If there was one thing driving Everton on deeper into this season's FA Cup campaign – arguably more so than David Moyes's quest for silverware after 11 years in charge at Goodison Park – it was a shot at redemption. Redemption for their abject and painful collapse against Liverpool in the semi-final last year.
A home game against a Wigan Athletic side haunted by the very real danger of relegation from the Premier League come May was about as a good an opportunity for the Blues to book another place at Wembley and an opportunity for atonement as they could have asked for.
Instead of looking forward to a day out at the national stadium, however, Evertonians are left to reflect on another cup disaster; a shocking 3-0 defeat at Goodison Park that not only ends their quest for cup glory – and with it, perhaps, their season – but also dredges up serious questions about the ability, commitment and mentality of some of the players and Moyes's managerial tenure as a whole.
The minutiae of the game itself are barely worth dwelling on it was effectively over as a contest with just 33 minutes gone after Wigan – who, it should be said, deserve enormous credit for an energetic and spirited first-half display – stunned their hosts with three goals in a little over three minutes.
The early warnings offered by Wigan's frequent forays down their left flank and Shaun Maloney's terrific, curling 11th-minute strike that smacked off the face of the post with Jan Mucha beaten all ends up were not heeded. When James McCarthy's accurate snapshot from the edge of the box was pushed behind by Mucha, Maynor Figeuroa rose more or less unchallenged at the back post to head home the opening goal from the resulting corner. Everton's now infamous set-piece vulnerabilities exposed once again.
Barely a minute later, Phil Neville, who was atrocious througout his 45 minutes on the pitch, gifted the ball to Callum McManaman with a wayward back pass that put the Wigan fullback through on goal whereupon he beat Mucha with aplomb with a low shot into the far corner. A mountain to climb needlessly created by sloppy passing by a vastly experienced player who, in retrospect, should never have been preferred to Darron Gibson in the first place.
And the nightmare deepened almost immediately after that; the ball came down the Latics' left flank once more – where Jean Beausejour had been enjoying the freedom of Goodison while none of Moyes, Coleman and Steven Pienaar could find a solution to ensure he was picked up – and when the ball ended up with Arouna Kone in the left channel, he squared it to Jordi Gomez who impressively stroked the ball into the net from 25 yards with Mucha, stranded again, rooted to the spot.
Everton did not know what had hit them and though they showed brief sparks of determination and drive to try and find a way back into the game, in retrospect their efforts were feeble, disjointed and, frankly, a disgrace to the reputation they have forged not only this season but over a number of recent campaigns... at least in the Premier League.
In the FA Cup, Everton under Moyes have shown a depressing propensity to choke when it really counts and the "nearly men" of Goodison collapsed again when the going got rough and couldn't muster a response to Wigan's blitz of sufficient quality to get even one goal back let alone three.
Indeed, though Nikica Jelavic had forced a diving save from Joel Robles when the scores were still level, the Blues barely worked the goalkeeper in the second half. The closest they came was in the 90th minute when Leon Osman's half-volley was parried by the 'keeper and Coleman made a mess of the rebound, heading well wide with the goal at his mercy.
By that stage, Marouane Fellaini had been pulled off by his disgusted manager with 23 minutes still to play having apparently given up... not only on this match but, on this evidence, his Everton career. The Belgian's attitude fell away appallingly once the visitors had gone 3-0 up and after throwing his arms in the air one time too many and then turning his back on a live ball in a sulk midway through the second half, Moyes had clearly had enough. The team's leading scorer and the man who had almost single-handedly led the comeback against Aston Villa was withdrawn with a quarter of the game still to go. He left to a chorus of boos, either aimed at him, Moyes, or both.
Had he and Neville been the only two players to let down the Royal Blue jersey, it would have been bad enough; as it was, perhaps only Kevin Mirallas, Victor Anichebe and Nikica Jelavic – Mucha made two good saves and was blameless for the goals – earned their corn and emerged with any credit from what was just a dismal showing by almost all concerned. And yet again, the other Belgian's industry and craft was rewarded with substitution by Moyes, that coming a couple of minutes after he had put the ball in the net, albeit from an offside position. Maybe Moyes was looking beyond an already lost cause but it's mystifying how Osman, for example, stayed on the field.
Osman was simply dreadful, Baines laboured and, apart from a low driven free kick that almost squirmed through the 'keeper's legs, off-target with his shooting, Coleman was night and day worse than the player who was so good against Reading, and Pienaar was again ineffective in the final third.
It spoke volumes that Ross Barkley, Mirallas' replacement in the 79th minute, showed more heart, purpose and effectiveness in 10-plus minutes than almost all of the more experienced and supposedly superior players on the field in Blue around him. He almost fashioned an opening but was muscled off the ball at the crucial moment before he lashed a sliced shot just wide with six minutes to go.
The game was up long before that, though. How much physical fatigue, mental weakness or managerial failings were to blame is hard to know. What was starkly evident, however, was that Wigan were quicker in movement and thought, slicker in their passing, and more strident in their desire. That they showed up a Moyes team to such a degree that they ran out 3-0 winners is massively concerning.
There has, understandably, been some pretty strong reaction at the nature of the performance and the result but the writing has been on the wall for a while now, arguably since the Blues lost their unbeaten home record to Chelsea just before the New Year.
The victory at Newcastle proved to be a false dawn and as fatigue set in to an over-stretched squad, the transfer window passed without any senior-level additions, and Moyes sowed further uncertainty by delaying the decision over his contract, the Blues' form has worsened despite the huge carrots of Champions League football and Wembley in front of them.
Today's debacle has been coming. The sorry finale at Norwich was the first alarm bell and the win over Reading merely papered over the cracks. The debate over where the club goes from here will surely rumble on now as Moyes tries to stanch the bleeding lest the League campaign collapse with some tough away games to come.
And it's fair to say that Fellaini might have cooked his goose with supporters and manager alike; his form in recent weeks has been poor and while he celebrations suggest a man whose heart desires success with Everton, his frustration when things are going awry betrays a player who feels he would be better off elsewhere.
The wider issue of the manager's future and a Bill Kenwright regime teetering on the edge of very real decline after being propped up by Moyes's achievements over the past decade now come into sharp focus. Change at the very top is badly needed but unlikely; as far as Moyes goes, the feeling that his tenure has run its course is becoming inescapable. Real change is needed and he has probably felt that for a while now. He would leave Goodison Park without ever reaching the heights his tenure once promised but with the reputation as a nearly-man, the man who fought financial constraints all the way but couldn't quite turn the very good team he built into a real success.
All very sad...
With Tim Howard ruled out after it emerged that he fractured two ribs in his back against Oldham, Everton started this crucial FA Cup Quarterfinal with Jan Mucha, Kevin Mirallas and Seamus Coleman back in the starting line-up but it soon became clear that the quest far a long-awaited trophy under David Moyes was not going to be as easy as many had hoped.
Everton won the first corner, taken short corner, whipped in by Mirallas, a good header from Distin bounced a foot wide. In the next Everton attack, Mirallas shot and Scharner caught it square in the face and went down, requiring a stoppage. Some good pressure play from Wigan forced the Blues back as they probed eachother out with little real action.
A good run in by Malonney, he struck it very well, beat Mucha hands down, but smacked the post and bounced back behind Mucha, a real let-off for Everton, with Wigan dictating the pace. Everton hadn't settled, and looked uneven with Mirallas on the left and Pienaar roaming around in right-central positions.
Everton won a second corner off a long ball from the back but Jealvic at the far post could do nothing with it. Wigan went up the other end and won their first corner, but it was headed well wide. Osman was lucky not to get booked for pulling back a midfielder. A poor mistake by Coleman and Malonney was in quick, a great cross to Kone whose header flashed over the Everton bar.
Jelavic got a decent sight of goal and fired in a great low shot that Robles got down to well and pushed wide. From a foul on Coleman out wide right, Baines swung in a great ball that was headed clear. Another free-kick deep on the left fell to Jelavic but his first-time volley was dreadful.
Some better football from Everton ended with a long-distance shot from Neville that flew wide. Fellaini had a poor touch in a great position that was disappointing and Mirallas took out Malonney which upset Wigan fans. McArthy lashed a great shot that Mucha pushed past the post but from the corner, Figueroa headed home at the back post, and Wigan took what had to be a fully deserved lead against a poor Everton side, made much, much worse just second later when a dosey Phil Neville committed a horrendous error, feeding Callum McManaman who was onto it like a flash and finished brilliantly past Mucha. Dreadful stuff from Everton!
Then in the next Wigan attack, a good cross in from Kone and Gomez fired in a brilliant curling shot that flew just inside Mucha's right-hand post! 0-3 and Everton looked a really sorry sight, with Moyes stunned, his arms folded, no doubt fuming at this incredible Everton collapse as boos rang around Goodison Park, made worse when Neville, the prime culprit, needlessly played the ball into touch as Martinez was forced to replace McManaman with Miyaichi.
Neville continued to blot his copybook with a dreadful challenge that earned him a yellow card. Fellaini then produced a bizarre backheel top no-one as Everton looked sicker and sadder by the minute. Simply shocking stuff from the Blues. Mirallas fouled poorly to set up another chance with a distant free-kick taken by Malloney, forced a brilliant save from the top corner of his goal.
A period of Everton possession before the break went back and forth and eventually nowhere, followed by Mirallas, under no pressure overhitting his cross very poorly, summing up the dismal quality of a very dismal first half for the home side.
David Moyes saw sense and dragged off the utterly dreadful Phil Neville after the break, giving Victor Anichebe the task of inspiring an almost impossible comeback. Heitinga committed a silly foul, dragging his arm across Kone's face.
Mirallas drew a foul and a booking for Scharner, setting up a long-distance chance for Baines that he fired through the ball , straight at Robles. Fellaini then sliced a good chance into the side netting. Mistakes seemed to be happening all too often for the Blues to really get back in the game, misplaced passes, poor challenges, silly cards... Fellaini going in the book. A handful of corners came to nothing.
Fellaini was shocking, giving the ball away inside his own area for a gifted Wigan shot on goal. Moyes was as disgusted as anyone, calling for Gibson to replace him, to the sound of boos and jeers for the Belgian's seeming lack of interest, despite his fine words during the week about wanting to win a trophy with Everton.
An astounding piece of nonsense after Mirallas took out Miyaichi, who was rolling around by the hoardings, off the field of play, but Baines needlessly put the ball out... Why?
Everton tried to do a little better, Baines firing in on goal, as a stretcher was called around for Miyaichi. There was some silly business about an unjust offside, and the same linesman was quick to flag Mirallas offside as he slotted home. A poor corner form Heitinga, overhit, was the signal for Ross Barkley to be brought on with 11 minutes left.
Barkley strode strongly into the area and was pushed off the ball but jumped up quickly despite the penalty calls as the less faithful started to drift toward the Goodison Park exits with Everton showing no sign of scoring one, nevermind four, despite a glorious chance for Barkley that he lashed just wide of the angle.
Osman forced a late save and then Coleman headed hopelessly wide, followed by Baines lashing one even further wide into the almost empty Park End stand. So, another much-vaunted Cup campaign ends miserably for Everton under David Moyes... will this have been his last?
Everton stand on the verge of a second successive FA Cup semi-final with just Wigan Athletic standing between them and a fourth trip to Wembley in as many years. Improving in terms of their form, now that Kevin Mirallas, Darron Gibson and Seamus Coleman are back in the starting line-up and having won their last two home games 3-1, the Blues are gearing up for what they hope will be another step towards a long-awaited trophy under David Moyes.
The manager has called upon the Goodison faithful to show up and roar on the team in their quest for cup glory and a quarter final against local opposition — they won't take the Latics lightly but its opposition they should beat — should be just the ticket for fans who will savour the prospect of redemption at the national stadium should Everton get past Roberto Martinez' side this weekend.
The loss of Phil Jagielka to a three-week lay-off with the gash to his ankle sustained against Reading last Saturday, will come as a blow to Moyes as he prepares for what is the biggest game of the season so far. John Heitinga is almost certain to deputise for the England international and he will hopefully have learned from the torrid time by Aruna Kone when the two clubs met at the DW Stadium earlier this season.
With Tim Howard still doubtful, that change in defence could be the only one the manager makes to his starting XI, though he could be tempted to tinker once again with his forward line now that Victor Anichebe is fit again. Nikica Jelavic came close to ending his goal drought last weekend but was denied by a combination of Reading goalkeeper, Steve Taylor, and — perhaps — some over-elaboration by the Croatian in front of goal. He could not be faulted for effort, though, and, ironically enough, he might have scored a fourth goal for the Blues had Anichebe laid him up in front of goal rather than going for glory himself.
With the preservation of Wigan's Premier League status in mind, Martinez, for his part, has hinted that he could field a weakened side on Saturday — an FA Cup win would be scant consolation for the Latics should they be relegated this season, particularly if it were felt that the cup campaign affected their League form.
A home tie with a team against which they have a terrific record is all Everton could have asked for at this stage of the competition so it's an opportunity they have to grasp with both hands and a strong, attacking performance.
Their propensity to concede sloppy goals means that they will likely need to score more than once, but they have shown in the last couple of games that scoring shouldn't be a problem, especially with the likes of Mirallas and Marouane Fellaini around.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2012-13 Reports Index|
|Mirallas (79' Barkley)|
|Neville :39' (46' Anichebe)|
|Fellaini :57' (58' Gibson :87')|
|Subs not used|
|Alcaraz, (90+1' Golobart)|
|McManaman (38' Miyaichi
|Subs not used|
|Everton||0 - 3||Wigan|
|Man City||5 - 0||Barnsley|
|Man United||2 - 2||Chelsea|
|Millwall||0 - 0||Blackburn|