Arriving into Wigan North Western railway station in years gone by the guard would greet passengers in a strong Lancastrian accent: “Wigan... this is Wigan.” It is a phrase I have found myself uttering over and over again this season, usually with my head in my hands.
The demoralising semi-final defeat at the Etihad was a microcosm of Everton’s flaws; 3-1 up in the tie and an away goal in the bank, we promptly concede three times, the seventh time we’ve shipped three or more in a game. Yes, the second goal was a disgrace and yes we ran out of luck with the deflected equaliser but the plain truth is that our defensive play is a shambles, it has been that way for months and it is completely unacceptable.
The ‘Wiganisation’ of Everton has been touched on in these pages before. Despite having some quality players, including three England internationals and one of the league’s best right backs, there seems no end to the ways in which we can inflict self-harm. It’s feels like death by a thousand cuts and it has probably damaged Martinez beyond repair in the eyes of many Blues.
I had a look at some statistics from Martinez-era Wigan. His winning percentage with the Latics was 28.7%. At Everton in his first season it was 55%, although this season it is aalarming 26% and some might argue a reversion to type.
To put this into context, the average win percentage needed to qualify for the top four in the Premier League era is 59.2%. We came very close once but it’s pretty clear that as of now we are miles off. How can this be, given that we have what is widely accepted as the most talented squad since the Eighties?
It’s not exactly rocket science to look at the defensive set-up. In his first season with Wigan Martinez’s side conceded 79 league goals but survived courtesy of a relatively strong attack. Eventually, in their relegation season they went down conceding 73 goals, yet scored as many as Swansea in 9th place. High scorers, hopeless in defence. Hmm.
The finger has been pointed at the players this season for the massive number of individual errors that have led directly to goals. This is true but in my view our tactics are leaving us massively exposed.
Roberto talks about players being brave on the ball, in other words willing to take risks. I have no issue with this in the attacking third and to an extent in midfield, but it is utter nonsense to apply the same level of risk when 30 yards from your own goal, or your own six-yard line on occasion. The risk versus reward is massively skewed – give the ball away and it’s an almost certain goalscoring chance as we have found to our cost on innumerable occasions.
It has happened time and time again this season, an obsession with starting the play from deep and inviting pressure while in our own defensive third. We have managed to get to theend of January with only a single away defeat prior to the City game but that record should not mask the sickening dropped points at Norwich, Bournemouth and Chelsea, not to mention an endless stream of errors at Goodison. It has to stop.
We are especially vulnerable against teams that press high up the pitch – Tottenham and the other lot spring to mind. The idea of simply playing the same way every game and improving to be perfect is flawed.
As we enter the final straight of Martinez’s third season in charge, there is a growing sense that despite being given every chance to come up with solutions to our defensive inadequacy, the only outcome under the current regime will be more of the same bitter disappointment and missed opportunities.
This is not Wigan. This is Everton. Nil Satis Nisi Optimum.