The Tigers suffered a fourth successive league defeat at Goodison Park today. Our approach was negative, our football was atrocious and the result was about the best we could've hoped to achieve. Something has to change and it has to change quickly. Whether it's personnel, attitude, luck or all three, we're suffering a lack of belief that could kill our season.
The team lined up 4-5-1 and contained three changes form the Villa home game. Geovanni replaced Halmosi on the left, Marney for Garcia in the middle and King up front instead of Cousin. It was a negative set-up, aiming to stop Everton playing and deny them space in the middle of the pitch. It didn't work. They were much better than us in the first half, they played some good football, their movement was excellent, they kept the ball well and allowed midfielders and full-backs to get involved in attacks. We were terrible, we gave the ball away time after time; it didn't matter where it was on the pitch. When the ball went forward to King it did so with no quality whatsoever, which made his job nigh impossible. He couldn't get hold of the ball and so it came back at us time and again. Everton played a little too much to our strengths with their final ball so our goal didn't come under threat as much as it might but in open play, they murdered us. With the abysmal referee breaking up play every 6 seconds to give random free-kick's here there and everywhere and the Tigers looking toothless, it was a terrible half. Everton took the lead when Arteta waltzed around our left wing, delivered into the box and Fellaini rose unchallenged to head into the far bottom corner. There was a hint of offside about the goal, which might explain why no-one was anywhere near the big Belgian but regardless, it left us one down. To be honest, it was game over at that point. No-one thought we could get back into it, not even Phil Brown. Everton have kept 6 clean sheets in 7 matches, they don't throw away leads. Just before half time, Turner gave away a soft free-kick 30 yards out, climbing all over Cahill. It was just one of a number of stupid fouls we gave away all afternoon. The referee was unpredictable and easily swayed but we were stupid and made it very easy for him to penalise us. We've seen some good, professional performances this season but this was the total opposite. Anyway, Arteta unleashed a terrific shot into the top right hand corner. Game over.
We marched out with the same line up at the start of the second half, I can't for the life of me think why. There'd been no quality in possession from defence or midfield. King was so isolated that he probably wondered whether he was actually the Everton goalkeeper. Something had to change drastically and it didn't. As a result, the second half was a total write off for 35 minutes. Everton weren't interested in taking the game to us, 2-0 was fine for them and so they shut up shop and exerted as little energy as possible. We eventually introduced Fagan for Marney, moving Geo up front to make 4-4-1-1. Considering Geo barely touched the ball until he was substituted, I'd say it was with little success. Later on Cousin replaced Geo and Halmosi came on for McShane, making a 4-4-2. That was the only time in the game we had any sort of decent possession and as a result, a little bit of pressure. Not that we made much of it, one header over and wide from Cousin and a wild volley from Ash was our goal threat for the entire game. The second half will be remembered only for the spate of yellow cards.
When it came to basic defending, we did OK. McShane was the pick of the four, he hardly put a foot wrong and he was very much alone down the right hand side. In possession, we were awful. It was aimless 'passing' from minute one to ninety. When we had free-kicks around half way, we managed to chip them too short or straight into the goalkeeper's arms. We were totally ill-disciplined. The referee was obviously fussy and pretty much a homer but we continued to go into challenge after challenge with arms raised or all over opponents, then we looked frightfully disgusted when we were penalised for it. Myhill did a good job against a couple of crosses, punching one and winning a free-kick for the other. His kicking, which was under a lot of pressure, was excellent. He faced about 25 back passes and didn't fluff one. Ricketts was awful on the ball; he's regressed about 3 years in 2 weeks. Zayatte and Turner struggled against Cahill and Fellaini on the floor and in the air. They gave away too many free-kicks and couldn't get tight enough without fouling.
The defence as a whole faced too much pressure and the forwards had nothing to work with. A lot of that has to fall at the feet of the midfield. The midfield as a whole hasn't performed for weeks. Today we seriously lacked someone with the ability to just put their foot on the ball. I thought that might be Barmby but he as constantly on the periphery of the game, arriving at each tackle a bit too late, having to stretch to get a flick on the ball to make passes and having no idea in front of goal. Marney might as well have not turned up. He wasn't in the game at all, didn't make a tackle, didn't make a pass and didn't run at them at all. Mendy was another waste of space. He had a couple of half chances in possession in the first half but panicked as soon as his "drop the shoulder and go the other way" routine failed. His movement off the ball just isn't up to scratch, he doesn't react to anything. With a few minutes left, Fagan got a ball from King, cut inside and left a huge amount of space wide right. When he laid the ball into the area any decent full-back would be occupying, he realised that Mendy was 20 yards behind play casually watching. Geovanni showed a little bit of quality in possession in the first half but played too deep to affect our chances of scoring. After half an hour, he pretty much disappeared too. That all meant that the lions share of the work fell to Ashbee. He worked his heart out and did a decent job in our box. Outside of it, he was chasing shadows a bit but never gave up. He looked short of confidence in possession but did keep looking for the ball and kept trying to keep us ticking over in possession. He made one or two really nice passes but overall, he looked well short of support and desperate for someone alongside him who's good enough to dictate the play. That person isn't Boateng, isn't Marney and isn't Nick Barmby. Geovanni might be worth a go in there, he can't do any worse, surely? Our midfield looked better with Garcia in it too.
Up front, there's barely anything to report. King worked hard for about 10 minutes until he realised that he had no chance on his own and promptly gave up. He didn't come back to life until Cousin entered. All three subs gave decent accounts of themselves. Halmosi in particular looked very lively in the last 10 minutes or so. All three look worth a start on Wednesday.
So it's time to look forwards again. This season has lost a lot of the shine it had 6 weeks ago. There were signs a while ago that the players who were giving it everything and performing above and beyond our expectations could only continue to do so for so long. That has come to fruition. Some of the old heads in the squad look tired. Some of the youngsters look lost and the others don't look ready to fight alone. Defensively, we look like we have enough to cope, particularly with the imminent return of Gardner and Dawson. We have enough pace and power up front to do damage too. What we have between it is seriously worrying. We look weak with a 4 man midfield but goal shy with just one up front. Trying to accommodate Geovanni is costing us real width or a second striker. Some tough decisions need making. Before the game today, they showed the highlights of the game at the KC between the two sides, our finest 60 minutes of the season thus far and that came without Geovanni and with 2 wide players and 2 up front. We need to go back to that system. Wednesday is a good time to experiment, a win would be nice but a loss isn't the end of the world. Arsenal next week is a free game; we've nothing to lose there either. Let's have a go at teams; we're not doing a very good job of playing negatively. If we're going to lose two games this week, let's go down fighting. Put Fagan and Halmosi out wide, put Cousin and King back together and either be brave enough to play Geo deep or give him a rest. Let's see the fearless Tigers of late summer roar t St James' Park again.
Ratings: Myhill 7, McShane 7 (Halmosi), Ricketts 5, Turner 6, Zayatte 6, Mendy 4, Geovanni 5 (Cousin), Barmby 5, Ashbee 7, Marney 5 (Fagan), King 5.