And after the great meltdown…there was Everton. And there was even more fuming after that.
Unreal aren’t we. The season has been like watching any sporting team representing England; every time you think a corner is being turned, another setback knees you in an area that’s meant to be treated well. Just to compound that the ‘Home Nations’ are doing well, except no-one cares because Raheem Sterling’s knackered and apparently that’s a great scandal. Who’s surprised? Sterling is built like a ballet dancer and sort of runs like one too. We should be stunned he’s not missing games because he’s stood over a sink trying to rid himself of all the nasty calories from the pasta meal he had for lunch. Basically people are making a meal out of it because watching the international football is dull, and for the most part getting duller. Yeah, the Serbians and Albanians lashing each other with corner flags and sending drones in was good popcorn. But you need Everton and you know it.
Even though Everton are bastards.
Registering one hopeless Lukaku effort and an inexplicable penalty miss from the usually dead-eyed Leighton Baines in the first hour of the game against the worst Man Utd defence we have seen in many a year is the source of most of our frustration. That’s it, isn’t it? Sure, David de Gea finally had a good game, and of course it was against us. But the point is that we had a great chance to kick United while they’re down (sort of) and we bottled it. And that sounds a bit too familiar for our liking. New Everton, right? Sexy football? Taking out the big boys while giving the rest a thrashing that’ll rattle their ancestors? It’s not happening.
Of course the start has been a tough one. Home games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Crystal Palace, plus trips to a very capable Leicester, West Brom (we beat them so I can call that one; they’re shite), Liverpool and Man Utd doesn’t make for the nicest start. But New Solo Lo Mejor Everton don’t care who they thrash do they? There aren’t any excuses for having the worst defensive record in the league and being the only side in the top flight with no home wins. Two straight defeats at Fortress Goodison. A third would mean the worst home run since 2008. No wonder we spiraled into depression as the full time whistle went at Old Trafford. No matter how good their Brewster’s Millions spending on attacking players turned out to be, it was a chance we didn’t take.
It’s clear where the meltdown and frustration began – so clear that Leon Osman pointed it out this week. With ten minutes left against Arsenal, we were cruising to a first win of the season thanks to a classy first half performance. When it fell apart, the doubt set in. We decided to take the game to Chelsea and were punished. West Brom capitulated but Crystal Palace didn’t. In those games and the ones that followed the number of individual errors were unprecedented. I’d like to know how a manager would know to remind Tim Howard before a game that when you’re stuck in the corner it’s not a good idea to put the ball ten yards down the line and hope. How do you plan for Sylvain Distin to fall over and smash the ball straight into a grateful Leonardo Ulloa? There are the defensive issues that the manager needs to address but there are also confidence issues that are fatal.
To be honest the international break came at the perfect time. The players needed a distraction before coming back with renewed zeal. The managerial staff needed time to plan the next set of games. For us fans, it was more about gaining a bit of perspective. Are we in a bad run of form? Yes. Will it last? Probably not. You can look at the press we’re getting right now, and the talk from fans of all clubs, even our rivals. No-one believes Everton will be hanging around the lower end of the table for long. That’s not who we are any more. The more worrying shouts are coming from inside the club. We’ve got some awful whoppers in our fanbase, don’t we? Probably not you. Thanks for reading. I’ve seen some calling Roberto Martinez a “fraud” – ridiculous – that we’re surely heading for a bottom half finish – nonsense – and that what we’re serving up now “isn’t football” – absurd. Unless we’ve squashed the ball into an egg, thrown it about and thrown in a punch or two on a bloke lying prone on the floor – well played Flower you tit – we’re playing football.
I apologise if I’m a bit too happy-clappy for your liking, but my personal view is that if you can’t find anything positive from football, you need to do something less stressful, like disarming IEDs in Afghanistan. I don’t know if it’s the rum, the listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival or a basic trust in my team to make me happy again that does this, but they all work. The rum mostly. Let’s look at the positives then. We’re still scoring goals at an impressive rate, and that’s because of Steven Naismith being great. Other players have chipped in a couple, so goals are coming. The Premier League is more condensed than ever, which plays into our hands. String together even a couple of wins and the table makes for much better reading. Chelsea and Man City have wrapped up the top two spots surely, but can you tell for sure who will fill the next few positions? Arsenal, Man Utd, Liverpool and Spurs join us in the belief that a top four place is up for grabs, and every side has deficiencies.
Plus the Premier League fixtures look a little more encouraging:
Last 7 fixtures: Leicester (a), Arsenal (h), Chelsea (h), West Brom (a), Crystal Palace (h), Liverpool (a), Man Utd (a)
Next 7 fixtures: Aston Villa (h), Burnley (a), Swansea (h), Sunderland (a), West Ham (h), Spurs (a), Hull (a)
Obviously every Premier League game is tough, but some are tougher than others. The only sides from last season’s top 7 that we face from now to the start of February are Spurs and Man City (twice). So perhaps that corner we were looking to turn is finally here.
There’s a sure sign of good times coming. We’ve missed that man, mostly because he puts defenders on the back foot. With that fear of being struck hard on the counter teams can’t press as high against us and put on as much pressure. Let’s face it – Aiden McGeady didn’t even worry Gibraltar. Ross Barkley makes a difference. And he can feature from here on in. Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy could be back. Steven Pienaar’s there or thereabouts. Sylvain Distin…yeah, he can play too. Sound. So for every blow – and I’ve been avoiding this because it hurts so damn much – like losing John Stones *sniffle* there is a green shoot of recovery. We still haven’t seen the very best Everton matchday squad yet – perhaps at the start of February in a certain Goodison clash.
So who’s next? As Kendall, Harvey and Ball make their way up onto the Goodison Road stand for a mural slightly tarnished by having “THE HOLY TRINITY” scrawled across it (as if we didn’t know), Aston Villa make the trip up to Merseyside to play us. They were here recently – They kicked the ball around five times between them, less than Philippe Senderos kicked Mario Balotelli, and won. Hilarious. Also a bit dangerous. They’re coming up on Retro Day at Goodison Park, and we can both sit back, sigh and think about those shiny things that we used to pick up.
We share a bit of history, the two of us. This is the 199th meeting of the two sides in the most played top flight fixture in English football. It’s currently Everton 73-72 Villa, which is a bit gratifying. They’re a likeable bunch too, despite the accents, which make you want to tear your own ears off. Leave it out bub. We’ve shared some players over the years too – Joe Mercer, Dave Hickson, Adrian Heath…Earl Barrett. The Birmingham Mail article I read on that described Barrett as “classy”, which is a bit worrisome. Dave Unsworth took one look round there and knew Everton was the place to be, so that’s all I need. Unsworth knows how it is.
They’re well known for starting well, Villa – every season they’re in the top two before a ball’s even kicked – and petering out after that. Since their win at Anfield, they’ve lost to Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City without scoring a goal, and Paul Lambert may not appreciate having Everton at this particular juncture. Fact of the matter is though that they love away games. They’re well set up for it, with plenty of pace in attack and defenders who love to leave a mark. Guzan’s in goal, with a defence I can’t get my head around. Look how shite they are. Alan Hutton for God’s sake. Aly Cissokho, who pleased many a fan as a Liverpool player. Many an opposition fan. The centre backs are a bit better – Vlaar and Baker this time – but how were this lot doing well? Football is dead weird. Now established England international (established in that he has more caps than Leon Osman) Fabian Delph is injured, so that’s some creativity and drive missing from the Villa midfield. That means Tom Cleverley (we missed out on him. Oh, darn. What a…shame.) and Ashley Westwood will be joined by either Bacuna or Sanchez in the midfield. There’s a fair bit of pace going forward – Kieran Richardson clings on to Premier League status still, while Andreas Weimann is one of those who is called “underrated” by so many people that you have to wonder who is actually under-rating him any more. N’Zogbia and Agbonlahor are options while Christian Benteke, still giving Johnny Heitinga nightmares on long winter nights, will be relishing this. This isn’t easy. In fact, it’s not a very nice home game at all.
So who fancies getting Everton a first home league win of the campaign then? Just to throw in a fun stat – we haven’t lost a 3pm Saturday game since August 2011. Might have cursed it, but I was at that horror show against QPR and I’m not going today so that balances it out a bit. Tim Howard in goal needs to just put his hands on the bloody ball. No arsing about today Tim. It might be Coleman, Jagielka, Distin and Baines at the back, but it could be Hibbert, Jagielka, Alcaraz and Baines. Or Browning,the latest subject of fawning and overall overreaction. The manager sees him every day and knows what’s best for him. Pipe down. It’s great news if Coleman is back, because not only does he make the defence look stronger but the attack too. That’s the beauty of an attacking wing-back type. That being said, Tony Hibbert striding into the Man Utd penalty area was a beautiful sight. Barry and McCarthy in midfield this time surely. Stuff Lille. Besic can sort Origi out. In fact, Besic has proved he can sort anyone out, boss little titan that he is. So there’s options there. Further up the pitch, Pienaar and Barkley are maybes. Naismith is a cert. You might need to brace yourselves for McGeady and Osman. Martinez will stick with Lukaku, so he’s up top.
We play high risk football; committing players forwards and making every player take the ball with them means any mistake can be fatal. It also means we can do terrible, terrible, beautiful things to other teams. The question is now – do you trust Everton? When you see the retro gear today reminding us of heady days, do you see this lot pushing us back towards the top and the thoughts of glory we had clearly in our minds just a couple of months back? A lot of things can change in football – Everton’s form in the great scheme of things looks more of a cert. Today’s the day Everton. Make it so.