Public transport will get me to or from Goodison in well under an hour, even on Sundays, so there’s no mileage (ha!) in giving you the story of my journey, as I did last week. I could recount a convivial hour spent in the company of Pete Sixsmith, but he has already done that. I could tell you about the atmosphere generated by the Evertonians inside Goodison but the only atmosphere came from the lower Bullens, where our ever faithful fans had gathered, as they always do.
So there’s no alternative this week. I have to write about football, or at least Sunderland AFC, which some might say isn’t quite the same thing these days. But that brings its own problems. I can’t write a match report in the inimitable style of Pete, who gives the seasoned view of someone who watches the team week in, week out. I’ve been to three games this season. Two different managers, fifteen different starting players, three different line-ups. I can’t pretend to recognise half of the team and whatever their system (if they have one), I’ve no idea what it is.
That caveat out of the way, for what they are worth, here are my thoughts
We got off to a decent start, hitting the post a couple of times but then Everton came forward, played a quick ball over the top to Deulofeu – featured at length in Sunday morning’s Liverpool Echo as someone about to make his mark – who was onto it faster than our static defence could turn and we were 1-0 down. A few minutes later a repeat ball almost got a repeat result, at which point I began to fear the worst. “Do you think they’ve worked us out?” was my question to Pete. They hadn’t, not quite, but they had the confidence to come at us and their midfield began to push further and further up, taking and controlling the space in front of our box. We had no answer to it and as we continued to back off Kone trotted along our back line until he’d worked himself into the area, whereupon he let one rip. Two-nil down with half an hour gone and the tone set for the remaining third of the half. And then, just on the stroke of half time, we got one back. Jermain Defoe gave us hope with a cracker.
The second half was only a couple of minutes old when we were level. Defoe and PVA (or was it Yedlin?) combined well before Patrick crossed it for Fletcher to head home and for a few minutes we had hope.
Sam reckoned we should have played more intelligently from then and held on to what we had. I’m not so sure we could have. In the forty minutes that remained Everton pressed us back, dominated midfield, and with the space advantage that gave them they were able to employ both speed and power, not to mention skill and intelligence, to torture a back line that was outclassed. We might have scored another couple; Everton might have scored another half dozen had they upped the pace.
On the bus back I played over the game in my mind and came to the conclusion that Everton had had a better player in every position. Defoe’s a possible exception but even he looked like he was having a hissy fit just before the third (or was it the fourth, or the fifth?) goal when he should have been chasing back.
So where do we go from here?
Our back four (or five. What is our system?) is suspect, as we all know. On Sunday Wes Brown was too slow/not match fit and Patrick seemed to drift at times. He strikes me as a player who doesn’t always know the whereabouts of the person he is marking and he can be caught out after he’s taken himself upfield. Coates will be OK but how much time does he need to form an effective partnership with whoever he’s alongside this week? Billy Jones was OK, nothing more, but he was trying to hold back the tide. So we urgently need to address problems with our back line.
However, whatever we do about our back line, be it bring back Kaboul, insert Jack Rodwell or re-sign Charlie Hurley, we won’t stop conceding until we sort out midfield. We need to fight for, win, hold and use the ball. We might have individuals who can do bits of this but they aren’t working together and we’re giving our backs too big a job. That’s the crux. Get it right and I think the rest will fall into place. Our defence won’t always be under pressure and our attack – as good as any we’ve put out in the past few years – will get goals.
Which brings me to Borini.
Jonno did well in his role and I don’t want to denigrate his performance but I think we’ve missed Borini in the last couple of games. He’s the kind of player that will tackle back, harry, chase and cause the opposition problems when they are trying to get the ball forward. With him on the field our midfield might have a chance. I can’t wait to see him back in the side.
I’d play him in front of Catts, whose role would be to break up play, and M’Vila or Jonno, who would be there to hold and create. From what I’ve seen I think that could be the kind of powerful combination that supports Defoe and Fletch, who are individually on song but have yet to form a partnership. It would remove the need for PVA to go forward, should he happen to be on the pitch. It would also leave space for Lens, or Seb when an engine is needed, but not Jack Rodwell. I’ve mentioned him earlier as a possible back and that’s where I’d be looking to play him, in for O’Shea or Kaboul instead of Wes Brown, who just didn’t cut it in this match, and who looked like he might not cut it in any other.
And there we have it:
Yedlin, O’Shea, (Rodwell), Kaboul, Jones
Catts, MVilla, Jonno, Borini,
Subs: PVA, Lens, Seb, Watmore, plus others such as Gomez. Pete rates the latter but I haven’t seen enough of him to suggest a role other than as a sub.
Of course, I know nothing about football so the real questions are: What does Sam think? What’s he going to do? He has his work cut out. Can he do it? Of course he can. Keep the faith
As I began to write this the TV was reporting on a funeral taking place in Liverpool Cathedral. PC Dave Phillips, killed in the line of duty, was buried on Monday. He leaves behind two daughters, Abigail, aged seven, and Sophie, aged three. The TV announcer, if I heard correctly, said he had been looking forward to taking Abigail to her first ever game on Sunday. May PC Phillips rest in peace; may his widow and his children find peace.