Roberto Martinez promised to make Evertonians proud before this evening's Merseyside derby. Instead, Blues fans were served up utter humilation in the worst arena possible, his Everton side disgraced at the home of rivals Liverpool.
It was repeated like a mantra in the days leading up to the first of two huge games in Everton's recent history — "we want to make our fans proud" — but those brave Blue souls who stood dejected to the bitter, sorry end in the away section had to endure mocking chants from delirious reds as Jurgen Klopp's rejuvenated team turned the closing stages into an evening kick-around.
Everton were down to 10 men and losing 4-0 at Anfield for the second time in just over two years. Ramiro Funes Mori had become the third Everton player in seven games to be given his marching orders from the referee, depriving Martinez of one of his only two fit centre halves. The other, John Stones, would follow him down the tunnel not long afterwards having gifted the ball to the opposition for the third goal and then, apparently, complained of stomach pains. It was nothing compared to the sick feeling in their guts of Evertonians who, even in their most pessimistic pre-derby mood probably couldn't have imagined things collapsing in quite so farcical a manner.
Precious little forward momentum, only a modicum of the requisite passion and belief required of such an occasion, zero shots on target, worryingly under kosh... and that was just the first 40-odd minutes with the scores level at 0-0 and Everton with their full complement on the field. It would get much worse, and embarassingly so.
Then they conceded two goals that had "Martinez regime" written all over them — acres of space afforded to the man crossing the ball, flat-footed defending and two simple headers; the first from Divock Origi and the second by Mamadou Sakho given the freedom of Anfield in the six-yard box nod home. It was, essentially, game over by first-half stoppage time; the fight long gone out of this Everton team under Martinez; the Catalan cross-armed and helpless on the touchline; his verbal battles now fought by his Assistant, Graeme Jones.
Gareth Barry, back in the side to tie the Premier League record for starts, was withdrawn at half time in favour of Muhamed Besic, a groin injury piling on the problems for Wembley on Saturday. After Funes Mori was shown a straight red for a late stamp on Origi's ankle, Ross Barkley was also hooked, the white flag raised by the manager with dreaded thoughts turning already to the cup semi-final that could yet be the death knell for Martinez if he isn't out of a job before then.
If Simon Mignolet touched the ball at all in the second period, it would come as news to Everton supporters. That the Reds weren't 4-0 up by the interval and that they didn't treble the 2-0 lead they took into the break was largely down to Joel Robles, who made some fine saves to deny Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino in particular, and some poor finishing by Klopp's front line. Nevertheless, Liverpool got it together up front on the hour mark to carve the Blues wide open and present an easy chance to Daniel Sturridge to slot home. And Coutinho's accurate low drive from the edge of the box a few minutes later was well-placed beyond the Everton 'keepers reach to complete the rout.
Of the rest, Barry perhaps excepted, there was nothing much positive to say. Bryan Oviedo, at sea as an emergency right back, suffered through one of the worst individual displays in living memory. Romelu Lukaku, the only player in Blue to come close to scoring when he was tackled at the crucial moment by Sakho, was reduced to strolling around as a spectator up front. Aaron Lennon and Kevin Mirallas, game enough in the early going where the Belgian had two shots from outside the box that missed the target, chased shadows.
Anyone who remembers the last days of Walter Smith will remember the feeling when a manager's tenure enters a death spiral from which, by definition, he can never recover. This feels every bit like that — hopeless; the speed of descent escalating. Martinez has tried vainly to stress that he and his players would be fighting for every remaining point in the Premier League, words devoid of substance, born either of self-preservation or delusion, because, just like last season, the league campaign was lost weeks ago.
His team selection this evening at least backed up his words; Everton were as strong as they could be given the key injuries to Phil Jagielka and Seamus Coleman. That everything unravelled as spectacularly as it did with that line-up is, sadly, damning of a managerial stint that has run its course.
In stark contrast to their hosts on the night, this Everton team lacks fitness and organisation. As Funes Mori's red card, petulant booting of the ball away and misguided grabbing of the crest as he walked off towards the tunnel all showed, it also lacks discipline.
Recent performances and some damning goals for and against statistics in the last 30 minutes of matches suggest they're not fit enough, that they don't fight enough, that they're not clinical enough, and that the mentality of the side is simply all wrong. These players are no longer playing for the manager and when that happens, it's over.
While there is plenty of blame to go around among the players, all of it comes back to the manager. He sets the tone and the psychology; he makes decisions over training, tactics and strategy; he helps oversee the fitness regimes and requirements of his players; he picks the teams and makes the substitutions..
It is Martinez's dereliction of duty that has left Everton without a back-up right back for the best part of two seasons; that there are only three fit and available first-team-grade central defenders; that the crucial influence of Steven Pienaar in his prime still hasn't been replaced; that this club has relied on Arouna Koné as back-up to Lukaku and that Steven Naismith's replacement looks, on the evidence to date, to have been one of the most spectacular transfer miscalculations in the club's history.
For all of those reasons — tonight's abject surrender was merely the crowning turd in the water pipe — Everton must call time on the Martinez era, preferably as soon as possible. In nominal control of the club, it's unlikely Bill Kenwright will be as daring or decisive as to act so soon before an FA Cup semi-final but he should be. Based on what Evertonians witnessed at Anfield this evening, Martinez's removal could be the club's best and only hope of beating United this weekend because the belief has clearly vanished from this side. A quick and immediate shot to the arm from a temporary appointee — Royle, Sheedy, Unsworth; take your pick or all three — could make the difference between yet more Wembley heartache and a chance to salvage glory from this frustrating mess of a season.
Certainly there doesn't seem to be any point in dragging out his tenure any longer beyond that. Evertonians have seen more than enough over the past two seasons for the vast majority to now be convinced that it's simply not working; that whatever magic Martinez brought in his first season has long since evaporated. It's desperately sad for someone who seems to be a stand-up gentleman and has been a terrific ambassador to Everton FC but the short-, medium- and long-term well-being of this football club is paramount.
It behooves the Chairman and the board to act quickly and decisively and then use the time between now and the summer to mount a dilligent search for a successor worthy of our club's great traditions and ambitions.
I hoped I'd regret driving
All day I refused to even contemplate the Merseyside derby. I didn't give us a cat in hell's chance of getting a result and hoped only that we'd pick our best team and give it a good go. Having darted out of work and straight towards Goodison Park, met Gary in The Brick and seen the team news, I allowed myself to get somewhat sucked in to some sort of belief that we could get something from the game. The team was pretty much our best one (yes, that was our best team!). We walked across Stanley Park a little buoyant and once at the other end some sort of scuffle broke out between a few supporters amidst a haze of blue smoke.
The crush to get into the ground was ridiculous and one I've experience at no other place than Anfield. It's something they really need to fix. This obviously took us a while to get in and the only saving grace was that I missed You'll Never Walk Alone and they were already a couple of minutes into the game by the time I arrived.
We started OK. We were catching them on the counter-attack and had the game been a few months back we might have done a bit better with our opportunities. Unfortunately instead, we played them when our confidence was flat and when we did get first half opening, presentable ones at that, we didn't take them.
It would be laughable to suggest we were hard done to of course. Even at that point in the game Liverpool had missed a couple of presentable opportunities. As the half progressed we were having to get more and more last ditch and dig in. "Just get to half time" I thought, though of course, we didn't. What disappointed me most with both goals was that we switched off. They were both from set pieces and both times we cleared the initial ball. The first one Kevin Mirallas made an excellent brave block but we didn't follow the play and it resulted in a routine ball in, easily headed in and we were a goal behind.
Even the one goal down left us at least in the game at half time but the second killed us. Again, we cleared the corner. I thought the referee could have blown then. It was a reasonable distance from goal and I've seen referees blow up against us at time in more presentable positions. Anyway, we failed to mark up and after a reasonable effort in the first half, we unforgivably switched off twice and it was game over.
The thought crossed my mind to leave at the break as even then I couldn't see a way back but I stayed on. A nightmare was unfolding, but I didn't realise THAT much of a nightmare was unfolding. For starters Gareth Barry failed to return for the second half and is now doubtful for Wembley. Ain't that a kicker. Next up Funes Mori got himself sent off. It looked a nothing challenge at the time and I thought he was getting booked for kicking the ball away. As it turns out – and I still haven't seen it and probably never will – he was red carded for an apparent nasty stamp on Divock Origi. It's sad to see players stretchered off in pain but if it was as bad as everyone says it is, - what on earth was Funes Mori doing? Another absentee headache we cannot afford.
The disaster continued to unfold. Besic dropped into centre back and Barkley, our only player with intent to attack at this point, was hooked. We were basically settling for a 0-2 defeat...or trying to at least. Any "hopes" of a 0-2 loss were bowled over when Stones gave away position and quick as a flash Liverpool were onto it and before you knew it Daniel Sturridge had made it 0-3. Oh, and then John Stones left the field... apparently with stomach cramps! So we were 0-3 down, with 10 men and no centre backs.
I watched for a couple more minutes but it was futile. We couldn't even get out of our half and when you're getting taunted by the Kopites (and we were stood very near them!) it becomes unbearable. We left on 64 minutes and got across the park, hearing another cheer as we neared base.
I hoped I'd regret driving to the game and that the only thing I'd be gutted about after the game would be that I couldn't stick around to celebrate with a few beers. As it transpired I was relieved to have the car so I could get the hell out of there as quick as I could. It says something when you get home and you're actually relieved you didn't lose by more than four. I genuinely expected to find we'd lost by five or six.
If I had to give a man of the match based on what I saw I would give it to Joel Robles. Other than to give Bryan Oviedo a zero, I wouldn't even know where to start with player ratings.
Over to Roberto then to somehow pick up the pieces from this mess without a defence and probably without Gareth Barry for our trip to Wembley. I don't know what we will do at the back, I really haven't a clue. Regardless – and it goes without saying – this is a real mess Roberto has found himself in and the only way out is surely the door.
It can't get any worse... can it?
“It's the hope that kills you,” as the saying goes but what if you've lost all hope already? It's a rhetorical question that is apt for the collective Evertonian mind on the eve of this season's edition of the Anfield derby. Because, while the all-Merseyside clash has all too often been an exercise in misery for Evertonians since the turn of the century, who can remember a fixture between Liverpool and Everton that was approached with such a mixture of dread, apathy and resignation as this week's has been by Blues fans?
That feeling of numb fatalism isn't being felt universally but it's pervasive enough to be almost tangible as Everton prepare for two fixtures that will be perhaps not quite defining — what has already gone before in the Premier League has already defined quite starkly the continued regression under Roberto Martinez — so much as they will be either damning or up-lifting.
Given the unpredictable nature of local derbies, where the proverbial form book is supposed to go out the window as local pride kicks in, it seems unfathomable that Everton haven't won on Liverpool's turf for almost 17 years. Just three derby wins since 2000. Zero victories at Anfield since the “Kevin Campbell derby”. That bitterly disappointing FA Cup semi-final in 2012…
It's a record that is partly symptomatic of the gulf in resources that has largely existed between the two clubs but one that also speaks to the crushing psychological weight that this fixture has become for Everton Football Club and which Everton fans are forced to examine every time it comes around. It's an ingrained inferiority complex that is never easy to confront but it is especially painful now given how utterly flat the feeling is around the Blues' prospects almost three years into the Martinez project.
And therein lies the supreme irony. It was Martinez who swept into Goodison Park in June 2013 with a new broom of “Sin Miedo”-laden optimism and seemed to banish the “knives to a gunfight” mentality that had become pervasive under his predecessor in fixtures like this that had become daunting exercises for Blues fans.
Two years later, the despondency that hangs over the Blue half of Merseyside this week is completely at odds with how the mood should be going into an FA Cup semi-final, with the prospect of a second trip to Wembley and the shot at a trophy there for the taking. Drifting in mid-table with just nine Premier League wins all season, Everton have been lifeless since that stirring win over Chelsea in the quarter-finals and it's hard to envision where the spark is going to come from based on the performances in the interim.
Perversely, the fact that so many Evertonians have written the derby off — most eyes on squarely on Wembley this weekend — could work in the Blues' favour; perhaps the desperation we've felt in years gone by to get a result on Liverpool's cursed turf has worked against us in a cruel cosmic sense. And yet you just know that when the first whistle blows, those primal instincts coursing through our blue-blooded veins will resurface. It is, indeed, the hope that will kill us!
If form and disillusionment with life under Martinez weren't enough to dampen that hope, however, there's the fact that injuries seem to have caught up with Everton during this congested part of the fixture list, leaving the manager with some difficult decisions to make with the cup semi-final in mind.
Phil Jagielka and Seamus Coleman are ruled out. Tom Cleverley, Aaron Lennon and Leighton Baines are all doubtful. Ross Barkley will probably start despite being named on the bench against Southampton on Saturday and Romelu Lukaku could also play despite playing no part in that 1-1 draw.
Starting both Barkley and Lukaku so soon before a do-or-die FA Cup tie would represent a significant gamble even if they were both healthy but Martinez has to balance the risk of going to Wembley on the back of a defeat in a locally sensitive fixture. Having painted the next two games as “defining” in terms of the season, he can't really afford to lose both — although a win over United would change the complexion temporarily. Furthermore, with Oumar Niasse out of the picture and both Arouna Koné and Leon Osman game but virtually ineffective against Southampton, the manager needs to have those first-choice starters as options.
Bryan Oviedo will be required at left back if Baines doesn't make it but, if not, is one of the alternatives to the injured Coleman at right back along with James McCarthy, Lennon (again, if fit) and youngster Callum Connolly who acquitted himself so well at the weekend. Kevin Mirallas or Gerard Deulofeu's hopes might depend on the fitness of Cleverley, although it's possible that if he doesn't get passed fit that Darron Gibson or Muhamed Besic could be pushed forward and towards the left side of midfield.
Martinez complained this week that his squad — the one that was “too big” in January to accommodate the likes of Aiden McGeady and Gibson as they were listed for loan — has been stretched lately by injuries and suspension and it's true that he will not be going into these important games with anything close to a fully fit squad.
Regardless of the personnel selected, however, few Everton teams have ever lacked the spirit or desire to lift themselves for a derby match with Liverpool. A continuation of the dull, unimaginative and largely ineffective football that his charges have displayed since the cup win over Chelsea would surely condemn Everton to a second Anfield defeat in three seasons.
Because they will meet a Liverpool team enjoying hugely contrasting fortunes now that Jurgen Klopp is a few months into the role and his methods are starting to take hold. The reds are buoyant following their stunning victory over Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League last week, one they followed with a 2-1 win at Bournemouth that keeps both their momentum and quest for European qualification via the league going.
They, too, have a semi-final on their minds but with the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho in good form, the shaky confidence they exhibited earlier in the season seems to have ebbed away. Should they find their rhythm and out-match Everton in terms of sheer will to win, then the Blues' back line will have their hands full.
Time is running out for Martinez and his charges to back up the manager's defiant claim that the style of football he is implementing means they “can compete with anyone.” Defeat to Liverpool wouldn't be the end of the world but it would not make for ideal preparation for Wembley which is where the last desperate hopes of a beleaguered fanbase now rest.
Referee: Robert Madley
Predicted Line-up: Robles, Connolly, Stones, Funes Mori, Oviedo, Barry, McCarthy, Besic, Barkley, Deulofeu, Lukaku