A week ago I wrote an anger-filled post-match rant after the Southampton game and if I was worried then about what I’d witnessed from Everton in that particular Premier League fixture on the South Coast, then what I’ve seen since has got me very, very concerned. Following the debacle that was our trip to St Mary’s, we’ve since gone on to lose to both Stoke (0-1) and Newcastle (3-2) and our Christmas period can only be described as a disaster.
The QPR win a fortnight ago gave us feint hope of a revival with the prospect of an upturn in form and fortunes, but our last three fixtures have added fuel to the concerned Evertonians’ fire and it has been painful viewing from the sidelines. Newcastle marked our latest disappointment, as the travelling Blues were put to the sword by a distinctly average Newcastle side. But if Alan Pardew’s men are just average, then what does that make us?
Well at the moment, we are tragic.
Against Stoke I was boosted to see John Stones, Kevin Mirallas and James McCarthy return to the fold and this I thought would give us that added verve and energy to a side that has severely lacked both throughout this season. But as it turned out on Boxing Day at Goodison Park not much changed at all and we lost in such disappointing fashion to a Stoke team who hardly broke sweat. Admittedly a refereeing decision could have changed things just moments before we went a goal down but I’m sick to death of talking about the officials and regardless of their incompetency and us not getting many decisions, this takes nothing away from the fact that there are serious problems at Everton this season. The result against the Potters was one of the latest in a long line of embarrassing defeats. It was all too easy for Mark Hughes’ men and the loss just increased the pressure on Martinez and his side going into the game at St James’s Park.
We saw a different formation and line up to the one that started against Stoke and Martinez was forced to make a few changes to his starting XI because of injury – most notably Robles and Alcaraz coming in for Howard and Jagielka, but we also saw changes in midfield too with McGeady coming in for Mirallas and Kone starting ahead of Lukaku. Naismith was banned so Eto’o started behind Kone and Baines was pushed into midfield with Garbutt coming in at left wing back. Similarly to the Spurs game at White Hart Lane last month, Everton started well and looked comfortable in possession, with Coleman and Garbutt looking to utilise the space on either flank. Eto’o and Kone came looking for the ball and looked hungry, meanwhile Baines appeared to have slotted into a central midfield role comfortably. It was still early days but we got ourselves in front with Kone finishing off an impressive footballing move for the visitors on five minutes. That move was the Everton of last season. That move is what we know Everton are capable of, but not the Everton we’ve seen at all this campaign. Eto’o came deep and received the ball, then worked it out to McGeady on the right. McGeady then fed Coleman with a great ball through, and the Irishman supplied an inch-perfect assist for Kone who finished neatly and gave us the early advantage. Coleman has been off-colour for weeks now but it was good to see him advance with such confidence and provide for one of his team mates – again it’s the Coleman we all know and it’s the attributes we all expect – yet we’ve just not seen it this season.
Anyway, we had the lead but as I mentioned above, this game had echoes of the trip to Spurs when we took an early lead but allowed the home side easily back into the game. Before Newcastle equalised, because by the looks of our defending they almost certainly would, Gouffran and Cisse both had their elbows out on Seamus Coleman and the latter most definitely deserved a red for his piece of sh*thousery. As it was, Gouffran got booked, Cisse’s snideness was completely missed by the referee and the striker ended up scoring just moments later. If ever a sentence summed up Everton this season, what I have just written is certainly it. It was nailed on Cisse would score, and that he did on 34 minutes when he latched on to a Mike Williamson knock down to make the scores level. We didn’t deal with the pressure and a floated ball over created havoc in our area, allowing the Magpies a route back into the game. Before the leveller we had already seen the warning signs when Sissoko went close and Distin and Alcaraz were doing their best to impersonate two old men dealing with a hot potato. Following the home side’s strike, a half chance from Kone was the only other talking point from an Everton perspective but overall our first 45 showing wasn’t too bad compared to some of our recent outings. However, the things that did concern me was our defensive nervousness, Gareth Barry looking distinctly off the pace again in the middle and Aiden McGeady going completely missing after his pass for the goal. He is meant to be a winger and a bit of an outlet, but as it was we had Eto’o and Kone coming deep to receive the ball, and when it did eventually get worked to the right hand side he was so far deep or tight to the touch line that we couldn’t make any progress. As for Barry he is meant to be our reliable man in the middle but his tackles are getting later, he’s being caught out more and more and his reading of the game appears to have completely slowed down. These were the worrying things that stood out for me but as I say, I thought it was a pretty even first half and although we had started brightly, the home side came into the game more and more and had got themselves back level before the break.
At the restart, the news that McCarthy had been withdrawn for Barkley was met with frustration from Evertonians as many believed Barry deserved to be substituted rather than his central midfield counterpart. The only reason I thought McCarthy would have been taken off is because of injury. To the second-half action and Barkley took just a couple of minutes to get involved and drove at Newcastle – something which we hadn’t seen much of from Everton up until then – but his and Kone’s attempts to tee up their team mates were eventually defended away by the Newcastle defence. Up at the other end we came close to going behind when Gouffran latched on to a Sissoko cross, only for the midfielder’s effort to be saved brilliantly by Robles. But before we could even contemplate praising the Spaniard, we did go a goal behind through a combination of failures. Firstly Robles flapped at Newcastles centre and between both Barry and McGeady we could not clear our lines, with the ball eventually falling to Perez who side-stepped what felt like 10 Everton defenders to score on 51 minutes to give the hosts the lead. That was it, the sucker punch. If we had no confidence already, then that second goal knocked the life out of our players and us the supporters who were left angered and frustrated yet again.
Martinez threw on Mirallas for the anonymous McGeady but our problems continued; Barry was still having a mare, at the back we looked at sixes and sevens and Kone and Eto’o had hardly had a touch. Barkley failed to have a real impact and before you knew it we were even further behind. It was Barkley who found himself in a central defensive position when he failed to deal with a through ball, and Colback took full advantage and slotted past Robles on 68 minutes to add salt into the wound for us Blues. Again we were being embarrassed, again we were all out of ideas, and again we were facing defeat. Three minutes later Rom came on for Kone but the pattern never changed. We huffed and puffed but failed to create anything clear-cut. There was a glimmer of hope when Baines provided Mirallas who chipped in for 3-2 but it was on 83 minutes and to me the game was already won when we went 2-1 down. The home side had sensed blood – just as Stoke did at Goodison and Southampton did at St Mary’s – and once again the opposition had taken full advantage of an Everton side who have looked like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights in recent weeks. Apart from a late Mirallas free-kick we never looked like getting back into it and as it was, Newcastle had a couple of glorious chances themselves to make it 4-2 before the end. We now sit in 12th place in the League – four points behind 11th placed Stoke and five points above the relegation zone – as the doom and gloom continues around Goodison Park.
It’s been very testing this season to remain upbeat, and as I’ve witnessed on Twitter of late, our fans have become very disgruntled and divided with their views. Hardly surprising really, and I’m one of those myself. Some are already calling for Martinez’ head, others remain fully behind him and won’t have a bad word said, and others who have spoken out against Martinez are being labelled as ‘turning on the manager’. It’s all very clicky and picky and it’s become quite petty, but I suppose we all just want what’s best for Everton FC. I’m not going to sit here telling you that you are wrong and you are right, it’s your choice what to think. The fact of the matter is we were all here before these current set of players, this manager and his staff, and we will all still be here after them too – never forget that.
For me the most disappointing part is knowing that the potential is there, the football is there and the quality within the squad, but we are just not showing any of it at all. I remain behind Roberto Martinez as the manager of Everton Football Club, but I am very, very concerned about where this season is going. I do believe Martinez deserves more time than just two seasons at Goodison Park and last season was a memorable one, but I fear just how bad it might get this campaign if these poor results carry on. Moyes got eleven years at the helm and finished 17th in his second campaign in charge of the Toffees, so to get rid of Martinez now would be very cut-throat in terms of Everton’s style. However, Martinez needs to sort this mess out, because that is what it has become. Europe has been fantastic, but domestically we are now looking over our shoulder and let’s be realistic, if we don’t get anything against Hull City or Man City in the coming weeks, we are going to be dragged into the mire. It’s a horrible feeling and one that we’ve all gone through before, but I have to believe we can get ourselves back on track; I have to believe in this manager and looking at the names in our squad I know for a fact that the quality is there to get us moving back up that table.
My main concern is January, with all our players now back from injury we can’t use that as an excuse anymore, and with an obvious number of ageing players at the Club, we need to reinforce. The big question is, will we? I don’t think we will, and this is where the problems could continue. Kenwright cannot dine out on the Lukaku deal forever, and although we do have a talented crux of younger lads within the side it is plain to see that we still need players. A keeper and centre back are a priority in my opinion and ideally we’d get another option on the wing too, but I won’t hold my breath. Last season it clicked, but this season it hasn’t and we’ve been found out. Are there problems within the camp? Is it all the manager’s fault because of his playing style? Are we too nice? I think we are. We need to stop being so easy for the opposition, too easy to manipulate and too easy to read. Stop the nicey nicey approach and start putting ourselves about a bit. Barry isn’t the Barry of last season and let’s be honest until we get Stones back fully fit we are dealing with three over-30 centre halves who have seriously failed to fill us with any confidence. Howard and Robles have become a bit of a comedy double act, meanwhile some of our fans solely focus on the attacking areas and blame Lukaku for not scoring or being too lazy, even though the Belgian is still very young and he’s hardly had a sniff of service from his colleagues. I suppose we all have our scape goats and favourites – that’s football and that’s football supporters. However collectively this season we’ve simply not been good enough, something needs to change, we’ve been waiting for a reaction and haven’t got one, but we can’t wait any longer, it has to happen now.
Just what does the future hold?
I can’t see Martinez being sacked or resigning, and I do buy in to the footballing ideology he has for this Club, but on numerous occasions this season we’ve seen a side lacking in any determination, any heart, leadership, sense or calm. We’ve lost our ambition and swagger of the last campaign and it begs the question, why? We’ve only added to the quality in our squad last season and have the majority of our players back from injury and involved, so why the big downturn in results and fortunes? Is there internal problems? Just where has all of the belief gone? Questions, questions, and yet more questions. These are the things that will be playing on my mind when I go to sleep tonight. It’s about time we began to see some answers on the pitch. It’s about time this manager and his squad got their acts together and stood up to be counted. New Year’s Day is the perfect chance for us to do so, to turn over a new leaf and forget the first half of this season, we have to write it off. We need to now look at the next six months as our opportunity to put the previous six behind us. We’ve already lost as many games this season as we did in the whole of the last campaign and have only taken four points from a possible 21 in our last seven fixtures – now is the time for a fresh start. It is vital that we invent the belief that engulfed the Club last season; we need to be confident in our ability and as Luke Garbutt said after the game today; we need to stick together and keep fighting. Through the good times and the bad we will still be Evertonians, and we need our enthusiasm as supporters to spill over onto that pitch and see an all-round improvement from everyone involved at Everton. Whether it takes a crisis meeting of some sort or a snide 1-0 win at Hull or over Manchester City, we need a lifeline that can allow us to put this horrible run behind us and begin to look forward. We as fans deserve better, and although I share your anger, frustration and sheer annoyance at many of our performances this campaign, I can’t help but harbour a belief that we will come good again – I just hope that our manager and players believe that this can happen too.
No more feeling sorry for ourselves, it’s time to stand up and fight.