It's been a while since I've posted, but normally when I do I am forever optimistic about our chances of winning the title, let alone qualifying for Europe. That just gives you an idea of how optimistic I am... but now I am posting out of sheer frustration at the poor start to the season that we have made.

Just to give a bit of background. I have to hold my hands up and say that I was hugely underwhelmed by the appointment of Roberto Martinez at the beginning of the 2013-14 season. I wasn't sure who we could have appointed as an alternative, the talk here on ToffeeWeb was of the likes of Biesla, Ralf Somebody (German manager whose name I can't remember), Michael Laudrup, and the worst of the bunch as far as I was concerned: Neil Lennon. But ultimately Roberto Martinez was handed the reigns to my beloved blues.

Here was a man who had taken Wigan down to the Championship, albeit winning the FA Cup in the same season – a feat that Everton have not achieved since 1995, I might add – but ultimately getting his team relegated. Some pointed out that he had performed miracles in keeping them up season after season with the meagre resources they had, but the team that got relegated actually had some very good players in it: Kone, McCarthy, McArthur, McManaman to name just a few; and the majority of those players are now back in the Premier League... indeed, two of that list are on our books... I sure as hell remember, that team handed us our arses in the FA Cup that year. So I guess what I am trying to say is that at the time of his appointment, I was not all that pleased.

Last season, however, Roberto Martinez proved me wrong! The deadline day signings of Barry, McCarthy and Lukaku proved to be absolute masterstrokes and I had the most enjoyable season that I have had as an Everton fan in many years. Martinez gave Ross Barkley and Bryan Oviedo their chances in the first team, something that OFM seemed almost unwilling to do, and we played some of the most exciting football I have ever seen Everton ever play.

We had our fullbacks: mainly Baines and Coleman, but Oviedo more than ably filling in as well when Baines was injured (whisper it, but I actually thought we were a better team last year with Oviedo at left back as opposed to Baines!!), bombing up the flanks at every opportunity; Barry and McCarthy providing one of the most solid and dependable central midfield partnerships in the league; and then Barkley and Mirallas showing that they could be the creative impetus that we had lacked for so many seasons before hand; all topped off by the mercurial Lukaku, who seemed to finally provide us with goals, that again we have missed for so many seasons in the past.

Martinez also seemed to understand that Stephen Naismith was a striker and not a winger – a deep lying striker maybe, but definitely not a winger – and he began to pop up with goals that won us games, becoming a player that us fans actually wanted in the team, as opposed to the pariah that he had become under OFM.

To add to all the attacking flair and exciting play, we also had the third meanest defence in the league with Jagielka and Distin proving that age wasn't yet getting the better of them, and an exciting young prospect in John Stones providing more than adequate cover (again whisper it, but some might say better cover) when Jags was out of the team injured.

Things were looking up for us: we went and won at Old Trafford; had a 'ding-dong' Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park; and smashed Arsenal, again at Goodison. We had our best ever points total in the Premier League last season, which in any other season would have netted us Champions League football... it just so happened that there were 4 teams in the league that garnered more points than we did. Frustrating, but overall, the best season I have had as an Everton fan in a long time, finishing 5th in the league, gaining a place in the Europa League to bring European football back to Goodison for the first time in a while, and a lot to look forward to for this season.

The Summer transfer window came and only in my wildest dreams did I ever think that we would sign Lukaku on a permanent contract, but sign him we did and the optimism only grew! Martinez had made some bold statements at the start of the summer: something along the lines of needing seven new faces to compete in all of the competitions we were entering into, but seven new faces didn't arrive – not seven new faces for the first team anyway. Lukaku and Besic were our main first-team signings and, with the emergence of McGeady, and then the loan signing of Atsu, and finally the signing of Eto'o (a world superstar who again the likes of I never thought I would see at Everton) that huge optimism remained, on my part at least anyway.

By the time Eto'o arrived, however, things weren't going quite the way I had envisaged. Our pre-season had yielded pretty much all terrible results and the players didn't quite seem up to the mark in terms of fitness. Some people on here suggested that results in pre-season are nothing to worry about – the sole purpose of pre-season was just to get players up to speed in terms of match fitness. I have to say, however, that I disagree with this because I believe that, if you can get a winning spirit bedded into the team through pre-season, then that will continue into the season itself... although Man Utd seem to be proving that theory incorrect!

An opening-day fixture against newly promoted Leicester City was our first game of the season and I thought that, although away from home, Leicester were going to be one of the teams that would go straight back down, and we would therefore give them a harsh welcome to the realities of the Premier League. Sure enough, we were 2-0 up... but then, at the end of the second half, perhaps the sluggishness from pre-season caught up with us: they came back to 2-2 and we had dropped 2 points from what should have been a winning start to our campaign.

The same thing happened in our next match against Arsenal at Goodison Park, I was feeling positive for this match given the beating we gave them last year, and again we raced into a 2-0 lead but subsequently succumbed again and conceded two goals in the second half, to walk away from the game with a 2-2 draw. Some might suggest that this is a respectable result against the Arsenal but, given that we were 2-0 up, questions were now being asked around our defence.

Next up was Chelsea at home. Although they had made some strong signings in the summer, I was fairly confident given the result we had against them last year at Goodison, and the fact that although we had surrendered two winning positions, we were scoring goals. I therefore I felt that, with Lukaku being able to actually play against his old team, he might have something to prove to the manager that let him go, and we would be able to give Chelsea a run for their money.

We all know what happened in the end in that game, but what surprised me the most was the fact that we were 2-0 down after 2 minutes. I had logged on to the live match-day feed on ToffeeWeb as always, to find a live TV feed for the game, and was looking forward to what promised to be an exciting encounter, but by the time I had scanned down the list of comments to find a feed, and then scrolled back up to the top again to keep up with the match, we were 2-0 down. 2-0 down after 2 minutes – what the hell was Everton’s defence up to?

Regrettably I couldn’t be bothered to watch the rest of the game, because our football to mount a comeback at times was sublime, I hear, but ultimately we still lost the game, and although we scored three against the team that I feel will win the league, we shipped six goals at home in front of the Goodison faithful. It’s been a long time since we shipped six at home; Lescott and the Arsenal game rings a bell, but I thought we were past those days? Questions had to be asked about our defence...

I was told by a colleague at work, who is a Chelsea fan, that Jags was an absolute passenger that day, and according to some of the comments made on here after the Leicester and Arsenal games, Jags had been a bit of a defensive liability all season. I don’t know if this was because of the fact that he still hadn’t really recovered from his injury at the end of last season, or whether his confidence had taken a beating as a result of him receiving poor reviews for his performances during England’s disastrous campaign at the World Cup. The only game I watched of the World Cup was England against Italy because, for the other two games, I was in the South of France on holiday with the family. I did manage to listen to the Uruguay game whilst driving down there but, after losing that game, and crashing out of the tournament, I wasn’t bothered about watching the Costa Rica game, a bit of a damp squib if ever there was one, as far as I am aware anyway.

But, Jagielka's performance in the Italy game wasn’t all that bad I thought – wasn’t it Jags that headed off the line and over the bar to keep the score-line respectable in the first place? The reason for England’s poor performance, especially in the England, Italy game was because Steven Gerrard offered Leighton Baines absolutely no protection whatsoever when he bombed forward to assist with the attack in his usual manner. Either Stevie G was lazy or Roy Hodgson had no real idea how to play the 4-2-3-1 formation that Martinez had used with such success last season. Again, Leighton Baines got the blame, but then that’s the typical pundits response when an Everton player gets into the England team. We’re not of the favoured four/five so blame them... but anyway, I digress. Ultimately I didn’t think Jags was as bad at the World Cup as was made out.

What was certain, however, is that he certainly hadn’t been playing well for us and our defence was leaking goals like a sieve. Something that we are not used to as Everton fans. The Jags and Distin partnership, which had served us so well over the past few seasons, was beginning to creak and at that stage of the season, by all accounts, Jags was the main culprit. I would certainly have advocated a break for Jags at that point, to be replaced by Stones, who had looked so impressive in his various spells at centre-back for us in Jagielka's absence at the end of last season.

Fortunately for us, that break came through the enforced international break, and Jags lost his place in the England line-up, with Stones getting the nod for England at right-back. Two non-descript performances from Stones in the right-back position for England – not that he did anything wrong of course, he just didn’t do anything particularly spectacular, other than be the calm, assured player that we know he is – further enhanced my thoughts that he is not cut out to be a right-back, but that he should be first choice on Everton’s team-sheet for a berth at centre back. The good thing about the international break was that Jags came on for the last 20 minutes or so in the Switzerland game and appeared to have got his ‘mojo’ back, being instrumental in keeping the scoreline as it was during his appearance.

Some people on here had suggested after the Leicester, Arsenal and Chelsea games that Distin had not performed all that badly, and therefore, if one of the two from our normally so reliable partnership at the back was to be dropped, it had to be Jags, especially given his pretty terrible performances in the Premier League up until that point. However, Distin had succumbed to injury during training and therefore, for our match away at West Brom, Jags and Stones were partnered for the first time in central defence.

Now I didn’t watch the game through a feed, or log onto ToffeeWeb, I just kind of knew that we were going to get our first win of the season. West Brom had been pretty terrible in the league and Alan Irvine had had to replace a whole team's worth of players. As it turned out, my expectations proved correct and guess what? We kept a clean sheet. I don’t know how lucky we were to keep that clean sheet, and from what I read after the game, there were some scary moments as we tried to play it out from the back, as is the way under the new Martinez regime, but ultimately, we kept a clean sheet, with a partnership of Jags and Stones at the back.

Up next was our first foray into Europe this season, with the home tie against Wolfsburg, and Martinez went with the same team that beat West Brom, with Jags and Stones forming the central defensive pairing. Now I watched this game on ITV4 and, but for the last kick of the game, we would have kept a second clean sheet in a row. There was more of the passing out and around at the back going on but, from what I saw, although at times it can be a bit tedious, we had the ability to do it, sometimes in quite tight situations and still get out of them, without any sloppy mistakes happening.

The media have suggested that we were lucky to get a 4-1 win, and that we should be grateful to Tim Howard for the 14 saves or so that he made in the second half to keep Wolfsburg out, but watching the game, only one or two of them were last-gasp saves: the majority were regulation, down his throat, easy stops or catches. We visibly took our foot off the gas after Leighton Baines put away the penalty at the start of the second half, and let Wolfsburg have the lion's share of the possession. Baines and Coleman were no longer bombing up the flanks as they had done throughout the first half, when we totally dominated the game, and I fully believe that we were essentially strolling for the rest of the game, in the knowledge that victory was in the bag.

Again, what impressed me about the defence in that game was the willingness they had in the second half to get in the way of shots, chase players down, make interceptions, and basically keep Wolfsburg out. In the first half, Jags, on the left hand side of defence surprisingly, looked comfortable playing the ball out and around, as is Martinez’s want, and Stones was his calm and assured self. We did not look like we were going to concede in that first half and the nice possession football was working a treat. It can sometimes be heart-in-your-mouth stuff but against Wolfsburg it was working and we actually looked good doing it. When it mattered in the second half we battled and, but for a stupid free kick given away by Gibson and their left back scoring with a beauty off the post for the last kick of the game, that would have been another clean sheet for the Jags-Stones partnership.

What was to follow in our next game in the Premier League has shocked me and probably provided the initial impetus for me to write this article. Crystal Palace at home, when they are bottom of the league and without a win all season is a home banker for me. I know they beat us at Goodison last season and essentially ended our chase for that fourth and final spot in the Champions League, qualification stage anyway, but I thought that we would have enough about us to be able to beat Crystal Palace at home, at Goodison Park.

I settled down to watch the match on a feed provided through the forum. Although we had made some changes, I still thought we would have enough about us to win the game. I was surprised, however, to see that, although Stones was on the pitch, he was playing at right back, and the old stalwarts Jags and Distin had been reunited in the centre of defence. The same Jags and Distin that had failed so miserably together in our first few games of the season – not the partnership of Jags and Stones which in the past two games had basically had two clean sheets. (Alright, one technically wasn’t... but it nearly was.)

The game started well and for the first half an hour, including a cracking goal from Lukaku, after a wonderful through ball from the much maligned Osman, there only looked to be one winner to the game. Crystal Palace could not get near the ball. We were playing it around at the back, looking confident in doing so, and occasionally making breaks into the Palace box as and when the chance arose. Even the Jags and Distin partnership looked comfortable. What happened after that though disturbs me. We gave away a stupid penalty, and I appreciate that Stones was part of the confusion that caused the penalty (but he was playing in an unorthodox position for him), and after the penalty had been smashed home, the nature of the game changed in its entirety.

We all know the end result, and it could be said that the goals conceded against Palace could be put down to individual errors: Howard for their second and Osman for the third, but ultimately we conceded three goals at home with a back four of Stones, Jags, Distin and Baines, with the central pairing being Jags and Distin. And here is the crux of my argument...

We had just played two games with Stones and Jags being the centre-back pairing and, all but for a last minute peach of a free-kick by the Wolfsburg left back, we had kept two clean sheets in a row. So why change things?

I understand that players need resting when there is European football, Cup football and League football to be accounted for, but we are only at the start of the season. There is a view that maybe we are looking for the fitness of our players to be maintained throughout the whole of the season, which would suggest that resting players for games that on paper we really should win is an acceptable thing to do. But please, why rest players for the Premier League, when the season is only 4 games old, as it was before the Crystal Palace game?

By all means rest players, but only when the time is right to rest them – please do not rest them for games in the Premier League. This is our bread and butter, the league is what the fans really all tune in to see, and we want to see Everton doing well in the Premier League. We need to play our best team in the league at every opportunity.

It had already been well documented that, for various reasons, the Everton defence was leaking goals in the first three matches of the season, but in our previous two games we had near as damn it kept two clean sheets; and we had done it by playing the passing out and around at the back football that Martinez likes; we had looked comfortable playing that style of football; and we had done it with Stones and Jags as our centre back pairing.

Martinez had the opportunity for that partnership to grow and cement itself as our first choice pairing in the Crystal Palace game, and he chose not to take it, but he wasn’t actually resting either Stones or Jags: both were on the pitch. Now I appreciate that Seamus wasn’t available for selection as a result of the knock to the head that he took towards the end of the Wolfsburg game, but we had a right back available in his absence by the name of Tony Hibbert. He did actually play in our midweek mauling by Swansea in the League Cup, and was torn a new one by their new winger, Jefferson Montero.

Prior to that game, we did not know that Tony Hibbert would not necessarily be up to speed for that game, and therefore not up to speed for the Palace game either. He has been professional in the past and for two seasons now has been willing to simply provide cover for Seamus as and when required, but surely Tony Hibbert could have done a job against Palace? For the opportunity to play Stones and Jags at the back for a third game in a row, and potentially secure another clean sheet, in a game that we really should be looking to keep a clean sheet, surely it’s worth the risk?

Now I don’t want to put a downer on Sylvain Distin here. The man has been a rock for us since he signed and has shown nothing but sheer professionalism in keeping himself as fit as he has in the latter stages of his career. But, there has to come a time when players have to be sent out to pasture. Distin played at centre back in that Swansea game and again we shipped three goals. For me that is enough. When it comes to the league we need to have a solid defensive partnership, and that solid defensive partnership is already there at Everton in the form of Stones and Jags.

Please, Mr Martinez, let's not let this blip of conceding lots of goals in games become a full blown crisis. Please do not let our defenders begin to believe that they are unable to keep a clean sheet. We have the answer within our own ranks and, to me at least, Stones and Jags have been able to comfortably play the style of football that you like to play, as well as knuckle down and battle hard when needed, as shown in the second half of the Wolfsburg game.

Please do not let the critics comment that Martinez can play a vast and expansive attacking style of football, but has no clue when it comes to defending (just look at Wigan as a prime example), come true. You showed throughout last season that you have the capability to manage both styles, and the answer to the current blip in terms of defending lies right in front of you, within the very team that you picked for the Palace game in fact. So please, going forwards, wherever possible, please select Stones and Jags as our first choice defensive pairing. Hopefully, just hopefully, we can then begin to climb back up the table to the place where we belong, which for a long time last season, as we flirted in and around the top 4, made being an Everton fan an easy and enjoyable experience! Please show us that last season was simply not a fluke!

And let's start on Saturday, away at Anfield, and give those stinking reds the pasting that I know we can give them, as well as keeping a clean sheet – with Stones and Jags at the back!

Up the Toffees!!!

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Reader Comments (12)

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Norman Merrill
1 Posted 25/09/2014 at 14:55:42
Steve, the fact that you made the effort to send your thoughts in deserves some answers. But the first games of the new campaign have left most Evertonians speechless.

As for the next match, I really don't know which Everton are going to turn up? Our record at Anfield over the past 10 years is not worth thinking about. And the present form, would suggest Roberto is struggling to choose a team, that can alter things.

At best, let's hope we come away with some credit??

David Harrison
2 Posted 25/09/2014 at 15:16:33
Yes Norman. Some were suggesting that Crystal Palace were our bogey team. I think there’s an even bigger bogey looming on the near horizon
Ingi Eyjolfz
3 Posted 25/09/2014 at 15:28:52
I share many of your thoughts mate. I still feel the players should take some responsibility for the team performance. Bad tactics is one thing but not turning up and giving your all in a blue shirt is unforgivable in my books.
James Stewart
4 Posted 25/09/2014 at 16:10:24
Wow that was nearly dissertation proportion! A lot of sense in there though.

Interesting to see this published today: Marseille are early Ligue 1 pacesetters.

A quote that struck me:

"Marseille had 60% of the ball but it felt like far more than that: every time a Reims player received a pass they were under pressure, while when Marseille had it they were always looking to advance. There was no sterile possession, no knocking it square across the pitch, taking the sting out of the game: this was a festival of verticality, 5-0 going on 10-0."

Surely that is the stuff we need to be attempting!

Jay Harris
5 Posted 25/09/2014 at 16:22:36
Steve, An interesting expose of our recent games but IMO it is far too easy to blame Distin or Howard.

When you look at us as a team we are lethargic and lacking spirit. When the ball goes up front it does not stick and comes straight back on the defence who are then turned putting them in a difficult position.

As a defender you have a right to believe your forwards will not surrender possession so easily. I blame two things for this the formation and the general fitness and motivation of the players both of which are down to the manager.

I criticised Roy Hodgson for effectively playing 3 centre forwards at the expense of MF (Sturridge, Rooney, Welbeck) 4 if you include Sterling.

It is OK to play 4-2-3-1 but not if that 3 cannot hold onto the ball and do not win the ball back.

You cannot play the likes of Naismith, Eto'o, Lukaku, Atsu, Osman and McGeady and not expect to get tonked on the break, especially if you are asking both full backs to get up the pitch. It is suicide and that is why Wigan got relegated with a record number of goals against.

Barcelona got away with it because of the quality of players they have but even they have been sussed now. We seriously need to beef our MF up with ball winners who can score goals not "pretty" footballers.

Phil Brown
6 Posted 25/09/2014 at 16:45:09
Not a bad article until near the end where a little selective memory surfaces.

You wanted Stones to play centre-back and Hibbert at right-back - Tuesday night was a good indicator of how Tony would have got on against Bolasie - a frightening prospect indeed, we'd have been lucky to keep it to three goals against.

Roberto must know a thing or two about this management game!

Jay Harris
7 Posted 25/09/2014 at 17:24:20
Phil
if he knew a thing about managing that game he would have ensured somebody tracked back with Bolassie or backed Stones up with Mccarthy or Jags.

IT IS A TEAM GAME.

Harold Matthews
8 Posted 25/09/2014 at 21:50:21
James. Very interesting piece on Marseille, especially as they are managed by Marcelo Bielsa, a great hero of our own Roberto Martinez. Makes our slow sideways progression even more puzzling.
Danny Broderick
9 Posted 25/09/2014 at 22:19:31
Wow, that was a long article. But I do agree, I think Distin has been worse than Jags this season, but Jags has kopped all the flak. Howard has also been poor at times.

The fact that Distin played the other night makes me think it will be Stones and Jags at centre half. That makes sense to me. Jags may not have had a great season, but he hasn't lost it. He is 32 I think. He's been one of the best defenders in the Prem for the last few seasons.

So too has Distin, but he is now 36. It's only natural he is starting to decline - if anything, it's remarkable he has been such a good player up until now. He is the one who needs to be eased out for Stones.

While I'm not confident, they say that the form book goes out of the window every year on derby day. Let's hope that's the case for us on Saturday...

Eddie Dunn
10 Posted 26/09/2014 at 08:39:43
Surely it is now obvious that it is not just down to the back five that we have been so poor defensively.

Lukaku can't hold it up, and many of his offloads go to the opposition. McGeady also loses the ball too often, ditto Osman & Atsu. As someone just posted, with the full-backs bombing on, our midfield gets overrun and the defence outnumbered.

Roberto said yesterday that it was the whole team that needed to defend better. It will be interesting to see the response in formation and attitude on Saturday.

James Stewart
12 Posted 26/09/2014 at 17:42:09
@8 Exactly what I thought, Harold. The sideways stuff really is infuriating sometimes especially when we have the chance to of a quick break or a player is in space. Very easy to defend against. Tika taka is only effective in an attacking sense at speed.

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