The advantage of writing this blog is that there’s a clue in the title – ‘Reflections’. Only on rare occasions am I either euphoric, or blind with rage, that I pick up my pen/keyboard and write ‘in the moment’. Thankfully, this was one of those games that I thought might merit some due reflection before potentially castigating (don’t worry, it’s legal) Everton for throwing away a win yesterday, not once, but twice.
Let’s be clear from the outset, I will be happily numbered amongst the “gutted” brigade for missing out on 3 points yesterday, but I’ll also draw a deep breath and look for the positives. And actually, there were loads of those. We’ve now scored 14 goals in the last four games; we scored from a set piece and nearly did so again; the passing of Deulofeu looks capable of unlocking any defence; Funes Mori not only scored his first goal for us, but he continues to look the part to the extent I’m not sure how easy it ‘should’ be for Jags to get back in the side once fit (he will though because that’s the Martinez way); and of course Lukaku is still banging in the goals, with as many Premier League goals this season so far as in all of the last campaign. I’m sure you’re reading all that and waiting for the ‘but’.
Well, there sort of is a ‘but’, maybe not the one you’re hoping for or expecting, but there is one nevertheless.
The but actually follows this sentence: “We are a young, developing and exciting side….”, but yesterday will have taught us an enormous amount. You can’t kill a game off by suddenly retreating the way we did in the second half. Everyone I’ve spoken to says “credit to Bournemouth”, and yes, well done to them for keeping going until the last possible moment, and actually well beyond the last possible moment (how much extra time did our mini pitch invasion cause to be added on? My bet is that without it, the ref would have blown at the restart). But they wouldn’t have been able to ‘keep going’ if we hadn’t have given them so much encouragement by letting them have the ball. In the first half, they started brightly, but ran out of steam after about the first ten minutes, as we hounded them for the ball back, and then piled on the pressure and scored two excellent goals. I wonder, did the ease of the victories against Villa and Sunderland start to have an influence? Game over chaps? Foot off the gas? Important game on Tuesday, save your energy? Maybe some if not all of those, but make no mistake, however painful it was yesterday, I don’t see those players repeating the error of their ways like that again any time soon. We have pleaded with Martinez, and Moyes before him, to give youth a chance, and he’s doing that, but along the way you have to put up with the impact of the inherent naivety that sometimes gives you – not just yesterday, think about Defoe’s goal in the dying seconds of the first half. But with naivety exposed, comes experience, and I for one hope that is what yesterday has given this side.
Not that that should excuse the manager, who isn’t exactly a Spring Chicken (or pollo de primavera, to mistranslate in to Spanish). But actually, in managerial terms, he still is. He’s no Fergie obviously, but (thankfully) he’s no gnarled old pro like Big Sam, or like Arsene, or even Pardew, and certainly (thankfully again) not like McClaren. He’s going to have learnt from that display yesterday as well. “Why didn’t I take an obviously leggy Kone off and bring on Mirallas; maybe Lennon for Geri earlier; maybe Gibson too”. All these substitution questions and more would reasonably be asked of him, but I hope the bigger question is why did we suddenly allow Surman, a journeyman player at best these days, the freedom of the (tiny) park, and make him start to look more like Iniesta? Why was the closing down replaced with a policy of retreating towards Tim Howard (never a wise move these days) and hoping we’d just repel borders? To be honest, once they’d scored (the goal in itself an object lesson in not closing down) I actually thought they’d go on and win it – they were made to look that dangerous. We have to close out games like this, and the way to do it is not to give them the ball for long periods.
I prefer, however, to think of this in terms of ‘the long game’. We have a side that’s capable of winning something, maybe this year (Tuesday needs to be a positive result or we’ll be stewing until the Palace game), maybe next. But it has all the hallmarks that we need. Creativity in Barkley; width and defence-splitting passing ability in Deulofeu; a striker who looks nailed on to bag at least 20 this season (cue 0-0 next week and a long dry period for Romelu!); one of the best Central defenders in Europe in Stones; the best right back around in Seamus; a new and exciting talent in Funes Mori; the England left back in Baines; and a DM partnership in Barry and McCarthy that looks solid and dependable with exciting back-ups in Besic and, well sort of exciting, Gibson. Add to that the burgeoning talents of Cleverley, the kids coming through like Ledson, Grant and Henen, and we should look forward more in expectation than the usual ‘hope’ that Evertonians hold dear to their heart.
We know what happens when we’ve got too much hope – we start checking the League Table after 79 minutes when we’re 2-0 up, that’s what happens.