Before the game, there were murmurings of a number of anti-board meetings to protest against the lack of investment in the summer. Everton would be starting the season with only Tom Cleverley and the returning Gerard Deulofeu added to the ranks of a team who limped to a lacklustre 11th position in the prior season. This was a modest outlay of circa £4m taking into account two first team central defenders had also left over the summer without replacement and subsequent doubts had been placed over Arouna Kone’s ability to challenge Lukaku over a poor pre-season. Notwithstanding, my opinion of the board is not the immediate concern at this point. The biggest problem currently lies within the four corners of the football field.
Let’s pull no punches; the starting line-up at 3pm against Watford contained ten full internationals, with a further four lying in wait on substitute bench if required. With all due respect to Watford, who outfought Everton throughout the afternoon, this was a game that Everton should not be losing on paper. Rewind around three months and go back to the 9th May when an Everton team containing eleven internationals failed to break down a poor Sunderland side. Neither of these instances suggest that performances of this nature are a one-off, I could name further examples. This is why I have an issue with certain fans who are blaming a lack of investment as the primary reason for our struggles. If players of the quality that we currently have cannot inspire better performances, why would further reinforcements make better results any more likely? In order for reinforcements to be effective, we must first address the tactical deficiencies we have been showing for the past twelve months.
I fail to accept that the Everton players have devolved into poor, untalented performers. The issue here is not of their abilities, it is quite evident that the issues are inherently tactical. My neighbour in the Gwladys Street observed how much Heurelho Gomes seemed to enjoy making long throws up the pitch. My observation was that upon every throw being challenged for, each loose ball appeared to fall directly to the feet of an unmarked Watford player. There was no luck about this, the positional location of Cleverley, McCarthy and Barry was all wrong. This is not a criticism of those players, they are undertaking the positions they have been instructed to. I can’t believe that they are so poor as to not understand where they should be standing based on their manager’s instructions.
Everton’s attacking play was worryingly predictable. Watford appeared to have worked out what Everton would do before Everton even knew. Movement was poor, players were static and were reluctant to commit themselves forward and get into the penalty area. On a number of instances in the first half, young Galloway galloped forward only to have to check back with no target in the penalty area. In contrast, Watford were free to express themselves. Everton’s lack of pressing has so often been their downfall and, again, Watford were in shooting range for their second goal before any meaningful attempt at closing the striker down was made. At which point, two last ditch lunges were made as our defence sold themselves to Ighalo who slammed home. Not good enough.
The biggest concern is that the once billed “Fortress Goodision” is rapidly giving out more points than the local traffic police. In David Moyes’ last season, Everton went through the 2012-13 season with only one home league defeat. I am reluctant to dwell too much on the Moyes era as I do not want to turn this into a Moyes vs Martinez debate which would be wholly inappropriate. However, a crucial factor in our “relative” success from 2006-2013 was our ability to make the Grand Old Lady a stronghold where no team would relish coming. Now, teams appear to be motivated and optimistic in their styles when they come to Goodison and we have seen Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Stoke City, Leicester City, Swansea City, Hull City and WBA all take points from Goodison in 2014-15. Add to that, being held by Watford on the opening day, this worrying trend appears to be continuing.
Personally, I pride myself in being not optimistic or pessimistic when analysing and discussing Everton. I prefer to attempt to take emotion out and come to a realistic conclusion in my considerations. Under Moyes, I would approach Goodison on match day with positivity and a belief that we wouldn’t be beaten. This isn’t to say that we didn’t capitulate on occasions (think Wigan) but the reason defeats often upset me so much back then was because it was unexpected and relatively rare. Sadly, as I mentioned earlier, I approached Goodison at half past two today with a niggling doubt that we would struggle and was ultimately proven right. I now have learned to take defeats and other poor results on the chin because they are becoming more and more frequent.
Roberto has to quickly stop this rot. Irrespective of investment concerns, the squad that played vs Sunderland in May, or Watford today should be doing better. Everton seem to be steadily regressing month on month. It is impossible to argue that we haven’t taken massive steps backward since August 2013 despite making such a considerable step forward initially. He has had all summer to address the tactical issues that were so evident towards the end of last season, but they are, seemingly, as prevalent as ever. A blistering first season has allowed him time and patience from the Everton fans but how long can we continue to afford him time. A successful first season does not mean anything in the long term. The true test of a manager’s ability is consistency over a number of years. I fear 2013-14 was successful due to the structures and attitudes embedded by the previous regime still resonating through the squad. As Martinez, has had more and more opportunity to influence, we seem to have worsened. I may be wrong and I may be unfair with that statement, but surely it is only a matter of time if this form continues that this opinion can be more and more strongly supported.
Despite how this piece may read, for the time being I am still firmly behind Roberto. I do not want Everton to become one of the many teams who change managers at the first sniff of trouble. But dark clouds have been gathering for a long while and our first match of the season left me with a deflated feeling. It is not enjoyable heading to Goodison these days and I am facing the upcoming season with a concerning sense of trepidation. Things need to change and fast. I do not believe throwing cash at the squad, however bare it is, is the solution to the root cause of our issues. The squad does indeed need padding, but we must learn how to play effectively first.