Roberto Martinez's wait for his first Premier League victory as Everton manager goes on following a second-successive goalless draw that deepened the sense of frustration around a team that has been utterly dominant in all four of their games this season but has managed to win just one of them.
Lopsided possession statistics have been a hallmark of the Blues' campaign so far but a worrying lack of incisiveness and threat in the final third has critically undermined them, particularly in the last two League games where they have been stifled into stalemate by West Bromwich Albion and now Cardiff City.
Granted, an elusive goal and, in all likelihood, the first three points of the season might have arrived had referee Anthony Taylor not ignored a blatant foul by Gary Medel on Leighton Baines in the Cardiff area late in the first half. It was the biggest talking point of Everton's first game against the Bluebirds since 1962 but the Blues' failure to turn in excess of two thirds of the possession into more than a handful of chances was just as pressing a concern.
Unchanged from the team that started against West Brom a week ago – all eight changes for the Stevenage tie returned to the starting XI – Everton brushed off some early ferocity and intensity from Cardiff to settle into their now-familiar patient passing approach under Martinez. Though initially unable to move the ball out of defence to the midfield due to the committed closing down by their hosts' forward players, the Blues eventually took almost complete control of proceedings.
Seemingly in their stride by the 11th minute, a lovely heel-flick by Steven Pienaar set up Ross Barkley for a surging run and Everton's first shot on goal that deflected behind. But as the first half progressed it became apparent that the tentative, slow-paced build-up that has drawn concern from Evertonians over the previous three games was again hampering the players' ability to break down another stubborn well-organised defence set up to close own the spaces and stop them playing their way through.
A nice passing move did open up a chance just before the half-hour mark, though, when Nikica Jelavic latched into a ball by the byline and crossed invitingly for Kevin Mirallas but he made disappointing contact with his header and glanced it wide.
And when Baines came inside with a smart run into the box and edged the ball past Medel, the Chilean appeared to scythe under him and make enough content to make the award of a penalty as nailed on as they come. And yet referee Taylor, who had a nightmare at the Emirates on the opening day and who seemingly did everything he could last season to make Evertonians question his appointment to the top flight refereeing roster, waved play on.
True to his no-fuss character, Baines barely complained and, in truth, there hadn't been sufficient anger four minutes previously when Barkley chased down Kim and executed an excellent sliding challenge to win the ball, only for the linesman to flag for a foul and referee Taylor to book the Everton midfielder!
Baines is fouled by Medel but Anthony Taylor doesn't give the penalty (via @NBCSports)
The half finished, however, with what would arguably be the Blues' best chance of the afternoon, a header for Jelavic off a cross from the fairly subdued Seamus Coleman that came off a defender's arm and wrong-footed David Marshall in the Cardiff goal. The 'keeper did superbly to change direction and stop the ball with one hand and the home side escaped into the break at 0-0.
At the other end, Tim Howard had been almost completely untroubled and was called into meaningful action just once when a dangerously inswinging corner had him momentarily panicked but he parried it with two hands and Sylvain Distin hacked it away to safety.
That pattern would continue in the second half, with Everton in the ascendancy but consistently unable to carve the Welsh side open to any great degree or cause them many problems from a succession of set-pieces.
The best chance of the second half also fell to Jelavic seven minutes after the break when Barkley threaded a lovely ball into the channel to release the Croatian but he went for a first-time effort with his right foot- rather than letting it come across his body and hitting it with his left - and he stabbed his shot over the crossbar.
Barkley drove a poor direct free kick attempt into the defensive wall and Mirallas failed to test Marshall with a tame shot before Martinez made the obvious decision to introduce Arouna Kone with 22 minutes to go, withdrawing Jelavic rather than gambling with two strikers and hooking the ineffective Leon Osman from midfield.
The officials, meanwhile, were making a mockery of the players' and supporters' desire for consistency, failing to award so much as a foul for Kim's elbow to Pienaar's face or book Medel for chopping Barkley down in full flight. And then, right at the end, bottling a second yellow for Connolly for the exact same calculated block on Baines that had earned him his first booking earlier in the game.
In between, Baines had lashed a 25-yard shot wide with his right foot and Mirallas, who was a mystifyingly peripheral and ineffective presence throughout, wasted a good opening in the opposition area when he eschewed a shot with his left foot and instead tried to drag the ball inside with his right and he was closed down.
It was symbolic of Everton's general hesitancy to just put a boot through the ball once in a while when the goal opened up and it would be the Belgian's last contribution before being replaced by Gerard Deulofeu for his first Premier League appearance.
The Spanish teenager had just eight minutes (including stoppage time) to make an impression but he displayed more purpose and threat in that short period than most of his teammates had in the preceding 85. Two shots in as many minutes didn't unduly trouble the goalkeeper but they were both on target and, after he won a corner on the right in the last minute and the ball came back out to him, he fizzed a dangerous ball right across the face of the Cardiff goal but not a single blue shirt had gambled and it flew out to the far side.
So, three League games and three draws under the new manager with enough to evidence to suggest that Martinez has a lot of work ahead of him in trying to quicken the pace of play in the final third and get his players to create more chances. Given how often the Blues struggled to make their superiority tell under his predecessor last season as they racked up an inordinate number of draws, his biggest problem may be with the players he has in the squad, although the ponderous playing style he has introduced so far is certainly not helping.
With Mirallas largely toothless in the first three games, Osman lacking any offensive punch and Jelavic so reliant on chances created for him in front of goal, there hasn't been anyone apart from Barkley who has looked capable of fashioning a chance or a goal, and he hasn't yet been able to produce for a full 90 minutes yet. That will come as he gains experience and fitness but, in the interim, the feeling that Martinez needs to bring in at least two signings of real quality before the transfer deadline is inescapable.
A quick-minded and fleet-footed attacking midfielder to replace Osman and a reliable striker appear to be imperative, although there is little to suggest from the speculation thus far that he is looking at either type of player. And his task will probably be complicated by the loss of Fellaini to Manchester United if late-breaking speculation is correct. Should the Belgian be sold, James McCarthy would seem to be the most likely replacement but you would hope that there would be additional funds to bring in another couple of players as well to add more options.
On the obvious plus-side, the team looks very solid defensively, with Cardiff really only able to create a couple of chances, the best of them falling to Craig Bellamy who was put through on goal by Kim but his touch as he tried to round Tim Howard was too heavy and it took him too wide of goal to keep the opportunity alive. With Distin defying the years and Phil Jagielka every inch the dependable rock alongside him in central defence, conceding goals hasn't been an issue in the last couple of games.
And if he can find the key to unlocking his team's offensive potential on the back of its ability to control matches, Everton will be in very good shape this season. On the evidence so far, though, that is a sizeable "if".
Once the chaos of the transfer window is out of the way, Martinez has just under a fortnight to plan for the visit of Chelsea on the 14th which will, obviously, be his biggest test to date. One way or the other, that game will likely be very revealing about where Everton are heading under the Spaniard, at least in the short term. Rome, now that he has decided to partially rebuild it, wasn't finished in a day, but Evertonians will be looking for signs of progress sooner rather than later.
Everton ground out a second successive goalless draw as they again failed to turn impressive dominance into the goals needed to claim their first victory under Roberto Martinez.
They were let down by typically awful refereeing by Anthony Taylor who waved away a stonewall penalty by Gary Medel on Leighton Baines but a lack of incisiveness and directness resulted in just two real chances for Nikica Jelavić who saw a header brilliantly saved by Marshall and a stabbed effort fly over the bar.
Everton's quest for a first Premier League win of the season moves to South Wales and a top-flight clash with Cardiff City for the first time in 52 years. The first-team regulars who watched from the bench or the stands in midweek — Seámus Coleman, Sylvain Distin, Tim Howard, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar — all return to the starting line-up with Fellaini and Baines on the teamsheet in an unchanged side. Darron Gibson resumed full training but wouldn't be risked after recovering from a knee injury and Victor Anichebe still out of contention. Arouna Koné started on the substitute's bench again leaving Nikica Jelavić trying to break his duck so far this season.
The game started in the now expected fashion, with Everton retaining possession from the kick-off and passing across the back until Jagielka hoofed it upfield and Everton lost possession! But a couple of free-kicks saw them mount the first attack that should have brought a corner. And on the second attack, Jelavić was in an all-too-familiar offside position.
More excruciatingly slow PATB saw possession lost as soon as the ball crossed into Cardiff's half, Bellamy then getting away with a blatant elbow on Baines. But a great move and a brilliant rollback by Pienaar put Barkley in. From the corner, Fellaini got boxed in and then another corner decision was called against Everton, much to the delight of the noisy home crowd.
Cardiff threatened with a couple of excellent corners, Howard clawing out the second whipped in under the Everton bar by Whittingham. Everton then won a corner off a blatant hand-ball, with a few decent crosses played in from the right but all defended away.
Coleman picked up a yellow for a 'professional' foul on Kim, surely his first offence in the game. At least the linesman flagged for a very obvious Campbell offside... Jelavić was fouled as was Kim but no similar punishment; Mirallas headed well over from the free-kick.
An unbelievable sequence with Kim and Barkley evenly vying for a loose ball, Barkley winning it in the end with a superbly executed sliding tackle, saw play stopped by the linesman! and then Barkley booked!!! Then, a blatant trip of Baines inside the box by the animal that is Medel waived away, with Everton not even appealing.
Some more excellent play saw a Jelavić header deflected by Turner and then stopped by Marshall, Jelavić looked to get behind the Cardiff defence but he was offside and still could not finish. A hugely frustrating half with some shockingly one-sided refereeing.
Everton escaped a scare after the break, Kim breaking in to the area and firing across but thankfully no-one could follow up for Cardiff. The ref final;lay booked a Cardiff player for a blatant block on Baines
Barkley played in Jelavić nicely but the Croatian spooned his shot horribly. Fellaini and Campbell then tangled, Fellaini coming across a little too strong but no card. Howard stood strong behind Bellamy's free-kick.
Cardiff upped their work rate, snapping at Everton heels and pushing on but Bellamy was called offside. Everton looked ragged as Bellamy got wide of Howard, but then Everton pushed forward and Barkley tried everything he could to make space for a shot in a tight crowd of red shirts.
Jelavić looked to get played in but his ball control was shocking. An excellent set piece, Barkley drove lamely into the wall. Very poor. Mirallas then won another goo free-kick chance, dinked in by Baines, as Koné replaced the hapless Jelavić but his first touch was to give the ball away.
Some Cardiff pressure won a corner, with Kim elbowing Pienaar in the face, forcing the South African off as the kick was fired in well by Whittingham and headed out by Barkley, then forward but again possession relinquished as Everton were allowing Cardiff to pressurize them. Bout Barkley got in a run and was fouled. However, Everton still struggled to fashion that final ball that again eluded them.
Baines intercepted a Cardiff pass and looked to set up an pen move but Barkley, pulling wide, slipped over in the area and the chance evaporated. Everton had another spell of fantastic possession around the Cardiff area without manufacturing a single shot, as Bellamy was substituted.
Another attack looked to get closer, Baines crossing well and Fellaini getting the ball forward to Koné who had ventured offside. Fellaini then teed up Baines who smacked it just wide with his right foot. Kim, who had been Cardiff's best player, was then replaced by Maynard.
Into the last 10 mins, and Everton showing signs of tiredness and running out of ideas, Martinez leaving it terribly late to bring on Gerard Deulofeu, with Mirallas having something of a nightmare game, the Barca lad finally getting just 5 mins for starters in the Premier League. His first contribution was to make space and whip in a shot that was at least on target, but his next poke was poor, passing it back to Marshall in the Cardiff goal.
Connolly blatantly blocked Baines again but of course no second yellow for an identical second offence. Good defending by Jagielka stopped Campbell doing anything. Ronaldoesque work by Deulofeu won an Everton corner that he whipped in, then it came back to him and he put the most amazing ball across the Cardiff goal... where was Koné? Where was ANYBODY?!?! Unbelievable opportunity just thrown away... Just maddening stuff from a toothless Everton attack, with Martinez once again failing to change things up early enough.
Another incredibly frustrating game from Everton, who once again dominated play and once again failed to create or take chances against a Cardiff team playing well beyond themselves, thanks to a very boisterous crowd and a shockingly biased bunch of homer officials.
Everton's quest for a first Premier League win of the season moves to South Wales and a top-flight clash with Cardiff City for the first time in 52 years. Billy Bingham was on the scoresheet the last time the Blues faced the Bluebirds in the league in the 1961/62 season but it's recent form against their rivals Swansea that Roberto Martinez will be hoping can carry through from the David Moyes era.
Everton have come away with two victories from two visits to this corner of the country in recent seasons and Martinez would like nothing more than to build on Wednesday's tight extra-time victory over Stevenage and grab his first three points since assuming the Goodison hotseat.
Though he made eight changes to his starting XI for the Carling Cup tie, the players who took the field faithfully executed the patient passing game that Martinez has implemented so quickly but with it came the same lack of cutting edge in the final third that has cost his side victory at Norwich and against West Bromwich Albion so far.
Psychologically, as well as that hurdle to clear, the goal-shy Blues have to contend with the ongoing speculation about the futures of Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines which has been rumbling away since the eve of the season as well as the fact that their hosts this weekend are riding the crest of a wave of optimism following their handsome win over Manchester City.
Malky Mackay's men came back from a goal down to lead 3-1 against the Manuel Pellegrini's expensively-assembled wannabe Champions and held on to win 3-2 after City scored late on. That self-belief will do wonders for the newly-promoted club and pose a problem for Everton who have yet to really hit their stride under the new regime.
The first-team regulars who watched from the bench or the stands in midweek – Seamus Coleman, Sylvain Distin, Tim Howard, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar, for example – will likely return to the starting line-up this weekend and Evertonians will be hoping to see Fellaini and Baines on the teamsheet as well. Darron Gibson has resumed full training but probably won't be risked after recovering from a knee injury.
It's up front where the question mark remains. A slight knock kept Victor Anichebe out of contention against Stevenage but he should be fit, though lacking in match sharpness having not started any of the Blues' games so far.
Arouna Kone is, by his manager's admission, also lacking fitness, his rustiness on display for all 22,000+ of those in attendance at Goodison on Wednesday evening so he may have to be content with starting on the substitute's bench.
That leaves Nikica Jelavic who looked lively and hungry in the first two games but his goal drought has extended into the new campaign thanks to a lack of regular service in the penalty area. The Croatian is the more likely of the three to start but both Anichebe and Kone will be itching for action from the bench should he not make sufficient impact.
Though this one looks a little less inviting than it did before last weekend, Cardiff are still a weaker team than Everton and if the Blues can get their attacking machine functioning to its best ability – much will depend on Mirallas who was well below par against West Brom – then that first win is certainly on the cards. The longer we go without it, of course, the more restless the natives will become.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2013-14 Reports Index|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Medel (88' Mutch)|
|Kim (82' Maynard)|
|Bellamy (79' Cowie)|
|Subs not used|
|Mirallas (86' Deulofeu)|
|Jelavic (75' Kone)|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|Cardiff City||0 - 0||Everton|
|Crystal Pal||3 - 1||Sunderland|
|Man City||2 - 0||Hull City|
|Newcastle||1 - 0||Fulham|
|Norwich City||1 - 0||So'hampton|
|West Ham||0 - 1||Stoke City|
|Arsenal||1 - 0||Tottenham|
|Liverpool||1 - 0||Man United|
|West Brom||0 - 2||Swansea|
|8||West Ham United||4|
|20||West Bromwich Albion||1|