Spluttering, Stuttering, leading to an awful lot of Muttering.
So characterises an unusually erratic start to the season, and even as I’m uttering (OK I’ll stop that now) those words, I can sense the unhappy bedfellows of ‘potential’ and ‘reality’ which were so obviously exemplified in a fairly tame draw at The Stadium of Light on Sunday. We know what ‘could have been’, but we also saw what really was. Not much, and nowhere near our capability.
This was largely the team that outplayed Lille just a few days before, improved by the re-introduction of Eto’o, Barkley and Coleman at the expense of Naismith (for all his greatness this season), Osman and Hibbert. The reality was that our goal was very rarely threatened after a couple of looping headers in the early stages, and only a well-taken free kick by Larsson undid our stout defensive work. When I say ‘well-taken’, I mean taken from a wide gang-mower’s width of the green stuff further forward than the actual foul. But nevertheless, a shambolic wall allowed the excellent right boot of Larsson to make Howard look a bit of a fool as he got nowhere near it.
Whilst I’m grumbling, by that stage Gomez was lucky still to be on the pitch, and it’s not just me that says that. His snide kick on Barry, however much excused by Martinez, could have been a straight red, so says well-known Sunderland lover Alan Shearer on MOTD2, but even without that red, his obvious theatrics to attempt to con a penalty should have merited a second yellow. And, yes still grumbling, Wickham should quite obviously have been sent off, not that his absence would have made much difference given he did very little all game anyway. But if it’s a penalty – and it clearly was, with me, Shearer and Keown agreeing on that one – then as there was only him and the keeper to beat, then he has to be last man. I suspect that is what Lee Mason checked with a linesman who could see another player, but sorry mate, he wasn’t between Seamus and the goal.
Anyway, Baines despatched the ball under the giant Hagrid (I think that was his name), and we were deservedly level again. But before the goals, and certainly after them, we looked a bit clueless creatively, and showed again an inability to unlock locked doors in the Premiership, even with the much vaunted duo of Eto’o and Barkley both on the pitch, both trying to provide ammunition for a rather off colour Lukaku. Most had an off day, no-one really standing out, although both Jags and Distin looked solid enough and can now look forward to coping with a sizeable challenge in every sense when West Ham come visiting Goodison next time out. McGeady flattered to deceive (and if I have to write that again this season I’ll scream), and Eto’o lying deeper and allowing Barkley the freedom of the, er, wing, just didn’t cut it. In fairness, Sunderland made it difficult, but only rarely did we move the ball at enough pace that would have provided an opportunity for Everton players, or for a more typical cock-up from a Sunderland defender. The one through ball Sunderland did play for Lukaku couldn’t be capitalised upon, and once more Lukaku’s deft, sorry, I mean daft, touch, meant that Hagrid could get out and smother the chance.
Whilst we will miss Barry for a while I suspect, it was good for Gibson to get some game time, and hopefully he’ll get some with Ireland as well. The DM positions are at least well covered in the squad, but it is Barry’s assurance on the ball, and the license he gives McCarthy to roam, that we will miss. Let’s hope it’s a quick return, and thank heavens it wasn’t the leg break we’d feared at first.
That’s it, a bit downbeat after that effort I’m afraid, and not too many positives to talk about, apart from the defence, and Howard’s new party trick of hiding the ball up his jumper when mis-judging simple things like ball speed and the proximity of his area (I thought it was obstruction by the way, but I’ll leave it to the excellent Lee Mason (???) to make the right call…..).
Right, I’m off to sort out my guttering (sorry, just thought of that….)