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Season 2011-12

Back on the Road to Nowhere

By Lyndon Lloyd   ::  04/12/2011
 14 Comments (Last)

Everton's two-game "mini revival" was derailed at Goodison Park on the back of another depressing performance that starkly underlined the lack of creativity, invention and attacking threat in David Moyes's side. Prior to kick-off, Stoke City had just one win away from home all season, one win in their last six League games, one win over Everton in the Premier League and had failed to win a single game following a Europa League fixture. All they needed to do, however, was score a single goal to overcome a Blues team that failed to force a single save from either of two goalkeepers who played for the visitors today.

Everton peppered the Stoke area with aerial balls from set-piece and crossing situations all afternoon but, tellingly, they were prevented from threatening the goal with a single header. Part of that was down to the fact that Tony Pulis' big men were in all the right places at the right times, but they were aided in their task by yet more shockingly poor and inconsistent refereeing by Lee Mason and the apparent disappearance from the game of penalties being awarded for wrestling tactics inside the area.

Marouane Fellaini, Tim Cahill and full home debutant, Apostolos Vellios, spent much of the afternoon being man-handled in the box, the Belgian even motioning to the referee at one point to the grappling arm of defender wrapped around his waist but nothing was given as he headed wide while visibly being held back in full view of the officials.

Later, Vellios would be similarly compromised by Richard Shawcross' arm around his neck as the two battled for a corner from the opposite side, whereas Fellaini and Cahill were pulled up at virtually every opportunity by Mason for the merest of contact in the air.

Yet more sickening refereeing in a fixture at Goodison was a factor but it was not the reason why Everton failed to gain even a point from this game. The blank scoresheet on the Blues's side of the ledger was largely down to sheer attacking ineptitude and that depressing lack of creativity that pervades the midfield and forward line. Moyes's men just never looked like scoring in a match they again dominated almost from start to finish and this fourth home defeat of the campaign probably sucked what optimism had been built up by back-to-back wins right out of the stadium.

And yet ? not for the first time this season, of course ? things had started so brightly. After the moving tributes to Gary Speed, including his father and many of his former teammates joining the two teams on the field to lead a minute's applause to honour the boyhood Blue, Everton began the game in enterprising mood with some really nice football being played at times.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, starting again in place of the injured Royston Drenthe on the left flank, had what, at the time, felt like would be the first chance of many in the 10th minute when Seamus Coleman's cross from the right glanced off Shawcross' head. But the Russian snatched at a left-foot volley and it flew across the six-yard line rather than bother Thomas Sorensen.

Uppermost in Moyes's mind before the game must have been Stoke's physical and aerial threat so he must have been spitting mad just four minutes later when the visitors scored with their first set-piece. A dreadful touch by Leighton Baines near his own area gifted the ball to Ryan Shotton, forcing John Heitinga to head his cross behind. When the resulting corner was headed out only as far as Dean Whitehead just outside the penalty area, he returned the ball with interest towards the Everton goal where Robert Huth turned it past Tim Howard and into the roof of the net.

1-0 down but with time on their side, the Blues didn't seem to panic and they had a chance within a couple of minutes when Leon Osman was hauled down 20 yards from the Stoke goal, but Baines' direct free kick deflected off the wall and behind for a corner.

More pleasing football followed, though, with Osman twice releasing Bilyaletdinov towards the byline with nicely-weighted passes in the space of a couple of minutes but the Russian scuffed his first crossing attempt and when he stood his second up towards the back post, a foul was called against Cahill.

The home side's momentum stalled around the half-hour mark, however, and they just seemed to stop doing what hadn't up to that point worked but appeared to be the best route to breaking Stoke down via the right bounce or a bit of fortune to come the Blues' way. In oher words, get the ball down the left for Baines or Bilyaletdinov to keep slinging crosses in.

Though Everton applied some pressure going into the half-time break and forced a handful more corners, Stoke were looking more and more adept at snuffing out the Blues' threat from set-pieces, either legally through smart positional play and sheer height advantage or, in the absence of any refereeing oversight, just plain thuggishly.

If the first half had been bad overall from the Blues' perspective, the second was much worse, with the players showing very few signs that they knew how they might break through a determined opposition defence.

At the heart of it, of course, is the fact that this Everton side is now utterly incapable of opening a defence up by playing through it on the ground. Time after time, the lack of movement up front presents an attacking Blue shirt with a wall of players strung along the 18-yard line and any attempt to thread a passing move through the eye of the needle gets closed out. Or there are so few players moving off the ball into space in midfield that the man with the ball has no choice but to keep charging forward into a cul-de-sac because he lacks the ball skills to beat players on his own.

That left the flanks and the hopeful Jagielka or Heitinga ball forward. The Coleman-Hibbert combination down the right was impotent as an attacking weapon, the service down the left dried up ? Bilyaletdiov, of course, disappeared from the game ? and anything down the middle was just being soaked up by a defence that could have continued winning headers all day long.

Bily was predictably withdrawn after 63 minutes and Jack Rodwell thrown on to hopefully add a bit more drive to central midfield. Osman moved out to the left and while he didn't do badly in a role in which he often struggles, in truth it should have been Magaye Gueye who came on in a like-for-like swap because the team was crying out for something different.

After a lengthy stoppage for Sorensen, who took a blow to the head when Cahill tried to capitalise on hesitation in the Stoke defence and nip the ball off the gloves of the 'keeper, Denis Stracqualursi replaced Vellios who, just as had the been the case at Fulham in his first starting role, had been largely anonymous trying to lead the line. Save for a nice flick-on with his first touch, the big Argentine offered nothing more than had the Greek because of the chronic lack of service the strikers were receiving.

If the Blues were going to get anything from this game, it would have happened in a brief flurry around the 84th minute. Rodwell saw a goalbound shot ? Everton's only effort on target all afternoon ? blocked by a defender before it could even reach replacement 'keeper Asimir Begovic and, a minute later, Baines' cross from a short corner flew agonisingly across the face of the Stoke goal with Heitinga inches away from getting the crucial touch.

Seven minutes of stoppage time produced nothing of note and the Everton fans departed the ground in dejected mood having received a reality check for any belief that the corner had been turned with the wins over Wolves and Bolton.

It's the mess that Bill built, really, and the stagnation in approach that Davey just can't seem to resolve ?a relatively exciting team that qualified for Europe has been stripped of its best players and the manager's dogged refusal to try anything new means that Everton are a predictable and stale outfit that is easy to strangle into one-dimensional tactics.

Some will point the finger at the likes of Vellios and Cahill and while it's true that the former lacks the experience to lead a 4-5-1 formation and the latter just looks burned out from years and years of gruelling commitment to club and country, the truth is that neither got a sniff of goal this afternoon. Neither, indeed, would the departed Yakubu who is on his usual "new club hot streak" and scored four goals for struggling Blackburn yesterday. It's not so much that the strikers are missing opportunities, it's that they're just not getting the chances in the first place; the problems lie deep and may take a real re-think on Moyes's part to resolve.

One thing's for sure, what he's doing now is not working.

Player Ratings: Howard 6, Hibbert 6 (Gueye 6), Jagielka 7, Heitinga 6, Baines 6, Fellaini 7*, Osman 6, Coleman 5, Bilyaletdinov 6 (Rodwell 6), Cahill 6, Vellios 5 (Stracqualursi 5)

Reader Comments

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Graham Holliday
1   Posted 05/12/2011 at 09:48:32

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There was a clear policy for the centre-backs not to hoof the ball too much yesterday... but they didn't know what else to do with it!

Stoke were sitting off us, allowing Jags, Heitinga and Hibbert the ball... and not one of them elected to move forward to commit a man.

Movement off the ball up front was lacking, but the pitch was congested with Stoke players because they weren't pressing us high up the pitch.

The response to that should have been the defenders progressing with the ball until a Stoke player comes towards them (in order to open the pitch up a little and create some space), but sadly none of our defenders bar Baines is able to do that.

Also, I can't understand why Barkley isn't playing at all. I understand the need to ease him into PL action, but he's not playing at all! I can't see that will help the kid's development...
Brian Garside
2   Posted 05/12/2011 at 12:17:45

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As usual ,a well written report. One thing though. You say "may take a rethink on Moyes's part." These pages, and others, have been screaming for just that for a very very long time.

Again, we played to the opposition's strenghs. When we needed high ball tempo, played on the ground, and movement against a team of statues Moyes played a high ball game which suited them to a tee.

Why? I ask... Ball in the air, everyone standing still and no running required. Just the tactics to beat a big cumbersom team of little skill that had a European match on Thursday. Err me thinks not.
Kevy Quinn
3   Posted 05/12/2011 at 12:54:27

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As Einstein once said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.". How Gueye and Barkley can't get a game is getting beyond a joke!
Guy Wilkinson
4   Posted 05/12/2011 at 13:50:26

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Exactly Graham @1.

Barkley is dynamic, aggressive and moves the ball quickly.

Ossie has regressed...
Dave Richman
5   Posted 05/12/2011 at 13:56:02

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Graham #1: Absolutely spot on there mate...... At one stage my wife came to see what all the screaming was about! (Well, until I gave up anyway)

"Carry it Jags..... CARRY THE FUCKING THING!!!!!" and variations of that..... The question is, if it's so blindingly obvious to us, then why not the players?
Lyndon Lloyd
6   Posted 05/12/2011 at 14:19:49

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There was a clear policy for the centre-backs not to hoof the ball too much yesterday...

I meant to mention that in the report, actually. There were two or three occasions where, you're right, they very deliberately tried not to play the long ball but passed it across the back until an opportunity opened up ahead of them. On each occasion, it ended with a cross from the left into the opposition area at the end of a nice move.

Trouble is... they stopped doing that after a while.
Nick Entwistle
7   Posted 05/12/2011 at 14:40:56

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Other than the final ball I thought we played well. We dominated possession but just didn't have what has summed up the season so far, a lack of ingenuity.

Despite this, I see it as infuriatingly unlucky to not even get the full three points. Be it just failing to get on the end of crosses, or our players obviously being fouled in the box, I'm not going to jump on Moyes for this one.

Saying that, Gueye came on and hit an angled pass through the channels which had the Goodison crowd purring... problem is Utd, City, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea hit those ten times in each half. When the Oz et al are doing it and this Gueye fella shows he has something different then he should be playing.

Coleman needs a rest, Drenthe will come back in, nice to have Gueye out wide too, and Bily should start in Cahill's place as he I'm sure can split a defence with his passing which Saha can run onto. He'll get nothing from Cahill as he looks to get on the end of things himself.

I'd like to see that against the Arse, but we may well be in for another City style bus parking session.

Still, with the teams with have to face until Feb, I expect top six or seven at that point... erm... and eighth.
Steve Higham
8   Posted 05/12/2011 at 16:07:25

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Nick #7 We only dominated posession because Stoke allowed us to have the ball - they hardly pressed at all. From the St End you could see the way they where set up with there banks of four and allowing Everton to pass up to a certain point in midfield.
We dont have the players who can play through teams like this anymore -Stoke must of loved the way we lumped it forward.Give Stoke credit there back four know exactly what they need to do its a shame Everton cannot do the same.
Could not believe it when Moyes took off Velios and replaced him with Straq - how about two up top - dont say Timmy was there he did not support Velios all game .I agree with Nick in that sorry to say Timmy has had his day.
Dont know what the answer is but have wondered if Saha could play the Cahill role ? - just a thought .
You know what your going to get against Stoke but the performance by Everton yesterday shows what happends when you let your best players leave.
Brian Waring
9   Posted 05/12/2011 at 16:51:22

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Nick, Stoke were comfortable for most of the game.
Anthony Jones
10   Posted 05/12/2011 at 17:22:26

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In 2007 we hammered Sunderland 7-1, and we played some very nice football...

Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Yobo (Jagielka, 80), Lescott, Valente; Arteta, Osman, Carsley, Pienaar; Cahill (Anichebe, 74); Yakubu (Johnson, 74). Substitutes not used: Wessels (gk), Gravesen.

Arteta, Cahill, Pienaar and Yakubu were at their respective peaks. Sadly, we haven't been able to replace them with players of similar quality.

Moyes is still inept but what have our scouts been up to recently? They are rarely mentioned but are vital to the success of clubs with very little money to throw around.

David Holroyd
11   Posted 05/12/2011 at 17:22:58

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Let's not blame the referee for this defeat. Lee Mason is one of the poorest of refs but we played into Stoke City's hands, lumping diagonal high balls into their area, never once getting behind them... they have seven six-footers gobbling everthing up. Moyes should've kept Vellios on and brought on Dennis to give them something to think about.

Kenwright's lack of finding Investment over the last five years is hampering us more and more. Three or four times we have been two players from having a top four side, now we are getting left behind.

Brian's second paragraph is spot on, the two most creative players Arteta and Pienaar have gone it's going to be a long time before we can afford players like them.
Nick Armitage
12   Posted 05/12/2011 at 18:40:33

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The best scout we had fucked off to Chelsea.
Denis Byrne
13   Posted 05/12/2011 at 21:47:10

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Sad to say that my admiration for the ginger one has faded and now gone for good. His approach to motivation is appalling, he has created a deep sense of low aspiration and gloom, and that in itself is despicable. His video to the FA on Evertons 'non' penalty decisions has backfired horribly, and it is plain we are being shafted by the custodians of the law. Moyes out, Big Dunc as caretaker, Bilic in after the Euro's. Everton forever
Ged Simpson
14   Posted 07/12/2011 at 14:22:13

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We need a captain too

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