There were some plus points.
Everton – club and fans – remembered Bradley Lowery with grace and class.
I had an evening out, which included a couple of decent pints in good company and a chance to watch Sunderland, for the princely sum of £23.
Bernard won a mug
and Lee Cattermole didn’t get booked
Then there was the game itself
When I put my coat on to leave for the match I put my hand in my pocket and found a ticket for the last game I went to. It was for Everton v Sunderland, played on 25th February, and Everton had taken us apart clinically and calmly.
Roll on seven months. The only thing we have in common is that we both lost our main striker over the summer. They’ve spent around £140 million more than us during the break, we’re now in a division below them, and they kept their manager while we changed ours.
Which might explain why they were able to take us apart clinically and calmly once again.
“I have enough trouble recognising September’s signings… …and have yet to work out what system we use and where different players slot in, assuming we have one.”
Nothing has changed. Only three of the eleven who started in February started tonight, and I could recognise only three players myself – then a fourth because Vaughan put himself about a bit and came to notice.
The three were Kone, recognisable as that bit of solidity at the back, but not imperious like in the game in which he destroyed Everton and secured our safety, Rodwell because I’ve seen him running around before, and Ndong, because he reminds me of a shaving brush I have in the back of the bathroom cabinet.
I think I could discern a system. Four across the back seemed to be the way, and there were times when I counted a middle line of four, although not always. Sometimes there were fewer, sometimes more, largely depending on what Everton were doing, so I can’t be sure. And there was Vaughan up front and Gooch out wide and Rodwell sort of running around between the two. Add that lot up and it will come to more than ten outfield players, but there still weren’t enough on the pitch to handle Everton.
What this means is that I can’t give you a blow by blow, player by player account. I can summarise and I can tell you what I think, but when I can’t tell who is playing and don’t know where they should be playing I can’t tell you if they’re doing their job well.
My first impression, as the teams walked out, was that the Everton players, man for man, looked bigger than ours, something which Brian, sitting next to me, soon identified. And, indeed, Everton did outmuscle us. They came away with 50-50 balls more than we did, and when they held the ball we couldn’t get it, whereas they could get it from us more or less at will, or so it seemed.
But it wasn’t just that Everton outmuscled us, they had a speed of thought that let them find available players, which might explain why our midfield appeared to be ever-changing; the team was pulled this way and that, squashed and stretched, by opponents who could come forward in numbers and play their way out of trouble so well that they changed defence into attack with ease.
The difference was so obvious that when Everton’s first goal came, not long before half time, it was clear our cup run was over. It was a decent enough goal – from out wide into the box, a bit of avoiding our players, a bit of poking past the keeper – which came from craft on the ball which we never looked like emulating. Our chances were limited to a couple of headers (and James Vaughan’s no Sir Niall Quinn) and speculative shots.
Yet, given their craft, I was surprised that Everton went on to score another two goals (both of them very good ones, it must be said). They were better than us and they did it comfortably in the end but while I knew we would lose once that first goal went in I didn’t expect them to win so convincingly.
I think that was due to the lack of urgency. There was no passion in the game and a flat atmosphere although our fans, as ever, tried their best to lift it. It seemed as if Simon Grayson’s team talk had been “Don’t worry about the score, just don’t get injured.
“The only excitement came because I’d told Bernard Walker, our “Who are you” guest that he’d win a mug if the score was three nil, and that third goal took a while to come.
Nevertheless, we need to ask why we have no craft. In my opinion it it all comes down to the lack of a brain in midfield. We have heart and guts in Cattermole (absent tonight). We have running in Ndong. We have … er ….er… … can you see where this is going? And we need an out and out lethal Sharkey-Phillips-Defoe up front. Oh, how we miss that player.
Were there any positives? It’s hard to say. Some players got game time, others had a rest, which might fit some master plan. Steele made a couple of decent saves and I don’t hold him responsible for the loss. Kone was OK, I have no complaints. Gooch worked hard and maybe will benefit from the game. Ndong might look at what the Everton midfield did and come to realise that buzzing around without an end product is pointless. Williams grew into the game and provided some energy when he came on, and I can see him being an asset.
But overall, we lost to an understrength Everton, a club/team seemingly in disarray, and we lost heavily in the end. We didn’t look too much like a cohesive unit, although we did have some shape for most of the time. We weren’t that bad,we just weren’t good enough to enthuse.
What Simon Grayson will make of it I don’t know. We did put out an understrength team ourselves and perhaps he’s just glad we came home capable of putting out something better against Cardiff, which will be a different kettle of fish.