There’s that word again. Very few Blues had any going in to this game, and even fewer had any expectations. So why oh why was there such an outpouring of bile directed towards our players and Manager in the immediate aftermath of the narrowest of narrow 1-0 defeats? Well, it was because the game gave us increasing amounts of ‘hope’ as the game progressed – a chance for Lukaku that he hit too close to Cech; reaching H-T at 0-0; Besic removed so he couldn’t get sent off (??); an hour gone still 0-0; a really great chance for Rom and again Cech pulls off a save, this time a true worldy; a disallowed goal for them; and then that melee over a Barry trip that could have done as much to disrupt their momentum as it did our own concentration. And then, so Everton this, the 89th minute, a random shot from outside the area, through the legs of one defender, a slight deflection off Naismith, and Howard apparently rooted to the spot, and the ball is in the net. Such small margins – a 2 inch larger deflection and it goes wide, Rom plants his effort 6 inches to the right and we’re 1-0 up…..but no.
So after all that, a strong defensive display, but why all that anger afterwards?
Most of the anger seemed to be directed at Barry, Howard and to Martinez himself. Let’s have a look at this.
Gareth Barry was superb for us last season, and he was superb for us this season right up until the injury that sidelined him in December. Most opinions seemed to suggest in the Summer that signing Barry on a permanent basis was a shrewd move, allowing his wise head and not inconsiderable skill to be a positive influence on the young whipper-snappers in McCarthy, Ledson and this new lad called Besic of whom we knew little at that time. Since his return from injury, it is true that he has not been at his best, but last night he was solid in defence, a bit snide in the tackle which we like, and even his passing hit an accuracy level not matched in this calendar year. This one man ‘I’ll make sure we don’t have to enter the Europa next season via the Fair Play League’ effort, has pledged his soul to the Blues, has put his ageing frame on the line, and we chastise him for an 89th minute defeat? A defeat we probably all expected anyway? Ladbrokes had us at 11/1 to lose 3-1 FFS.
Barry’s pace has never been his strength, so let’s not say he’s slower – he is no slower and no faster than he was two months ago. His passing has certainly gone awry since his return, but again, last night it was fine. His tackling has been consistent, if a little wayward just outside our box, which of course is a concern, but of late, we haven’t conceded from the resulting free kicks, not to Chelsea, not to Liverpool and our nemesis Gerrard.
My suspicion is that we’ll miss Barry when he’s not playing for us. Basic and McCarthy are fine footballers, but they are out of the same stable. Barry, and actually Gibson, represent a different Defensive Midfield player. The boys go hunting, whilst Barry sits in front of Jags and has a chat and a fag, and waits until a misplaced pass further upfield brings the hordes of opposition flowing through the breached dam. As if we ever misplace a pass upfield? And then Barry steps in. No Barry now for our next PL game, and apparently a quirk of the system means that he only misses one game not two, as last night’s sending off is deemed sufficient punishment to excuse him a lengthier ban. If he’d stayed on the pitch, he’d have been banned for 2 matches. Weird.
What about Tim Howard? I won’t lie, I was one who felt Joel had excelled (it’s all relative) whilst Tim was injured and I felt he should have kept his place last night. He didn’t, RM took the big decision he gets paid to make, and then Howard pulled off a succession of excellent saves before the deflection that finally beat him. Should he have saved it? Well, it looks as if he was mighty close to it, all he needed to do was flop on to it, or wafted a hand at it, and all would have been sweetness and light, and we’d have been writing about an excellent 0-0 result. But come on, if it was that easy, don’t we think he would have saved it? He’s no stranger to excellent saves, which that would have been. The deflection, however slight, made the difference, and his feet were indeed rooted, planted, fixed, concreted, whatever you want to call it, and if any of you, like me, have ever played a sport where such deflections can make all that difference, then you’ll know he wasn’t to blame.
Martinez was chastised as well. Why? Apparently, that was a Moyes-esque performance at a Top 4 Club, as someone wrote. Actually, maybe it was. Armed with our front 4, I expected, and Martinez probably expected, to be able to take the game to Chelsea, otherwise why not pick our same Dogs of War from the Derby, or bring Gibson in whilst we nurtured McCarthy’s hammies? But we could hardly get on the ball. So it turned out that we had to defend for long periods, and actually our creative spark in Barkley, and our pace in Lennon, both contributed to that defensive effort; Naismith too, but we know about him – all over the pitch he runs and runs. Pity his passing is off the boil at the moment, but I’ll come to that in a minute. No, we had to defend, we could have been more expansive, but maybe, just maybe, we could have ended up on the wrong end of a 6-3 pasting, should such a thing ever be possible. I am one positive Evertonian, and I don’t really want to go to the likes of Chelsea and find my team defending for the whole game, like a side fighting relegation trying to steal a point from where we’d least expect it. But that’s where we are at the moment boys and girls, we wish we weren’t, we hoped nay expected we wouldn’t be, but the reality is that we have 13 more games to ensure our survival in the PL, not 13 more games to secure a spot in the Champion’s League. We ARE fighting against relegation, Martinez said it too, so perhaps expansive and attractive football has to take a bit of a back seat for a while. I hope to God we take the game to Leicester in 10 day’s time because we’re sure as hell better than them, I hope we exploit the spaces that Arsenal will give us, but we’re in a rearguard action here, and the sooner we all realise that and give the Manager our backing, the better. He’s trying to get us out of it – he may well have got us in this mess, but he’s now got to get us out of it. We can wish it weren’t so, but it is, so reality dawns, and reality needs dealing with.
On a positive note, how good was Young John Stones? How old does he have to be to be just John Stones? And what better time to impress than in front of Hodgson? His tackle on Remy will live long in the memory, he blocks, he tackles, he distributes, he commands, and he even helps to remove McCarthy’s ill placed throat from Ivan The Terrible’s grasp. This man is a star, and so for a while, let the tabloids big-up Smalling and Jones, and let this young man develop in the way he has done. One thing we can say about playing for Everton at the moment, he won’t go short of practice! Jags also turned back in to the solid defender we know and love, and frankly, that’s the way he’s been for almost every game since Stones returned, and my piece last time after Liverpool doesn’t need repeating in this regard. Oviedo was solid, Coleman not so bad but still not Seamus of old (I’m convinced he’ll go in the Summer, his body language says it all), Besic was daft to get himself booked so early, but still put in a decent shift.
The lads up front were enigmatic. I want to see Rom put through more often like he was by Barkley, that’s how he’ll score most of his goals, but as a hold up forward…well, he isn’t is he? Can he be coached to be one? You’d have thought so, but with the frequency that he was dispossessed, or that the ball bounced off him, or that he was tackled trying to navigate the choppy waters of the Chelsea defence, he can’t have been paying attention to Big Dunc. It’s the one thing Anichebe was great at, and Kone can certainly do, but at the moment, Rom hasn’t got that skill set in his locker. Must try harder. As must Naismith. He’s no Xavi or Iniesta, but the frequency with which he passed to the opposition, or just underhit a pass to his own man, was alarming last night, and not at variance with what we’ve seen of late. He has to rectify that side of his game. No point running around closing people down, tackling, and scoring a few goals, if you contribute to the problems he’s trying to rectify by giving the ball away in the first place.
That’s enough from me. A bit patronising, a bit admonishing, a bit whatever, but I was proud of what we achieved last night, and would have been prouder still had we gone that one step further. But we didn’t.
It’s been that kind of season.