After the disappointment of the draw against Crystal Palace, and the draw against Bournemouth that preceded the Palace game, we’d now managed to find ourselves in a bit of a poor run of form in the league. Two wins in eight poor, to be exact. Lots of good football- largely from a crop of young, hugely promising players, isn’t quite getting the results it’s been threatening to. Profligacy in front of goal, and a frustrating inability to defend crosses from out wide (especially those of the corner variety), have meant we went into the game with five wins from the opening fifteen of the season, leaving us seven points off Man United in fourth.

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The same team that ended the game against Palace on Monday night took to the field against Norwich, with Leighton Baines coming in for Brendan Galloway, and Tom Cleverley continuing in place of the injured James McCarthy in central midfield.

Everton were looking good in the opening stages: moving the ball about across the pitch with plenty of players getting a touch of the ball as we stroked it about with confidence. Lukaku dragged a half chance wide after the ball bounced to him in the box on the angle, but it didn’t take long for the in-form striker to open the scoring. With a quarter of an hour gone, Everton won a corner, which- predictably, came to nothing. The clearance didn’t make it very far, and the ball found its way to Gerard Deulofeu…

02

“The supplier” whipped one of his trademark balls into a superb area, right between defence and ‘keeper. Fizzed in with so much pace and dip, they’re almost impossible to defend…

03

Lukaku managed to outmuscle his marker at the back post, and headed back across Rudd, into the Norwich net. 1-0 Everton. On Monday night we’d been so wasteful with our chances, allowing Palace to take the lead in a game Everton were in control of: it was a relief to see us take the lead so early.

Moments later, and the magic man reminded us all that he was human after all- allowing a promising break to fizzle out, being shown outside by Bassong when two on two with Lukaku inside…

04

A disappointing moment for Deulofeu, particularly as a similarly promising break with the ball at his feet on Monday night came to nothing.

We were exuding confidence in our football. Shifting the ball from wing to wing patiently, back to front, waiting for the right opportunity to spring into life, and it didn’t take long for the toffees to carve a superb chance through the heart of the Norwich defence. Sixteen patient passes until the ball was worked via Lukaku into the run of Arouna Kone….

05

With time to shift the ball onto his right foot, Kone was unconvincing. Rudd came charging out and blocked the shot. An excellent chance, forged by patient, but deliberate play from Everton, but lost at the feet of the increasingly goal-shy Kone. None since November 1st now for the Ivorian.

Everton were quick on the counter at every opportunity. Norwich were playing with all the confidence of a side languishing near the bottom of the table. Nervous in possession, they were making sloppy mistakes, and were turning the ball over to Everton with regularity. On one such occasion, the ball broke to Lukaku, who had Deulofeu inside of him, with the opportunity of a two on two…

06

But a heavy touch from the Belgian meant nothing came of the attack, with Deulofeu in an ideal position to receive the ball from Lukaku as he made his run between the two Norwich defenders. Another potentially very good chance was to come and go. Everton were playing well, Norwich were not.

The chances would get even better, however. But the execution would get even worse. Norwich, retreating deep, allowed John Stones to carry the ball forward and play the ball outside to Seamus Coleman. With Gerard Deulofeu wide of him, Coleman found the advanced Tom Cleverley in a pocket of space, having gotten around the pitch nicely to this point…

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Cleverley then whipped in an excellent low cross for Lukaku on the back stick…

08

But somehow, the ball managed to skew badly wide off the Belgian’s right boot. Fifteen of Lukaku’s now fifty one goals in royal blue have come off his right boot, which makes this all the more frustrating. It didn’t appear to take a bad bobble, just a lack of concentration, perhaps? More wasteful play in the final third from the toffees, the only surprise being on this occasion- it came from a man who’s now scored in his last seven outings.

Everton were playing very well- we were playing on Norwich’s vulnerabilities- pressing them up high…

09

And forcing them into errors. When the canaries did manage to get the ball forward, Cameron Jerome was isolated and the ball wasn’t sticking. Whenever Norwich did try and push forward to support Jerome, Everton were countering on the break with speed…

10

There are six Everton players in shot here, and only six Norwich defenders behind the ball, but a chance never really came from this. Although it isn’t the most extreme example of Everton’s attacking impotence when faced with a decent opportunity, it is indicative of how with a little more care for the ball, we could have been two or three up by this stage- such was our comfort. Runners from deep were going unchecked: Norwich couldn’t get to grips with us, and yet: our slender advantage remained.

We were really purring now as we nudged towards half time, and there was a chance for Everton’s curse of this week (the woodwork) to reappear once again. Tom Cleverley- Very good throughout (nobody on either side had more touches than him-92, passed the ball more than him-78, or had a higher pass completion rate than him- 93.6%): he was finding space, keeping the cogs turning in midfield, and allowing the others to play around him. Assured in possession, he was dovetailing to perfection with Gareth Barry beside him. But in truth, the whole team was ticking. Good play down the right- including John Stones, deep in the Norwich half- afforded Deulofeu a touch of space. As he turned, Coleman made a run in behind. Deulofeu, faced with a challenge, rolled his right foot over the top of the ball- straight to his left, playing Coleman in down the right- all in the one movement. Coleman’s cross was at a bit of an awkward height for Lukaku, and in space- he completely fluffed his lines. The ball ran on to Baines, up to support the attack…

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Who drove a thunderous right footed half-volley against the Rudd’s left hand post, which would bounce clear to safety. Unlucky… Bad finishing… Bit of both? Another chance came and went. Everton were ripping Norwich to shreds, but still it remained 1-0. You could almost sense what was coming, though: as counterintuitive as it was given Everton’s superb play to this point, and Norwich’s vulnerabilities being exposed time and again.

The chances weren’t done for the first half, however. And there certainly weren’t any coming for the home side. More pressing high up the pitch- this time from Kone, gave him a sniff of goal

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As the ball broke between Kone and Rudd, he looked favourite to get to the ball first- which he did- but a combination of the Ivorian not really being savvy enough to take it round Rudd, or dink it over him… Coupled with a good starting position from Rudd who was decisive and charged at the ball with speed to smother the opportunity, meant another chance had passed us by.

And still it wasn’t done there…

13

In an encouraging sign of understanding, Ross Barkley, Gareth Barry and Tom Cleverley were pressuring Norwich into mistakes. Here, working as a pack, they were unsettling Norwich, and their work benefited Lukaku… The ball was played inside to the Belgian who turned and carried toward the Norwich goal. Backing off, they allowed Lukaku a shot in space from the edge of the box…

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But he didn’t work the ‘keeper. The shot was dragged wide, failing to work Rudd. A host of chances: enough to win two games, had all been and gone in the course of a half of football- only the single goal to show for all of our good work.

And yet, it still wasn’t done for the half. There was chance for one last chance after one last break, right on the stroke of half time. Norwich were pressing up high, but couldn’t pick their way through. Wes Hoolahan was practically out of the game, such was his inability to find space amongst the lines. Norwich rely on him to make them tick, but Everton were keeping him from influencing the game. As we regained possession, the break was on…

15

Barkley feeds the ball into Lukaku, who has Bassong backpedalling. A nightmare scenario for the Norwich centre half is made worse by an overlapping Seamus Coleman…

16

Squawking for the ball in his distinctive tone. Lukaku ignores the run and works the ball onto his left…

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Only to curl another shot just inches wide- off target, again. A failure to work the ‘keeper from another excellent chance. A half packed full of chances came to an end. The game should be well over by now. Four or five wouldn’t have flattered us. Six wouldn’t have been unreasonable, but it was one. Oh Everton.

The inevitable did happen. As has been the story of the season so far. We conceded a corner, and didn’t bother defending it. Wes Hoolahan prodded in after sub Ryan Bennett won the initial header…

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It was a good ball in: quick and flat into a good area. Too far for Howard to come, and deep enough for the Norwich players to attack: think of basically every corner we’ve knocked into the box from a corner for a couple of years- it was the polar opposite of what you’re thinking of. It was not defended well…

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The boots of our centre halves didn’t even leave the ground as Bassong and Bennett climbed. It’s a token arm push/feel by both Mori and Stones. The Norwich players both want it more. Looking great with the ball at your feet is lovely, but you need to do the actual defending bit from time to time, too. Channel your inner Dave Watson when the ball is there to be won. You can’t win every header… As much as you don’t want the other team to score- they want to, and they’ll put good deliveries in- you will concede from set pieces from time to time- but this is unacceptable now. It can’t be this easy- it can’t be as easy as it has been for teams all season long. You’ve got to be at least close enough to spoil their jump- put them off. I doubt whether we’re going to see another short corner against us for the rest of the season, because we’ve shown our weaknesses, and make no mistake about it: our weakness has been seen. A lack of organisation and desire. Nobody looking to take responsibility for the situation- passively observing as the chance unfolded. The last three goals we’ve conceded in the last three games have all been headers from balls out wide. Each one of them have been equalisers. Six points lost- we would end the day six points off United in fourth. Of course, our defensive troubles go way beyond the last three games- and it has to be said: it’s about the first sniff Norwich have had of our goal- we should be able to concede at this point and give a bit of an ironic cheer as the ball goes in- because we should’ve been five up. But we weren’t. We lost points again- defence and attack both have to take their share of the blame for yesterday: it wasn’t one or the other.

It was Norwich’s turn to press, now….

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It appeared they’d been told to press Everton higher in the second half: to show more intent and play with an intensity they hadn’t shown in the first half. Now, buoyed by an undeserved equaliser- they were going to make the second half as uncomfortable as possible for us from here on out. The pattern of the second half was pretty much exactly that: Norwich pressed us and made us uncomfortable. Our better creative players did not contribute after the break. Ross Barkley was quiet, Deulofeu’s standards dropped below those he’s set himself (and his replacement- Kevin Morallas, played just about exactly as you’d have expected a player who’s played a total of ninety minutes of league football since August). Lukaku was isolated, Kone dropped right out of the game for the second week running, and Norwich threatened us on the break. In fact, the best chance of the remainder of the game came to Cameron Jerome after Kevin Mirallas had switched off down the Everton left, and allowed the runner to work the ball into the box, where it eventually found Jerome:

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The only saving grace of this Jerome chance was the fact it was a chance for Cameron Jerome. And he blazed it over the bar. Still, reassuringly familiar to see us opting to not mark players in our own box.

There was a chance for Gareth Barry, too, but Rudd did well to smother a save. It was a poor second half from Everton, and thanks to our poor finishing and lax defending, we’re exactly where we deserve to be in the league. As disheartening/frustrating as it is to see a team look so good, and be so promising, until we get better at defending between the posts, we’ll continue to let opportunities like these pass us by. We deserve to be exactly where we are. League leaders Leicester up next: in mid-December… Who’d have thought that? Makes our basic mistakes all the more depressing, given how wide open the entire league is this year.

As always, you can find me on Twitter for more questionable logic: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings

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