Roberto Martinez's prolonged hard-luck story doing Everton no favours

By Matt Jones 07/03/2016  0 Comments  [Jump to last]

Ashley Young's stoppage time winner at Goodison Park for Aston Villa in 2008 just seconds after Joleon Lescott had equalised for Everton was one of the most gut-wrenching experiences I've endured at Goodison Park.

To go from such elation to raw despair at the end of such a frantic clash was scarring and in following games, whenever the Toffees scored a late goal, thoughts would turn to that moment, triggering a conservative reflex.

Losing a game like that, in those ultra-dramatic circumstances, is not at all pleasant and thankfully, for the overwhelming majority of the Premier League era, scenarios in which Everton have thrown points away so traumatically have been rare. Until this season.

On Saturday, what would have potentially been a huge victory suddenly became a heartbreaker akin to the one eight years ago. Two goals up, one missed penalty and three goals conceded in the final 12 minutes equated to three dropped points; Everton's 3-2 loss to West Ham United was a masterclass in letting vital momentum slip through your fingers.

It's the kind of clobbering blow Evertonians have had to endure numerous times this term. In fact, rather remarkably, losing 3-2 at home with 10 men after missing a penalty, being two goals up and conceding in the last minute has some competition for the most calamitous collapse of the campaign.

The 3-3 draws at Bournemouth and Chelsea were more Young-esque in terms of oscillating emotions, with late stoppage time "winners" followed up by equalisers, while the 4-3 defeat to Stoke City in December was another late, late loss after the team had battled gallantly to get in front.

The dissections of the performances in each have been forensic post-match, as it was on Saturday. A plethora of reasons have been offered up as to why the white flag was waved once again, including poor refereeing, inept management and a shirking of responsibility from players.

Yet the end result has now become familiar: despair, disbelief and dropped points. Regardless of the circumstances, we've been here before with this group and the West Ham loss has become another galling chapter in Roberto Martinez's hard-luck story, which is fast turning into an opus.

"We were presented with a very difficult game when Kevin [Mirallas] had the red card," stated Martinez after the weekend's clash. "It's a heartbreaking moment for us, because we deserved the three points" he said after the draw with Chelsea. "I don't know why the referee allowed play to continue for so long, but maybe it was luck for Bournemouth," was his line after the Cherries draw.

In isolation, these factors going against the Toffees could be viewed as a one off. The West Ham clash was, after all, a chaotic affair in which both teams gave everything only for one eventually to emerge victorious. On the day, the footballing Gods perhaps didn't favour Everton in what was a freak result with an incredible finish.

But put this loss next to the three fixtures aforementioned, plus the rank bad defeats to West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City, and suddenly the lamenting of factors conspiring against this Everton team looks more like bald delusion.

Martinez needs to look closer to home to amend some clear systemic problems because as we've seen, these kinds of games can be catastrophic to a campaign. It's clear there's a tension in the air when the team are looking to see out spells of pressure, especially late on. That's because the flash of anguish which gripped Everton after Young tucked away his third goal back in 2008 has settled in at Goodison.

This season on four separate occasions, Everton have been the team which fans from all over the country would have been drawn to coming out of their respective grounds. "At least we didn't have to go through that kind of game." Four times the team has been the laughing stock of the Premier League; it's a tiresome moniker.

Martinez had a duty of care in the wake of the 3-3 draw at Bournemouth to ensure this didn't happen again; yet within 50 days the side had endured one similar experience and an almost identical one. Already this year, a 3-1 aggregate lead in the League Cup against Manchester City and another two-goal advantage on Saturday have been squandered. Lessons, evidently, are not being learned.

Additionally, games against Sunderland, Bournemouth, Chelsea, Stoke, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Leicester City and West Ham have seen the Toffees concede goals in quick succession. It's indicative of a side which is not versed in game management, hard work, leadership nor defensive cohesion.

When you don't possess any of these attributes, you can lose games in the worst possible manner. And when you lose games in the worst possible manner on many different occasions, seasons are derailed. Although Everton remain in the FA Cup, languishing down in 12th place in the Premier League, this one arguably already has been.

Of course, fingers will be pointed at the players and their inability to react on the field to deal with circumstances in a better way. But this is a squad which, three seasons into his tenure, is very much in Martinez's image. He has brought plenty of players in, assessed their characters, nurtured them and sought to produce a functioning side with his stamp on it.

Yet it has significant problems which, having once looked amendable, are now chronic.

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