Optimism and the celebratory atmosphere of Roberto Martinez's first competitive home game in charge gave way to frustration at Goodison Park as Everton were held to a goalless draw by West Bromwich Albion that denied the Blues a first victory of the season.
The game was preceded by the Martinez March to welcome the new boss and a tribute to Blues legend, Dave Hickson, led by Billy Ingham, the season ticket holder of 69 years from the new Barclays ad, and there was plenty of expectation for a game against a WBA side who had lost their own home opener last weekend.
Aided by the lovely ladies of the press department, Billy Ingham led the tribute to Dave Hickson
The team was unchanged from the one that almost grabbed a win at Norwich last weekend and the same patient, possession-based build-up was on show but a curious lack of urgency as the second-half wore on fostered increasing restlessness among the home faithful, tempered only by a late charge in the final minutes that almost produced a precious winner.
The Blues would be thwarted twice by the woodwork, though, as the mercurial Marouane Fellaini watched an effort with the outside of his boot rebound off the inside of the post and Seamus Coleman's cross-cum-shot bounced off the crossbar with substitute goalkeeper Luke Daniel beaten.
Those were moments of rare thrill in the final third as Martinez's men, largely untroubled in their own defence by a limited Albion side, rolled through the first 80-odd minutes in their newly-adopted keep-ball mode looking for an opening.
They would be stymied for the most part by resilient defending – often illegal and unpunished – by the likes of Jonas Olsson, whose constant man-handling of Fellaini and blatant check on Nikica Jelavic prompted no action from the officials, inconsistent refereeing by Premier League newcomer Roger East, and, often, a simple lack of blue shirts in the opposition penalty area.
The Blues started on top and would remain so for the rest of the game but chances were at a premium in the first half. Steven Pienaar had the first two sights of goal, a diving header following excellent work by Ross Barkley that Ben Foster clutched at full stretch and a low shot that the 'keeper comfortably gathered to his right but there was less of the high-tempo, incisive probing that Evertonians had come to expect during home games towards the end of the David Moyes era.
Another typical jinking run by Barkley ended with the youngster dragging a shot across goal after 20 minutes before Youssouf Mulumbu and James Morrisson had what would be the visitors' only real attempts on goal before half time, the first a wayward attempt to bend one past Tim Howard, the second a dipping half-volley off a Shane Long flick-on that flew over the bar.
Martinez's men resumed control of matters, though, and the game became increasingly fractious and testy as Mulumbu was booked for deliberate handball on the edge of his own box (the disappointing Kevin Mirallas would fire the resulting free kick into the defensive wall) and Long somehow escaped a yellow card when he cynically poleaxed Leighton Baines near the touchline.
The Blues had some genuinely pleasing moments in the first 45 minutes, though, not least when a lovely passing move ended with Coleman laying the ball off to Mirallas at the edge of the area and the Belgian took one touch before smashing a shot destined to creep under the crossbar until Foster tipped it over.
An equally great move six minutes before the break saw Coleman collect Pienaar's neat pass into the box but the Irishman's shot was foiled at the near post.
The pattern continued into the second half, with Everton pressing a little more noticeably in the early going and Coleman forcing a corner after drilling a really inviting ball across the six-yard box with no takers in a blue jersey able to capitalise. From the corner that followed, though, Leon Osman hammered a volley off McAuley that ricocheted 15 yards wide and yet somehow the officials awarded a goal kick to West Brom.
Though the will was there from the crowd for the team to increase the pressure as the game ticked on, Everton appeared to go off the boil a little and started to ride their luck a little at the back. An awful giveaway by Jelavic gifted the Baggies a chance to counter but Long couldn't bring Mulumbu's through-pass under control at the vital moment and the Blues escaped.
And Howard was called into his only meaningful action of the afternoon after 64 minutes when he had to turn Morrisson's drive away for a corner with an impressive one-handed save.
That was after Mirallas had tested Foster again at his near post after cutting in neatly from the byline on the left side of the area and though the Belgian would win another corner with 20 minutes left, there were just three blue shirts in the area when Baines swung the set-piece in. It was the last real contribution from Mirallas before he was substituted along with Jelavic in the 72nd minute, the pair making way for Arouna Kone and Steven Naismith.
Though the Scot's introduction wasn't much of an improvement on a subdued Mirallas, it has to be said that the Blues did look more threatening with the Ivorian leading the line as he was more wont to pick the ball up from deep and run at the West Brom defence. Combined with an increasingly offensive role played by Fellaini and the Martinez's side went into the closing stages looking more threatening again, though the urgency was still lacking.
For all their neat passing exchanges in midfield, it was a clipped, angled ball from Phil Jagielka from the right side of midfield that carved out what looked to have been the decisive chance. Fellaini chested the flighted pass down in trademark fashion but couldn't find the inside of the post with his shot and rebounded agonisingly off the base of the upright. And Coleman, too, looked like he might have pinched it in injury time when he swung the ball in from the right only for the ball to bounce away off the woodwork to the far side.
Overall, it was a fairly flat start to Martinez's tenure on home turf, with a performance illustrative of the argument that you can have all the possession and passes you like, but you still have to carve out enough chances to win the game. It also highlighted the lack of a genuinely incisive playmaker in the centre who can make things happen on a consistent basis. Barkley provided plenty of moments of spark and he was, by and large, the most purposeful of the Blues' midfielders but while he is still learning his craft, someone else needs to be taking the initiative.
None of Osman, Fellaini, Pienaar or Gibson have demonstrated that they can be that player and that yearning for quality in that position is what makes Everton's financial situation and the strengthening that the likes of Tottenham have been able to make in that regard so dismaying.
Given the shenanigans with Manchester United and the looming transfer deadline, though, thoughts turned most often to the great enigma that is Fellaini. The Belgian beast is cited by most Evertonians as the more dispensable of the two players being courted by Moyes at Old Trafford and when you look at his casual demeanour at a first-half West Brom corner where his failure to attack the ball saw it drop dangerously near Howard's left-hand post or see him lay a lackadaisical pass off to an opposing player like he's barely interested, it's hard to argue.
Yet, his sheer size and ability to break up play in midfield can be taken for granted and they will be hard assets to replace. And once he had moved forward in the final quarter of an hour of this stalemate, Fellaini looked the more likely outlet to produce a goal thanks to his aerial ability.
Therein lies the conundrum: can we afford to keep such a saleable asset and play him in a position that, while he may favour it, is not where he is most useful to Everton as long as we lack a reliable match-winner further forward? Will his replacement, should he be sold, arrive in time and compensate sufficiently for the immense talents that the Belgian international brings to our team?
Finally, for Martinez, this will clearly not have been the dream home start he would have envisaged. In the incredibly competitive landscape of the top six to eight teams in the Premier League, four dropped points from two eminently winnable games already feel like lost ground. Importantly, for a manager with such a reputation for attacking football, there just wasn't enough of it on show this afternoon, and there was certainly a general lack of drive about his team.
That should change against Stevenage in the League Cup in midweek and his players will hopefully have more opportunity to express themselves against lower-division opposition, but it's in the week-in, week-out grind of the Premier League where his reputation at Everton will be forged.
For Roberto Martinez's first competitive home match in charge of Everton, he selected an unchanged side to start against West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park.
The patient passing game soon gave way to scrappy stuff and head tennis once West Brom got possession. The Baggies were squaling for a penalty early on when Long appeared to trip over with Distin in attendance. Some good play down the right side ended withh a nice diving header from Pienaar, who the fired in a good low shot as Everton turned on their attacking intent.
After another spell of fruitless passing across the back (PATB), Fellaini launched a long ball for Jelavic but he had made his move a fraction early, his third time offside in the early exchanges. The Baggies were doing an effective job of closing Everton down and limiting opportunities for forward play that was beginning to frustrate the Everton crowd. But Barkley got them cheering with a dribble and shot-cross that bobbled wide.
Mirallas was all at sea, with a few strange balls showing a lack of understanding or poor execution. Coleman was having to work hard against Dorens to make space for his crosses as the gameplan seemed thwarted by West Brom's solidity.
mulumbo gave away a stupid handball, earning a clear yellow card and a good free-kick that Mirallas executed poorly, putting it lamely into the wall and Baines fired the rebound wide. Barkley looked to have space for a drive but spooned it well over. But some great football set up Mirallas for a zinger that stung Foster's glove as he tipped it over.
A steal by Fellaini off Molumbu after excellent harrying by Barkley came so close to setting up the first goal but the WBA defence gave him no room to make a decent shot. Pienaar was getting more room and played in Coleman for a shot that Foster stopped well, but it was all really hard work against a very disciplined Baggies defence determined to stiffle Everton's strucured advances.
Olson was bear-hugging Fellaini with impugnity on every corner, one headed in by Osman causing barelyba half-chance that summed up a difficult half for The Blues.
The physical battle continued after the break, morrison getting a fortunate decision in a tussle with Coleman and the delivery almost crept in, Jelavic hacking it away. Everton got a better move down the left but the cross was just ahead of Jelavic, and Baines's corner was poor.
More good pressure led to some feirce shots and more corners, ending in a vicious Osman volley that careened off. Defenders head... No corner!! Unbelievable. Jelavic was then deliberatly blocked by Olson. No yellow card.
Some shocking reverse play by Jelavic let Mulumbu go on an unhindered run that almost saw WBA score. Everton were getting a little stretched at the back as they tried to apply pressure but it was West Brom who put together a neat move with Jacob forcing Howard to make a save. Surely Kone would provide something fresh but Martinez refused to make any chnges well past the hour mark.
subs , 72'
With 15 mins left, Foster developed some problem and Luke Daniels had to replace him, but creating real chaces was still very much ar a premium, with far too few Everton players getting into the WBA penalty area.
Everton were trying their best, and it looked like it would be good enough when Jagielka chipped a perfect ball for Fellaini to chest down at the far post, and sidefoot his shot past Foster... Only for it to smack the far post!
It was heart-in-mouth stuff as the end approached, WBA breaking in again. More corners at the other end, with Fellani getting close to a tipping point, such was his justified frustration over the unpunished illegal attention of the West Brom animals.
A fantastic cross by Coleman almost caught out Daniels, it hitting the bar. A Jagielka mistake almost spoiled the plot as an extremely determined West Brom side denied Roberto Martinez his first Everton victory in an extremely frustrating game that perhaps typifies how difficult it can be to win in the Premier League.
Three and a half months after David Moyes waved his farewell to the home faithful at the end of an eleven-year tenure as Everton manager, his successor, Roberto Martinez, will take to the hallowed turf to be welcomed ahead of his first competitive match at Goodison Park.
A vocal contingent of the core support will, of course, have already witnessed what will, in all likelihood, be the dawn of the Martinez era at Carrow Road last weekend but this weekend offers the opportunity for the new man to properly introduce himself through the changes he has already been making to the Blues' playing style.
Any doubt voiced by some fans during pre-season over the extent to which Martinez's methods were impacting the players' approach went a long way to being erased by the character of Everton's possession-based performance against Norwich, one which saw them dominate the play to an even greater degree than had become the case under Moyes over the last couple of seasons.
Under the Spaniard's predecessor, the Blues had become increasingly dominant in terms of possession, be it at home or away, but there was a notable increase in the players' selfishness with the ball last weekend that skewed the possession statistics to almost an impressive 70-30 ratio in Everton's favour in the first half.
Echoing the team's struggles turning superiority into wins last season, all that first-half possession yielded no goals but Martinez's men struck twice in the space of four minutes in the second half to first cancel out Whitaker's opener and then take the lead through Ross Barkley's stunning strike and Seamus Coleman's alert follow-up.
In all, the Blues had 20 shots to Norwich's eight and there was plenty of promise shown in the game for the season ahead, particularly in the performances of Barkley and Nikica Jelavic. The 19 year-old showed for the first time that he has what it takes to now be a regular starter with an impressively consistent and potent display pulling strings in the attacking midfield role and he compensated to a large degree for the loss to injury of Gibson and an off-key Steven Pienaar.
Certainly, while the central area remains shallow in terms of quality and depth, Barkley has a ready-made role to make his own and, with Gibson unlikely to play any part against West Bromwich Albion, he will get another chance to stake that claim this weekend.
The Baggies were the surprise package of the early weeks of last season and, under Steve Clark, looked to have found the right blend of defensive resilience, midfield drive and goalscoring threat from loan star, Romelu Lukaku, to remain a force in the European picture throughout the campaign.
They lost their momentum as the season wore on, however, and with Lukaku having returned to Chelsea, it's unlikely they will have enough quality to trouble the top six this season. Scott Sinclair has been drafted in on for the season from Manchester City to add some pace and trickery on the flank but in terms of their visit to Goodison Park, it's the absence of Nicolas Anelka that will hit them hardest. The enigmatic Frenchman has been excused from the match on compassionate grounds following the death of his agent.
For Martinez, it will more than likely be a case of as-you-were from the Norwich game, which will mean Jelavic, who, on the evidence at Carrow Road, has carried his pre-season form into the new campaign, starting up front with Arouna Kone on the bench.
Though he toyed with a three-man defence to great effect in the International Champions Cup game against Juventus, it's unlikely that the manager will tinker with things at the back at this early juncture when getting points on the board is so crucial, not least because potential rivals for the top four like Tottenham and Chelsea have got off to winning starts.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2013-14 Reports Index|
|WEST BROM (4-5-1)|
|Foster (78' Daniels)|
|Ronseberg (67' Vydra)|
|Long (81' Brunt)|
|Subs not used|
|5||West Ham United||4|
|17||West Bromwich Albion||1|