Everton 0 - 1 Tottenham Hotspur
In the context of the season upon which it brought the curtain down, this meeing with Tottenham was essentially meaningless – except perhaps the £1.2m it cost the club in Premier League merit revenue between finishing 10th and 11th, and the manner in which it epitomised a lost domestic campaign.
If it was in any way supposed to be a look to the future, however, it provided an unsettling glimpse into just how much 2015-16 will be a repeat of the misery Evertonians have endured on the domestic front this season if there isn't some serious investment on the playing side and a re-examination of what goes on on the training pitch under Roberto Martinez.
Decked out in the new home kit, boasting a line-up close to full strength (when you remove the perpetually injured Steven Pienaar from the equation), and coming off an uplifting win at West Ham, this was an opportunity to send the supporters into the close season on an optimistic note.
Unfortunately, it underscored in many ways why Everton have finished a season in the bottom half of the table for the first time in nine years. They were inferior in almost every department against a Spurs side that was quicker, slicker and hungrier for three points that ensured it was they who finish in the fifth position occupied by the Blues this time last year.
Mauricio Pochettino's men were better on the ball and passed it with ease at times through Everton's midfield, while the home side laboured to play enough joined-up football to provide the link between a familiarly isolated Romelu Lukaku and a midfield lacking in the kind of guile and imagination that someone like the absent Pienaar can provide.
Martinez spoke before the game of how pleased he is with the core of his team and his desire to bring in three or four but this final defeat in a campaign that featured 15 of them in the Premier League illustrated that a few targeted signings might not be enough. The Catalan's much-vaunted free-flowing and attacking style has eroded away over a demoralising campaign and the movement and touches displayed by the visitors shows where the work needs to be done at Finch Farm.
Indeed, Everton struggled at times to cope with that movement, particuarly in the first half where they ceded the bulk of possession to their opponents but without any of the space they enjoyed on the counter-attack in the recent win over Manchester United. Their passing was noticeably less crisp and precise than Tottenham's and it was worrying how easily they were being contained and then played through by the likes of Christian Eriksen, Ryan Mason, Moussa Dembele and Nasir Chadli.
And yet, after home debutant Brendan Galloway's blushes had been saved by Tim Howard – the American made an excellent reflex save to deny Erik Lamela following Galloway's giveaway in the middle of the park – it was the Blues who should have taken the lead. Ross Barkley slipped the Belgian in behind the Tottenham defence with a superbly-weighted ball but Kevin Mirallas, starting in place of the ineligble Aaron Lennon and usually so deadly in one-on-one situations, could only place a side-foot shot that Hugo Lloris easily smothered down to his left.
He almost made amends with a clever juggle of the ball past his marker and a dipping volley bar five minutes later but his effort flew narrowly over.
Instead it was Spurs who broke the deadlock in infuriatingly simple fashion, exploiting Everton's "Achilles heel" of the deep cross from wide positions. With both Leon Osman and Galloway caught tucked too far infield, Eric Dier had space to exploit down Tottenham's right flank and his whipped centre found Harry Kane who had the simple task of steering a header past Howard.
Everton were slow to respond but got one opportunity late in the half when Lloris went walkabout out of his six-yard box to chase down the ball at Mirallas's feet but the winger couldn't curl his shot on target from the tight angle in order to beat the defenders who had retreated to protect the goal line.
Having seen one too many stray passes from Ross Barkley in the first 45 minutes, Martinez elected to change things up at half time by withrawing the 21 year-old and replacing him with Muhamed Besic and the Bosnian would have the Blues' first crack at goal with a 25-yard shot that skidded wide of the far post.
Osman then dropped a volley a few yards wide and a determined run by Galloway through the heart of the opposition defence almost resulted in him prodding the ball past Lloris but the Frenchman had come off his line smartly to snuff out the danger.
Unfortunately, what has been a promising display in the first quarter of an hour after the interval ebbed as Tottenham re-established control and for a few minutes were merely toying with their hosts, the away fans chanting "ole" at every successful pass until their passage of possession went on for so long that even they got bored.
Gareth Barry was then easily beaten to a loose ball by Kane and Eriksen's deflected shot looped dangerously over the bar before Chadli had a similar effort blocked by a combination of lunging tackles from John Stones and Galloway as Spurs threatened to extend their lead.
Martinez's last act would be to complete a laudible u-turn by giving Sylvain Distin a late cameo as a substitute in place of Galloway but first he withdrew Mirallas in favour of Steven Naismith, another moment that underlined the paucity of genuine quality in the Blues's side.
A hitherto fairly benign contest turned more fractious as the Scot channeled his determination and frustration into niggly fouls and infractions and despite a late flurry in which Distin did his utmost to try and cap his farewell with an equaliser, a Stones header that drifted wide was all the Blues could muster.
Like so many games before it this season, this was a performance in which Lukaku was starved of service and was not given a single chance in front of goal in 90 minutes to add to his tally of 20 goals for the season. The Belgian showed evidence that he has been working on his ability in the air when challenging defenders for high balls but was not given much opportunity beyond that to shine, adding more frustration to a disappointing defeat.
Martinez acknowledged after the match that his side had been second best throughout but he now gets a full summer programme to work with his players to try and rediscover the magic that he produced in his first season with the club. Whether it's a matter of confidence, training or an influx of fresh blood, Everton need something before the start of next season, one that could be huge for the Catalan personally in terms of his ability to take the club forward again.
Reader Comments (2)
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1 Posted 27/05/2015 at 08:58:43
Martinez must accept that his tenure has been a failure, His tactics were naÃƒÂ¯ve and easily countered, It took far too long for him to identify where we were going wrong, the standard of football was schoolyard stuff.
Had he a glimmer of self pride he would see it is long past time for him to fall on his sword.
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