Look, it’s the magic of the Cup! On….a Tuesday! With Goodison half empty! In a classic tie against…er…West Ham!
Perhaps I’m being harsh. It may well be the magic of the Cup that saves us.
Not that it was a weekend for it. When rank average sides link QPR and Norwich going out constitute the big shocks of the 3rd round, it doesn’t strike you as a classic. Having only a fraction of fixtures at the traditional time of 3pm on the Saturday didn’t help the atmosphere, despite the extra enthusiasm added by the BBC. No, we can’t #getcarriedaway by Fulham vs Wolves, because we’re waiting for Tuesday night. What’s that about? Burnley vs Spurs had an attendance of less than 10,000 and I don’t blame them one bit – a Monday night at the beginning of the year is tough to get to for a home fan, let alone someone coming up from London. It was alright for Liverpool at AFC Wimbledon because either the Surrey Ultras (YNWA) were packing the place out or it was on TV anyway. Sorted. Why should West Ham fans bother to come up to Merseyside on an equally bad Tuesday? It makes no sense. So we’ll have a half-filled stadium. Nah, it’s fine. BT Sport have it on in the pub. Who needs atmosphere anyway?
In all honesty the FA Cup has felt a bit flat this weekend. Then again, everything feels pretty f*cking far from OK, to paraphrase Marcellus Wallace. Like Wallace we’ve taken a brutal shagging recently and we’re fuming. The Hull defeat left us apoplectic, and quite rightly. We set our expectations high, due to having a “stellar squad” and “one of Europe’s brightest young managers” – these are the words of neutrals. One win in the past nine is the form of a side that belongs in a relegation scrap. We’re going to continue to believe that we’re too good to be involved in one, but look at the league fixtures coming up – Man City at home is no longer a game we see ourselves as favourites for. West Brom and Crystal Palace have new managers and as a result are loose cannons. And then we have Liverpool, Chelsea, Leicester and Arsenal, with the home and away legs against Young Boys both at the back end of February. The way we are playing right now, we will be in a relegation scrap come the end of February. No ifs. We will, unless there is change.
And Roberto Martinez has been getting plenty of suggestions from self-styled experts. Bring back Moyes-style defending, some scream. If you want I can reel off the thrashings we took under Moyes, the awful, awful teams that stole points off us because we weren’t solid, the fact that in so many games we were doomed the moment we conceded a goal. Not the answer to everything. Direct football? What do you mean? Because that can mean all sorts. Simply knocking up 50/50 balls to the striker and you can calculate the odds of us keeping the ball to launch an attack. Not logical. Woah, sacking the manager’s the answer, eh? Name a prospective boss and I’ll knock that idea out of the park. Stop saying Klopp you tits. Swear some people just see a name and forget there’s more to it than that. Because right now we’d be acting like West Brom or their contemporaries, with new managers every year. Not logical.
Logic’s gone anyway. Justin Bieber’s been seen in a full Everton kit. What can we believe now? Next thing we know Bill Kenwright will be giving Bieber a pot of hair gel and unveiling him the next week as “Gerard Deulofeu”.
The biggest shout is for Plan B. I’m going to refute that too. Plan A isn’t working at all, so that needs to be seen to first of all. A part of it is due to the players, many of whom seem scared to take on opponents or play those incisive passes. The no-risk game that is being played means a lack of reward. Some of it is due to the manager refusing to budge from a plan that isn’t working either because the players fear making a mistake too much or are too tired. In every game we have dropped off in the second half. If that’s fatigue, it’s truly worrying. Direct football can have a place in this plan though, if properly utilised. As opponents are pressing high and making mistakes, it does leave gaps for offensive-minded players to exploit. At that point having the likes of Barkley or Eto’o out wide could actually work. It also plays to Romelu Lukaku’s strengths. Case in point – Man City away last season. Phil Jagielka, not seeing a simple pass, played a measured ball over the Joleon Lescott’s shoulder. Lukaku has a lot more purpose running towards goal rather than facing away. Lukaku scored, and it was an example of playing the odds to great effect. It works, but only in moderation. Trying it too much makes a team predictable – as we are right now. To quote various lame-brain cliche-spouting pundits, “mix it up”.
But the league’s on hold – until Saturday anyway. And to the FA Cup we go. We’ve got a real pedigree in this competition. And by that, I mean a pedigree for f*cking up. What else would you expect from the team with more FA Cup final defeats than anyone else? Just look at the last two Cup runs. Both promising, both ended in the quarter finals – 0-3 at home to Wigan, 1-4 away to Arsenal. We bottled it. The season before that? Led 1-0 in the semi final against Liverpool. Bottled it. Before that? Beat Chelsea before losing at home to Reading. Bottled. Home defeat against Birmingham before that. Scored the fastest ever FA Cup final goal in 2009 and lost 2-1. Eventually we’ll need players to take the chances afforded to us. When we find that killer instinct we’ll win things. Joe Royle’s Dogs of War could play both pretty and rough football, but they could shake the life out of any team they faced, and the semi final and final in 1995 show that.
Well, all the great journeys have to start somewhere. Ours begins with the club in the doldrums, the stadium half-empty, and with West Ham rolling into town. Up the Everton.
Thing is, Sam Allardyce hates the FA Cup, and everyone knows it. Name a time when a Sam Allardyce team did anything of note in the FA Cup. Exactly. 23 years of management in England and he has one League Cup final (lost 2-1 vs Middlesbrough), one League Cup semi final (lost 4-0 on aggregate vs Tranmere) and one FA Cup semi final (0-0, lost 4-1 on penalties vs Aston Villa). All three were with Bolton – the two semi final defeats both came in 2000. He’s not arsed. West Ham haven’t won the Cup since 1980, but naturally fans are after their fourth triumph. Why not? Even a day out at Wembley is worth the time for them. In addition, they’re comfortable enough in the league. In an impressive turn of events the squad has assimilated new signings and kicked on. With just one point gained over the festive period, we’re about to find out what this side are really made of. Sam Allardyce may not care but he hasn’t got a big squad and so we’ll still see a strong West Ham side all looking to prove themselves and kick off a Cup run.
Bristol City or Doncaster await the winner. So a League One side stands between either us or them and progress to the fifth round, two wins from Wembley. The opportunity is there. If we want to show the character necessary to get this season back on track, we’ll defy the odds and not bottle it. Or f*ck up in reverse, as I call it.
So this is how West Ham line up: Adrian in goal. Jenkinson, Reid, Collins and Cresswell at the back. Noble, Nolan, Jarvis, Amalfitano and Downing in midfield, as Kouyate and Song head off to the African Cup of Nations. Valencia up top, as top scorer Sakho is out. Sadly, Stewart Downing is no longer the comedy character we all came to love while at Liverpool – he has rediscovered the form that made Liverpool sign him for-hahahahaha, what?! How much? Hahaha, grand. Head’s gone.
Sorry, lost my train of thought there. He’s good. Nolan’s a tit. Andy Carroll’s a big tit, and it’s his birthday. With any luck it’ll be the worst birthday since William Shakespeare went to blow out the candles on the cake on his 52nd and snuffed it. He clearly went on the lash a bit too hard last night because he’s not playing.
And Everton – Joel Robles in goal. Roberto Martinez claimed he was after another keeper and had targets in mind this week…and here I was thinking Christmas was over. Coleman, Jagielka, Distin and Oviedo at the back. Besic, Barry, Naismith, Barkley and Mirallas forming the midfield. Lukaku up top. If Plan A hasn’t changed this team is in trouble. The substitutes are Eto’o, McGeady, Stones, Kone, Garbutt, Browning and Griffiths, and it would be nice to see three of them utilised at some point.
So you have two choices. One is to go into this game bouncing with positive energy. Crack the #COYB hashtags out and the like. Predict a positive scoreline. Either you ride that wave of positivity to victory or crash and burn, looking like a tit in the process. Or you can be a cynic, calling defeat from the offset. You won’t enjoy the game. Is it worth that to feel vindicated if defeat does come? Up to you.
The good old FA Cup one-off, then. Love it or hate it, the Cup is the chance to try something different. That change may well have an impact on our entire season. Time to stop the rot and remind us of how boss you are Everton. Best to do it now or it may be too late.
First step on the path to Wembley then, Blues. Do we believe?