It’s Sunday afternoon. I should have got over the result yesterday by now, enough at least to write a balanced article. Let me know if I’ve achieved it will you?
After berating the Mood Hoovers at Goodison last Monday, and many of similar inclination on Social Media since then, I had every right to expect Everton to back me up by going to the South Coast and to soundly beat a depleted Southampton side, a side that should be low on confidence after 5 straight defeats, a striker who had lost his mojo by not seemingly being able to find the net after a hot streak earlier this season, and a manager in Koeman who was showing classic signs of “I’m not sure what to do when Plan A doesn’t work”.
Nah. It’s Everton. Life as a Blue doesn’t work like that. Instead it was Everton who looked like they were facing relegation (we aren’t – yet – by the way), it was Everton with a striker badly off form, and it was certainly our Manager who had no alternative plan to that which worked so comprehensively last season, but has barely lit up more than one half of football so far this.
It is a bit mystifying if I’m honest. Roberto is a bright bloke, eloquent, and unrelenting in his positivity, and master of quite a few tactical genius moments when his Wigan players lacked far more quality and cohesion than Everton have shown (albeit historically) and memorably masterminded tactical shows for Everton last season (e.g. Arsenal, Newcastle…). In Graeme Jones, we have an Assistant Manager who talks more convincingly than many in his position, and in my view, better than Round. And we have an Everton legend in the dressing room and on the bench in Duncan Ferguson who can remind people, in the subtle way of which we know he’s capable, of the importance of fighting to within an inch of your life for the Blue Shirt, and the pride you’ll feel when you do. We also have Dennis Lawrence, the ‘famous’ ex Central Defender who lit up Wrexham, and Swansea a bit. I have no idea what he does now. It is quite clear, that our defence is our weakest link at the moment, and if the giant Dennis is our defensive coach, then he needs to be sacked. Dare one suggest a Mike Phelan, or even a Tony Pulis if he’s available for a while?
We have the national US goalkeeper, on a year’s sabbatical admittedly, but a man who played out of his skin in the World Cup. We have two of the England back 4 in Jags and Baines, we have the best Irish Right Back, and we have the legendary Distin, who has served his Clubs with such distinction over the years. And yesterday, we had Barry back in front of them, and the tireless Besic, who whilst being no McCarthy, is a more than able deputy. So why is this back 7 struggling so much, and so much more than the broadly same 7 did last year? Is it a World Cup hangover? That might explain Howard, Jags and Baines, but of the 7 Besic is probably playing the best, so he’s not hungover. Is it that Distin’s limbs have finally decided that, at 37, they can’t take it any more? It is that the average age of the whole back 7 is 30, and that’s helped by Besic at 22? Experience counts for a lot, so why aren’t they working it out for themselves, and using their experience and nous to shore up what looks as porous a defence that I’ve seen at Everton for many a season? Why, why, why?
This is the reason I’m a blogger and not a football manager. I don’t know the answers. I can’t believe that age is the thing. I admit, Distin isn’t as spritely as I remember him, and Barry seems to have lost a bit since his injury, but this is almost the same defence that was the third best in the PL last season, and it’s not just got a bit worse, it’s got a lot worse. Even taking the freak result of conceding 6 at home to Chelsea out of the equation, we have conceded too many, we’ve looked shaky whenever teams run at us or cross the ball in, and in short, we don’t seem to have the plan to deal with things, whichever way they’re thrown at us. I honestly believe we have a great back 7, ok, I admit I’d rather see Stones in there than Distin at the moment, and maybe Ginger Jim for Barry or Besic, but it seems less the personnel that are the issue, and more how they are being asked to play. Or not play, as we saw yesterday.
The lack of confidence at the back then spreads throughout the team, and so the boys further forward feel under more pressure to perform, and perhaps try too hard. Barkley once again showed some great strength and touches, but all too often tried one too many dribbles and lost the ball – a ball out wide more often might have helped, but our once vaunted attacking full backs were too busy cowering in their own half for fear of exposing the leaky defence to another shower. Eto’o looked off the pace, Lukaku looked hungrier than against QPR, but then that wasn’t too difficult, and Naismith continued his one man show of running in to spaces without being seen. Mind you, if the man on the ball is looking sideways rather than forward, it’s not surprising he won’t see him is it? Perhaps we ought to give him a luminous shirt for Christmas.
In all fairness, the overall display yesterday was not, for me, as bleak as some people have been saying. The defence did look shaky, and that needs to be addressed, but some of the approach play wasn’t that bad. Not good enough, but not bad. A little bit of luck might have helped. I wonder what would have happened if Moss had correctly given them a penalty when Jags tried to boot Long in to Row Z, rather than mystifyingly turning down those appeals and double mystifying us by awarding the fateful corner that ensued. We’ll never know.
Instead, we go to that stadium where we never seem to win, to Goodison Park, and Stoke. No longer the long ball team of yesteryear, but after yesterday, they may think they’d be better off playing that way given how wobbly we looked. Come on Blues, it’s time we played our part as a crowd and make our home ground an imposing place to go.
One last point. No substitutions was odd. When Bobby Brown Brogues arrived, he was far more positive than Moyes, and often brought on subs to change a game after 55/60 minutes. I don’t understand why a sub never came on at all, let alone at Moyes-time. My only theory on this one is that he’s decided his team needs continuity and less change, the change afforded by injury or Europa League, and he wants the 11 of yesterday to gel better. I hope that’s not quite the case. Personally, I’d bring in Stones, and, whisper it quietly, I’d drop Baines for Garbutt, to give the collective team a fillip, or a boot up the proverbial, whichever you think fits the bill. And if Mirallas is fit, he has to come in for Eto’o surely? We’ll see, I doubt there will be that much change, but we need a revamp of something – players, tactics, positivity amongst supporters – whatever it takes. But until Bobby, Graeme, Dunc and Dennis have worked out what the sick patient is suffering from, it’s hard to know what medicine needs prescribing. But homeopathy, which we seem to be trying at the moment, isn’t working.