One match into our Europa League adventure and the debate over its merits and Roberto Martinez's response to it is already underway. Can we afford the so-called European hangover when we're supposed to chasing a place in the top four? Should the manager favour continuity over squad rotation through a congested part of the fixture list? And do Everton have a truly deep or strong enough squad for an effective player-rotation strategy anyway?
For the first half an hour of this contest against a Crystal Palace side that was winless to this point in the season and bottom of the Premier League table at the start of play, there really was little to debate. Everton were in control, a goal to the good thanks to Romelu Lukaku's goal, and simply in need of some greater intensity to drive home their advantage and score the goals that would make sure of the points.
One awful misjudgement from Tim Howard later, however, and the whole character of Everton's performance changed. The American ploughed into James McArthur as Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka dithered over who should take control of a long punt forward by Julian Speroni and left referee Michael Oliver with little option than to point to the spot and allow Mile Jedinak to plant a penalty into the top corner to make it 1-1.
Edginess in a crowd for whom April's defeat to the same team was all too fresh in the memory, matched that which suddenly pervaded the blue shirts on the pitch and the Blues lapsed into a more cagey, disjointed unit suddenly less sure of itself.
Lukaku's goal, served up by Leon Osman's terrific through-ball as the Belgian rolled out from position on the shoulder of his marker, was an excellent example of how Everton could slice through Palace with the right movement and ideas. But it was an afternoon characterised by a general lack of imagination � at least until Kevin Mirallas came off the bench in the second half � as is so often the case against teams that dig in with discipline behind the ball and look to take you out on the counter-attack.
Atsu flitted about with occasional intent as the right side of what looked to be a three-man forward line with Samuel Eto'o on the left and Lukaku on the right but the two strikers interchanged during the game and generally weren't providing enough options for the midfield, particularly in the second half.
Palace, meanwhile, were finding joy through Yannick Bolasie down their left, and, just as he did in this fixture last season, he rattled the woodwork and Evertonian hearts, although this time it was via a deflection of John Stones' out-stretched leg and it looped onto the angle of crossbar and post and out to safety. That chance came as a result of Atsu's poor giveaway and the unheeded lesson would be repeated in the second half.
Palace ratcheted up the increasing frustrating among the Goodison crowd by going ahead eight minutes into the second half when Frazier Campbell appeared to be the only player near Martin Kelly's deep cross and he easily out-jumped Tim Howard to loop a header into the empty net.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Martinez's attempt to salvage the match by bringing on Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith was scuppered when Osman picked up Leighton Baines' infield pass but dallied on the ball outside his own box and was robbed before he'd had time to react to the cries of "man on!" from the stands. Palace quickly worked the ball out to Bolasie and fired past Howard to make it 3-1.
The Blues looked better once two of their form players had been introduced but they were chasing a game they shouldn't have been losing by that stage and, as such, were right where Palace wanted them � frustratedly trying to break down an entrenched defence and vulnerable to the counter-attack.
Nevertheless, the increasing pressure told when James McCarthy � now playing right back following Stones' withdrawal with Atsu � was chopped down by Scott Dann in the area and Baines the referee awarded the penalty. Baines stepped up and does what he always does from 12 yards: buried it.
The third goal never came, though, despite some late pressure that didn't reach "kitchen sink" proportions when it probably should have done. Lukaku almost scored twice but Dann managed to get a head on his goalbound effort and steer it over and he steered a later shot agonisingly over the bar from close range after more good work from Mirallas.
Six minutes of injury time yielded nothing more for the home side but Palace could, and should, have compounded their misery with a fourth when Adl�ne Gu�dioura was sent clear with just Howard to beat but he screwed his shot across goal. The final whistle blew shortly afterwards, the Gwladys Street booed, and that was that. Deja-friggin'-vu.
The term "European hangover" usually applies to teams labouring under the effects of having travelled to the Continent and then turned out a poor performance in their next League match and it really shouldn't apply to Everton today. Coming off a home game and theoretically buoyed by a great win against Wolfsburg, there should have been little hangover for those players that played.
Criticism has also been levelled at Martinez for attempting to start rotating players to cope with the demands of the extra games from the Europa League and Capital One Cup but there is squad depth there and that team is not only good enough to have won but probably would have done were it not for those annoyingly destructive individual errors. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough like-for-like replacements for players like Mirallas and Coleman (who is, let's face it, almost irreplaceable) and Martinez paid the price for moving Stones out of his best position to accommodate Sylvain Distin as cover. Meanwhile, the likes of Atsu and Besic who are there to provide that depth have had very little opportunity to bed in.
Should both in-form players in the shape of Mirallas and Naismith been rested at the same time? Would Eto'o, with his superior touch and movement, have been more effective down the middle than the frequently pedestrian Lukaku? Probably, because Everton were disconcertingly impotent for long periods of this game. They're all questions worth pondering but this came down to costly mistakes for which a manager cannot leglisate.
What was almost a given is that having won so handsomely on Thursday (against a team that leathered Bayer Leverkeusen 4-1 today for their first Bundesliga win of the season) and then seen Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea all drop points, you just knew we were going to lose today. Everton, that...
Samuel Eto'o, and Christian Atsu get to make their first starts for Everton as Roberto Martinez rotates some of his squad for the game with Crystal Palace. Osman and Distin also start, with Mirallas, McGeady and Naismith rotated to the bench in what turned out to be a very bold 4-2-1-3 formation against the team sitting at the bottom of the Premier League table.
Seamus Coleman is rested after suffering a blow to the head at the end of Thursday's game, so John Stones switches to right back while Steven Pienaar is apparently available again after a groin injury but did not make the squad.
The visitors kicked off in brilliant sunshine, with the Goodison crowd in a fine mood after the Wolfsburg win. The game quickly settled into a pattern with Everton holding possession, passing across the back and probing, while Palace played deep but ready to advance with pace whenever they managed to get a turnover.
A great move on 8 mins saw Osman place a beautiful ball for Eto'o to run onto but he had to take an extra touch and could only fire into the side netting. In the next move, Osman again cleverly played in Lukaku for a great ball to attack and the big Belgian made no mistake.
McCarthy won Everton's first corner, played in low to an out-running Eto'o in a very clever routine that almost created a chance for Lukaku, as the team continued to play some excellent football, denying Palace the ball. When Palace did advance, Howard was alert to deal with their long balls, both in the air and on the ground.
Palace came into it more in the second quarter of the game, as they started to get the bounce of the ball. Another beautiful move this time had Osman on the end of it,
Then a moment of defensive madness at the other end, Stones and Distin both giving Howard room to gather a bobbling ball, and McAthur nipping in to win a soft penalty as Howard tripped him; Jedinak smashed home from the spot. So, from a position of complete dominance, Everton were back to square one.
Stones was doing his part in breaking up the visitor's attacks but when Everton got the ball, they could no longer keep it for more than a few passes as moves broke down in the middle of the park, Osman now less effective playing mostly down the left.
Bolasie threatened to embarrass when he bamboozled Stones, as the contest looked much more even, but the Blues gameplan of passing across the back continued, only for lose passes to concede possession. From one Atsu mistake, a deflected Bolasie shot hit the Everton crossbar as Howard could only ball-watch.
Atsu got forward well and crossed but Lukaku was miles behind the play. Everton's football was a lot more ragged, but Eto'o won a free-kick on a Jedinak foul right on half-time that Baines clipped into the top of the wall and the ensuing corner was rather overhit beyond the far post to end a very mixed first half.
With everything to do again after the break, Everton seemed more interested in going backward, with needless passes to Howard. They won a dangerous free-kick wide left but Baines drove it in too low and it was easily cleared. Stones then surged forward and played in Eto'o but his shot was poor.A lose ball from Barry saw Bolasie scamper forward nd it needed work from Jagielka to stop a goal that would come in next move, a high ball in that Howard had surely fully covered but it hit Frasier Campbell and bounced painfully into the Park End net. An unbelievable error.
Good work by Atsu appeared to set up Lukaku for a tap-in but his shot hit Dan and Barry could only blast over the rebound. Time for a change, said Martinez, despite some much more determined play by Everton, although Bolasie again went galloping away, a great Stones tackled needed to concede a corner. At the other end, the Blues momentum was building, so Martinez waited until Puncheon fired over before bringing on Mirallas and Naismith for Stones and Atsu... three across the back? Or McCarthy playing right back?
Everton went further behind, Howard with his trademark falling backward routine as he failed to trouble Bolaise's well-taken shot as Puncheon galloped across the Everton defence after brushing aside Leon Osman to play him in for Palace's third goal, stunning the Goodison faithful who will no doubt be citing a Europa League hangover as the only explanation for a shocking scoreline.
With five attacking players on the field Everton pressed forward to try and rescue the game. McCarthy feeding a great cross for Lukaku that was blocked behind, then Osman firing in a hard shot that forced a good Speroini save.
McCarthy did win a penalty as Dan upended him, Baines driving it in from the spot, sending the pink-clad Speroni the wrong way to give Everton hope in the last 10 minutes. Martinez throwing caution to the winds with Goodison on in place of Distin.
Everton surged at Palace, a clever corner setting up Jagielka (with so many forwards, why him?) who drove his shot wide. Lukaku came close with a clip across Speroni's goal, and the keeper's name went in the book for time-wasting. A very frustrating period ensued, where Palace thwarted everything the Blues could muster as 6 mins of added time ticked away, Guedioura skipping forward but thankfully firing wide before Palace celebrated their fourth win out of their last six visits to 'Fortress Goodison'.
Let the post mortem and blood-letting begin!
Everton hope to make it three wins on the bounce as Crystal Palace come to Goodison Park.
Having named an unchanged line-up for the excellent win over Wolfsburg on Thursday, Roberto Martinez could start to rotate in some of his players champing at the bit for their first starts.
Samuel Eto'o, Christian Atsu and Muhamed Besic have yet to make their full debuts after arriving in the summer and, along with Darron Gibson, all three are potential candidates if the manager decides to rest some players ahead of the trip to Swansea on Tuesday.
Ross Barkley expects to resume training in a week or so but Seamus Coleman is expected to be fit for this one despite suffering a blow to the head at the end of Thursday's game and Steven Pienaar is apparently available again after a groin injury.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2014-15 Reports Index|
|Stones (Mirallas 64')|
|Distin (Gibson 84')|
|Atsu (Naismith 64' )|
|Subs not used|
|McArthur (Guedioura 84')|
|Bolasie (Fryers 87')|
|Campbell (Doyle 86')|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|8||West Ham United||7|
|16||West Bromwich Albion||5|