I haven’t written much about Everton since about mid-November for differing reasons really and since then it’s fair to say we’ve had a mixed bag of results and a bit of a frustrating time. Around the time I last wrote, a League win against West Ham and a fine display in the Europa at Wolfsburg gave us a boost after two disappointing draws in the League (Swansea and Sunderland) but towards the end of November and early December Everton hit a rocky patch again. A difficult-to-take defeat to Spurs was followed by a dire draw night at Goodison against Hull and then came the controversial loss at Manchester City. We slipped down in the table and for all our quality play in Europe we couldn’t mirror these performances in our league form – something which has been a constant problem this term, we just haven’t found any real consistency.
In the Europa games we’ve seen a side full of vigour, assurance and goals, but on numerous occasions in domestic affairs we’ve been edgy, lethargic and looked all out of ideas. In the European games our tactics have been spot on, but at times in the League we’ve looked out of shape and a bit disjointed. In some of these fixtures we just needed to settle and get a foothold but we haven’t managed to do so and it has come back to bite us on the arse. On other occasions we’ve made costly mistakes or forgotten how to defend and certain decisions from so-called ‘officials’ have also cost us dear during this period.
Looking at how we played last season compared to some of our performances throughout this campaign we’ve looked a completely different side and that excitement and first-season confidence from Martinez has now well and truly gone. But let’s not be too downbeat. We’ve already had a couple of poor runs of form this season and had to deal with a lot of injuries, and we’ve eventually came through these periods and got ourselves back on track. Martinez talks about character in his squad and this is something we might have to rely on this season – bouncing back – we might not see a brilliant domestic campaign but we could achieve something memorable on the continent. Although I’ve briefly detailed our most recent spell of bad results above, our last two fixtures have provided a bit of hope for us Evertonians and this is something I am certainly hoping we can build on going into the festive period.
The game against Krasnodar was like a friendly game in many respects, and the result did not matter one bit, but to see some of our younger generation donning the royal blue and doing themselves proud was a refreshing sight indeed. The thing is with youngsters at Everton these days – they will be given a chance. They have to take heart from the likes of Garbutt, Barkley, Stones and Besic being involved in this current Everton side, and also the fact that some of our players are entering or have already entered their twilight years (Jagielka, Distin, Barry, Baines, Howard for example). This will then open up opportunities for them and with Martinez at the helm they should have every faith that with a lot of hard work and the right amount of patience, they too will get their chance in the end. The defeat to the Russians didn’t tarnish what was a brilliant Europa group campaign that was a joy to watch from the start; the wins away at Wolfsburg and at home to Lille are the two that stand out for me, and overall it was a successful run of games that our fans and the Club have embraced and enjoyed.
Moving on from Krasnodar we then faced QPR on Monday night of this week. I have to admit I felt nervous going into the game, mainly because last time out at Goodison in the League (Hull City) we had a shocker, but thankfully the Blues did the job against Harry Redknapp’s men and came out 3-1 victors with some impressive goals scored. Ross Barkley’s strike epitomised his style of play and confidence on the ball, and although many thought he might return the one-two with Lukaku and play the Belgian in on goal, instead he fired a left-footed rasper into the Park End net and that goal helped settle the Goodison Park jitters. At the time the game needed a goal and although we did look the better side, you just never know with Everton so it was a relief to take the lead. From then on in only Everton looked like going on to win the game and a further strike from Mirallas, albeit via a heavy deflection, put us two to the good before the break, making the half time Chang a bit more bearable. In the second half we continued to look for goals and our third came courtesy of Steven Naismith, after some good play by McGeady – the latter part of this sentence I haven’t said much this season. The winger carved out the opening and Naismith did the rest with a directed header at the Street End to put us 3-0 up and in the process put the game to bed. Obviously Everton being Everton conceded thanks to Bobby Zamora (nailed on he would score against us) but there was to be no late fight back from Rangers and it was a much-needed three points for the Blues.
The injury to Mirallas was a sour point of the night and although it was initially feared that the Belgian had broken his ankle, it appears that Mirallas may only miss the Southampton game and return to action on Boxing Day. Kev has been in great form of late but typically of our recent luck with injuries he then gets hurt just as we are beginning to see the best of him – thankfully on this occasion he won’t be out for long. On to the positives from the game on Monday night and the stand-out performers for me were Mo Besic and Ross Barkley. With Barry and McCarthy both unavailable I thought the way in which Roberto set the team up worked well. Besic is already forming a good understanding with Ross and Martinez says this has been a positive element from training recently. Barkley looked hungry and his goal summed up his display – he was confident, available and most of all exciting. This is the type of player we’ve wanted to see come through the ranks since Mr Rooney bailed to United and although Barkley can frustrate from time to time he has the ability to take us to another level. As for Besic you just can’t knock his enthusiasm and attitude, he was all over the Park. The most passes, tackles, you name it, he was involved. The Bosnian youngster might take a season to bed in fully to the Premier League but on Monday night there was no sign of him keeping us waiting to see him at his best. Besic wanted the ball and when he didn’t have it he went looking for it and nine times out of ten he retrieved it. If Barry or McCarthy are both available this weekend they might get the nod over him to start but Martinez is being careful with Besic, he’s being patient and all the signs point to him becoming a real exciting midfield asset at Goodison Park.
Another major boost from the QPR game was seeing Steven Naismith involved again. The Scot, who capped his return from injury with a second-half goal, has been sorely missed in recent weeks and the absence of his energy, his reliability in front of goal, ability in the air and link-up play has been clearly evident in our side. Naismith provides a cutting edge and from once being a scapegoat at the Club he is now one of the first names that fans want to see on the team sheet. What summed up his turnaround at Everton perfectly was the reaction to the news of him signing a new contract last night; from being ridiculed by large sections of our support (including myself at times) during his early days at Goodison Park, we now see Evertonians rejoicing at the news he’s extended his deal with the Club – he has become such a vital asset. Hard work, persistence and the position that he now plays have all been major factors in this upturn in fortunes on Merseyside and now that he is back from his knock he can look ahead to what will hopefully be a continuation of a fruitful campaign for the former Rangers man.
There was a couple of other points of discussion from the QPR win – Romelu Lukaku’s performance and the apparent booing from some of our fans towards our passing style. Firstly, there is a fella who sits in front of me who since the start of the season has berated Lukaku’s every touch and movement, I believe now he isn’t the only one inside Goodison Park doing so. Let’s get this straight, Lukaku had a poor game against QPR but admittedly the service to him was all but none, he didn’t have the best of nights and failed to really have a positive impact. However, I feel that some of our fans might be getting on his back before he’s even touched the ball, and we’ve seen this happen to a number of players – especially strikers – over the years. Lukaku can frustrate, but don’t write him off just because he isn’t at his peak level in every game, scoring left, right and centre. The lad is still young, learning the game, and his purchase was an investment to this Football Club. The trouble is with football these days, fans want instant success from their team and their players but with Lukaku we need to be patient. We don’t want him to lose confidence in his ability because a few of our fans have decided to get on his back through frustration. Lukaku will always get goals, even when he is having a quiet game, he has that ability to find the space but he also needs our creative players to see his runs and positioning. Give the lad a break is what I say, he is a different sort of player to Naismith and Eto’o and because of his price-tag then an expectation follows. He is still maturing and developing, and he is at the right Football Club to do so, with the right players around him and the right manager in charge. Have a little faith. As someone said on Twitter the other day: “Remember when Anichebe was our top scorer one season with six goals? and now people wanna give Lukaku shit because he doesn’t run around” – I couldn’t agree more, our fans need to put things into perspective sometimes and chill out. I’m not saying don’t criticise players – we all have a right to do so – but some of the shouts you hear at Goodison are just ludicrous, it makes us look a bit embarrassing at times. Certain fans go the game to let off emotion and frustration, but sometimes they need to take a look at themselves and channel it in a less negative way. Every player is open to criticism, just as Roberto Martinez is too, but keep behind them and collectively believe that we will eventually achieve something. Look at last season; we know the capabilities of this manager and team, and yes this season hasn’t gone according to plan so far, but there is a long way to go, we must take heart from our European campaign and be boosted by our returning players as we go into a run of fixtures that could see us built some good momentum and form.
The final point from Monday was regarding certain sections of the Goodison crowd disapproving of a back pass that was made to Tim Howard in the second half. Now I understand that our ‘new’ passing style can be a bit frustrating and lack urgency, and some of our players like Distin and Howard can look like cats on a hot tin roof when they receive the ball in certain areas, but this is what Martinez believes in and it is the way this Football Club is going, you have to get used to it. For a decade people complained about Moyes’ negative tactics and cried out for a style that Martinez is now trying to implementing, and now that we’ve seen a change people still complain? Make your minds up will yer. I know passing out from the back has made us make errors (Distin to Barry v Spurs most recent example) but the thing is with Martinez is that he will stick to his guns, he believes it is the right way to play and he isn’t going to revert to a more aggressive, route one style just because a few of our supporters are too impatient to see the ball worked up the field. Last season it took time to get to grips with, and this season we may have been found out by certain opposition who have pressed us high, but we have to adapt to this, deal with it and attempt to continue the good progress we’ve made since Martinez took charge. It is good to see full houses at Goodison these days but I do think one or two new faces who might have jumped on the Martinez-bandwagon might expect a superb season with fast free-flowing football in every game and this just isn’t the case at the moment. As Evertonians we have to know this is a project under Martinez, a vision, and we might have to wait a while longer to see the very best of this current Everton side.
Although domestic affairs haven’t gone brilliantly up to now, we are 10th in the League and a win this weekend could see us go within four points of the Champions League places. John Stones is on the verge of a return, as is James McCarthy, and with Mo Besic settling in nicely, Mirallas in fine form, Naismith back and Barkley playing with a desire to drive this team on, I believe we have a lot to be positive about – especially with the teams we are soon due to face. Saturday’s opponents Southampton have lost five on the spin and will be without their engine room in Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama through suspension so we couldn’t be playing them at a better time. We need to kick on after the QPR win and the game against Saints is the perfect opportunity to do so before we host Stoke on Boxing Day and travel to Newcastle on the 28th December. This trio of sides are hardly in the best of form, and we have enough quality to beat all of them, but I am not getting ahead of myself. Starting with the trip to the South Coast on Saturday I’m hoping to see a continuation of the attitude from Monday night and we’ll hopefully get ourselves another victory going into Christmas.
Supporting Everton has never been easy, and this season has been the latest example of this, but I think we could all do with a bit of a calm down from time to time and stop getting carried away over minor little things. Last season is a thing of the past; we created some brilliant memories and thoroughly enjoyed seeing a new Everton burst onto the scene, but it is time to move on. In the near future I can see the likes of Howard, Distin and others like Osman moving on and younger, more exciting players coming in to replace them, just as we’ve done in other areas, and together we will eventually see Martinez’ vision for Everton taking shape even more. For now we can only get behind the players we currently have and focus on what we are trying to achieve this season. We are going well in the Europa and will hopefully progress in the FA Cup too and silverware has to be a top priority for this Football Club. As I said earlier our league positioning might not be great come May 2015 but this might be a result of us focussing the majority of our efforts into achieving cup success, who knows? Ideally we’d get a good run going in the League as well as continuing to progress in the cup competitions, but with the squad we have and injuries we’ve been dealt, it was always going to be difficult. There is still a long way to go and although it has been a frustrating season so far in terms of domestic form, I firmly believe there is still loads to be upbeat about and we should remain confident in this team and this manager because his long-term plan for Everton FC is something I am willing to give time, are you?
Have a good Christmas Blues
Up the Toffees.