Rays of Light Amid a Gloomy Start
One swallow doesn't make a summer but, having squandered victories in their opening two matches and conceded six to Chelsea, an important win at the Hawthorns and a swashbuckling kick-off to our Europa League campaign lightened a gloomy start to 2014-15.
23 September 2014
Stood outside Goodison as streams of fed up Toffees left the stadium following Everton's embarrassing 6-3 mauling at the hands of Chelsea, one Blue, old enough to have witnessed both the glory days of the 80s and struggles of the 90s, turned to his fellow match-going Evertonians and said of the team: ‘They've let us down in every game.’
A harsh assessment perhaps but 40,000 Blues would have certainly agreed with that view in the few minutes that followed the final whistle. Frustration filled the Gwladys Street air – three games and three occasions where points, which could prove crucial come May, were dropped. It appeared a dreadful summer hangover had affected the Everton squad.
Low on fitness, the starting XI looked unrecognisable. Brilliant in flashes but equally as abysmal on other occasions, we were nowhere good enough compared to the high standards set the previous season.
Thankfully, normal service was resumed against West Brom. Toffees fans breathed a collective sigh of relief as Everton recorded their first three points of the season with a clean sheet to boot. They almost repeated the feat five days later against Wolfsburg until Ricardo Rodriguez curled that stunning free kick in off the post in injury time but it didn't detract from a another strong performance. Boy it was needed.
It's been a peculiar start to the season and one that we certainly weren't expecting. Famed for our stubborn, miserly defence for years now, nobody could have foreseen Everton becoming the first club in Premier League history to concede 10 goals in the opening three fixtures. Continuing on a wave of optimism created by Mr. Positive himself, Roberto Martinez, following a record-breaking 2013/14 season, it seemed we were continuing from where we had left off as Aiden McGeady's stunning curling shot whacked in off the post against Leicester on the opening day of the season.
However, such a blistering goal was followed by an extremely lacklustre second-half as Everton failed to push on and extend a 2-1 lead. Subsequently, showing a naivety and sitting back rather than killing the game off, we needlessly squandered our slender lead and gifted the newly-promoted Foxes a late equaliser.
It's fair to say that coming away from the King Power Stadium with a point certainly felt like a defeat for the travelling Toffees faithful. Of course, facing Arsenal and Chelsea next was going to be difficult but we had plenty of reasons to be confident. However, our 3-0 demolition of the Gunners last season gave us reason to be optimistic with Goodison Park becoming a fortress once more.
Looking rusty but showing our attacking prowess we took a 2-0 lead against the Londoners. Goodison was bouncing - we'd quickly moved on from the Leicester setback and all was good again. However, what followed in the second half left Evertonians feeling far worse than the week before. Arsenal, a firm rival for the top places this season, clawed their way back to claim a 2-2 draw.
Two points on the board after Everton had lead in both games on the 84th minute mark. However, it wasn't down to Arsene Wenger's expensively assembled team showing their talent. No, Everton had gifted the opposition more points. The defence looked nervy, scared almost as substitute Olivier Giroud towered above Distin to head home.
What we didn't know was the final minutes against Arsenal were just a teaser of the horror show which was to follow against favourites for the title Chelsea. Everton 3-6 Chelsea. Shipping six goals at home is relegation form not belonging to a club looking to crack the top four. One of the worst defensive displays by an Everton side in living memory filled supporters with dread. After falling two behind in just minutes, a season which began full of hope had now quickly turned into false hope against Jose Mourinho's men.
Everton halved a two-goal deficit THREE times only for Chelsea to race up the other end and extend their lead. With each Everton strike, it felt as though 'this is it, this is where we'll get another and level.' It never happened.
The defeat was bad enough but the worry was the detrimental effect such a scoreline would have on the team. Captain Phil Jagielka and fellow centre-back Distin looked like complete strangers during the dying moments against Arsenal, while both looked confused and petrified in equal measure throughout the duration of the Chelsea humiliation.
Only 2-1 down at half-time, the relief on Jagielka's face was clear to see when the referee blew for the interval as our skipper raced off the pitch to be first down the tunnel. Jags looked desperate to get away. As we all found out, the break didn't help as things went from bad to worse in the second period.
Of course, our players didn't turn bad over night and it's essential the confidence raised from keeping out the Baggies will now spur the lads on and give them their belief back. Having turned things around at The Hawthorns, the win should do wonders for our season; the starting point of another impressive campaign as the club continues to march forward and show we can challenge the very best sides. Everton were desperate to keep that clean sheet and John Stones' last-ditch tackle to deny Saido Berahino who was clear through epitomised the backline's determination to get the season back on track and the goals against column down.
Kevin Mirallas - who added another goal against West Brom - looks hungry and has claimed this season will be his season while Aiden McGeady's displays had been a bright spot in an otherwise dim start to the season.
Things look far rosier than they did - the second-highest scorers in the division and already in the top ten despite a woeful start. The disappointment we've all endured from the opening fixtures actually proves the Blues are a completely different machine compared to Everton sides of recent years. It shows expectations are now much higher; as they should be. A bad start is now defined by just one defeat in four and a draw with Arsenal.
It's certainly not the way we'd hoped to begin the season and it's been a very up and down month. We'd have taken our current points total with such a tricky start in past seasons, however, and it shows we continue to improve and progress.
Up and running with our first win, here's hoping we can now go on to break even more records this term.
The season starts now.