How many hearts sank when the teams were announced and we had Sess alone up front? What did that selection tell us about Martin O’Neill’s assessment of Ji and Wickham? Pete Sixsmith adopts the role of coroner to conduct a solemn inquest on a bleak day at Goodison …
As the coach travelled through the rain soaked Rugby League corridor en route to Liverpool, I read a report from some miserable right wing think tank that suggested that Bank Holidays were a bad thing because they led to a decrease in productivity and should be scrapped, or, at best, be lumped together in a bloc.
The absence of traffic along the M62 suggested that those celebrating Easter Monday in West Yorkshire and East Lancashire were doing it by the comforts of their own firesides. I wish I had been similarly ensconced in County Durham.
The trip to Liverpool took us no farther than the Leigh Arms, which again welcomed us and served us some decent Cains Bitter. By the time I left, the rain had just about stopped, and, after being frisked by a pleasant young woman (“I’m 61 and I have a bus pass, but don’t let that stop you from running your hand down my inside leg”), I took my place with another 800 or so diehards in the Lower Bullens Stand.
The first half was as memorable as a Nando’s meal; it was there, it was eaten and it left no abiding memory – not bad, just not exciting. An afternoon at Ikea might have been just as stimulating as watching two teams who clearly had little enthusiasm for this game. Everton have a sticky cup tie against their beloved neighbours coming up, and we appeared less than enamoured with a second return to the 1960s in three weeks.
Sessegnon’s overhead kick was the one moment of real quality in the first 45, an attempt that drew applause from the Toffees in the Gwaldys Street End and gave us a glimpse of what we may well be missing next season.
The second half was, from our point of view, a real shocker, as the wheels, the crank shaft and the big end, all fell off the bus and we granted Everton the best possible preparation for Wembley by letting them run riot.
What went wrong? Well, not having a big forward didn’t help, as it allowed their two central defenders to move forward.
Nor did having no real plan to negate Fellaini . He did very little in the first half, but grew more dominant in the second while Osman and the impressive Pienaar played around him, like satellites orbiting a planet. Meyler might have tracked and rattled him and taken him away from Sessegnon, whom he had clearly been told to mark.
Our midfield faded badly and Vaughan had one of those games that make him look like a Championship player who had one good season in the top flight. He may be one of the players the manager cuts loose in the summer.
Cattermole and Gardner both worked hard as usual, but there was little creativity from them, and they failed to worry the Everton midfield, while Larsson and McClean were both subdued. The Irishman has been caught out a bit recently and may well benefit from a rest.
Sess on his own, up front, might work at Peterborough, but it certainly did not work at Everton and the introduction of Ji and Wickham was far too late to make any difference to the result.
A 4-0 scoreline flatters Everton (not that they did not deserve to win) but our defending in the second half was poor. The goals were well taken but preventable and it looked like our legs and minds had gone as they pushed us further and further back.
It was a disconsolate bunch that trooped back to the coaches to hear that those up the road were now looking good for a Europa League place at worst after to their win and Tottenham’s defeat to Norwich – a result which throws our performance on Saturday into context.
Martin O’Neill has done very, very well with this group of players, but there are traces of tiredness about them. He will be able to assess strengths and weaknesses between now and the end of the season and one or two may well be playing for their Sunderland careers.
I would expect to see Meyler, Wickham, Ji and Richardson in starting line ups in the next three games, all against teams involved in the relegation struggle and all eminently beatable, although emphatically not if we play like we did on Monday.
But one more showing like that, and I will be calling for Saturdays to be abolished, never mind Bank Holidays.