a more accommodating team in the Premier League than Everton to teams and players in need of a pick-me-up? That Roberto Soldado, a man who couldn't buy a goal over the last eight months, should score the winner and help Tottenham to a victory that looked fanciful on the balance of the opening 20 minutes' play at White Hart Lane this afternoon came as no surprise to Evertonians who are tiring of seeing this Lazarus act routinely played out at their expense.
What was worse was the manner in which the three points were put on Mauricio Pocchetino's plate after Kevin Mirallas had put the Blues ahead in such spectacular fashion. In contrast to their profligacy in possession during the first half in Wolfsburg on Thursday night, Everton had dominated the ball in the first 20 minutes, passing it between black jerseys with almost military precision. The team that had gone to Germany and pulled off a spectacular 2-0 victory looked very much in the mood in the early going to extend their unbeaten run to nine matches in all competitions and continue to close the gap between themselves and the top four.
Having taken the lead and set an already nervous White Hart Lane further on edge, though, the Blues relinquished the lead after just six minutes and then fell behind in first-half injury time on the back of individual errors, a hole they would prove incapable of digging themselves out of despite having 45 minutes in which to do so.
Welcoming Leighton Baines and Gareth Barry back from injury, Roberto Martinez
had named a strong, attack-minded team that featured Romelu Lukaku, Samuel Eto'o, Ross Barkley and Mirallas in the same starting XI for the first time. With Muhamed Besic continuing to deputise for James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman also returning to the side after sitting out against Wolfsburg, it was a mouth-watering line-up on paper but one whose flaws would emerge as the contest unfolded.
Barkley was nominally deployed wide on the right but his natural inclination to drift into the centre, where he is most effective, often left Everton devoid of width down the right flank and inhibited Coleman's ability to raid forward in his customary fashion. With Eto'o dropping deep and wide to cover, it also meant that Lukaku was criminally isolated for much of the game.
The Belgian would have precious little service on which to feed but he got an early chance following mesmerising footwork by Barkley that left three Spurs players tackling thin air before he tried to play Eto'o in rather than shoot himself. The ball deflected to Lukaku but, perhaps taken by surprise, he shot tamely and Hugo Lloris made a comfortable save.
Mirallas, meanwhile, was proving to be a valuable outlet on the left side and it was his trickery that prompted the foul by Vlad Chiriches on the edge of the Tottenham area that led to the opening goal. Baines's free kick was headed clear but Mirallas nipped in ahead of Soldado's high foot, took a touch and then whipped a delicious shot into the top corner. It was a sensational goal that deserved better than what followed.
Having exhibited such impressive stewardship of the ball for the first quarter of the contest, it was maddening when Sylvain Distin, so often the weak link in the Martinez method of playing out from the back, delivered a ball forward straight to Jan Vertonghen and the Blues were carved open by two quick passes and Harry Kane's run. The young striker forced a save from Tim Howard but the American could only push it to the side where Christian Eriksen, unchecked by Coleman, had continued his run. The Dane's finish was awkward but he did enough to send the ball past the floundering 'keeper and into the far corner beyond Barry on the goalline.
Needing a quick second to drive home their advantage, Everton had let Tottenham back into the game and from there Pocchetino's side began to grow in confidence. Kane chipped audaciously over and might have done better with a more routine shot when allowed to drive through the heart of the visitors' back line, while Eriksen's deflected shot missed Howard's left-hand post by inches.
At the other end, Martinez's men mustered just one low shot from Coleman that Lloris saved by his near post before Spurs took the lead in first-half stoppage time. Barry, who, understandably, looked off the pace following his fortnight out injured, was caught dithering on the ball in his own half by Kane and Aaron Lennon seized on the loose ball before scampering forward
and playing in Soldado who easily beat Howard with a side-foot shot from the angle.
Though down at the break, Everton had 45 minutes to make a game of it and reverse the situation but the same ponderous pattern of slow possession-based passing by an unbalanced side would continue until Martinez reshuffled by introducing Aiden McGeady to finally add some width in the 61st minute. The Irishman came on for the ineffectual Eto'o in a double switch that also saw Mirallas make way for Leon Osman but the Toffees would continue to be let down by a lack of tempo and a frustrating lack of bodies in the box when the fullbacks had the ball in advanced areas. Even when Lukaku drove to the byline and delivered an inviting ball across the face of the Spurs goal, there were no black jerseys gambling in the middle and a good chance went begging.
Instead, Tottenham almost doubled their lead when the irrepressible Eriksen delivered a dangerous ball from the right and Federico Fazio failed to make contact in front of goal before Ryan Mason smashed a shot narrowly over from distance and Lukaku bounced a shot to Lloris from 20-odd yards out.
Chasing the game, Everton were constantly faced with trying to break down the massed ranks of white shirts in front of them, a situation which they have routinely found difficult under Martinez, but Barkley seemed to have found the key with more terrific work with 18 minutes to go. He engineered space to split the home side's defence with a pass to meet Coleman's overlapping run but it was overhit by inches and that gave the goalkeeper an extra foot to charge down the Irishman's shot and deflect it behind for a corner.
The urgency of the situation finally manifested itself in more Everton pressure in the final 10 minutes but they failed to seriously test what was a makeshift Tottenham defence, further weakened by an injury to Chiriches that necessitated ex-Toffees loanee Eric Dier coming on in his stead. Lukaku would have the final chance from an 89th-minute free kick that he himself won but though he rose well to meet Baines's delivery, his header hit Fazio's arm and with that went any hope of Martinez's side taking anything back to Merseyside.
With 61% of the possession away from home, this was an almost textbook example of an Everton team having the vast majority of possession but doing almost nothing with it. In that sense, in combination with those individual mistakes, the Blues beat themselves today in caving in to what was – Eriksen aside – a poor Spurs team. Everything was just too deliberate and too methodical at times... until it wasn't and Spurs pounced. And with such a paucity of balance – until McGeady was introduced, at least – and so little link-up between Lukaku and his fellow attackers, the attempts to salvage something from the match were critically undermined.
Thankfully, the opportunity to atone for a poor performance comes quickly in the form of struggling Hull City's visit to Goodison Park on Wednesday. Three points then would go a long way to putting the memory of today at the back of the collective Evertonian mind but this propensity to keep dropping points from winning positions is making a run for the Champions League via the top four an unlikely proposition.
Fresh from another excellent outing in the Europa League, Everton are on the road again on the domestic front this weekend with a trip to Tottenham Hotspur, who also played in the competition last week. Darron Gibson and Bryan Oviedo are ruled out but Leighton Baines and Gareth Barry are declared fit to start. Steven Naismith, Steven Pienaar and James McCarthy, miss out but Eto'o Barkley, Mirallas and Lukaku offer up some serious attacking potential.
Everton showed some early intent with a foray down the right, and settled early into playing their possession game. Mirallas got off the first shot but scooped it way over the bar. Some brilliant ball-play by Barkley got him within shooting distance but the ball bobbled through to Lukaku off a Spurs defender and Loris saved his snap-shot.
Spurs came into the game a little more, but rarely threatened with their crosses. Mirallas won a clever free-kick on the corner of the Spurs area, that Baines fired in, it came back to Mirallas and he jinked to make space before firing in a brilliant top-class strike way beyond Lloris to put the Blues ahead.
Lukaku almost got onto a back-pass but Lloris was out quickly to punt the ball away as the Blues, playing in all-black, looked to rattle the home side, who have already lost four at the Lane. Would Everton continue to take the game to Spurs? The answer came all too soon as Distin's
forward ball went straight to Vertonghen and Spurs advanced with pace, Kane's parried shot driven into the net by Eriksen, a rather poor goal to give away.
It rather spoilt the gameplan for Everton, who tried to continue with their attacking play, but crucial balls were not finding their man, a couple of good moves breaking down when Eto'o tried a clever play. It gave Spurs more confidence to press for the ball, and surge forward when they won it as Everton backed off, Eriksen having a shot deflected just wide of Howard's goal.
Coleman cut in and fired in low at Lloris's near post, and on the clearance, Besic played in Soldado with a poor header to Howard, who was well positioned to stop the Spurs striker's flick on goal. At this point, Everton had surrendered the early initiative, the game looking a lot more evenly balanced as half-time approached.
After Besic had committed a couple of dubious fouls, Mirallas was harshly booked for accidentally catching Lennon's foot as Spurs threatened. Everton had some telling possession in front of the Spurs area that yielded nothing and Barry, trying to play the possession game, was easily dispossessed, Spurs rampaging forward in numbers at pace again and Soladao finished with ease off a good pass from Lennon, his first Premier League goal in nine months. Unbelievable.
Everton started the second half in much the same vein, trying to play the ball out from the back but just too slowly to make any real impact, with nothing happening in front of the Spurs goal. Coleman was thankfully alert when a soft ball was played over the defence for Soldado to run onto... Kane had a good shot, but Howard was equal to it.
The momentum, however, was all with Spurs, who were moving the ball forward with pace
– something Everton were not doing. Fazio had a chance to score but played an airball as Everton struggled... Time for Leon Osman to save the game! But not before Kane was hacked down by Barry in a dangerous part of the pitch but Eriksen could not beat the solid black wall. Mason tried to do a Mirallas but his shot skimmed over the bar as Osman came on for Eto'o and McGeady for Mirallas, while Lamela replaced Lennon for the increasingly confident home side.
Osman did pick out Lukaku with a good ball over the top but the Big Man was slow coming back onside. Barkley was trying to do more clever work but Spurs were defending everything Everton could come up with as Erik Dier, once with Everton on loan, came on to replace Chiriches.
Besic got what looked like a great cross in for Lukaku to head home but it came back out instead, and more clever work by Barkley played in Coleman but he was pushed too wide to finish. A McGeady corner was poor but it kept the pressure on Spurs in a promising spell that came to nothing as the time ticked away. Besic did really well to restrict Lamela by the corner flag without fouling him!
Everton's possession play was increasingly frustrating as they continually played the ball backwards and sideways with a lack of mobility in the area giving them very little to aim at, Lukaku being closely marshalled all game. Besic was most impressive with his sweeping accurate first-time passes but it wasn't enough to inspire any real pace, even from McGeady, who again failed to deliver anything meaningful.
Into the last 10 minutes, and still no indication that Everton would get either of the two goals they needed to turn this game around, with Spurs coming back into it more after Paulinho replaced Soldado. Everton were allowing themselves to be stretched but very little was coming off for them as Spurs defended solidly then surged forward with intent when they inevitably won back the ball.
Everton won a corner with 3 minutes left, Barkley putting it into the mixer well but it was headed clear. Davies floored Lukaku out wide for Baines to cross in brilliantly, screams for handball as it was cleared away, replays showing Lukaku's (or Barkley's?) header hit Fazio's arm at close range... a penalty? Definitely a talking point. Everton were finally showing some real intent. But Spurs responded, taking the ball up the other end, as they players fouled Everton at will and another yellow card, this time for
Besic did well to pressure Kane into diving, as Everton could do nothing in the end. A massively disappointing outcome from
a game that looked to be Everton's hands down after a brilliant goal from Mirallas had set them on their way to a rare victory at White Hart Lane.
Fresh from another excellent outing in the Europa League, Everton are on the road again on the domestic front this weekend with a trip to Tottenham Hotspur. The Blues' 2-0 win at Wolfsburg means that they have secured qualification to the next round as winners of Group H and can now focus on continuing what is now a five-match unbeaten run in the Premier League as they try and get back amongst the top four or five in the table.
The two teams come into the match side by side in the standings on 17 points and with, perhaps, a greater sense of urgency given the small gap that has opened up between them and the top four in the Premier League after the Saturday programme. Wins for Arsenal and Manchester United mean that
As has so often been the case this season, injuries and questions over personnel availability dominate the thinking for Roberto Martinez as he plans his squad for the visit to White Hart Lane. The recurrence of James McCarthy's hamstring injury in Germany adds more pressure on that key defensive midfield area of the field where Darron Gibson is again likely to be ruled out and Gareth Barry will undergo a fitness assessment before before any decisions are made. McCarthy, too, will be assessed but he is unlikely to play.
Thankfully, Leon Osman proved to be an able deputy for Barry in a demanding contest against West Ham last weekend and Muhamed Besic put in another accomplished display in Wolfsburg but Martinez will be praying to the football gods that no more injuries strike the defensive half of his side because the squad's depth is really being tested coming into another busy period of the campaign.
While McCarthy will almost certainly be ruled out, Leighton Baines and Steven Naismith were given a chance of featuring by the Catalan in his press conference yesterday, although the manager may have pause for thought after seeing the Irishman limp out of the action at the Volkswagen arena. Both players remained on Merseyside to continue their recovery from slight hamstring strains so remain in the doubtful category but Luke Garbutt's encouraging outing on Thursday combined with the apparent fitness of Arouna Kone mean that Everton won't be too stretched if neither are passed fit.
Also undergoing a late test will be Steven Pienaar, who has been unable to get into any kind of rhythm this season thanks to a succession of niggly complaints, but Bryan Oviedo's increasingly concerning absence continues with Martinez confirming he won't be involved this weekend. Seamus Coleman is in line for a recall after being rested in the Europa League.
Both sides were in action on Thursday night and are, theoretically, at the mercy of the dreaded Europa League hangover, although Spurs didn't travel and have the advantage of playing at home again in this one so Everton's task is by no means small. The form of Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku up front and Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin at the back, the keys to victory in Wolfsburg, mean that the Blues will go into the game in confident mood, though, as they look to exploit the uncertainty that currently prevails at White Hart Lane.
Maurico Pochettino's men won last time out thanks to a red card for Hull City's Gaston Ramirez that turned the game in their favour and eventually allowed them to win with a very late goal by Christian Eriksen. That echoed another poor away display by the North Londoners at Aston Villa in which they profited from Christan Benteke's second-half dismissal to go on and win 2-1. Sandwiched in between was a demoralising 2-1 home reverse to Stoke that will give the Blues cause for hope.
In addition to Kyle Walker's suspension, Pochettino also has his own share of injury concerns with Emanuel Edebayor, Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue, Andros Townsend and Danny Rose all doubtful.
Everton haven't won on Tottenham's turf in six attempts now in all competitions so a victory in this one would be a tremendous boon. It would represent some ground gained not only on the teams above them but also their record in corresponding fixtures last season — the defeat Martinez suffered here in 2013-14 was a cruel one but his players will have to be a bit more adventurous than they were that day. On the evidence of their impressive away performance in Germany, they're well equipped to do so.
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* Everton deducted 10 points for PSR breachView full table