By the end of this month, the situation at Everton as it relates to Ronald Koeman’s tenure will likely be a lot clearer… at least for those still labouring under the belief that things are somehow going to get better under a manager whose lack of passion and imagination in front of the cameras is reflected starkly in the performances of his team on the pitch.
Of course, by the end of October, the season could already be over… at least in the context of the club’s hopes of pushing on, improving on last seventh place and attempting to follow Manchester United’s route into the Champions League by winning the Europa League. Yes, there will be the not-insignificant matter of the FA Cup left but who could be confident of any tangible progress being made in that competition either?
Four games from now, the excuses — or at least any remaining shred of validity to them — will have run out if the team doesn’t start winning. The disrupted pre-season, the early start to competitive action, that difficult start to the Premier League campaign… none of that will wash if Koeman tries to blame them for more unacceptable results like the one today in Brighton. Truth be told, it never washed in the first place — it’s been the performances not the results per se that have been the issue all along.
On paper, this was the sort of fixture that a team boasting £140m of new talent should have won. Any doubt should have been removed after 30 minutes of “action” because Everton were controlling the match with around 65% of the possession but had threatened Matt Ryan in the Seagulls’ goal just once.
The Australian had to palm Idrissa Gueye’s low drive aside in the 19th minute and would later watch the same player curl a shot narrowly past his far post but otherwise there was almost no penetration from the visitors in the first half.
Listing the reasons is becoming redundant because they’ve become a feature of every game. Players played out of position; defensive formations and unadventurous tactics; in-form or potentially creative players left on the bench or unused completely.
Everton are simply dull. They’re boring to watch, easy to defend against and too easy to score against if you attack them enough within a given 90 minutes. That Brighton didn’t make the breakthrough with half an hour gone following Gueye’s unforgivably poor giveaway in midfield owed much to Michael Keane’s excellent block to deny Lewis Dunk from the angle.
But, having survived the few occasions after half time that Everton threatened — Nikola Vlasic, one of the few positives at the moment, was unfortunate to slip as he shot after turning his marker brilliantly and Dominic Calvert-Lewin might have done better with a left-foot shot following excellent work of his own — Chris Hughton’s men did score eight minutes from time.
Substitute José Izquierdo, making the kind of impact you feel Ademola Lookman might have had on proceedings were he not frozen out of contention by his manager, had already forced a save from Jordan Pickford shortly after coming on and it was he was denied again by the Blues’ keeper after Bruno Saltor had waltzed his way past Calvert-Lewin and centred invitingly.
Morgan Schneiderlin was slow to react to the rebound, however, which was seized upon by Pascal Groß and Anthony Knockaert was on hand to power the ball home from a central position.
Granted, Brighton midfielder Davy Pröpper could have considered himself fortunate to still be on the field after only receiving a yellow card 10 minutes after the interval and Groß should have been penalised for a blatant tug of Gylfi Sigurdsson’s jersey in his own box. But Everton should have had enough to already be comfortably ahead had they not been stymied by another blunt formation that had Wayne Rooney — yes, that Wayne Rooney who most observers had concluded last season was finished as a striker and needed to drop back into midfield — up front, Calvert-Lewin playing wide on the left and both Schneiderlin and Gueye in the team while the more dynamic Tom Davies sat on the bench.
Had the game finished 1-0, the paucity of the display and Koeman’s responsibility for it would have been laid bare in the same manner as it was before the international break against Burnley. The Dutchman was saved, to a degree, by Bruno who inexplicably checked Calvert-Lewin with an elbow to the throat as the young striker tried to meet a late Sigurdsson free kick and referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot.
Rooney stepped up and despatched the penalty with a clinical shot born of all his years of experience and Kevin Mirallas came close to delivering three hardly-deserved points in stoppage time. Ryan foiled him twice in quick succession with reaction saves, denying the Belgian some personal redemption but Koeman some more paper with which to cover the glaring cracks in his tenure.
It’s a laudable and very Evertonian trait to want to give every manager the fullness of time to prove himself. The 1983/84 precedent is not one any Blue of a certain vintage will forget but it’s difficult to see a “Kevin Brock” moment sparking this Everton team into life under the current incumbent of the Goodison hotseat.
There just isn’t enough balance or inspiration in the sides the manager keeps putting out and his inability to diagnose problems that have become obvious offers no evidence that he has the nous for the job he is being handsomely to perform. Everton have won just one game away from home since Boxing Day last year, their worst record on the road since 2002/03; frankly, they’ve been garbage away from Goodison for the entirety of Koeman’s time at the club.
Whether it’s because of Koeman’s own apparent lack of love for Everton FC or a general ennui brought on by yet another false dawn at Goodison Park, there is a palpable feeling of apathy slowly consuming the fanbase. Most know that no moves to address the situation will be made until it’s far too late — when the Blues are out of Europe, out of the League Cup and still mired in the wrong half of the table.
Evertonians backed the sense of evolution they felt was occurring under Farhad Moshiri and the man in whom he has invested heavily as the chosen leader of the team by purchasing season tickets in record numbers; they continue to travel the length and breadth of the country and the Continent to follow their club in numbers matched by few others. They continue to be let down and look doomed to be so for a while yet unless something drastic changes.
Against Brighton, Ronald Koeman omits Williams, Martina and Niasse, in favour of Holgate, Jagielka and Rooney.
And there continues to be no place for Ademola Lookman, with Vlasic retaining his place in the side.
A hoof from the kick-off saw Calvert-Lewin fouled but Sigurdsson's delivery was awful. From there on, it was a scrappy start with the home side denying Everton space. Sigurdsson tried a shot that was blocked; Suttner dispossessed Holgate before he could cross.
Vlasic was looking bright but there were no easy ways into a crowded Brighton area, but Everton were making most of the early running. Calvert-Lewin did brilliantly to stop an attack and break but Rooney's set-up for Sigurdsson again saw his shot blocked. /p>
The home side gifted the ball often but the Blues were too slow and Rooney was well tackled, then fouled. Sigurdsson put this one in with more pace and loft but Duffy and Jagielka were taken out by Ryan's determined punch.
It was 16 minutes before Brighton mounted their first attack, ending with Pickford pulling the ball out of the air, to set up another bout of ponderous development from the back that ended with a poor low cross from Baines.
Much, much better movement saw Sigurdsson and Vlasic combine but it was Gueye who shot forcing a stretching save and a corner that Calvert-Lewin could not dig out with Bruno defending well.
A third free-kick, rather generously given, saw Sigurdsson deliver this right into the danger area but Jagielka's flick-on was too fast for Calvert-Lewin who could only head wide.
Brighton were caught offside again after another free-kick for Everton came to nothing. Keane got forward but woefully overhit his cross. Calvert-Lewin tried a lofted ball to Vlasic but it gave the Croatian no chance.
A poor pass from Gueye saw a resulting corner conceded that caused chaos with shots form Dunk and Murray blocked away for another corner, Everton having to defend for the first time in the game. Murray was offside again. The Blues moved forward again and it was Gueye to shoot again, but not strong enough to beat Ryan.
Calvert-Lewin slipped and lost the ball wide left, setting up another Brighton attack, but Murray did nothing with it under pressure from Keane. The game opened up a little with the ball flying around midfield, Jagielka with a superb piece of defending to deny a move down Brighton's left. Stevens screwed a shot high and wide from distance as they saw more of the ball in threatening if distant positions. Fortunately, when they did advance, Murray was frequently offside.
But ominously, the away side was not getting forward to the same extent, and really had no clear goalscoring chance to speak of despite showing more intent in an ultimately poor first half.
The quality after the break was no better from either side but Sigurdsson did get a cross in that was blocked away.
Holgate broke into the right side of Brighton's area and lashed a shot at Ryan. Vlasic crossed for Calvert-Lewin but there was little power in his header. But if anything, Everton were less cohesive even than in the first half as Gueye was caught on the ankle.
Vlasic spun his man well but slipped horribly as he set to fire home.A t the other end, March gave Pickford some catching practise. Rooney overhit his pass to Holgate, and nothing was really working.
Keane was called for leaning on a player and the Everton goal saw some pressure, with Brighton getting another corner hat was harmlessly headed behind by Duffy.
Niasse was readied as Everton's not-so-secret weapon, Koeman's charges looking even less likely to penetrate as Dunne saw yellow foor holding back Roooney
A dangerous free-kick was sloppily driven wide by Sigurdsson as Niasse replaced Idrissa Gana Gueye. A soft challenge led to a Brighton free kick. At the other end, after some substitutions, Rooney picked out Calvert-Lewin who took it well on his chest but passed it to Ryan off his weaker left foot.
Brighton saw their best spell of pressure on the Everton goal and the visitors were very lucky not to go behind as Knockheart's shot struck Keane's legs and was deflected wide.
Izquierdo tried to do it all himself and drove wide. At the other end, a blatant pull of Sigurdssson's shirt by Gross as he was about to shoot went unpunished. Niasse was set up by Calvert-Lewin CL' header but his shot was well off target.
Brighton kept pressing and on the third attempt they made the breakthrough Bruno beating Holgate, Keane blocking Izquioerdo's shot but Knockheart saw his chance and lashed it home, much to the delight of the Amex crowd.
Koeman replaced Baines with Mirallas in a desperate attempt to rescue the game but the momentum was all with the home side as his Everton players had no response, except for Pickford, who pulled off a fine save from Brown.
Vlasic set Mirallas offwith a fine forward pass but Knockheart dragged him back and saw yellow.
in the next Everton attack Bruno needlessly elbowed Calvert-Lewin well off the ball Michael Oliver had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot> Wayne Rooney stepped up to drive the ball inside the post, sending Ryan the wrong way to equalize in the final minute of normal time. Very fortunate for the visitors.
Davies came on for Rooney as the last change from Koeman, but the drive to win was from Brighton — except for Vlasic who was fantastic. The Blues did mount one final attack, their most threatening of the game, Calvert-Lewin driving in and forcing a save in something of a melee where the ball fell to Mirallas who lashed in a really strong reaction shot that forced a fantastic close-range save from Ryan.
Not good enough by far, yet again from Everton, with the players still showing no real sign of gelling as points continue to be dropped under Koeman's ineffective coaching.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Ryan; Bruno, Dunk [Y:67'], Duffy (74' Huenemeier), Suttner; Knockaert, Stephens, Propper [Y:56'], March (72' Izquierdo); Gross; Murray (85' Brown).
Subs not Used: Krul; Bong, Schelotto, Molumby.
Everton: Pickford; Holgate, Jagielka, Keane, Baines (81' Mirallas [Y:90+3']); Schneiderlin, Gueye(69' Niasse); Vlasic, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin; Rooney (90' Davies).
Subs not Used: Stekelenburg, Williams, Martina, Klaassen.
Referee: Michael OliverAttendance: 30,565
Everton's season resumes this Sunday with a run of games to close out October that could have a huge bearing on their season.
The visit of Lyon in the Europa League and a trip to Chelsea in the League Cup loom as vital games but this weekend's match against Brighton and Hove Albion on the south coast carries huge importance as Evertonians look for a reaction to the dismal home defeat to Burnley last time out.
The Blues go into the match, their first league meeting with Brighton for 34 years, level on points with the newly-promoted side but two places lower because of goal difference, a worrying statistic given how Ronald Koeman appeared to have, for the most part, shored up the defence he had inherited from Roberto Martinez last season.
The Dutchman's side have shipped 12 goals in seven games and it is hoped that the anticipated return of captain Phil Jagielka following a hamstring strain can help instill some solidity at the back while the issue of who will score the goals at the other end continues.
Jagielka will provide a boost to Koeman's squad, which is still without the services of long-term injury absentees Seamus Coleman, Ramiro Funes Mori and Yannick Bolasie, while Ross Barkley and Aaron Lennon are also ruled out.
The manager was able to report better news with regard to James McCarthy, though, telling reporters at his pre-match press conference that the Irishman, having been allowed by Martin O'Neill to return to Finch Farm rather than be pressed back into international action prematurely, is back in full training.
On the assumption that Jagielka does start, perhaps in place of the beleaguered Ashley Williams or in a defensive three with the Welshman and Michael Keane, the biggest question marks will be over how Koeman lines up his attacking unit in the wake of much criticism of his formation in recent weeks.
Will Oumar Niasse start after failing to make the desired impact against Burnley, likewise for Nikola Vlasic, and what of the No.10s conundrum?
Gylfi Sigurdsson excelled for Iceland over the international break in his more natural central role and there is a clamour among supporters for Koeman to play him there rather that deploying him in a wide left role. It would mean dropping or re-accommodating Wayne Rooney in the side but he left the veteran on the bench for the start against Burnley and could do so against Brighton.
If there is pressure on the manager's shoulders, he doesn't seem to be betraying any effects of it or any acknowledgement of the shortcomings of his line-ups. Rather, he pointed again to an abbreviated pre-season and tough run of fixtures and the need for patience as his squad gels.
“We need to win, we need to change our situation in the table and that starts this Sunday,” Koeman said. “That is priority for me for the long term.
“One reason why we're struggling is that we don't [often] have training sessions and that started in the pre-season
“We did not have a normal pre-season. We had to play really [quickly] competition to qualify for Europe and the schedule is so tough that you don't really have time to train and to improve.
“We don't have one new player, we have right or nine new players and that takes time. It takes time.
“That is why I'm thankful that we are playing on Sunday. At least today we had a normal training session with a lot attention and focus on Sunday.”
Brighton began their first Premier League season with a creditable draw at Watford on the opening day before the harsher realities of the top flight took hold with back-to-back defeats to Manchester City and Leicester.
Since then, Chris Hughton has managed to engineer home wins against West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle before they lost in predictable fashion to Arsenal before the international break.
The veteran boss will be without Tomer Hemed, who is suspended, Sam Baldock and Beram Kayal.
Hughton, like some commentators have suggested during the recent analysis of what's gone wrong at Goodison Park, believes that Koeman has the ability to turn things around so, “as with all good players and good teams they will turn it around.”
He expects a difficult game against Everton but that will require a level of cohesion, fluidity and determination that has been sorely lacking from the Blues for much of the season. Hopefully the fortnight's break has allowed some more of the manager's methods, direction and approach to sink in and the renaissance can begin at the Amex Community Stadium this Sunday.
Kick-off: 1.30pm, Sunday 15 October, 2017
Referee: Michael Oliver
Last Time: Brighton 1 - 2 Everton, April 1983
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Keane, Jagielka, Williams, Martina, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Sigurdsson, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin