EVERTON 0 - 1 WEST BROMWICH ALBION"Shift over there" I said. I was commenting on a fella getting out of his booth at the Mersey Tunnel entrance with his bag in hand, at the end of his shift. "I can't, that's the fast tag only lane" replied Ste until we realised our mis-communication and tittered. That was about as fun as the day got.
Having said that, it was a good little catch-up with Gary and Sue in the pub whilst we watched Manchester United lose again, this time to lowly Sunderland. We were buoyant in the pub following our three 3-0 wins, Gary super-optimistic we could now go on some sort of run and shoot up the table. With fifth-placed Manchester United losing, a win would have put us only three points behind them with a greater goal difference. And playing against a West Brom team performing poorly at home, what could go wrong? "This is Everton" I reminded him. "We always mess things up just when things are looking rosy". And so it proved.
Sensibly, Roberto Martinez stayed with the same team that performed so well at Stoke City last weekend. Rondon and Berahino both began for the Baggies who were pretty well supported by their travelling fans despite their poor form. West Brom won the coin toss and so we attacked the Gwladys Street in the first half. The hopeless Michael Oliver refereed, though are there any Premier League referees who aren't hopeless?
Everton were excellent in the first half and it was quite incredible that we went in at the break a goal down. West Brom winning a corner out of nothing and a simple ball into the box was looped over to the back post by the head of Olsson and chested in on the goal line by Rondon. It was really poor defending with seemingly everybody ball watching and it was just too easy for West Brom. It doesn't matter who's in goal, it's the way we defend as a unit which costs us.
We will live to rue our missed opportunities in the first half. Ross Barkley hit the post; Tom Cleverley looped a cross onto the post; Ben Foster tipped a deflected Aaron Lennon shot over the crossbar; and a header from Funes Mori was blocked just short of the goal line. They were the chances which got away. It was like Groundhog Day watching Ben Foster take his time with goal-kicks over and over again.
As the clock ticked towards half-time and Everton failed to put any of their chances in the back of the net, you felt that West Brom would re-group and solidify at the break and so it proved as, in the second half, Everton just couldn't find a way through a stubborn and organised West Brom team. So, with no obvious route to goal, we had to make changes and this is where the crowd were in disbelief with pretty much all of Roberto's substitutions.
Arouna Kone on the left is never popular with the fans, but particularly so when you have Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar available... not to mention Gerard Deulofeu. Taking off your biggest threat in the game is not popular with the fans either, and they certainly let Roberto Martinez know what they thought of Lennon being replaced. And finally, the introduction of Leon Osman for James McCarthy wasn't what was required for this game.
For my money, which probably isn't worth a lot, I'd have taken off James McCarthy and moved Tom Cleverley inside since he's much more dynamic than McCarthy, and given Pienaar a chance on the left. I'd probably have hooked Oviedo also to give Baines a chance to work with Pienaar as we know they can offer a lot of variety on that side. If we were still chasing later in the game, I'd have looked at introducing Kone, or perhaps Mirallas as a striker alongside Lukaku and go 4-4-2.
It seems that Martinez won't change his formation whatever the circumstance. The opportunities we've wasted this season are beyond silly now. Somehow we're still only six points behind Manchester United in 5th so there is still a glimmer in the league, but I don't think Martinez is able to get this team playing with anywhere near enough consistency. We have to give it everything in the FA Cup now.
As a side-note, I see Roberto has complained about West Brom using "every trick in the book" to run the clock down. Well I wish somebody would show Roberto this book. It could have come in handy in quite a few games already this season!
Robles: Was pretty helpless with the goal. Nothing else to do otherwise. 6
Oviedo: Did OK. Perhaps quality of cross let him down when in attacking positions but his general play was fine. I'd still play Baines ahead of him though. 6
Funes Mori: Did OK, a tad unlucky not to score. 6
Jagielka: Tried as hard as anyone else to force the game for us. Was alive and alert to the counter attack with Rondon. 7
Coleman: Though he got forward plenty, he didn't do enough in attacking areas. 6
Barry: Man of the Match for me. As nearly always this season, he was the one showing all the leadership out there. The yellow card he received was scandalous. 7
McCarthy: Did his defensive work fine but we needed more from him in attacking areas. Not just first time sideways or backwards passing. 5
Cleverley: Was doing OK, I can't understand why he was subbed when he could have been moved inside. 6
Lennon: Had a good game and was by far our best attacker. His substitution was baffling, though not really surprising. Ste called that he was going to do it long before he did. He's having quite the renaissance is Aaron Lennon. Long may it continue. 7
Barkley: Guilty of missing two, maybe three of Everton's best chances. His two off-target efforts in the second half were particularly poor, but at least he was getting into the positions I suppose. 6
Lukaku: Not at his best. Seemed a bit starved of service and you would often find him outside the penalty areas in the corners chasing the ball. I can see his frustration but he's no use to us out there. Needs to be in the penalty area ready to take chances. Hopefully his form will come back. 6
Kone (for Cleverley): The striker who won't shoot. A frustrating display from Kone. 5
Deulofeu (for Lennon): Didn't make an impact in what was an unpopular substitution. 5
Osman (for McCarthy): Was tough for him but he tried his best to force something from the game. 6