Obstructed View – Reflections on the Swansea FA Cup Tie

We were awful.

Roberto Martinez has the admirable quality that I wish I could have – an ability to see positives from almost any performance. I believe I’m more of a glass-half-full than a glass-half-empty kind of guy, but I’m afraid I left Goodison Park after the Swansea game thinking what-might-have-been was actually a might-have-been defeat not a narrow 3-1 victory, because narrow it certainly was.

Naismith

As early as the first minute I was checking my e mails and my calendar to see if I’d missed the note about it being the day when we celebrated the parting of the Red Sea (insert Victor Moses joke here….) as a simple ball from midfield saw our defence look like the one that Liverpool had exploited rather than the ‘so solid crew’ (yes, I may be old, but I have kids, and I remember them) that has been so miserly in the number of clean sheets it has kept this season. This seemed to be the trend for the rest of the game, and whilst things improved in the second half, we were generally lack lustre and, more worryingly, out of position too often at the back. I’m not sure if it was the defensive midfield that had gone missing, Barry and McCarthy seemed to be ‘at home’, but not sure about the lights being switched on, Coleman seemed to be arguing with McCarthy a lot, and Distin’s touch was, to say the least, Teflon (other non-stick brands are available). All the play from the back and through the middle was just so slow and predictable. Pienaar made space and one or two nice runs, but he was rarely picked out by the advancing defence or DMs.

I’m wondering if it is the reserve goalie effect. I’m certain that I have never thought this thought before, but bring back Mucha! In fairness, Robles inspires me more in his ability to catch crosses (just), but his kicking at a moving ball is absolutely hopeless, and I mean, really really really hopeless. Don’t they practice these things? I know Tim Howard is no Pele, but dear oh dear, every time the ball went to Robles, I was waiting for the ball to bounce over or under his flailing boot and embarrass him even more than his sliced and diced clearances were doing anyway. If I was Inaki Bergara, I’d have Joel on the training pitch until he can string 5 consecutive firm clearances together. Based on what we saw yesterday, that might mean we need a few more 50p pieces for the lecky meter at Finch Farm, as it is bound to take all night.

Here’s another thought I thought I’d never have – Naismith transformed our performance. On these pages in recent games I’ve said that when played as a striker, Naismith knows his duties, he knows where to make the runs, he knows where to drag defenders, and he knows how to head a ball despite his diminutive height (he is only 5ft10in, or 1.78m in new money). His running reminds me of Joe Harper, who will be remembered by the older reader, who proved back in the early 70s that a successful career in the Scottish leagues (he scored 133 goals in 187 games for Aberdeen, and, erm, Morton) doesn’t always translate in to success in England in the top flight. Nais has also found it tough at Everton after a 1 in 4 record for Kilmarnock and Rangers (hardly stellar) but then he’s rarely played as an out-and-out striker. He was found wanting a little against Spurs, but coming on yesterday, his running unsettled the Swansea back four in a way Traore never threatened to do (more on our new Beanpole in a moment), and his instincts helped him to a goal, and his wriggling and running led to Baines’ converted penalty. For me, Naismith achieved Man of the Match in the 25 minute cameo from coming on before departing dazed and applauded just before the end. I truly believe that Naismith is one of THE players that fellow Blues want to see succeed for Everton – his heart, his running, his desire, all trying desperately to outweigh what sadly appears to be that slight lack in quality that frankly we know we need if we’re to break through in to the top 4 on a regular basis. But good on the lad yesterday. And hilarious that RM has said he’s convinced Naismith that he scored from 40yds as the player himself has no recollection of his goal or his performance. Frankly, he was the lucky one, we will have to remember that Everton performance for a while longer – it was no ‘Wigan’ but it had all the hallmarks of it at times.

What of Traore? I would love to have seen him limboing under the door frame in the tunnel to go out on to the pitch. He is a true giant! But we learnt that after an outrageous backheel cum flick for his early goal, that he is sadly unable to jump, or even win headers against players that need to jump at least 8 inches just to be on a level with him. There was a sign occasionally that the sight of a big fella leading the line meant a long ball up from the back, something Roberto will have noticed and will frown upon (at least, privately he will), and hopefully something our back line will stop once they realise that Traore won’t win the header or hold the ball up for too long. I’m being harsh – I’m not sure the lad has played a competitive game since November, so he clearly lacks match fitness, let alone lacking an understanding of the pace and thunder of the Premier League. Let’s give him time, and to start, let’s applaud the fact that he scored a goal which would have had other clubs purring at the technical skill, and skills which might be deployed more as an impact sub once the big Rom is back and fit. One assumes, however, that Traore will lead the line against Chelsea, especially as Naismith will probably not be allowed to play after his concussion yesterday. Maybe Vellios will keep off the Rekorderlig long enough to get the chance he craves, at least from the bench, or maybe the young guns Hope or Long will get bench time – or maybe even McAleny?

So, a win is a win, but a performance to be proud of that was certainly not. But, it’s always good to win when not playing well, and hopefully we will re-group this week and Martinez has a cunning plan to defeat the billionaireskis at the weekend. I can’t wait – Hazard and Oscar apart, I’ve not seen too much to worry myself about with this Chelsea side. Oh, and Matic. Yeh, and Will.I.an. But apart from them….

Maybe a trip to Turkey on Wednesday will take a little bit out of Chelsea – we will need everything going our way, and to play like we can, and like we did against them at Goodison. We can do this, and it would be a fantastic thing to do to stop all the pundits condemning us to 6th or even 7th on the back of our last two away defeats.

We can beat Chelsea away, and we can beat Arsenal away in the Cup. We CAN.

 

Ross Crombie

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