Have they got the fight and the heart to turn this around? Are they too good to be relegated? Where will the next victory come from? Will Martinez stop being so stubborn and admit his faults? It’s questions like these that I’ve been asking of this manager and Everton’s current crop of players for a while now, and it is these type of questions I still find myself asking to this present day as Everton continue to struggle in the Premier League and now face the huge reality of a relegation battle over the coming weeks and months.
The key word there being ‘battle’ – are we up for it? Yes it is yet another question. Looking at the state of affairs at the Club currently, there is nothing to suggest that yes we are ‘up for it’, never mind being victorious in such a battle at the wrong end of the League table. ‘A write off’, ‘embarrassing’, ‘underwhelming’, ‘frustrating’ – just a handful of words that people have used to describe Everton’s season to date. You can’t really disagree with any of them can you?
I’ve wrote numerous articles this season and many of them ran a similar theme; I’ve been critical, downright depressive at times, I’ve questioned the attitude, passion and ability of our players and our overly-positive Manager who has consistently been stubborn in his approach. Especially since December since our performances have took a turn for the worse, I’ve vented my thoughts but always harboured hopes for some sort of eventual response, reaction or upturn in fortunes. To date, I’ve not witnessed any of those aforementioned three things. We’ve been consistent in our disappointment, and nothing else.
Our situation has worsened gradually and with eleven games left it has reached the critical stage. I might sound dramatic, but surely even the most upbeat, positive Evertonian now has to be concerned with our current plight and position. People keep telling me ‘we’ll be ok’ I wish I had their hope, I can’t help but fear. Some say I am being too negative, but my love for the Club and what I have seen this season gives me a real reason to be so concerned. My views aren’t knee-jerk, I’ve seen things go from bad to worse over the past few months, but what worries me is that I don’t believe some other Evertonians have seen what I’ve seen. It’s almost like they are too scared to notice the reality of the situation, and they automatically shout you down for having a go at Everton or Martinez. Certain Blues have even accused others of adding to the hysteria and disappointment by questioning our manager and his players. Are we now not allowed to be critical of the thing we all love and care desperately for – that thing being Everton FC? If we were not so concerned we wouldn’t have to be critical would we. We spend lots of our time and money on the Club, I believe that warrants at least an opinion on what’s happening at Goodison Park, don’t you?
Now I’m not asking for a reaction anymore, it’s too late for a response, any sort of major run of form or rapid escalation of the table – by hook or by crook we just simply need a few wins to consolidate or Premier League status, remain in this League and hopefully then begin look forward again. I don’t want fancy football, an expressive style or glamorous goals, at the moment I just wish for a couple of wins to give us a cushion, a scrappy 1-0 or a last-gasp victory, anything that can help towards keeping us from the doldrums of the table. Look at the sides down there, it’s depressing to even consider ourselves alongside them, but the fact of the matter is we have no divine right to be further up the table, we have underperformed on numerous occasions and our players and manager have to take full responsibility.
It’s been painstaking, gut-wrenching at times, to see a side full of promise and quality become such a shadow of its previous-season-self, and literally go into its shell within 12 months. On Sunday against Arsenal was the latest example of this, did anyone foresee our trip to the Emirates panning out any differently? I certainly didn’t. Nothing seems to change. Defeated with not so much as a whimper. Roberto can put a gloss on it as much as he likes with his comments about being proud and believing we never got what we deserved, but in my opinion we didn’t really warrant anything from the game and I took no pride from our display. Yes we controlled possession, but it’s all about putting the ball in the back of the net and when you don’t do that, and the opposition do twice like Arsenal did, then ultimately you lose games. Time and time again you lose games. Just as we have done this season against every man and his dog. Then, once beaten, Martinez just doesn’t help himself with his comments. I’m not expecting him to stand there and slate his players, nor am I naïve enough to think he is going to constantly criticise his own team, but his constant sugar-coating of bad situations has become laughable, predictable and down-right frustrating to us on-looking Evertonians. We can all see the promise within the side, look at some the players we have on our books and our performance levels in Europe, but we are not stupid, we know when there is a time and place to stand up and be counted and not to continue feeling sorry for ourselves. We won’t accept this mind-set of ‘we didn’t get what we deserve’ and taking positives from poor results. At the end of the day we haven’t been good enough, from top to bottom this season, and the longer it has gone on the more trust has been lost in this manager and his players.
I’m sick of just doing ‘OK’ I want more from my team; ambition, heart, hope, charisma, passion, a strong mentality, we seem to have lost it all throughout this campaign and nobody knows why. We’ve lost our hunger and love for the Premier League and it’s made for a torrid campaign for us who stand on the terraces through thick and thin, hoping that success will once again arrive for this Football Club. I thought we had begun to lose that annoying tag of ‘plucky little Everton’ but we’ve taken two steps back this term and I just feel like it is now a race to the finish line to put this shambolic season behind us and hopefully begin to believe again.
If Martinez is still here next season, will it be the same? Do you want the Spaniard to remain at the helm? I believe many of you probably won’t. Me personally, I don’t see sacking him now as the answer and I would be very surprised if Everton did relieve the former Wigan boss from his duties anytime soon, but I’ve found it increasingly hard to fight Roberto’s corner this season. The only thing that makes me want to stick with him is what we saw last season and some of the players he has attracted to the Club. I know the potential is there, and in Europe we’ve shown that, but at what cost will it come domestically? I desperately want this Manager to turn it around, and if we get through this season I hope he can then attempt to build on the platform he built when he first arrived, but even if we do end the season well what has gone before will be etched on many Evertonians minds – the disappointments will be fresh in the memory. It’s a big IF whether Roberto can guide us to safety but even if he does it goes without saying that he has been massively questioned this season and a lot of his decision making has left many of us dumbfounded.
Have we got the right people at the Club who want to improve and does everyone know just how close we are to being dragged in at the bottom? It feels like plenty at the Club and some who support us have ignored the downward spiral we’ve been on, almost neglecting the facts that we’ve only won six games all season and just holding out that things will eventually take a turn for the better. But when will they take a turn for the better? I remember thinking we needed to beat West Brom, I described the Leicester game as a ‘must win’ – what does that now make the Stoke game?
For me our next two games are critical; we need a victory against Stoke just so we can breathe. But if things don’t go our way at the Britannia we then face Newcastle at Goodison with yet another chance to give us a slight cushion. The only thing is, Stoke won’t be worried about hosting us in midweek and Newcastle certainly won’t fear visiting on Mother’s Day. The atmosphere at Goodison could have gone from poisonous to unbearable by that point. Everyone at the Club needs to wake up and smell the coffee before it’s too late. I’ve noticed our Captain has been more vocal in the press of late and I’ve included a couple of his recent quotes in this piece.
Speaking in January, Phil Jagielka had this to say of Everton’s poor form: “As much as we are aware of the predicament we are in, we don’t see ourselves as being in the relegation battle at the moment. It wouldn’t take a lot to put us in there – a few bad results for us, a few good results for the teams around us and we will drop into that battle”
Speaking two weeks ago, Jagielka said of his captaincy methods and Everton’s form: “How many times can you give a rallying cry? How nervous do you want to make people? I do go around and speak to players individually or in little groups but I don’t sit at home hoping to have to issue a rallying cry. If I felt it had come to make-or-break time I would, but we have not reached panic stations and hopefully we don’t.”
Surely know he and every other player at the Club should now see the seriousness of our situation, WE ARE in a relegation battle and we’ve been coasting towards it for many months. As for rally cries and panic stations, have you been to Goodison Park lately? It’s too late for rally cries, it’s too late for plucking positivity from yet another defeat, we haven’t got time to hit form and make any major movement up the table, we just need to drag ourselves away from the mire and the only way we can do that is by winning as many of our remaining games as possible.
Eleven games left – we need to win at least half of them if we are to finish with any sort of self-respect. But we’ve won only six League games all season, just where are these 12/15 points going to come from? Every side in the table will see playing against us as a massive opportunity, so will Martinez be standing there at the end of the month, when we might not have picked up any wins against the likes of Stoke, Newcastle and QPR, telling us that he is proud and it has been the story of our season? The story of our season is that we haven’t been good enough and we don’t deserve to be any higher in the table. No excuses, no finger-pointing at Officials or our injury problems, it’s our own fault.
We’ve needed to learn how to win ugly, just grind out and scrape a victory, but we haven’t, and if there was a time to find a way to do so it would be now, because as the number of fixtures run down, there is no room for this stubborn, one-dimensional approach we’ve seen that hampers us week in week out and allows the opposition a real chance to overcome us. Starting with a distinct lack of width, Martinez sticking with his favourites and deploying too many central players is obviously hurting us, and although Lukaku has continued to score goals we need to look for ways to provide for him as much as we can from now until the end of the season because if we do provide for him, we know he will do the rest. We need all of our players to play their respective parts and just push this season through, because I certainly can’t wait for it to end. We can’t just pack our midfield and pass the ball between them and the defence, statistics count for nothing, we need to find a way to drag ourselves out of this mess because if we don’t there is 19 other sides in this League who will capitalise on our frailties, just as they have done all season long.
In Europe we’ve been brilliant, but the reason I am not mentioning it much here is because to me it’s almost become irrelevant – I can’t enjoy it knowing our Premier League position and form. It’s always in the back of my mind. I can’t concentrate. I can’t relax. I say I’m having a break from Twitter, I’m not going to waste my time writing about them or recording podcasts, then the next thing I’m doing all three, I can’t help it. It’s like your love for the Club drags you back in, regardless of the situation. You can’t help but have your say, you just want things to change, and you just can’t ignore the seriousness of the circumstances we find ourselves in. We’ve all seen some bad times supporting this Football Club and we will see them again, long beyond when this current manager and set of players are around, but for the moment I just hope they have enough fight to steer us away from danger otherwise things could get horrible at this Football Club.
Twelve months ago I wouldn’t have ever imagined I’d be writing articles of this manner this season, nobody would have envisaged such a drastic change in our fortunes, which makes it all the more disappointing. I hate how things have panned out, I hate our fans arguing and bickering online and divides being created and I can’t really say I’ve looked forward going to Goodison once since November, it’s felt like such a chore.
The main focus now is just keeping ourselves in this league and giving ourselves breathing space, and although you might say there is worse sides down the table than Everton, a lot can change during the course of a Premier League game week and we can’t take any side lightly. Have we got the stomach for the fight? Over the next three months we will see whether we have or not. We’ve been punished this season, time and time again, and as drastic as it might sound I firmly believe Ross Barkley should now be left out of the side for the remainder of the campaign for his own sanity and safety. The lad can be quality but at the moment the way things are going at Everton it could damage him long-term and have an adverse effect beyond the current season. As for the likes of Mirallas, I wouldn’t be bothered if I didn’t see him in an Everton shirt ever again. A player who is more concerned about his hair-do than doing well for the Club. I’ve accepted the fact that Barry and Howard will continue in the side and I just hope their experience does play a part in keeping us up, because their footballing ability is certainly under the microscope. Players like Osman, Pienaar and Gibson coming back have to see them given a chance, because if you are going to rely on the aforementioned Champions-League-chasing Belgian, young Ross or others like McGeady too, I can’t see anything changing. It’s players like Steven Naismith, who has gone from zero to cult hero, who will be vital to the cause over the coming weeks, others should follow his example. There’s too many players at the Club this season who just look happy to pick up their pay cheque and if it means a couple of them are left out for our remaining eleven games then so be it, we need players who want to play for Everton, want to fight for Everton, and make us proud again. The talking now has to stop, no newspaper interviews, no stupid comments about character, no papering over the cracks – just fight for the badge on that Royal Blue shirt, consolidate our Premier League status for another year and put this whole, sorry affair behind us.