Nothing compares – in the eye of an Evertonian at least – to a sun-drenched Goodison Park bustling in anticipation ahead of the first game of a new season where anything seems possible.
Apply it to any team across the land and the story will ring true.
Almost 3 months since the last competitive ball was kicked in anger and you’re back, moments before whatever familiar tone greets your teams emergence sparking a mass emotion that even the most level headed fan struggles to resist – the hope that this year could and will be different.
It very rarely lasts, but it’s pure and the customary raucous reception the Everton players – led by captain Phil Jagielka – received on Saturday was fed by it. Sadly, that feeling wasn’t harnessed and it was lost and ultimately eliminated in the space of 14 somber minutes, the like of which have become to identify Roberto Martinez’s Everton and if he is not careful it will define them.
The truth of the matter is what lay just below the thin veil of optimism was that very real feeling that nothing had changed in the aftermath of such a disappointing season. Everton have remained inactive in the transfer market, certainly in spending terms, the acquisitions of Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu – although useful players and decent signings are not enough to drive the team forward.
Similarly, preparations bore some very familiar hallmarks, an uninspiring pre-season tour culminating in lacklustre performance devoid of appetite against a decent Spanish outfit and a sickening injury to a key player on the eve of the campaign. All of which lead to a familiar result a 2-2 draw with a recently promoted side.
Déjà vu is the term that comes to mind.
Ok, you cannot take much from pre-season friendlies; just look at Arsenal. Also, freak training ground injuries are part of football. But, appetite and urgency is the domain of the manager and the players and must urgently be addressed before that growing feeling of previous experience becomes the reality.
I have no problem with Everton’s style of play, I champion it every chance I get; it is the right way to go. It’s a style that has served Everton well and saw them record their highest points tally since the formation of the Premier League. The problem lies in the constant evolution of the game and Everton’s inability to; A. strengthen significantly in the required areas and B. the growing refusal to adapt to opponents change in tactics.
This was apparent from minute one as Watford, a side with no fewer that 6 debutants on the day – 3 of which made up the back 4, were allowed time to retreat and establish their shape allowing Everton to play in front of them. Knowing that in the absence of a genuine number 10, the home side would struggle to break them down. They were right and within 14 minutes they took the lead through Mexican international Miguel Layun, who notched with a wonderful right-footed strike from the middle of the box. (The graphic to the left shows all tackles made by Watford during the game. This clearly shows how the Hornets were happy to let Everton have the ball at the back and then pressurised as soon as the ball was moved into a forward position).
It was a lead they fully deserved and took into half time; in truth it could have been more. A couple of routine saves from Heurelho Gomes from a Gareth Barry header and a decent looking Ross Barkley strike was all Everton had to show for their efforts.
What followed during the second half was much improved from the home side, roundly booed at half time, by a fan base that in many ways has become as lost as the players, as stuck between support and derision as the players are between adventurous and stability.
The appetite was better and the introduction of the much-maligned striker Arouna Kone proved the unlikely catalyst of the eventual comeback. Kone’s arrival saw Gareth Barry revert to left back, dropping Ross Barkley into a central area increasing his involvement in the game and allowing him to drive the team from deeper areas and provide the frustrated Romelu Lukaku with some much needed support.
It was by no means a vintage second half performance, but the changes showed variety and it was a break away from the norm of a system that on the day was not going to get the job done.
A wonderful strike from Barkley leveled proceedings when latching on to a lovely lay-off from Kone, before Watford substitute Odion Ighalo took advantage of some poor decision making to swivel and turn and lash the visitors back into the lead. It was the Ivorian Kone who spared Everton’s blushes when linking well Lukaku to fire a crisp right-footed shot across Gomes into the bottom right hand corner.
When the dust settles, most Evertonian’s will see a disappointing start and with no transfer business in the immediate future, one that will do little to lift the spirits of a group that are still struggling to shift the hangover of the previous season. However, in the second half there was a reaction more befitting of a team that want to evolve and eventually progress.
2-2 to start for the 3rd time running, lets hope this Déjà vu relates to Norwich and not Leicester.