Y’all ready for this?!
….no? Yeah, fair enough. But I’ve got a lot of respect for you if you’re reading this. Your perseverance in getting up just to get slapped down yet again is admirable.
From October 18 to November 27 Everton embarked on a run of eight games without defeat, winning five, drawing three. We scored fourteen goals and conceded just three. In the thirteen games that have followed we’ve won just once, a 3-1 victory at home to QPR on December 15. That’s a run of six Premier League games without a win. At this point we’re 19 points worse off in comparison to this time last season.
So is 2014/15 a write-off then? Should we merely cruise it out and wait for good times to (hopefully) come rolling back in next season?
It’d be quite hard to continue supporting Everton with that sort of attitude. Plus, you probably wouldn’t have wasted your time reading this, so let’s carry on. The pessimists amongst you will be pointing at February’s fixtures – Liverpool, Chelsea, Leicester – and Arsenal away on March 1 and claiming that we can’t simply enter cruise control because we’re in a relegation battle. It’s been a while…about eleven years to be exact. After the glorious 2004/5 season we vowed to leave the bad old days behind, but they’re echoing loud and clear through this campaign, even if this squad is better than anything Messrs Kendall, Walker, Royle, Watson, Smith and Moyes ever fielded.
Perhaps there are causes to look on this positively. Our squad really is top six quality, not bottom six, and until 38 games have been played we have to keep fighting to reach it. It looks bleak now, but as many teams in this league have proved a timely run of form can propel any side up the table. Momentum’s the magic word. Newcastle have managed to bungee jump through the league this season, while Arsenal, Man Utd, Spurs and Liverpool have all recovered from poor starts and all four look likely to secure European spots. It’s going to be much tougher for us but it’s not impossible. If you believe it’s impossible, refer to the earlier question about writing this season off. That’s you. At a time like this I can hardly blame you for it.
The dim beacon of hope comes from some promising performances this month. The draw against Man City was hard-earned, with the most impressive factor being the lightning-quick reaction to going behind. Coming from behind in both FA Cup ties against West Ham also showed some resilience, even if we were squeezed out after twenty penalties. That was a serious contender for the most Everton tie of all time, by the way. 210 minutes of play. 20 penalties. Then it ends with Man of the Match contender Joel Robles (no, really) smashing his penalty into the bar. If you don’t laugh, you cry. Haha, Everton. West Brom was an aberration. Yet again, though, we were worked out quite quickly, and through some really simple defensive organisation Tony Pulis’ side suffocated every move that entered the final third. Well, not every move. Naturally, we had a penalty to take the lead, and probably win the game.
Well in Kev Mirallas, you tit.
The whole thing was a fiasco. Leighton Baines surrendering his usual penalty-taking duties, Kevin Mirallas daring to grab the ball for himself, Phil Jagielka as captain looking on doing nothing and Roberto Martinez claiming an injury forced the Belgian off at half time, not the fact he had forgotten he was playing for Everton, not Kevin Mirallas. Right now Roberto Martinez resembles a man standing on the Titanic as it sinks, remarking how beautiful the scenery is. It’s nice to retain hope – we should all maintain hope – but it’s bordering on delusion now. There’s nothing wrong with talking straight. In my own view Baines, as resident penalty-taker and a player who has missed just two penalties in his entire career, should be grabbing that ball and exacting his authority. If Mirallas had protested that, Jagielka would’ve done the same. Would we have been as vocal on the situation if Mirallas had scored the penalty? No. Would it still have been an issue? Yes. There’s an undercurrent of fear and apprehension in this squad that needs cutting out.
We’ve been granted a full twelve days between the West Brom game and this trip to Crystal Palace, and Roberto Martinez decided it would be wise to do some warm-weather training in Qatar. The conditions were more favourable for training, but it’s not going to be warm in south London this weekend, and the players better be ready for that. The big news coming out of the training camp is that Sylvain Distin, Darron Gibson and James McCarthy are fit and ready to play. Oh, hallelujah. Not that arsed about Distin the omnishambles or perma-crock Gibson, but McCarthy coming back is like being reunited with your old best mate, and it turning out that they’re still boss. Everton have won only one of 15 games without midfielder James McCarthy this season. There’s a stat that says it all. We’ve missed the blend of energy and discipline that McCarthy brings. Mo Besic has become a fans’ favourite due to having plenty of the former but sometimes finds himself out of position. Gareth Barry has…well…experience. Hard to claim that the man with the most Premier League bookings in history is disciplined. We all want to see McCarthy and Besic together, but whether or not it happens is down to the manager.
Do you still trust the manager? An ever-growing number don’t. I’m not going to tell you what to believe, but if Roberto Martinez takes responsibility for this predicament he also takes responsibility for last season’s record points haul. None of that retention of Moyes’ discipline talk. Martinez must take praise and blame without prejudice. We’ve kept just four league clean sheets, which is diabolical. However, our early-season scoring form was exceptional, and we retain the potential to out-score any team. The problem is that with the defence definitely conceding at least once the strikers know they have to go out and score at least two to secure any sort of result. It’s a dangerous situation to be in, because opponents will sense the weakness and strike. We can only cling to potential at the moment because there’s not all that much to be pleased about on the pitch. Speaking only from a personal viewpoint I will continue to trust Roberto Martinez until the day he leaves the club, because giving up on him also means giving up on Everton – as already mentioned, we can’t afford to do that. Have you got anything better to do with your Saturday afternoons?
There’s been a steady build-up of angst in the past few days due to the transfer window, and our lack of activity. There has been a lot of “exploring avenues”, which means sniffing around waiting for the right deal to hopefully materialise, and a lack of action. The only business that has been done is the sale of Samuel Eto’o to Sampdoria, which takes a significant chunk out of the wage budget. Remember when we had that Samuel Eto’o playing for Everton? What times. He played alongside Tony Hibbert, and you can never take away memories like that. His departure leaves us with two senior strikers – Romelu Lukaku and Arouna Kone – which is the cause of some concern. We could do with a striker, probably two wingers as they’re all mongs at the moment (Mirallas is at least a mong capable of being boss), a centre back, a goalkeeper, and maybe some cover at right back. We might not get any of them, mostly due to the fact we might not have any money to spend in this window. The fact of the matter is the squad does not look strong enough right now, and if it’s the same on Tuesday morning as it is now even more concern may creep in.
Naturally, the real business is done on the pitch, so let’s get to it. Crystal Palace is just the right mix for an opponent – a decent set of fans, except maybe the gang of muppets who reckon they’re the Curva Sud at the Stadio Olimpico or the Turkish mentalists. Some excellent players form a hard-to-beat side who are finally establishing themselves as a regular in the top flight. There’s just one flaw, and it’s that silver-haired cretin you’ll hear loud and clear patrolling the technical area on Saturday. Alright there Alan Pardew. For a man who has actually achieved very little, he has a ridiculously high opinion of himself. Imagine mouthing off at Dover Athletic staff though. Dover. He’s not really in keeping with a club that don’t overstate themselves, but they seem to love him down there. Each to their own. While Pardew is quite obviously a tosser he’s overseen four consecutive victories – away to Dover, Burnley and Southampton and home to Spurs. Just like West Brom with Pulis the new manager effect kicks in alongside a quite buoyant mood that suggests Crystal Palace will be scaling the league much quicker than us. There’s plenty of work still to be done, as Palace have conceded only one goal fewer than us and have only kept two home clean sheets, both in September against Burnley and Leicester. This is a seriously resilient team though, as evidenced by the wins against Spurs, Burnley and Southampton. In the former the Eagles fell behind but turned it around. Against Southampton they went behind twice and won. Against Burnley they were 2-0 down in the blink of an eye, with the defence unable to deal with the movement of Ings, Barnes and Arfield. When Palace finally kicked on, though, the reaction was spectacular, and in the end a 3-2 win was wholly deserved.
Their earlier results against the Merseyside clubs was a clear indicator that, Pardew or no Pardew, Crystal Palace are capable of beating anyone. Their 3-2 win at Goodison in September and the 3-1 victory over Liverpool in November both included a goal for captain Mile Jedinak. Palace winger Yannick Bolasie also scored at Goodison, and both are considered major cogs in the Palace system. Both will be absent this weekend due to international duties, and they have to be considered major losses for the home side. That being said, there’s plenty of quality in place. Julian Speroni is capable of mind-boggling saves, the midfield is boosted by the likes of Joe Ledley, Jason Puncheon and the excellent James McArthur, who like James McCarthy rose to prominence with Hamilton Academical and then Wigan, and the dangerous Wilfried Zaha and Dwight Gayle give Palace plenty of pace up front. Throw in new signing Jordon Mutch and you can see a Crystal Palace outfit ready to score goals. However, the common denominator in their impressive victories both recent and further back in time is the lack of a clean sheet. You’d expect there to be goals in this one.
*There you go, I’ve cursed it. Tenner on 0-0 will do the trick*
It was in fact 0-0 the last time we went to Selhurst Park. Keith Millen knew that struggling Palace outfit needed points and set up to frustrate us. And it worked, despite 72% possession. We were worked out by Palace on that day, as we were at Goodison for the twin 3-2 defeats in April and September. This lot seem to know how to beat Everton, which doesn’t bode well for us.
Speroni will start in goal, with Ward, Dann, Delaney and Kelly likely to make up the defence. Mutch will most likely join Ledley and McArthur in the midfield, with Zaha and Puncheon flanking Gayle. That being said, there needs to be the generic sh*te player who nets against Everton, so one of Sanogo or Chamakh will have to feature. Brede Hangeland, him built like a dented fridge, may also terrorise us. Such is the Everton Way.
And so we move on to the Everton XI. Joel in goal. Fun fact – he’s already just two league clean sheets behind Tim Howard. Madness. Coleman, Stones, Jagielka and Baines in defence. Hopefully I can just copy and paste that into every preview I do until Jagielka goes. McCarthy and Barry in midfield. You know it’s going to happen. I want Besic. You want Besic. But life’s cruel, and Everton’s crueller. There are really only two wingers available – Mirallas and McGeady – although we’d probably rather see Oviedo shoehorned into that position. It’s likely to be Barkley left and Mirallas right with Naismith behind Lukaku, as per. The bench doesn’t exactly inspire optimism now that Cameroonian lad with more medals than Douglas Bader has gone, but Kone, with legs like Bader, could come on in a pinch. This is where the magic of a January signing comes in. It’s the hope more than anything. The fact that we have a player who brings something different and can change things over the course of a game or even a season. But the time always has to come when you realise all you’ve done is paid millions to get Aiden McGeady. This team has got us in this mess, and now they need to get out of it.
Alright Everton, we’ve been patient enough. It’s been a nightmare. Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal are all looming on the horizon. There’s no “we’ll take a point”, no “the performance deserved more”. We need to have 26 points on the board on Saturday night, and we’ll still be complaining about that as it’s not good enough. That’s where we’re at right now.
The real do-or-die game might be next week but when we’re teetering on the precipice they’re all pretty damn important. Time to shine, Everton. It’s been too long.