Yesterday was a day for being thwarted. Whether it was trying to find a nice place for a coffee in the Peaks on a meandering journey up to Goodison; or trying to get back to Nottingham after the game and finding the best efforts of the Highways Agency too much with the M6 South/M62 junction closed, the M6 closed at Stoke, or the A453 exit from the A50 closed; or the fine efforts of the Crystal Palace defence leading media ‘analysts’ to say “Lukaku rescued a point” for Everton. Thwarted at every turn.
It would certainly be true to say that we looked like we’d been burgled by a Palace side fast becoming a bogey team, but after the evidence of the chances, the possession and the quivering woodwork I’d have to say “rescued” would be a bit harsh on Everton’s performance, strong though Palace defended and took their chance a moment after another breakaway. Everton, willed on by a passionate Monday night crowd, had seen much more of the ball, and Papa Souaré will join an ever-lengthening list of left backs that will have recurring nightmares of Deulofeu running at him, whilst actually not having his prancing feet seemingly at any point being connected to terra firma. Although Gerry generally crossed poorly from the resulting space and possession he had last night, Souaré looked like he was sh….very anxious….every time the Spanish wizard collected the ball. Don’t get cross with Gerry, feed the beast, and he’ll feed the forwards!
Such is the belief and passion surrounding this exciting Blue team at the moment, the consensus seems to be that our last two League results look more like 4 points dropped, than 2 points gained, and frankly, once you strip away what might have been, that actually is the reality – clearly I can do the maths, but what I really mean is that we go in to games now expecting to win, certainly expecting to score, and to have thrown away not one but two winning positions on the South Coast, and then not to have been 2 or 3 goals to the good by the hour mark against Palace, is more than a little frustrating. That we didn’t win last night was mainly credit to Palace’s defending and their considerable threat on the counter; although don’t expect Leicester’s speed and quality finishing to be as lenient as Palace were last night when the table-topping Foxes visit in a fortnight. But it was also due to some hesitancy in and around the box, when over elaboration won over “shooooooootttttt!” as many in my part of the Upper Gwladys were demanding. At times, our intricacy reminded me of Arsenal when they try to walk a ball in to the net, which I suppose is not a bad comparison to make, so long as we are also like Arsenal when we score from free-flowing moves, and when we finish in the Top 4 as they will surely do. For us to have played so well in recent times, and still to be only in 9th, is more than a little annoying. But if you are trying to break down a tough defence, perhaps you don’t get the shooting chances, perhaps you do have to look for clever one twos, or nutmegs, or stepovers, or something, anything, just to try and break down the stubbornness in front of you. Like Villa, if Lukaku’s first half shot that hit the post and went behind for a goal kick the other side of the goal had gone in, Palace would have had to have been more adventurous and maybe that would have played to our more expansive nature. But it didn’t, and we have to realise that the better we get, the more teams will set up to try and thwart us, and the more we’ll need to be patient and wear teams down through waves and waves of attack.
Or waves and waves of substitutions. It was apparent that after 70 minutes, Deulofeu needed a breather. An option had to be to replace him with Lennon or preferably Mirallas, or my preference, both, with Kone being the additional player to make way. We perhaps overplayed to Gerry last night, perhaps Baines’ appearance was as much to do about providing a left side threat as getting him back to full match fitness, but if we’d had Mirallas and Gerry, or Mirallas and Lennon, on the pitch at the same time, we’d have stretched that back 9 of Palace’s even more and provided more openings centrally for Lukaku, Barkley, and who knows, even Cleverley.
For a guy that has hardly played for us, Tom Cleverley has discovered the Everton way. He was everywhere last night. Not in the same way that Barkley was, with the Wavertree Boy’s efforts more about finding the killer pass or the mazy dribble, but Cleverley was in the McCarthy role, snapping at the opposition in possession, or playing the simple passes to others when we were. His fine effort, resulting in an equally fine Hennessey save, applauded by the Gwladys as if it were Nev in his heyday, was the moment you thought “Tom Tom Cleverley” would be sung from the rusting rafters, but that moment will definitely come soon if he carries on like this. A fit McCarthy will find it hard to dislodge him, and even the obviously loyal and somewhat stubborn Martinez might think the same, so perhaps we will see Kone make way. That would be harsh on a player who is holding the ball up well and providing more space for Rom in the process, as well as doing some of his leg-work up front tiring out and stretching defenders. We shall see what awaits when we line up at Carrow Road. But for me, Cleverley gets the nod, based on a superb all round performance last night.
Other players worthy of note? Of course, Lukaku, who notched up a mere 50 Everton Goals in 100 Everton appearances, as well as 11 out of 27 goals Everton have scored in the PL this season; but also special praise to Coleman who worked his socks off last night, defensively as well as in the final third; to Galloway who once again showed what a fine project in progress he is (but wish he’d take on his full back on the outside); to Stones who played some unbelievable stuff last night out of defence, and even stood with ball at feet whilst still berating Mutch after the non-penalty incident (unfairly) rather than hoofing the ball out first; and to the aforementioned Barkley who once again looked strong and bright, and just needed to take ‘that’ ball on from Lukaku a few extra paces rather than try the extravagant curler from just inside the box.
So thwarted we were. But once again, thwarted whilst still playing some wonderful football going forward, and long may that continue. As indeed we should try and continue to tighten up at the back, continue to claim the odd cross in or around the six yard box, continue to stop crosses coming in, and continue to play in the best Spanish player in the Premier League at the moment. But don’t tell Deulofeu, just in case it goes to his head and he tries a little too much. As if that’d ever happen.