Everton’s aimless drift towards Roberto Martinez’s latest date with destiny continues after much of his second string served up 90 abject minutes of directionless football that was somehow enough to earn a point, while also confirming that this season will bear witness to the club’s worst home record for a single campaign in its entire 138-year history.
Martinez has been clinging desperately to his team’s bafflingly superior points return away from home this season but every successive failing at Goodison Park surely puts another nail in his proverbial coffin as the Blues’ manager. The paucity of quality in Everton’s play will only deepen the fans’ concern over the illusory depth in the Catalan’s squad and it was enough for one fan to invade the pitch following Southampton’s equaliser to attempt to remonstrate with Martinez at the sorry state of his team’s form.
On the back of three successive home defeats and with so many changes to the side — six in all, including cold returns to action for Darron Gibson and skipper for the day, Leon Osman — few Evertonians would have walked up to the Grand Old Lady with much expectation of a footballing exhibition. What they got, however, was exhibition-game fare; a match that for long periods felt like a pre-season game, complete with players who have played few minutes together as a unit and a couple of sparkling cameos by teenage debutants looking to impress.
Indeed, Callum Connolly and Tom Davies, second-half replacements for Seamus Coleman — another victim of a soft tissue injury — and Gibson were perhaps the only bright spots in a dire performance, although a couple of excellent interventions by John Stones were key in ensuring that Martinez did not oversee a club-record fourth consecutive home loss. Otherwise, it was hard to take any positives from Everton’s point of view, and Ronald Koeman must surely be viewing this as two points lost in the context of his side’s quest for Europe.
Through his muddled rhertoric yesterday, Martinez may have hinted that he had written this game off well beforehand and the decision to make as many changes as he did, albeit with many of them forced, seemed to back that up, simultaneously undermining his argument that no one in his camp is looking ahead to the FA Cup semi-final. On this evidence, that do-or-die meeting with Manchester United the only thing on anyone’s mind at Everton now; a looming spectre of gloom or hope for glory now just 7 days away, albeit on the other side of a wholly unwanted Merseyside derby at Anfield.
Any hunger to stake a claim for the starting XI at Wembley next weekend on the part of some of the fringe players was not translated to the pitch, however. Kevin Mirallas was game enough in the early going before disappearing almost completely from the contest, firing Gerard Deulofeu’s low cross into the midriff of Jose Fonte from outside the box and later seeing the same defender deflect another effort at the end a purposeful run behind for a corner.
He was also unlucky not to get a decision from referee Craig Pawson when Fonte clearly pulled him back after he’d wriggled away from him on his way towards the visitors’ box.
It was Southampton, however, who played the better football and who were generally much more incisive, particularly with Dusan Tadic terrorising Bryan Oviedo and Sadio Mane a frequent menace in and around the box. It was Tadic who hooked a shot an inch over the crossbar with the Saints’ first real opening after 20 minutes and Shane Long who smashed a wild shot over from the angle after he had sprung the offside trap.
Ryan Bertrand, meanwhile, went close with a direct free kick that may have been fizzing wide before Joel Robles flew across his goal to palm it behind with aplomb. A minute later Stones’s last-ditch block to deny Graziano Pellé conceded a corner that Long glanced off his head and onto the far post as Everton escaped to the dressing room with the scores goalless.
In the minds of the Evertonian collective as prosecutor, the evidence against Martinez’s continued tenure as manager has been piling up in recent weeks but, in truth, the situations surrounding Arouna Kone and Oumar Niasse would surely damning enough for an open-and-shut case. A couple of interventions against League Two opposition in the early rounds of the FA Cup aside, the Ivorian has shown nothing to suggest he is still worthy of a punt up front and he made a mockery of his manager’s faith today with a dreadful showing. Niasse, meanwhile, all £13.5m of him, wasn’t even deemed worthy of his usual few minutes at the end, begging the question just what the rationale was for signing him in January at such huge cost when the team has been crying out for proper help for Lukaku for the best part of two years.
Everton struggled to create anything meaningful in attack as much of their forward momentum was lost between Kone, and the ineffective duo of Deulofeu and Mirallas — one counter attack led by Ramiro Funes Mori with an hour gone was agonising to watch as no one seemed to know what to do with it — and that left the initiative with Southampton.
More good footwork by Tadic ended with the Serbian winger cutting inside and whipping in a shot that skimmed off Gibson’s head and off the bar five minutes into the second period while Pellé was foiled again by the close attentions of Stones 13 minutes later.
It was Everton who took the lead, though, against the run of play midway through the half. A corner from the right was poorly cleared by Long and handed straight to Funes Moro who lashed it back towards goal, profiting from a heavy deflection off Bertrand which helped the ball on its way past Fraser Forster.
Inevitably, however, Southampton were level within eight minutes. Tadic bundled his way in from the right flank after picking up a one-two pass on his way into the box and when the ball bounced off him from Funes Mori and fell to Mané, the Senegalese was on hand to convert from close range.
A brilliant saving tackle by the recovering Funes Mori prevented Koeman’s men from turning the game on its head two minutes later while Davies’ superb tackle in a tight situation in his own box stopped another promising Southampton move in its tracks.
Those kinds of positives were few and far between for Everton and not even Ross Barkley’s introduction off the bench seemed to have any impact on their display, leaving the contest to peter out to a 1-1 draw and, with Farhad Moshiri and Bill Kenwright in attendance, a chorus of more boos from the Goodison faithful at the final whistle.
Impossibly, it seems, two points from sub-par performances in the space of four days has lifted Everton from 14th into 11th place in the Premier League but it’s hardly been the pre-Wembley fillip that Martinez needs. Hopes for that kind of boost in morale now rest on one of the few fixtures that Everton never win; a first win in the Anfield derby in 17 years seems almost impossible to envision based on the Blues’ recent form and this game in particular.
Certainly if the same personnel are missing with their respective knocks and the manager is forced to rely on a similar line up to today, Wednesday’s clash is likely to be another one through which Everton just sleepwalk, hoping that everything will be alright next Saturday afternoon. You suspect it’s going to take a lot more than blind faith.
Matchday UpdatesEverton's preparations for the FA Cup semi-final come down to two more Premier League games in the space of four days as Southampton make the trip north to Merseyside looking to build on their recent good form.
Roberto Martinez made a raft of changes, six in all, with Gibson and Osman both fit to start in midfield and Kone leading the line. Callum Connolly and Tom Davies are the Academy graduates on the bench beside Barkley and Lukaku with Jagielka injured and McCarthy suspended.
Everton started off in the bright sunshine in pass-the-parcel style until captain Osman took the initiative and drove a good move forward on the left, jinking through and crossing low, very inviting, but as usual not a single Blue shirt there to convert.
Everton won a free-kick on the right that seemed to be bread and butter for Forster but he fumbled it and the defenders had to clear in desperation.
Martina scooped over a high cross for the visitors that Robles had to push over his bar for a corner that thankfully posed no threat. Long got clear but was called marginally offside.
Poor backward play drew groans, and a poorer pass by Funes Mori gave the ball away, and put them under needless pressure, Wanyama firing a daisy cutter that Robles had well in hand.
Everton were struggling to play out from the back as the visitors sensed a chance to press them high up the field, but Kone did finally see the ball and Deulofeu picked out Mirallas with a cross that the Belgian volleyed superbly on goal, but straight at the body of Fonte.
Southampton broke well after Van Dijk defeated Coleman and they had three chances to score, Tadic volleying the last one over. Long then got behind the Blue back line but lashing it over Robles and his goal.
Funes Mori finally scooped one up for Kone to head down nicely into Mirallas's path but a defender stole it before his second touch. Oviedo turned his ankle keeping a ball in which allowed Soton to surge forward and Tadicfired in on Robles.
Oviedo got treatment when Fonte was down, winded by Kone, the game restarting with a free-kick that Southampton worked around until Oviedo won the ball and Mirallas almost beat Fonte but for a sneaky pull-back.
Gibson broke up play well and set Deulofeu on his way but a poor touch played the ball straight to a visitor and Everton were under pressure again.
Funes Mori played out of defence beautifully and fed Mirallas, who ran on through the middle and took a shot, that was deflected for a corner. However, Pawson stopped the game so that Fonte could get attention for a head injury, eventually going off with Yashida coming on for him.
Kone tried a wonderfully acrobatic bicycle kick that failed completely to make any contact with the ball.At the other end, Mane fired just wide of the near post.
Funes Mori, again played a very risky ball in mdfied and Gibson had to scythe Long down, and was lucky to only see yellow. A fantastic free-kick by Bertrand almost crept in at the angle but Robles was across to help it go behind. From the short corner, Everton looked to break through Deulofeu but he was too easily thwarted.
Another Southampton attack and the defensive interception by Stones was world class to prevent Pelle from converting at short range. From the corner, well worked and flicked onto the Everton post by Long, another scare for the Blues who had lived very dangerously, giving away another corner in added time. But the visitors overcooked it before they won yet another corner off a deflected strike. Van Dijk amazingly missed yet another chance to fire the visitors ahead with the last kick of the half, the ball lashed over the Gwladys Street goal. Everton very, very lucky not to be 2 or 3 goals in arrears.
The Blues restarted things and attacked down the right but Deulofeu's cross bounced behind off the heels of Coleman. At the other end, Coleman did well to defend a Mane header but Besic gave a way a silly free-kick near the corner flag that was curled into teh hands of Robles.
Southampton threatened again, Tadic jinking and dodging before lashing a great shot onto the Everton bar, thanks to a glance off the head of Gibson. Deulofeu broke but his pass was never going to reach Kone.
More Southampton pressure, another corner, gien away by Coleman, who overstrecthed, Callum Connolly coming on for his Everton debut, heading the corner away to a great cheer from teh Goodison crowd delighted at last to see some new blood on the field.
Yet another Soton corner saw Kone isolated in his own are, trying toshield the ball from three red-&-white shirts. The pathetic state of Everton's prowess was demonstrated when Funes Mori got forward but at a lame pace and there was no sense of urgency in the Blues play as the ball rolled harmlessly off Mirallas for a Southampton goalkick in a rare visit to the other end of the field.
At least that presaged a spell of what might be described as 'end-to-end' football, leading to Osman getting fouled by Pelle for a dangerous free-kick, Mirallas the man to curl it harmlessly straight into the arms of Forster.
Martinez decided to replace Deulofeu, who had done remarkably little, with Ross Barkley. Davis replaced Pelle. But Southampton continued to exert pressure, Barkley denied the chance to play out of the back and another Southampton corner given up., gathered well at the near post by Robles.
Connoly took a good throw-in that led to a corner and the second bite of teh cherry from Funes Mori drove through the crowd and past Forster to give Everton a welcome but hardly deserved lead, thanks to a lazy attempt to deflect the ball by Bertrand.
The Southampton pressure finally paid off as Everton failed to clear, a poor touch by Funes Mori and Tadic finally poked one home. They almost scored a second, as increased confidence saw them running rings around the lame Everton defence, Mane almost squeezing the ball in at the near post after a torrid spell of pressure on the Everton goal.
This only caused the visitors to up their already persistent pressure on the Everton goal. !7-year-old Tom Davies replaced Darron Gibson for the last 10 mins, and it looked for a moment as if Everton would finally play up a little better!
Davies made a fantastic challenge to stop a Southampton attack. But Everton just could not make forward progress, Barkley then Osman losing the ball far too easily. It was all Southampton as they pushed hard for the winner as 4 mins were added.
But the tempo had gone out of the game and nothing of note transpired in yet another totally uninspiring Everton display, despite the changes in manpower, and a chorus of boos from the faithful.
Scorer: Funes Mori (68'), Mane (76')
Everton: Robles, Oviedo, Stones, Funes Mori, Coleman (52' Connolly), Osman (c), Gibson [Y:43'] (82' Davies), Besic, Mirallas, Deulofeu (63' Barkley), Kone.
Subs not Used: Howard, Lukaku, Niasse, Pienaar.
Southampton: Forster, Martina, van Dijk, Fonte (35' Yoshida), Bertrand, Wanyama (72' Rodriguez [Y:84']), Clasie, Mane, Long, Tadic, Pelle (65' S Davis).
Subs not Used: Cedric, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Stekelenburg.
Referee: Craig Pawson
From My Seat: Southampton (H)
Here we go with another home game... (gulp) the first for some time but the air has not been cleared after the international break and a couple of away fixtures. The number of fans calling for managerial change seems to have grown and anti-Martinez banners have made an appearance.
This is rather sad as we really need a united front to give us the best chance of a decent run up to the Semi-Final and to the Final itself. Even with the banners displayed at Watford, the faithful did sing ‘We all belong to Bobby’s army’ so there is still the will to roar the players on. But, unless the players come out all guns blazing and play the game like their lives depend on it, then that fan support can quickly die away. If the players truly want us all to stick together, they need to take the lead and that fan support will come cascading down the terraces from first to last whistle.
We made our way to the Room of Nonsense, ordered the beer and set to putting our thoughts on which we thought was more important – the derby or the semi. It was almost unanimous – the semi-final. The thinking being that, although the derby is normally the must-win game, but this season with our poor showing in the league, the chance of a sniff at a trophy is paramount.
We are just going nowhere in the league which left quite a few willing to see some of our big hitters rested on Wednesday. This might surprise some of you but I have noticed before that the match-going fans often don’t gel with the thoughts put forward on our site. I think the chance of reaching a cup final will ensure great support; however, going out after showing no extra fight from our dismal home form then things may well look very different.
The team came through and a few oohs and aaars were heard as it was very much a make-do-and-mend team with a couple of academy lads, namely Connolly and Davies, on the bench. I think a fair number of fans took that line-up to mean we had sacrificed this game in the hope of having strong teams for the next two matches. By the end of the game, many were of the opinion it may be best to concentrate on the semi-final.
The walk up on a sunny day but with a cold wind was one for chatting on all things blue yet with little emphasis on the forthcoming game. Speaking to many matchday acquaintances, not many were expecting anything but another home defeat. Hell, it’s depressing stuff. Six changes made to the starting line-up and whilst many were passed as physically fit it was soon obvious match fitness was not to be on show, understandably, but of little use to either players or fans as passes went astray and first touch and timing were embarrassing at times.
Koeman had earlier said that a win today would see them in contention for a top four berth and as the game unfolded it was hard to see any other outcome but, by hook or by crook, we somehow kept them at bay, albeit with great fortune at times but the Saints manager will never be given a better opportunity to bag all the points.
There was a chance for our fringe players plus two academics to stake claims for a game at either Anfield or Wembley – or indeed both – but this scribe failed to note anyone putting in that type of performance. It was not that they did not try but more of not quite being up to the required standard in thought and deed.
Mirallas started on the front foot and early doors Fonte thwarted him three times with first his belly stopping a shot from a Deulofeu cross then deflecting his shot wide for a corner. Then, after getting the better of Fonte, the Saints man clearly pulled him back but our ref Mr Pawson made some sort of gesture that meant play on. Strangely, after this opening period, Mirallas went missing from the play for long periods and only appeared in flashes for the rest of the match.
Saints were now controlling the game and a large portion of the crowd were merely waiting for them to take the lead. Yet we hung on in and hacked and headed balls away and rode our luck as, on 20 minutes, Tadic put one just over then Long beat our offside trap but blazed over. It seemed all Saints now as from a free kick Joel resembled the agility of Beth Tweddle as he flew across his goal and palmed the ball wide. He got a clap for that.
Half-time could not come quickly enough as we held our breath as Stones made a great tackle in the box to rob Pelle for a corner which arced in and someone got a head on it and the ball glanced past the far post. The whistle that signalled half time was very welcome. A poor half really and you could not miss the vibe that said, "Let’s get home and prepare for Wembley."
The half time chat was a bit bewildering as we really didn’t know what to make of it. No good castigating manager or players as we certainly had not prioritised this game and in truth no one seemed that bothered even though we seemed to be looking at another home loss.
Second half and it was to be much more of the same. Kone had not had the best of halves and I wondered would we see our £13.5 million wonder kid or is he under wraps to be unleashed in the semi-final? I doubt it’s the latter. As the half meandered on, it did indeed get a bit boring as Saints played all the footy and we got forward when allowed but the move always seemed to end in a backwards pass, sideways was less noticeable. It did give us a chance to talk amongst ourselves, though, and the fact that fans were treating some of our efforts with jokes I thought, just what have we come to?
It was all Saints and Tadic had one against the bar and Stones produced a superb tackle in the box to deny Pelle. Mirallas was still mostly missing but he did make some backtracking runs that halted a couple of attacks. Along came the 70-minute mark and for once a ball forward played and this time three Blue shirts followed it in and a corner was forced. We won the first contact but it was cleared only to Funes Mori who lashed home a left foot pearler. From the celebrations by the players you could have thought it was the winner at Wembley. As we kicked off the Gwladys Street broke into the "Everton, Everton" chant but that was about it.
We are one nil up after being on the back foot for most of the game and I wondered ‘can we manage this half out and take an unlikely three points?' I should have known better as, within ten minutes of us taking the lead, I had my answer – No! Tadic got in down the right and after putting the ball into the mix it seemed to hit three or four players and we did seem to have chances to hack away but the final bounce went to Mane who converted. Talking to a Saints fan after the game, he told me that player had not scored for something like twenty-odd games. Had to be us didn’t it?
It gets worse as we lost Coleman to a hammy. Now, have we got another seasoned right back? I don’t think so. Oh dear.
However, this gave us a chance to see the academy lad Connolly make his debut and his first job was to make a great headed clearance from a corner; our senior players struggle to do that. Barkley came on for Deulofeu to help yet he hindered more than helped on quite a few occasions; to see us to the end the other academic Tom Davies came on.
Remember the name – he seemed to have that midfielder’s devil about him and some very good pace as he showed with one superb tackle in our box that an inch either way out and it was a pen. He put some of our players to shame as he got about the pitch closing down and harrying anything that moved. Always eager to get forward which brought him high praise from those assembled. I was glad I was there to see it and now hope that this raw talent is nurtured in a way he deserves and his feet kept on the ground.
The final whistle was welcome, many had left by now but, of those of us left, some booed and others clapped the lads off.
MotM – Stones. Gibson did okay after such a long layoff.
Overall it was a day out and the chance to see fringe players and academy hopefuls. The disconnect between manager and many fans is growing but there was no organised protest today although we did have a one man pitch invader who seemed to be heading toward our present manager but was headed off by three stewards. He threw a haymaker at one of them but missed and with his route to Martinez blocked he spoke to our captain for the day, Osman, before being led away to the Park End and was greeted by a loud chorus of boos from the patrons.
The walk back to our Temple of Learning was enlivened when passing the Fat Van the programme seller was at the top of his voice yelling ‘Still Time to get your matchday programme’ but seemed to have no takers so he changed his cry to ‘Still time to change your manager’ which brought a roar from those within earshot.
Over a pint of the nectar we made arrangements for Wednesday and Saturday effectively writing today’s game off, which is sad. A quick straw poll revealed that most wanted our present manager to keep his strongest line up for Wembley. Again sad but at least understandable.
It would seem most believe that the FA Cup is keeping Martinez in a job and the outcome of those games will see his involvement with us either onward or out. However, the only people that can do anything significant about this situation is our board. Could it be that they will see fit to let him keep building and get us to the Promised Land? Who knows... but the post Wembley fans reaction will reach new heights in offering suggestions.
Never a dull moment down Goodison way. See you at Wembley... TWICE!!
UP THE BLUES
Nani linked with Premier League return at EvertonNani has apparently signalled his intention to return to England after a season in Turkey with Fenerbahce and that has prompted some predictable links with the Blues.
The 29-year-old is scoring almost a goal every three games for the Turkish giants and netted a fine strike against Belgium for Portugal during the last international break but, if a report by OneWorldSports is to be believed, he is itching to get back to the Premier League and could look to activate an #euro;8m release clause in his contract.
Cue some fairly obvious fresh links with a move to Goodison from the likes of the Daily Star.
Updated Everton's preparations for the FA Cup semi-final come down to two more Premier League games in the space of four days as Southampton make the trip north to Merseyside looking to build on their recent good form.
Roberto Martinez insists that neither he nor his players are looking ahead yet to the cup semi-final but no one is really under any illusions that since the three successive home league defeats to West Brom, West Ham and Arsenal, the focus has squarely been on trying to establish some kind of momentum ahead of the trip to Wembley.
Three successive away games, each marginally more encouraging than the last, will have done little to boost morale given that they yielded just one goal, two points, and mounting injury concerns. What's more, the Blues remain in the bottom half of the table as they finally return home for the first time in almost a month. Martinez says it is "hard to explain" his team's home form which has been poor and, not surprisingly, some of the bookmakers are offering very similar odds for a home or away victory. Learn more here.
That homecoming will bring with it its own anxieties. Often relieved to get out on the road and escape the pressures of Goodison Park, Everton's manager faced the first visible signs of supporter opposition to his continued tenure with banners at Vicarage Road last weekend. And the atmosphere for the visit of the Saints could be a tentative one as Blues fans await to see which Everton will show up.
For a start, it will be a necessarily changed line-up as Phil Jagielka faces his fight to be fit for next weekend's cup tie and James McCarthy serves a one-game suspension following his red card at Crystal Palace in midweek. In addition to Tom Cleverley who missed the goalless draw at Selhurst Park, Martinez also has concerns over Aaron Lennon (hamstring), Ross Barkley (knee), Leighton Baines (groin) and now Romelu Lukaku (groin).
The Catalan was likely to make changes for either this game or the Anfield derby next Wednesday but those knocks will likely enforce a number of them to be made this weekend. Muhamed Besic is a natural replacement for McCarthy, Gerard Deulofeu would likely get the nod to come in for Lennon, Bryan Oviedo can deputise for Baines, and either Steven Pienaar or Kevin Mirallas could fill in for Barkley. Arouna Kone's disappointing showing against Palace could even open the door to both the South African and the Belgian to start, although the Ivorian could end up leading the line in place of Lukaku.
For their part and having recovered from their mid-season wobble, Southampton will travel to Merseyside in confident mood. Ronald Koeman's side have won three of their last five games in the league and they've moved up to seventh in the table, just three points off fifth.
Graziano Pellé and Sadio Mané are back in goalscoring form at one end while the combination of Jose Fonte, Virgil van Dyke and the in-form Fraser Forster have made the Saints difficult to beat at the other.
In many ways, they're not the kind of opposition Everton will look forward to facing as they look to improve on their poor home record but Martinez will look to leverage the psychological weapon that was the emphatic win his team registered in the reverse fixture at the St Mary's Stadium in August.
A 3-0 victory that day on the back of one of the Blues' best performances of the season, one that sadly proved to be a mirage in terms of the way the season has unfolded, was an example of what Everton are capable of when they're in full flow. If they can recapture some of that unbridled attacking play this weekend, it will be a timely revival with the all-important cup date with United looming ever closer.
Referee: Craig Pawson
Predicted Line-up: Robles, Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori, Oviedo, Barry, Besic, Pienaar, Deulofeu, Mirallas,