto the head of Vellios who finished expertly to score the first Everton goal under Martinez. Everton should have been presented with opportunity to equalise before half time, only for the referee to ignore an obvious foul on Naismith in the penalty area.
The raft of substitutions meant second half opportunities were limited, but Everton were again thankful to Joel after Sylvain Distin slipped and let Austria Vienna clear through on goal, only for the Spanish keeper to save well with his legs. Kevin Mirallas had Everton’s best opportunity, linking well with Anichebe to be presented with the perfect chance to level the score. Unfortunately for Everton, Mirallas took an extra touch and the keeper quickly smothered the ball.
The final whistle brought defeat, but on a balmy summer Austrian afternoon, the positives far outweighed the negatives and Martinez will welcome back the rest of his squad on Monday in optimistic mood.
Team: Joel; Browning (Hibbert), Baines (Oviedo), Jagielka (Distin), Duffy; Gibson (Junior), Osman (Grant, McAleny), Pienaar (Fellaini), Gueye (Kennedy), Naismith (Mirallas), Vellios (Anichebe);