It was a game they simply had to win – to improve on a record of just 1 win in 9 Premier League matches; to erase the sense of frustration and injustice at the events of last weekend at Stamford Bridge; to get the team back into the top half of the table; and to prove that the promise shown in terms of greater organisation since the New Year could be turned into points.
Instead, Everton fell to their fifth home defeat of the season and effectively saw the remaining glimmer of hope on their top-four hopes extinguished by what was an awful performance in the context of the ability in their ranks. A mere six wins in 23 Premier League games now tells its own unforgivable story and solidifies the question marks that have been forming over Roberto Martinez's tenure for the past 18 months.
Coming off two decent results from difficult fixtures at the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge, this was Everton's chance to come back home to Goodison Park, earn successive League wins for the first time this season and finally light the touchpaper on a campaign that has promised much but delivered little except more frustration. Had they begun the game with a sense of purpose befitting the "Last Chance Saloon" nature of the game as it related to their European hopes, they might have revved up a tentative and anxious crowd that hasn't celebrated a win in the Premier League since the third week of November.
Unfortunately, however, the opposite was true. It was evident from the first whistle that, despite their awful away record, Swansea were going to be no pushover and that their efforts under the gaze of their new manager, Francesco Guidolin, combined with the Blues' suicidal tendencies, were a recipe for more misery for the home side. Those Evertonians who have seen their side concede the first goal on countless occasions this season were, predictably, anxious in the early going, the mood not helped by an injury to Muhamed Besic after just nine minutes.
The loss of a player who fired a shot off the post after three minutes and has become something of a new Talisman at Goodison in recent weeks, compounded when Kevin Mirallas was also forced off with less than half an hour gone, obviously had an affect on Everton' ability to generate some momentum in a poor first half but the Blues had shot themselves in the foot before they had had a chance to get going.
Martinez made great fanfare about how quickly he was able to institute a passing- and posession-based game at Everton when he first arrived and control of the ball became a hallmark, for better or worse depending on the circumstances, of the team's play. Here, though, it was Swansea affecting all the neat and incisive passing while Everton gambled on quick "percentages" balls hoping for something to break for Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley or Gerard Deulofeu in forward areas. More often than not, they found the immovable object of the impressive Ashley Williams who largely had Lukaku in his pocket for much of the afternoon.
The only time Martinez's side seemed willing to hold onto the ball for any length of time was in defence, where the playing-with-fire routine involving John Stones and Tim Howard that had already worn thin before today ended up handing the visitors the lead in the 17th minute. As he so often does, Stones delayed a pass back to the American who appeared oblivious to the opportunism of Andre Ayew and, after taking two steps away from the ball to set himself for a clearance, was hurried into a wild, panicked hack as the Ghanaian raced in to intercept. Ayew was dumped on the turf, referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot and Gylfi Sugurdsson lashed an unsaveable penalty into the top corner.
Not for the first time this season, Everton dug themselves out of that hole after Deulofeu's goalbound shot had been blocked behind by Neil Taylor. The same defender failed to track Tom Cleverley's dead ball or Gareth Barry's run to the near post to meet it and Jack Cork inadvertently helped the veteran midfielder's touch into the goal via the far post. Parity restored and that early mistake atoned for, that should have been the reset that Everton needed to seize control of the contest and go on to win but they fell behind again 11 minutes before the break to a goal they would prove singularly unable to erase over the ensuing 55 minutes.
A potential handball on Williams was not given by the referee in the build up and Everton lost focus, failed to press as Swansea played through them down the left channel, easily out-manoeuvred Bryan Oviedo – a painfully square peg in a round right-back hole at times – and Ayew popped up in the box to fire goalwards from the angle. Another heavy deflection, this time off Stones, guided the ball over Howard and it was 2-1.
Everton had their moments between then and half time, Lukaku dragging the best chance just wide from the edge of the box and Barkley jinking his way through with a wonderful run but then seeing his shot charged down, but in general the home side often couldn't build anything in the final third because they kept slinging the ball into the box aimlessly through Cleverley and Deulofeu.
That would gradually change in the second half where, after Howard had made a good stop to deny Wayne Routledge, it became one-way traffic to Swansea's goal and Deulofeu began to take more of the initiative by peppering the Swans' six-yard box with crosses whipped in from the right. That, after seeing him do the same thing on numerous occasions two seasons ago, no one was regularly gambling by throwing themselves in the way of one of them to divert it home was frustrating. Granted, some of them were delivered with too much pace but Steven Pienaar knocked one over the bar at the back post and Lukaku came within a few inches of connecting with another in front of goal.
All that pressure would result in just two efforts on target in the entire 90 minutes, however – one of them from Lukaku who just couldn't get enough power on Barkley's cross from the byline to steer it past Fabianski who sprang across his line to make a two-handed save.
That Seamus Coleman, a curious 66th-minute change for Oviedo that left Arouna Kone (the man supposedly keeping Mirallas and Steven Naismith out the side this season) sitting on the bench, didn't grab the equaliser that would have secured a 12th draw of the season will remain a mystery. The Irishman latched onto a brilliant pass by Stones in the 88th minute and had most of the goal to aim for with just the goalkeeper in front of him but pulled his effort wide of the far post.
Then, as the game ticked into a fifth minute of stoppage time, a corner from the left fell at Coleman's feet barely two yards out but he somehow contrived to scoop the ball over the bar with the goal yawning in front of him.
Frankly, had either of those gone in, Martinez and his players would have saved some face but another meaningless point would have papered over some alarming and expanding cracks in a team that has the potential to be in the top four but which is massively under-performing. Martinez obliquely shifted some of the blame afterwards to the flat atmosphere at Goodison by claiming his players are fearful in front of their own fans but the painful reality is that Everton are not helping themselves in that regard.
It is no accident that some of the better games and higher levels of excitement inside the Grand Old Lady recently have come in the matches against Spurs and Manchester City when Martinez's side looked disciplined, composed and gave the supporters something to shout about. In the current vein of defensive frailty, individual cock-ups, goalkeeping calamity and a general lack of energy in pressing the opposition, it should come as a surprise to no one why Evertonians are so on edge during home games.
Everton currently lack tempo with the ball and, seemingly, any kind of system when they don't it. Gone are the days of doggedly hounding visiting teams out of their stride, replaced by an apparent mandate to the likes of Barkley and Lukaku to stroll around the centre circle as opponents ease by them with the ball to mount unfettered attacks. If the first line of defence is attack, Everton's has been taken completely out of the equation, either by managerial instruction – to preserve energy? – or a dereliction of individual duty. Either scenario is damning of Martinez's management.
Put bluntly, despite having assembled the most exciting squad in three decades, the mounting evidence suggests that in the League, where Everton earn their bread and butter, the club are now going backwards under this manager and unless something changes quickly it's difficult to see an end to the two-steps-forward-three-steps-back tenor to his stewardship of the Blues.
Safe passage to a Wembley final on Wednesday evening where, no doubt, another backs-to-the-wall strategy will need to be carried out, would provide a welcome distraction but Martinez must surely be on borrowed time where it comes to convincing the fanbase that he is capable of evolving away from the cavailier, defence-be-damned attitude that eventually scuttled Wigan and towards a more complete and balanced approach that is the only way to succeed in the Premier League.
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