It is hard to find a positive angle when you have just lost at home and gone four games without a win, but I will do my best to find a ‘pick me up’ before the end of the article.
1. Time for change.
I’m not talking about Roberto (although results do need to improve), but rather our under fire goalkeeper.
Players tend to know when the moment has come! That particular point in time when the grim reaper calls time on your playing career! On Saturday, during the first half, Tim Howard’s career must have flashed before his eyes in the same way a corner flashed across his six yard box, leaving the Everton goalkeeper haplessly flapping at a ball he should have comfortably claimed. Of course Tim Howard wouldn’t have seen the ball, his eyes were closed tight shut as he hopefully hung out a fist with a vague expectation that he might connect with the cross. It was a sad moment, a career in perpetual decline, however in that moment he lost any remaining confidence his back four had in his waning abilities and for his own good and that of the team he needs to be removed from the starting line up.
“It’s about knowing when that time is (time to retire) and, for me, that time is now.” Gary Neville on retirement
When the Goodison crowd sense that a player is past his best they can turn and become scathing and malicious. Cutting comments, delivered with the driest of scouse wit. Many players who have enjoyed far better careers than Tim Howard have experienced it, but it does little to improve confidence and as we saw in the second half this can lead to further mistakes, especially in a player who knows his place is coming under increasing pressure. Conceding a second half penalty summed up the American’s afternoon. Rash judgment led to him tripping Vardy, when in truth the Leicester forward never had the ball under full control. Going to ground was unnecessary and presented the leagues top scorer with the opportunity to go down, one he gleefully accepted.
The January window is just round the corner, a goalkeeper would be a logical signing, even if it was a temporary measure until a longer term solution can be found. On this basis Marshall at Cardiff would be an obvious target!
2. Got to find a way to win.
How can this team, arguably the most talented bunch of players since the 80’s be midway down a mediocre Premier League table? It is a question I have wrestled with for the last month. The football is exciting, exhilarating and a joy to watch, yet it is not delivering the results the performances deserve.
We are certainly not resilient enough at the back. Three goals conceded against Bournemouth and Leicester (who were far from their best) is not acceptable and will inevitably result in dropped points. But my main concern is that we have become a little bit predictable.
Deulofeu has been outstanding in recent weeks, but I believe we have become a little bit one dimensional, far too often expecting the Spaniard to produce a moment of magic to creat a goal for the prolific Lukaku. Against Leciester, with Deulofeu slightly off his game, this became an issue as the Foxes managed to nullify the threat from the former Barcelona man and Everton then looked devoid of other options. Still the ball was passed out to the right, however Deulofeu was unable to create the chances and his frustrations and those of the watching Evertonians grew.
Earlier in the season Barkley was a focal point of the attack and as with Deulofeu in recent weeks, linked brilliantly with Lukaku. Barkley played well yesterday (more of that later) but Everton need to have a rethink, use Deulofeu appropriately but be prepared to vary their attacking play.
3. Bournemouth draw continues to prove costly.
Three points from four games is not European form and unfortunately Everton have been made to pay for not taking their chances in games they have dominated.
The rot set in during the final 15 minutes against Bournemouth, a game that should have been comfortably won, instead became a point and a question mark at the back of the players mind. Crystal Palace should have been put to bed inside the opening 45 minutes. A lapse of concentration, some poor defending and Palace were ahead, requiring the Blues to scramble a point in the dying minutes, more confidence lost. Norwich too should have been out of sight at half time. The Canaries were destroyed by a rampant Everton side but the Blues failed to kill off the side from Norfolk and were made to pay when Norwich fought back, the players self belief now severely tested.
So how did that game against Bournemouth affect Everton? Let’s look at the differing fortunes of the two teams since that day. When Everton played Bournemouth they started the game 11 points ahead of the Cherries and with a 2-0 and later a 3-2 lead, Everton looked set to move 14 points ahead of the relegation candidates. Fast forward three and a bit games and that lead is down to just four points with Bournemouth winning all three of their next fixtures (Chelsea, Manchester United, West Brom) where as Everton picked up just two points (Palace, Norwich, Leicester).
4. Barkley only player to emerge with credit.
Everton fell significantly below their recent performance levels with several players failing to do themselves justice. For me, just one player emerged from the game with any credit.
Ross Barkley was Everton’s best player by some considerable distance. The England midfielder was successful in 8 out of 10 dribbles, a season high for Everton. He played a leading role in both goals and was unlucky not to open the scoring himself, with his goal bound effort cleared off the line before Lukaku finished. His flick to assist Mirallas’ consolation goal was outstanding.
5. Only six points off a Champions League place.
Well I said I would find a positive and here we go…despite our recent poor run of results we are incredibly just six points behind a Champions League place and therefore as we enter the Christmas period we are still within touching distance of one of the team’s main goals. This in itself is frustrating, if the Blues had picked up the points their performances deserved in the run of three draws then they would be level with Manchester United, Palace and Spurs in joint fourth place. All is not lost, a good sustained run of results could yet propel Everton up the table and back into the race for the top four.