Performing under pressure

by   |   18/02/2017  21 Comments  [Jump to last]

We have long protested that our team has folded on big occasions. Away to the top 5, home to one in particular, in cup matches, especially the later stages and finals. Any time we find ourselves above our customary 7th place, whenever we have wanted a big performance – a breakthrough game and so on - the team can usually be depended on to blow it. But why?

There are global clues and one or two more specific examples. Leicester are performing the perfect example of folding under pressure. Impregnable last season but expectations were high from the start of this season as Champions; the same team and manager have floundered – badly.

These words from Phil Jagielka defending David Moyes's poor start at Manchester Utd 3½ years ago illustrate perfectly the difference in pressure and attitude between a highly successful side and players at Everton:

“At Everton, the pressure was not so big initially, he could grow into the season. You can’t grow into the ­season at Manchester United. When you look at how Arsenal have started and Chelsea and teams like that, you can’t give them too much of a lead. I am sure he will get the guys moving in the right direction.”

Jagielka is saying Moyes did well at Everton because he was allowed a slower start to the season compared with Man Utd – at Old Trafford, the pressure was on from Day One.

Which rather begs the question: Why don't players at Everton mind getting beaten at the start of the season as much as players at Man Utd? Where does that attitude come from? Does the manager reduce expectations from opening day or before? Is it the players settling into an 'acceptable’ comfort zone. Who decides what is acceptable?

There is a gulf in attitude to bridge here. Man Utd players run out in late August thinking they have to win. Everton players run out thinking "Let's see how we go"!

Times are changing now – that is plain to see. Some current players might have learned to change their attitude, there is a long list who could not and many departed in January. More than a few were the senior pros that set the 'team aspirations’ and Mr Jagielka will join them in the summer.

Koeman is having to buy in winners – how did it get that way?

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Martin Nicholls
1 Posted 20/02/2017 at 09:41:31
Good discussion topic but I can't see an obvious link between a "casual" attitude at the start of the season and our tendency to fold in away games against the moneyed clubs and/or in latter stages of cup competitions ie in the big games.
Stan Schofield
2 Posted 20/02/2017 at 11:14:59
I think folding in games is to do with lacking a 'winning mentality', which is a refusal to give in regardless of the score. Similar in other sports, like tennis, where a champion is someone who can keep on playing the same way regardless of whether they're three match points up or three match points down. It takes practice and mental conditioning from coaches, and it looks like Koeman is developing it in the squad.
Thomas Lennon
3 Posted 20/02/2017 at 13:37:51
It hasn't just been the monied clubs, Martin – we have folded often enough against the teams at the bottom too, when there has been a need to accumulate points. Those at the top occasionally founder but far less often – yes there is a difference in creativity but also seemingly attitude.

Again with Leicester – at crucial points of their season they must have needed a win, they must have believed Vardy would score for another 1-0 and they got it. That generated more belief but they were under little pressure as they were overperforming and slip-ups were expected. This season started badly, the belief has disappeared – not unlike Blackburn 25 years ago – and, despite knowing that they can perform better, they have collapsed. Small margins perhaps but once the head has gone...

Everton need to build that belief and we can clearly see Koeman doing exactly that. No more soft touches. No comfort zones till we are top 4. Prove you are worth a place.

It has been noticeable this season that our players are putting pressure on referees a little more too. Robles was berating the ref on the halfway line for a full minute during the Bournemouth match – good!

Tony Abrahams
4 Posted 20/02/2017 at 15:00:37
Good thread, Thomas, and only when attitudes really change, will the right results start to happen.

Moyes built-up a fantastic team spirit, with decent players, and even more decent professionals! We were the ultimate flat-track bullies, and could also give the big boys a game at Goodison, but if you are constantly told that you're punching above your weight, then only the players with ambition and real pride, would not be happy with this?

It seems only Distin really rocked the boat under Martinez and why would anyone when they are getting an easy ride, and earning so much money in the process?

I'm glad you mentioned Jagielka, Thomas, because I remember when he gave Martinez, the ice-bucket challenge. "More than a bucket" said his manager after getting soaked with a fucking big bin full. It showed he never had any real respect for his boss and was quite happy to go along with a fast developing holiday camp.

I reckon Koeman scared the fucking life out of most of them when he took over and after a brief little flurry, at being the flat-track bully again, it was obvious that not many of them would be able to sustain it. It hasn't been pretty watching Everton for most of this season but a pattern seems to be slowly developing, and it's only when you get in more players who detest losing, will we finally get rid of this "best of the fucking rest" bollocks!? I really hope so anyway!

Martin Nicholls
5 Posted 20/02/2017 at 15:30:52
Thomas (#3) – sorry, I misinterpreted your point. You are of course right that we have had a tendency to fold against lesser teams (in cups as well as league) as well as the monied clubs.

In my view, an inferiority complex (engendered by the "plucky little Everton" drip feed) is responsible for the latter whilst complacency often accounts for the former as such failures frequently seem to occur after we've seemingly done the hard part in prior games. Both tendencies need to be stamped out and thankfully there are some signs under Koeman of it happening – we'll know more on Saturday night!

John Daley
6 Posted 20/02/2017 at 17:46:48
"Jagielka...I remember when he gave Martinez, the ice-bucket challenge. "More than a bucket" said his manager after getting soaked with a fucking big bin full. It showed he never had any real respect for his boss and was quite happy to go along with a fast developing holiday camp"

Jagielka has always been that type of character and, for that very reason, struck me as a strange choice for captain from the start. Always winds me up whenever I watch a televised game and it shows him in the tunnel giggling and goofing around with the opposition players.

Whether this is the norm these days or not, I don't know, as I no longer have the time to take in any games Everton are not involved in.

Maybe being all pally with those you're about to play, laughing and joking like you're queuing up outside a lap-dancing joint, rather than about to take them on in a Premier League game, is the done thing nowadays and being fully focused and 'all business' has been binned off across the board?

Patrick Murphy
7 Posted 20/02/2017 at 18:33:26
Thomas is correct in his assertions that Everton have for far too long meandered from game to game, month to month, season to season, without any real pressure being put on the players – save when like this season a run of results gets so bad, the threat of being pulled into the bottom of the table dog-fight, gets them all focussed.

I have no idea why this should be the case at any club, never mind at Goodison, it could be because the players are realists and therefore they believe that even when they are at their best during every game they will come up short over the season, or they might believe that the players at the monied clubs are earning so much more than them, that they have no right to challenge apart from the odd game now and again.

If ever a match summed up Everton FC in recent times it was the Semi-Final at the Etihad, there they were 3-1 up on aggregate and had at least one foot set on the Wembley turf, but what happens? They lose focus, don't concentrate and walk off well beaten. That's happened too often in major games over the last decade and it has to be addressed. Then there are the games such as this season's cup ties, which if Everton turn up and do what they are good at and work hard, progress in the competition would be won, but they let those games drift away from them too.

So much of sport is about having the right attitude and having the will to overcome the odds but Everton don't yet have the arrogance of winners or the attitude of street fighters.

Contrast Man Utd, arguably they have not played much better than Everton as a team this season, but they know how to eke out important victories and progress in cup competitions. Until an Everton manager insists that every match is there to be won and, more importantly, the players think likewise, we will continue to see dreams of glory being tantalisingly close but as far away as ever.

Jay Harris
8 Posted 20/02/2017 at 18:43:50
Very good post Thomas and provokes a really good debate.

I see the addition of one or two "quality" players as making a big difference too.

When you see the signing of Alcaraz and Kone to name but two, it doesn't exactly inspire you as a player.

Case in point: Leicester lose Kante and Vardy is having doubts about whether he should have joined Arsenal... all of a sudden, you have a team that is collapsing like a deck of cards.

Dan Davies
9 Posted 20/02/2017 at 23:07:46
For me, the attitude and mentality of the 'club' or the manager and players comes from those above who run the club.

I don't really want to get into Kenwright bashing, we all should know the problems/excuses the club has faced over the years but the players'mind set is conditioned by the expectations of the owners or hierarchy.

For too long, Everton have been happy challenging the so called 'big' clubs and finishing in the top eight. Until the message from the hierarchy changes into "We actually need to win something and seriously challenge for Champions League", we will just keep coasting along achieving nothing.

C'mon, Farhad – start kicking arse! There needs to be consequences for failure otherwise the 'plucky little Everton' mentality will just continue.

Kevin Tully
10 Posted 21/02/2017 at 11:13:15
Dan, you are spot on with that assessment. Of course, any pressure to perform comes from the very top. It's common knowledge that a top-half finish was deemed as success for the people who ran Everton. We only need to ask ourselves one question, would Kenwright & Co. still be happy to see us finish 7th with Moyes performing on a shoestring budget?

In a way, the supporters, the local press and sleight of hand from the owners have all contributed to the lowering of expectations. Would Arsenal or Liverpool accept the shite we have had to endure for 25 years? We were every bit as big as these two clubs when the Premier League started. We have been standing still for a quarter of a century, It's going to take a few more years to turn this ship around.

Goodison was always there to remind us of the owner's 'plans' for this club... left to rust away with the odd lick of paint every few years.

Dave Abrahams
11 Posted 21/02/2017 at 11:42:38
Mr Moshiri at the AGM stated that, in his opinion, the League is the most important competition and where you are in the League shows you where you are as a club. I would agree with that assessment and I hope Mr Moshiri stays true to his word and makes sure our main aim is getting into The Champions League.

The FA Cup and League cup are great to win, but you don't have to be a great club to win them. You do have to be a much better than average team to not only win the league but to be in contention year after year.

Thomas Lennon
12 Posted 21/02/2017 at 15:06:41
To be fair to Jags, he has been at the centre of many great runs of wins & cup runs that took us to the FA Cup Final. It wasn't him I was criticising as much as his comment that appeared to indicate a complacency in the team, less pressure on the manager.

1. I would assume that the manager agrees with the club owner or whoever appointed him what acceptable performance is. That would also explain the attitude amongst senior players and acceptance of 'best of the rest' status – is it fair to ask a manager to break even on his funding and then do as well as a team earning three times as much?

2. If 1 is correct then that would reinforce the impact of spending power on the game rather than challenge it. Depressing.

3. That rather begs the question why a player earning 3 times as much wins 9 times out of 10 when faced with a less well paid opponent. There is a difference in skill but I would suggest that difference is getting smaller otherwise Leicester would never have won a Premier League Why did Ferguson win when his successor struggled with the same players?

It's not all about pay, fitness, skill – it is about expectation. Maybe one or two from this list are important: What Makes a Champion.

I particularly like "A champion has vision. A champion dreams of things that haven't been and believes they are possible. A champion says "I can"."

Have we got any of those in the team?

Stan Schofield
13 Posted 21/02/2017 at 16:54:25
Thomas, spending power always increases the chances of success. You pay for the best, and the best is more likely to provide consistent winning, rather than isolated events like Leicester. Our greatest side of all-time, in the late 60s, was based on the wealth of Sir John Moores.

As to whether we have champions, probably yes. We have players sufficiently talented to win consistently, but we need to supplement that with a 'winning mentality' of never giving up, which accompanies belief. Once you have the talent, the likelihood is you can instil belief through coaching, helped by increased fitness and mental conditioning. Hopefully that's what is happening.

Tony Abrahams
14 Posted 21/02/2017 at 17:08:56
Thomas (#12), I never thought for one minute, that you were criticising Jagielka, but as JD says, if this kind of attitude is coming from the captain, then what chance have we got?

I will also be fair to Jags, and after seeing his reaction towards Martinez in the tunnel at Wembley, it probably brought about the change in performance when we were unlucky to lose in the end?

Patrick, that semi-final was fucking pathetic and I actually left Eastlands quite relieved we didn't have to play Liverpool in the final whilst we had that useless twat Roberto in-charge. Jagielka had a go at Martin Atkinson, fair enough, but if we would have had a few genuine winners at the club, I'm convinced that would have been that man's last game as our manager.

Martin Nicholls
15 Posted 21/02/2017 at 17:25:49
Stan (#13) – I don't disagree with the general point you make but the late '60s side you refer to had homegrown Labone, Wright, Hurst, Harvey, Husband and Royle in it. Whilst not homegrown, it also had the 㾶,000 great Johnny Morrissey. Moores's money of course enabled us to buy West, Wilson, Kendall and Ball but that was largely a homegrown side.

ps: add Keith Newton if you are referring to the 69-70 Championship side rather than that of one or two years prior. I say this because, in my view, we played our best football in 68-69.

Stan Schofield
16 Posted 21/02/2017 at 18:20:52
Martin, true, and our wealth meant that we were not a 'selling side', we could keep our best young players, no 'Wayne Rooney' situations. Hopefully this is now the situation again. In addition to keeping our best, we could buy the absolute best, namely Ball.
Martin Nicholls
17 Posted 21/02/2017 at 19:00:06
Spot on, Stan!
Jim Bennings
18 Posted 03/03/2017 at 07:35:50
If you look at our record away to the top clubs, the top clubs over the last 15 years or so which you have got accept had been Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, it's appalling and it's gone on for so many years that's it's goes far deeper than this group of players from the last decade. (You can add Tottenham over the last few years where our record is also abysmal, and we did have a good record at Manchester City before they became a "money club")

I truly believe it's a psychological factor that's held us back, we don't go to these venues believing we are good enough to win, scared almost of upsetting the big boys bandwagon it comes across like.

Look at the amount of small teams that have gone away to the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool and won in recent years!! Swansea win at Arsenal regularly, they've won at Anfield. Watford went to Arsenal and won, Bournemouth won at Chelsea last season on their first attempt, Southampton win at these places on a regular basis, as do West Ham etc etc..

We must have the worst record at any of these venues in the Premier League considering we play away to them every year. It's like at Anfield, will we ever see an Everton victory at that place again?? Every season it's always the same, we don't even look close to winning there, we don't compete, we play the vociferous crowd and end up melting.

I seriously believe at some point we need to be looking into appointing a sports psychologist if this continues another few years, it's gone on for too long now for a club like Everton.

Thomas Lennon
19 Posted 04/03/2017 at 14:12:57
Expectations are changing slowly. First step might be for players to all be playing for their place in a team that expects to keep a clean sheet and preferably a win, even at the highest level.

Freezing at Anfield might have once been a pardonable offence, hopefully not now. Removing players that do that is a high priority now whereas pre- Moshiri it didn't matter as long as they performed on the other 32 games of the year.

Bottling it is a symptom of lack of confidence in you own ability, and if you aren't convinced in you talent then you can be sure your opponent will find you out at the top level.

Spurs today is a big test but I don't think anyone thinks we are close to the finished article yet – see what I did there?

Thomas Lennon
20 Posted 05/03/2017 at 21:12:55
Weaknesses in several players were revealed today when put under the sort of pressure we will have to expect routinely once we reach the top four. That sort of resilience is a long way away at the moment, plain to see.

A good game to work out what is needed to take the next step.

Steavey Buckley
21 Posted 05/03/2017 at 21:24:04
The team today was not helped by Koeman playing Barry instead of McCarthy, who would have made a bigger difference at the beginning of the match. Having Barry alongside Schneiderlin meant that Everton parked the bus. Something most fans don't like.

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