Oh the pain. I’m not sure what hurts the most. Is it the pain of seeing your fellow supporters leaving the match after just 69 minutes? Is it the pain of seeing vile and bilious sentiment about your team, your manager, your Chairman, your Club on twitter, and that of course from fellow ‘supporters’? Is it the pain of cocking up an entirely winnable game against a team that you dominated over most of the 90 minutes, except the 5 or so in which you managed to concede 3 goals? Or is it the pain of having to be magnanimous in defeat when you’re giving a friend and former colleague, but also a Leicester City fan, a lift back to the East Midlands? Or is it the accumulated pain of the last few weeks which has seen us gain 3 points from 12 instead of the entirely achievable maximum return, against Bournemouth, Palace, Norwich and Leicester. Well, all hurt, but the latter more than most, and probably that which has caused most uproar amongst fellow Blues. If we had achieved that, we’d be doing 3rd. But if my Aunt had balls, she’d be my Uncle.
Hero and Villain?
Let’s deal with the game first. And let me be clear, I have said for some time that I’m delighted that Leicester are flying high and beating all before them (just not us). It is an object lesson in how to win games to see how they’ve gone about it (think Everton away to Wolfsburg), and yes, their bubble may burst, but I for one hope it doesn’t. Wouldn’t it really shake the League up, wouldn’t it show what can be done on a tight-ish budget, shrewd buys, an enterprising style of play and a belief in your collective ability? But be under no illusion, to paraphrase the question on Match of the Day, that was it the case that “Leicester simply outplayed Everton”. No, of course they didn’t, they had a third of the play, fewer shots, fewer corners, and more fouls, but the only stat that matters is they won 3-2. And they deserved to, because they took what genuinely few chances they had, whilst Everton players either fluffed their lines, fluffed their shots, or frequently both. In the case of Koné, actually taking a shot to fluff would have been nice. In Barkley, Everton had the best player (Kanté undemonstrably ran him close), in Lukaku Everton had the most threatening striker (although Vardy’s running was a joy to watch), but in almost every other player, Everton’s were second best. This was a game to forget for what happened out there, and I dearly hope marks a game that will be a turning point in how Everton approach their remaining fixtures. Whilst we can feel delighted about playing some glorious football, and indeed there were glimpses of this yesterday, I think most fans would settle for the odd clean sheet, a scruffy win with the ball rebounding off Lukaku’s not inconsiderably muscular backside, and forego for a while the brilliant approach play that falls apart within sight of the 18 yard area. We need wins, and we need them quick, and a particularly tough run of fixtures doesn’t bode well, but let’s try and be positive, and remember we were thinking an easier run of games would help us, perhaps we need the likes of Newcastle, Stoke and Spurs in the League to pep us up for the semi final, and then the rest of the League season.
I’m afraid I don’t have much support for the ‘Martinez Out’ lobby. A few seasons ago, we were winning games and playing pretty ugly football under Moyes. Moyes leaves for Red Pastures new, and in the season that followed we won games playing a brand of football the like of which hadn’t been seen at Goodison since the mid 1980s, we amassed 72 points and finished 5th with a points tally that in most circumstances would have won us Champion’s League football. And our Manager was Roberto Martinez. A tougher season followed, with a few teams sussing us out, and the apparent lack of a Plan B. This season, it’s been some lovely football, with Plans A, B and C deployed, but the Plan D for Defence seems to have gone astray. If anyone finds it, check it first to see if it looks half decent, then please return it to Finch Farm. One suspects, however, it’s not a plan that would get Tony Pulis out of bed of a morning.
I’ve said it before, the beauty of a developing young team comes with the naivety of, well, a developing young team. I love how Geri getting on the ball and bearing down on another hapless left back (although in fairness, Fuchs dealt with him pretty well most of the time yesterday) gets everyone out of their seats in expectation, and I can definitely forgive the fact that 50% of these opportunities come to nothing, because those that do, will create a solid chance (not yesterday though). But what I don’t love is the comic-book-capers of yesterday, and [insert most opposition teams this season here] the gifting of chances to opposition teams that have rarely had a sniff of a chance from open play before that point. The list is endless so far this season, and that’s the tough (wal)nut Martinez has to crack for the rest of this season. We have an England full back, an Irish right back that is one of the best in the game, we’ve got the best young Central Defender in Europe (yes, I’m biased, but throw me a better name), and an Argentine international. We have a wily campaigner in Barry who is doing his bit in front of the back 4, and in Cleverley or McCarthy, we have the scurriers, the runners, the destroyers, that many other teams would love to have. And even in Barkley yesterday we had a midfield maestro that wasn’t afraid to stick his foot in and track back to make the tackles. We have the personnel, but what we don’t have is the system or the plan that makes the optimum use of them. Martin Keown was right on MOTD, we are under-achieving; Jenas was also right, we’re “not far away”, but in the English Premier League, ‘not far away’ might just as well be a million miles away – teams will punish indiscretion, and every side bar Villa this season has proven that they can punish Everton mistakes. Only by “we’ll score more than you” have we been able to mask such frailties so far this year, but now no longer.
We need to collectively tuck in to our Turkeys/Nut Roasts/Quiches on Christmas Day, and be confident that it isn’t just us that is aware of the limitations of the way we’ve performed this year. The players definitely know it – the sagging of the shoulders for the first penalty (yes it was by the way) was testament to that – and the management, and be as critical as you like, will know it too. What happens next is up to them. Our job, is to be supporters – there’s a clue in the name. Of course we have a right to vent our spleen, we even have a right to walk out after 69 minutes (but if you did, you missed a sublime piece of skill by Barkley to set up Mirallas’ goal, a moment that has been lost in the outpouring of grief), we even have a right to fly a plane over Goodison demanding change or applauding a Chairman, but when the dust settles, we also have a right to support our team through the thick and currently rather thin of life at the moment. I doubt there’ll be any doubting the support at Newcastle on Saturday, but that’s the hard core who give us all a wonderful name; the rest of us, especially at Goodison (where was the “famous Goodison atmosphere” yesterday?), need to get behind the team, stop shouting at Howard for not collecting a cross that drifts over the 6 yard box (me), and bemoaning Koné’s reluctance to shoot (everyone else). But yes, also standing to applaud some brilliant passing moves even if they end in a mistimed shot – let’s aim to bolster our player’s confidence, not destroy it.
We probably all have remedies to the malaise, but the good news is, we’re comfortably mid table playing some lovely football, and all we need to do is tighten defensively, keeping the good bits where we can, but aiming to win dirty, and beautiful football a bonus.
21 straight League wins from here gets us to 86 points. No pain then, however the points have been earned. Why aim for anything less?