It has been said that the only reason Everton have never installed an anger therapy clinic inside Goodison Park is because it would have to be bigger than the stadium itself. I can buy it.
That would definitely be a sound investment, because on this week’s episode of “Everton That” we have a home game against a decent side with a great away record in which we dominate but fail to score, only finally finding the net in the latter stages a couple of minutes after they took the lead. For a bonus feature, how about hitting the woodwork three times?
Naturally we were fuming because, in a league Leicester are top of and in which every side are more nervous than the few remaining humans who believe people are naturally rational while watching the Donald Trump campaign, we consistently fail to capitalise. If we had turned our dominance over Palace and Swansea into victories, held on against Bournemouth and not done…whatever that was…against Watford, we’d be on 30 points. That’s level with second-placed Arsenal. There are too many ifs, and not enough positive results.
Fans left Goodison on Monday utterly perplexed, and then angry, and that anger was aimed instantly at Roberto Martinez. Why did he only make one substitution, bringing on Leighton Baines for Brendan Galloway? He cost Everton the victory.
Except he didn’t. Not at all. Leave the hyperbole at the door. If a side is dominating a game, playing excellent football and probing at the opposition constantly, why would you change it? A few demonised Arouna Kone, which is bizarre because he contributed to attacks and tracked back throughout, and advocated the erratic Kevin Mirallas as his replacement. Bringing on Mirallas would have been a risk – he is a prodigious talent and can change games, but when is the last time that happened? Given that Palace counter-attack with great speed and Mirallas hardly contributes to the defence, he would not have been a shrewd change. And actually, would it have been worth the risk anyway? The fact is there is no singular and simple scapegoat. We were on top, we made chances, and not enough of them were converted. Unless Roberto Martinez is at fault for the frame of the goal thwarting Barkley and Lukaku and some excellent defending from the visitors, finger-pointing won’t help. On another day the odd chance is actually converted, and we don’t completely flap a simple corner to let them open the scoring.
In other ones…it’s just one of them, isn’t it.
But we move on, for we have no other choice. The FA Cup draw saw us pitted against either Dagenham and Redbridge or Whitehawk at Goodison Park, which guarantees progression to the fourth round unless we’re about to fall victim to one of the biggest shocks in Cup history…no. Stop. Don’t even think it. And to anyone harbouring ambitions to see us put ten past whoever we get…remember Tamworth? We’re Everton, it’s not what we do. Unless we’re in the mood and against Sunderland, that is. Anyway, win that and we’re three victories from Wembley, which is a fine target. In the league we’re seven points behind fourth (and third actually). We’re as many points off sixth as we are clear of 12th – just the one. That’s how tight it is. But we’re the third highest scoring team with the second top scorer in the Premier League, so there’s life in the School of Science yet.
Next up is Norwich, and there’s one intriguing similarity between the sides. After the opening games of the season, Norwich and Everton had fielded the goalkeepers who had made the most mistakes from crosses. Of the two calamitous keepers, one was dropped, even after making 100 successive league appearances. The other was Tim Howard.
Alex Neil benched John Ruddy, a move most Canaries fans backed due to his recent poor form, and the Scot has has been bold in his decision-making throughout his Carrow Road tenure. At times it has worked wonders – the 1-1 draws with Arsenal and Liverpool spring to mind – but naivety was at the root of heavy defeats away to Southampton and Newcastle. Neil’s mantra this season is to fear nobody, which is admirable considering Norwich will be flirting with the relegation spots up until May, when they travel to Goodison on the final weekend. It makes them an interesting prospect this weekend – with the crowd behind them, they will make life difficult, but conversely they will be susceptible to counter attacks. No wonder they have conceded 27 goals already, and kept a league-low one clean sheet. We’re playing a side who have lost six of their last eight games, though they have improved recently. It must also be said that they played well at Goodison in the League Cup, pushing us all the way to a penalty shoot-out, with Nathan Redmond and Wes Hoolahan completely running the show. They should be resp-they should be respec–
No, nuts to that. It’s Norwich. It’s f***ing Norwich. They play goal music, dammit. The affinity towards livestock in those parts is well documented, though there is an established posh set of those who tried breeding their animals with other animals – otherwise known as “ardent Conservatives” – which puts them a step ahead of North Wales at least. They were briefly relevant in the early Nineties, so if the names Jeremy Goss, Efan Ekoku or Mike Walker pop up this weekend put your hands over your ears and yell profanities until it stops. They were the side in the Championship play-offs nobody wanted to come up, and yet they did. They did it in style too, putting down Ipswich to confirm they’re the desperately cocky Kopite faction of East Anglia, a dubious honour at best. As if you didn’t want Ipswich to smash them. Just take one long look at Mick McCarthy’s mesmeric bushy eyebrows and try saying you didn’t. They also piped down Middlesborough when they thought their time had finally come, but seeing as we’re fresh from doing that ourselves I won’t comment on that. The utter dangers in the stands and the general population of Steve Coogan parodies in the area therefore offset what is actually a respectable team. Batter these Everton. Batter them hard, and tell them they’re getting more of it in May as we usher them back into the second tier.
It may well be Declan Rudd in goal again, but Ruddy could return despite the fact his deputy was quite impressive against Waford. Andre Wisdom, he of the perpetual “Liverpool loanee” prefix, is the next lucky contestant to take on the Gerard Deulofeu Wheel of Death, and will be in defence alongside Bennett, Bassong and Olsson. There will probably be changes in the midfield after the dire defeat at Vicarage Road, with Youssouf Mulumbu, Graham Dorrans, Nathan Redmond, Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan likely to feature. And who knows who will be up front? Dieumerci Mbokani, Lewis Grabban, Cameron Jerome and Kyle Lafferty have all scored fewer goals this season than defender Russell Martin. They’ve all been next to useless, so one of them is scoring here.
Enough of them. It’s Howard in goal, for better or worse. We could see Baines start for the first time this season, though it’ll be Stones, Funes Mori and Coleman at the back as usual for sure. Cleverley was solid and hardworking, if unadventurous, on Monday. He’ll stick with Barry in the middle. Kone, Deulofeu and Barkley will flank Lukaku. Why change a good thing? Romelu Lukaku has been truly brilliant recently, scoring his 50th Everton goal on his 100th appearance, including six in his last five. He’s the quickest Everton player to reach 50 goals since Joe Royle. BUT HE’S DEAD LAZY THOUGH ISN’T HE LAD. Tell yer da to pipe down. He’s the best we’ve had in a long, long time. Throw in the dazzling Barkley and Deulofeu, plus watching the twinkle-toed John Stones cruising past players as he weaves out of defence, and you start to realise it’s genuinely enjoyable watching Everton on the ball. It’s still a living nightmare from set pieces, but we can’t have it all our way.
December doesn’t look too bad. After this it’s Leicester at home, followed by Newcastle and Stoke. Falling short against Crystal Palace was yet another realisation of our fear that this Everton side is doomed to fall short in all our ventures, so now it’s time to put some scruffs to bed. And they don’t come much scruffier than Norwich City. So arrive, put these down with ruthless efficiency, and go home before the locals realise what’s happened. Keep up the good work and you will be rewarded, so we’re told. If good things come to those who wait then we’re going to reap something wonderful soon. We’re ready when you are, Blues.