Blues Draw a Frustrating Blank

A chance to make strides towards the top four goes begging as Everton struggle to break down Swansea who finished with 10 men

Lyndon Lloyd 03/11/2014 26comments  |  Jump to last

Everton 0 - 0 Swansea City

After spending so much of the last six weeks away from home, this home match against a Swansea City side who had won just one of their last six was, on paper at least, another good opportunity to put another win on the board and make up more ground in the top half the table.

Unfortunately, the reality was far more underwhelming as Everton came up against another side prepared to put men behind the ball and dare their hosts to break them down. Not for the first time in recent years, the Blues could not summon enough imagination or supply the final ball to unlock the Swans' defence despite dominating the encounter for long stretches.

It was an encounter with the South Wales side that bore little resemblance to the open, five-goal feast at Goodison back in March. That day, it was Swansea who had the greater share of possession but Everton who emerged worthy winners thanks to a Leighton Baines penalty and goals from Romelu Lukakua and Ross Barkley.

There would be no such attacking success this time, though, as Baines struggled uncharacteristically from dead-ball situations, Barkley betrayed some lingering rustiness in the crucial final third of the field, and Lukaku came on with 23 minutes to go to join a performance sorely lacking in guile and invention; consequently, chances were few and his prospects of finding a winner were small. Far from opening up some space in which the home side could operate, Jonjo Shelvey's dismissal in the second half for a second bookable offence merely galvanised further the visitors' defensive resolve.

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It was frustrating because Everton were so dominant in the first half and that should have been a platform on which to build a second-half display capable of seeing Swansea off. Granted, they created just as few clear-cut openings before the break as they did afterwards, but it just seemed like it would be a matter of time before they carved something out to break the deadlock.

Samuel Eto'o had popped up in the Swansea box inside the first minute and engineered the game's first shot on target from Gareth Barry's touch forward but his shot lacked power. And Aiden McGeady tested Lukasz Fabianski with a low shot from just outside the box that the 'keeper spilled behind for the first of a number dreadful set-piece deliveries from Baines who came into the game seeking to tie Graeme Le Saux's Premier League record for assists. His one well-struck effort was a free kick after Eto'o's jinking run was curtailed by a clumsy challenge from Ki Sung-Yeung but the England fullback's effort dropped a yard wide of the post.

At the other end, the in-form Wilfried Bony sprung the offside trap and looked odds-on to score but he fired just wide with just Tim Howard to beat, while Antolin Alcaraz's clear handball on Shelvey's shot following McGeady's glaring giveaway in the centre of the park went unpunished by the typically abysmal Kevin Friend.

It would be Alcaraz's last significant intervention, not only of the match but for many to come it would seem. The Paraguayan defender, who has looked so assured over his last three games in place of John Stones, injured his shoulder in an aerial duel with Bony and was withdrawn in obvious discomfort, to be replaced by Muhamed Besic. The Bosnian slotted into midfield, with Barry dropping back alongside Phil Jagielka and it was testament to Swansea's general lack of adventure that the change was barely noticeable.

Gary Monk had favoured the high-pressing and counter attack approach and it nearly paid off six minutes after half time when Bony rolled Jagielka all-too easily and fed Shelvey but, thankfully, the ex-Kopite belted a first-time effort wide before Gylfi Sigurdsson, ballooned a volley into the Park End a minute later.

Everton had their moments on the break themselves, not least when Steven Naismith, for whom nothing else really went right all afternoon, cut back inside and fed McGeady but the Irish international couldn't bend his left-foot shot inside the far post, missing the target by a few feet instead.

Then, after Shelvey had walked for blocking off James McCarthy in full flight and Eto'o had driven the resulting free kick into the wall, the Cameroonian was tripped out wide and Jagielka had a half-chance in front of goal when a high defensive clearance dropped back into the six-yard box but the defender's header bounced onto the roof of the net when a surer contact would almost have certainly resulted in an Everton goal.

By the time Lukaku had replaced McGeady and Steven Pienaar had come on for Naismith, the Blues had all the ingredients on the field that you would want (with the obvious exception of the injured Kevin Mirallas) in order to break down an entrenched defence but the balance never felt right all afternoon. Eto'o had excelled in a withdrawn role at Burnley last weekend but was deployed as an out-and-out striker in Lukaku's absence, while Barkley filled the "number 10" position. After the Belgian was introduced, Barkley appeared to move left and Eto'o played more towards the right, with the result being very little penetration.

Indeed, Fabianski wasn't tested in the second period; the one shot that might have done, a powerful drive from Baines in injury time, struck Lukaku on its way to goal and bounced well away from the target. Pienaar's attempted volley a minute earlier also looked to catch the Belgian striker and deflect wide, while the final attack of the match ended with Eto'o's cross just eluding the boot of Lukaku, who was whistled offside anyway.

For Swansea it was mission accomplished but for Everton it represented another afternoon of frustration just when it seemed as though they were beginning to hit their stride. A 70% share of possession in the first 45 minutes really should have yielded more than three efforts on target, something that Martinez will hopefully take on board as the season progresses. His side's inability to break down stubborn defences was an issue last season and appears to be again this season. Mirallas' return will help but it's going to take greater invention elsewhere in the side to propel the Blues towards the top four.

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Reader Comments (26)

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Aman Kanji
1 Posted 03/11/2014 at 07:00:52
Too many players off form, not helped by our manager taking off our most potent threat in the game, McGeady.

Ross was poor,as he was at Burnley, however he stayed on the pitch. What happened to 'rotation' and using best players for each game?

Pienaar should have started with Ossie coming on for Ross.

Lee Wareham
2 Posted 03/11/2014 at 08:15:48
Bobby has to sort this out and not be so stubborn about his tippy-tappy possession based football. Goals win games, who cares about possession?
Max Wilson
3 Posted 03/11/2014 at 08:56:28
Swansea were far more demanding opponents than Villa or Burnley and arrived full of confidence having whipped a weakened Blues back in their own yard.

In my opinion, RM chose some of the wrong players to take the Swans on. By half time, it was obvious that they were feeling very comfortable with our ineffective midfield. Sadly it took RM 60 minutes to see the light and make some changes.

Eto'o needed an equally talented fellow hitman with him and when he finally got one after 68 minutes, it was already looking a bit late. So I blame RM for this result. McCarthy was once again outstanding; Jags, Baines & Coleman all put in a good shift against tough opposition.

RM seems to be dithering with his choice of players – does he know who is real talent is? With Alan Irvine no longer at his side, has he lost a prudent voice in his ear? We can't afford to see our best players languishing on the bench.

Chris James
4 Posted 03/11/2014 at 09:47:03
I kind of get your gist Max but I think you're target is wrong.

For most of the first half, we completely dominated and were increasingly pouring wave upon wave of attack on their defence who were getting increasingly frustrated and fouling. The reason we didn't get the breakthrough is that: (i) we spent too much time passing around the box looking for the perfect pass, rather than playing quick first-time balls or having a crack on goal; and (ii) our set-piece delivery was woeful (both corners and free-kicks).

In terms of blame for the above, the insistence on holding the ball maybe down to Martinez to a point, but the attacking players need to be sharper and spot opportunities. Is it Martinez's fault Baines can't beat the first man with a corner? Probably not.

In the second half, Swansea came at us and created more space on the counter initially, but the major turning points for me were:

(i) the Alcaraz injury which lead to a break-up of our first choice midfield (Martinez was at fault for not having a central defender on the bench);

(ii) the late withdrawal of Naismith – who was having a poor game by his recent standards;

(iii) the unnecessary withdrawal of McGeady – who had been, along with some moments from Barkley – the one player who looked likely of unsettling their defence and getting some shots off (again, Martinez to blame here);

(iv) The sending off of Shelvey, after which Swansea just retreated back into 100% defence mode.

I do agree with you that Naismith should've come off earlier either for Pienaar or Lukaku, but the double sub didn't help us at all and robbed us of pace.

I think it's also fair to point out that Lukaku's contribution to the game and the result of having 2 up was negative if anything. 22 minutes is more than enough to have some impact from the bench, but he had none. The only thing he did in fact was to block Baines's howitzer which could well have been dangerous.

I think it's too early to get on his case, especially with this niggling toe injury, but if he's really as good as he says he is, then he needs to be making an impact in these games.

Michael Penley
5 Posted 03/11/2014 at 10:23:43
"Is it Martinez's fault Baines can't beat the first man with a corner? Probably not."

Come on mate, you make it sound like that's a difficult thing. Any decent under 10s should be able to handle getting the ball over the first man. The fact that Baines doesn't, while he did before under Moyes, is squarely down to Martinez. It's obviously a Martinez tactic, and a totally inept one because it's got us bugger all so far.

If you're right, however, and Baines really can't put a ball over the first man on a corner, he shouldn't be anywhere near the first team or EFC for that matter.

Jay Rollinson
6 Posted 03/11/2014 at 10:41:45
"Any decent under 10s should be able to handle getting the ball over the first man. The fact that Baines doesn't, while he did before under Moyes, is squarely down to Martinez. It's obviously a Martinez tactic"

Eh? The manager tells his set piece 'specialist' to deliberately aim for the opposition fucker on the front post? What a crock of shit. Baines has always struck more poor corners than sweet, as has Mirallas, as did Arteta. Nothing to do with instructions from the manager.

Paul Andrews
7 Posted 03/11/2014 at 10:57:49
Michael @5

It’s squarely down to Martinez. A Martinez tactic not to get the ball over the first man?

All due respect, mate, you may want to have another look at that.

Gerry Quinn
8 Posted 03/11/2014 at 13:27:45
Anyone favour this kind of "Sin Miedo" attack from kick-off? I vote for Jags to be the man to hoof it forward

David Hallwood
9 Posted 03/11/2014 at 13:19:03
Good shout, Chris James (#4);

Watching Arsenal, Citteh & Chelski this week illustrates our deficiencies in the final third. Even allowing for the teams having better midfield players, whoever was on the ball in the final third he had 4-5 players busting a gut to get into the box, which is absent from our game.

It really should be drilled into players that, because we have the two holders, the middle three and the best pair of full backs in the league should be more aggressive/alive in the business end of the field.

Harold Matthews
10 Posted 03/11/2014 at 15:57:28
David H #9. Very true. Busting a gut to get into the box is definately absent from our game. Martinez said we lacked enthusiasm which, if correct, has to be a slight worry.
Jay Harris
11 Posted 03/11/2014 at 16:46:04
I still maintain that team selection is the problem for us.

Whenever we have an overprepondrance of attacking players be it Nais, Eto, Lukaku,Barkley Ossie or McGeady the MF is left weaker and The attackers all want to occupy the space where they feel most comfortable thereby getting in each others way hence the multi two touch passing that went on on Saturday.

If Barkley plays then IMO we have a choice of one of Eto, Lukaku or Naismith and beef the MF up.

We also suffered with Barry having to drop into the back 4 another poor selection not having Distin on the bench.

Linda Morrison
12 Posted 03/11/2014 at 19:02:54
I agree with Jay what the hell is going on between Martinez and Disitn? Does anyone know?

I saw on a copy of the Echo last week I am sure that both Osman and Disitin were going to be discussing new contracts in January.I know I have snow on the roof but I did not dream it!

I then read in today's Guardian that Roberto stated that "Disiitn has not been himself" What does this mean

Martinez needs to eat a big piece of humble pie as we now need Distin even more.

We have to accept that Kone is gone and so is probably Gibson and Alcatraz. Get the insurance and finish them off they will not come back anyway near what we need.
Apparently Roberto was irritated after the game think this is due to the fact he selected a team based on how he assumed Swansea would play and they did not play ball. I understand the need to rotate due to Europe but look at Southampton they have the same team and are doing well. Lesson learnt.

On a positive note note LFC lost and MU should have had Big Hair sent off for spitting!

I know people go on about Europe but I think we play better when we play mid week. Win on Thursday and Sunday you see

Colin Glassar
13 Posted 03/11/2014 at 19:18:53
He's been in a strop ever since he was dropped Linda. No one can be guaranteed a place and if an experienced player like him can't see that then tough.
Totally agree with the rest of your post.
Will Firstbrook
14 Posted 03/11/2014 at 19:10:31
I do find this "lack of enthusiasm" observation to be quite worrying indeed. Certainly not playing like world beaters and most are on a king's ransom. These guys are supposed to be professionals and shouldn't require their manager or anyone else to constantly motivate them. Perhaps Bobby needs to start planting his brogues into a few backsides to help them find that enthusiasm.
Patrick Murphy
15 Posted 03/11/2014 at 19:27:37
Perhaps Roberto meant a lack of urgency rather than a lack of enthusiasm - I don't think any Premier League manager worth his salt would admit that his team lacked enthusiasm unless it was a team like Sunderland getting beat 8-0 at St. Mary's earlier this season.
Linda Morrison
16 Posted 03/11/2014 at 19:32:55
Colin was he in a strop as he was singled out at a time when the rest of the defence was crap? If this is the case you can't blame him.

That is in the past we need him now as I think the bird man is cooked!

Who have we got if Jags gets a knock apart from the Toffee Lady?

Patrick Murphy
17 Posted 03/11/2014 at 19:35:50
Linda - I like Distin but he has to appreciate that he works for the Manager and the Manager's decision is final regardless of its merits, once a manger shows any weakness or a lowering of standards it has a detrimental effect on the team both in terms of morale and results.

Colin Glassar
19 Posted 03/11/2014 at 20:13:21
Linda, he was the worst out of a bad bunch admittedly. He will get games now so hopefully he's got his head back together.
Gavin Johnson
20 Posted 03/11/2014 at 20:07:33
The whole defence were at fault in those first games, but the statistics speak for themselves (our results picked up when Distin was dropped) and before anyone mentions the 0-0 at Lille, I wasn't convinced by his performance in that game either. I think our upturn has had more to do with Jags's re-emergence of form.

I totally agree with Patrick: the manager's decision is final and if anyone needs to eat humble pie it should be Sylvain Distin.

Harold Matthews
21 Posted 03/11/2014 at 20:37:38
Linda. Spot on with reason for starting line-up. You don't miss much.

Jay. Hmm 16 letter word. Will take a bit of beating. Have you been chatting with Roberto?

Robert Miller
22 Posted 03/11/2014 at 20:45:53
I have been encouraged by all the talk of Eto’o being a mentor to Lukaku. However, I think we need to set out our stall in a manner that allows our top signing to express himself and grow in confidence as a result.

Also, I think Coleman being on top form and doing what he does so well in creating and taking chances is a key to winning games; he’s been a bit off his peak the last couple of games. I feel that these two factors are key to getting the most out of the upcoming fixtures.

Mark Frere
23 Posted 03/11/2014 at 20:58:48
Jay (11) You have been going on about 'beefing up the midfield' for weeks now; even when McCarthy, Barry and Naismith were all in midfield, it wasn't beefy enough for you. What exactly does this 'beefy midfield' you have in mind look like?

I think we are just fine on the beef front, but are lacking a creative midfielder with a bit of craft. The closest thing to a creative player we have is probably Osman and his legs have gone, plus he's never been a consistent performer. Hopefully RM will address the 'playmaker issue' in January.

David Hallwood
24 Posted 03/11/2014 at 22:20:58
Re Centre Backs. How about a try for Ashley Williams in January. A top class defender, never seen him have a bad game, cost a bit mind.
Sam Hoare
25 Posted 03/11/2014 at 22:41:30
Mark 23, yes indeed. A central playmaker is missing. A Silva, cazorla, eriksen, mata type.

David, 24, a solid player for sure but would prefer someone younger. Quite like Winston Reid at west ham and he cous be out of contract this summer. Hopefully though Stones and Jags will be our CB pairing for the next couple of years by which time one of Browning/Galloway/Kenny etc will be able to take over from Jags.

Gavin Johnson
26 Posted 03/11/2014 at 23:49:40
Sam, I'm in agreement on Winston Reid fitting the bill for a new centre-back. He's the right age, and wouldn't cost a ridiculous amount if he's adamant about not signing a new contract. That would give us three quality defenders with Stones and Jags.

We'd then be sorted for the foreseeable until one of the kids stepped up. If we also managed to offload Distin and Alcaraz, I think the defence would be sorted for many years to come.

Norman Merrill
27 Posted 04/11/2014 at 17:35:04
The occasional shot at Goal might help?
Instead of the passing to death, in the middle of the park.

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