Probably the most undeserved draw I’ve seen us get at Goodison.
Digne’s majestic free kick in the last throes of an otherwise insipid performance can not be used to gloss over a pretty dire second half performance from the Blues. Watford were what we expected. They were feisty, direct when they needed to be, pacy out wide and frankly controlled the majority of the game, albeit Everton shading the first half. Just In the coveted Doucouré they had the game’s best player, and their organisation helped them to repel an Everton side largely bereft of ideas, and incapable, once again, of crossing a ball. If Holebas can persuade his ageing left peg to consistently deliver corners under our crossbar, and dangerous crosses throughout, then one has to wonder why more youthful Everton limbs, and with as much if not more overall talent, can’t beat the first man. It was like Newcastle all over again. When we got it right, the goal for example, despite the offside, or when Richarlison got the ball trapped under his left buttock in a good interchange down the right, we looked dangerous, but it was a case of ‘few and far between’. And things need to improve, and the training ground is the place to do it. By all means aim a few in to the box for Mina and Keane, practicing it first, but what has happened to the variety from set pieces that we showed earlier in the season, like the goal Walcott scored against Southampton back in, ahem, August?
At least Digne’s magnificence at set pieces should lead to the worryingly inconsistent Sigurdsson taking a secondary role, as he has seemingly gone off the boil after a bit of a purple patch earlier this season; it’ll come back, but his takes from outside the box have yet to yield a goal for Everton, and in fact Digne’s goal was our first direct from a free kick since the last day of September, 2016, when a chap called Lukaku lobbed one in against Palace. Remember him? That’s an astonishing stat if ever there was one. I’m a little bit worried about our Penalty taker too, but in fairness he made a conscious choice to go down the middle and only Foster’s outstretched leg saved the day. Fine margins and all that, an inch higher and it would have gone in, but it didn’t and we ended up having to rely on a dramatic late finale.
I’m not as down now as I was on my circuitous route back to Nottingham last night (thanks HighwaysEngland), a little more sanguine perhaps, and certainly more realistic. Everton of course has this way of building you up, which means the dull thud as we hit the ground of realism is all the more painful; but the reality is that we are loads better than last season, we’re moving in the right direction, and we’ll get our mojo back. With games against Man City and Tottenham coming up next, we knew the pressure was on to beat Newcastle and Watford, and maybe this combined with the manner of our defeat to the RS has knocked us out of kilter. What better way to get back in the groove with a win on Saturday, much though I find it hard to see it happen, and then Spurs, and then a packed late December schedule with games like the ones we’ve just fluffed under the title “Games We Should Win”. Life doesn’t just happen though, and neither do football results. ‘Changes need to happen to make change happen’, as someone quite famous probably didn’t actually say.
Where to start? In goal? No, Pickford is ace. LB? No, Digne even acer. RB? It’s fair to say Seamus has had two very poor games on the bounce, a bounce that included a bounce own goal, but his experience is what will be needed more than Kenny’s enthusiasm in the next two games, and then give the young buck another crack. CB? Well, we’ve seen we can perm any two from three, and not an area of priority for changes, quite the opposite. Gomes looks serene and must play the next two, but maybe a rest after that? for who though? Davies? Or does Davies replace Gueye now, as he’s been really poor for a while now, mainly when he tries to pass! Or is McCarthy close to fitness, to does he have to wait for the Lincoln game to get back in the team? Chances are Silva will leave the back 6/7 largely unchanged. So maybe further up is where change needs to happen. I’m tempted to give Sigurdsson a blow this week, albeit only to the bench, and ask Bernard to do the No10 role. Sticking Richarlison back out wide gives us the chance to bring either DCL or Tosun in as the main striker, but they’re not been hammering the door down have they? And much though we know he ain’t no No9, Richarlison irrespective of where he’s selected, has scored 8 goals in the League this season, so hardly a liability as the 4th equal top scorer. A man after Goodison hearts, he runs, he closes down, he tackles, he tracks back, and he scores, almost like an Andy Johnson but with better finishing skills. It’s almost a case of pick him and tell him to play where he wants, as he doesn’t stand still anyway. Thankfully. Walcott has lost whatever thread of confidence he might have had, but if Lookman was his obvious replacement, it’s not looking that obvious based on the last two displays. Will he up his game against the big boys, as he did against Chelsea and Liverpool? He may do but he hasn’t done enough to justify starting over Walcott, who will only regain his confidence by playing. For me, my starting XI on Saturday would be: Pickford, Digne, Mina, Keane, Coleman, Silva, Gueye, Bernard, Walcott, Richarlison, and Calvert-Lewin, with the latter two moving about all over the place to unsettle the likes of Stones, Laporte and Delph.
We’re down, but we’re not too down, we’re top of the 7th-14th League Table, and still have the will and the ability to break in to the top 6 and stay there. And then kick on next season too.