It’s somewhat fitting that a year characterised by frustration — from two stumbles in sight of a Wembley final and the long-delayed removal of Roberto Martinez to a mixed bag of a summer transfer window and the alarming drop-off in results after Ronald Koeman’s strong start, 2016 has vexed Blues fans almost from start to finish — should end with another infuriating Everton performance and two more dropped points against one of the poorest sides in the Premier League.
Optimism was high following the win at Leicester that Koeman’s side could finally start to re-establish some momentum with successive away victories at a time when the top six clubs are starting to pull away. Instead, Evertonians had to be content with a sixth draw on the season after seeing their team concede the first goal for the 11th time in 19 games.
On the back of what was probably an entertaining 2-2 draw for the neutrals watching on Sky Sports, Everton have now rescued 12 points from losing positions under Koeman; it’s the fact they keep having to do it that is so annoying. Furthermore, it felt so avoidable if the manager had just kept faith with a winning team and not broken up a back line that had kept its first clean sheet since October. He may have had one eye on Monday’s clash with Southampton but the feeling was he got his selection wrong tonight and paid the price.
The Dutchman has chopped and changed his line-ups to an uncomfortable degree this season but among a number of positives to come out of the Boxing Day win at the King Power Stadium were the feeling that Ronald Koeman could finally see a combination of personnel that could form the foundation of a settled side and the fresh impetus provided by two of Everton’s youngest players.
Even if you accept the logic of reverting to a back four against Hull’s lone-striker formation, there didn’t seem to be any in dropping two of the three centre-backs from Monday and drafting back in Phil Jagielka and his ageing legs to sit alongside the 32-year-old Ashley Williams. To an extent, Everton were let down this evening by their old guard – Leighton Baines would redeem himself late on with an excellent assist – and the performance went a long way to cementing the notion that for a couple of them, their time has come and it’s time for a permanent insertion of younger blood into the side.
With Mason Holgate and Funes Mori dropped to the bench, veteran legs at centre-half and the 35-year-old Gareth Barry in central midfield, the Blues had to drop deep inviting Hull on from almost from the first whistle, not helped by sloppy distribution all over the park in the opening few minutes. The Tigers, desperate for what would have been only their fourth win all season, seized the initiative in the early going and, for the umpteenth time this season, Everton made an awful start and were a goal down within six minutes.
Williams had already blocked Jake Livermore’s shot and Robert Snodgrass had curled narrowly wide of Joel Robles’ far post — both instances resulted from poor passes from Barry and Enner Valencia respectively — by the time Baines was sucked into midfield and bypassed by Ahmed Elmohamady who had been left untracked by Kevin Mirallas.
The Egyptian’s cross was hacked behind by Jagielka and while the resulting corner was cleared by Mirallas, the return ball to the left flank found Snodgrass in oceans of space to pick out Michael Dawson. The defender had lost Barry completely at the back post and he rifled a shot past Robles.
Despite what represented another poor result in the context of Everton’s ambitions, Koeman appeared fairly upbeat after the game, citing in particular some of the football his team had played over the course of the 90 minutes. In that sense, while it was often ponderous and clumsy, the manager did have something of a point because, stung into action by the concession of another early goal, the Blues did set about the task ahead of them in the right way. For one thing, they actually carved out a good number of chances, something that hasn't been said of them for a while.
Within eight minutes, Mirallas had forced David Marshall into spilling a powerful low drive and Seamus Coleman had planted a header onto the inside of the post, the rebound from which just eluded Romelu Lukaku and was belted clear. Later in the first half, Barkley dragged a shot a wide of the goal with one effort and Barry lasered another inches past the opposite post with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot in both instances.
Lukaku and Valencia both had shots charged down as Hull dug in with dogged defending, the Ecuadorian sent a teasing ball right across the face of goal that was begging for someone in a Blue shirt to tap home and Mirallas drove just wide as the Blues pressed for an equaliser before half time.
They would get it time added on, albeit not before they had survived a hair moment at the other end when Deumerci Mbokani failed to get a decisive connection on another cross from the right flank and Robles was able to pluck his header out of the air.
Lukaku latched onto an excellent pass down the channel by Baines and while his shot was blocked behind, it provided the corner from which Everton equalised. Mbokani and Marshall went up for the same ball and colliding with the former, the keeper couldn’t prevent the ball going in off his out-stretched arm as he attempted to punch clear.
It was a gift that the visitors largely deserved and they came close to augmenting three minutes into the second half when Lukaku again found himself in front of goal with a shot from the angle but while this time the blocking challenge looked to have looped the ball under the crossbar, Marshall got crucial fingertips to it to guide it into the crossbar and keep the score at 1-1.
A minute later, Barkley raced onto a Lukaku flick-on and fired early before his effort could also be charged down but he placed his side-foot shot too close to the keeper and Marshall saved again.
Everton had lost some of their momentum by this stage and Hull were beginning to regroup. Barkley’s cheap foul on Snodgrass in a dangerous area handed the Scot the chance to line up a free kick in a dangerous area, one which he smacked off the woodwork from 25-plus yard out.
Another corner half-cleared by the Blues’ defence ended up back at the feet of the unmarked Dawson in the 61st minute but this time Robles beat his effort away minutes before Baines was adjudged to have bundled Harry Maguire over as the defender was allowed, not for the first time, to sashay unmolested through the middle of the pitch.
This time, Snodgrass elected to sweep his free kick to the right side of Robles’ goal and though the Spaniard got a hand to it, he couldn’t prevent it from putting Hull into a 2-1 lead with 63 minutes on the clock.
Tom Davies, a strong candidate to start the game, was already being prepared as a replacement for the lead-footed Barry and he was duly introduced, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin coming on for Valencia who had run around a lot but been generally ineffective as an attacking entity. The energy and drive that Davies provides quickly became evident and it contributed to Everton’s dominance over the final 15 minutes as they searched for another equaliser but it was a to ask of an 18-year-old defensive midfielder to provide the guile as well.
Thankfully Baines would up with a telling delivery six minutes from time to put the second Everton goal on a plate for Barkley. The 23-year-old had seen one hard strike parried away a few minutes earlier while referee Moss ignored strong appeals for a handball against Livermore and the Blues had completely wasted a dangerous free-kick opportunity after Mirallas had been taken out by Maguire just outside the penalty area.
But it all came together a minute later when the veteran left back arced a beautiful ball to the edge of the six-yard box where Barkley, unmarked, just had to steer a downward header past Marshall to level things up at 2-2.
Cue the frantic push for a winner, one which was compromised somewhat by another questionable decision by Koeman. The manager had prepared Aaron Lennon to come on prior to Barkley’s goal but with parity restored, he went for the more defensive option of throwing on Funes Mori in place of Mirallas. The intent was to go 3-5-2 and push the fullbacks on and it sacrificed an attacker but any debate was almost rendered moot when Calvert-Lewin popped up between the two Hull centre-halves in the final minute to meet Coleman’s cross but he bulleted a header the wrong side of the post with hero status beckoning.
Full marks to the youngster for being there in the first place and it would have ended the game on a thrilling note for the travelling Blues rather than the four minutes of frustration they would endure in stoppage time as move after move broke down with poor control or poor deliveries in the final third.
It left supporters with a yearning for the opening of the transfer window on Monday because an injection of genuine quality can’t come soon enough. Nor, indeed, can a settled starting XI which you have to hope is something Koeman's aspires to.
Matchday UpdatesThe Blues see out the calendar year with a trip to Hull where Ronald Koeman has rung more changes in his starting XI.
Back in are Jagielka, Barkley and Valencia, with Holgate, Funes Mori and Lennon making way. Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin await more playing time from the bench, while Stekelenburg and McCarthy are still out injured. No place for Gerard Deulofeu, who is rumoured to be on the verge of securing a loan deal with AC Milan.
The game starts with the requisite upfield punt from Ashley Williams. A loose ball from Berry initiates Hull's first attack, Livermore's shot block out for a throw-in. Barry then fouled Elmohamady, and the long free-kick cleared away, with Everton unable to get out of their half. Snodgrass tried to curl one in at the far post but wide.
Hull were showing more desire, Barkley dispossessed rather easily. More Hull pressure saw Elmohamady cross in low, and Jagielka booted it high out for a corner. and at the far post Dawson smashes in the headed on ball. The brickbats will go to poor defence but the flick on fell well for Dawson and he could not miss.
Barry committed another foul but Gana and Valencia combined to set up Everton's first forward venture, ending with a cross that did not find Lukaku. Gana did well on the next play to feed Mirallas who cut in and fired low, deflecting off Marshall for a corner that did not threaten.
The next attack saw Barkley pick out Coleman who tried a clever header that hit the foot of the post and bounced across, avoiding Lukaku. Everton started probing with meaning, first Barkley then Mirallas then Valencia driving forward but the area was packed with Tigers.
Some poor play out of the back started with a bad clearance from Robles but the Blues survived some very scrappy play with Barry picking out Barkley wide left, then the attacked down the right but Coleman could not reach Lukaku who was well marked.
Elmohamady had acres of space down the Hull right, Mbokani getting a header off the cross, while at the other end, Barkley drove a diagonal shot a yard wide. Everton were looking a little vulnerable to the balls coming in. Blues attacks were laboured and Baines resorted to a heavy deep cross that Valencia could not reach. Then Barry smacked one just inches wide, almost deflected in off Dawson.
The tempo was ramping up up with Everton pressing hard but Hull defending well, and Maguire ran forward and screwed in a testing cross that was put out beyond the far post. Everton attacked again, moving the ball well enough, but increasingly frantic defending by the home side was thwarting them. Valencia's drive was deflected out for a corner, taken by Mirallas but leading to more laboured build-up and probing but with little sight of Marshall's goal.
Lukaku drove into the middle but a sea of bodies meant more deflections and an end to another attack. Hull attacked to relieve the pressure and won another corner from Snodgrass, cleared easily but lost in midfield. Myler was then tripped giving Snodgrass another chance to create more trouble.
Everton probed and prodded away slowly again and were stopped, with Hull building another attack that faltered. At the other end, Valencia got behind the back line and played in a great cross but Lukaku was miles away from it. Back to defence and Gana again cleaning up. Then another slowly constructed attack finishing with Mirallas screwing his shot wide.
Baines played in a great ball to Lukaku's feet, his shot deflected behind for a corner from which Mbokani and Marshall contrive to score a nice own-goal for Everton on the stroke of half-time. Mbokani's head hit Marshall's punching arm, and the ball spun off his forearm straight into the Hull net.
It took a few minutes to get going after the restart, Mirallas and Barkley galloping forward, played to feet for Lukaku to set himself and shoot, the shot deflected up off a defender and then brilliantly tipped onto post and bar by Marshall to deny the big man.
The Blues were pressing harder now, Barkley almost playing on Lukaku. Then Mirallas firing at Marshall. Lukaku then playing an inviting ball for Barkley to run on to and he really should have dome a lot better with his shot that hit Marshall. At the other end, a free-kick lined up by Snodgrass and smashed into the frame of the goal with Robles rooted. < /p>
Everton won a corner played high to the back post by Mirallas. Mbokani ran across Jagielka, drawing a foul, and a card for the Everton captain, the free-kick going out for a corner, initially cleared but then back in by Elmohamady and stopped by Robles. Elmohamady then booked for his foul on Mirallas.
Maguire intercepted a loose pass and ran forward, getting a soft foul off Baines, and giving Snodgrass another chance and this one was brilliant, all the way around the wall and into the top corner, pawed at by the flailing Robles.
Koeman made a change with Davies on for Barry. Hull went trough a decent spell with their lead restored while Everton struggled to regroup. Another corner punched away by Robles and the Blues tried to break but were stalled. The Blues were having a tough time breaking out as Hull kept pushing back. Lukaku seemed to make space only to make a lazy useless pass. Barkley seemed to be fouled but no said Moss.
Calvert-Lewin replaced Valencia who had run around well. Barkley almost got a low cross in for Lukaku. Davies dragged down Snodgrass (literally) for a yellow card. DCL was fouled wide right for a Barkley set-piece that turned into another Hull attack until Livermore fouled. But Everton attacked again and won a corner. More pressure saw a hard Davies cross seem to strike a hand but it was not clear-cut.
Barkley was immediately closed down as he shot, after being invited by Davies. Maguire then caught Mirallas but Everton totally wasted the free-kick, trying to take it quickly. Baines paused on the left, looked up, and swung in a great ball n for a good downward header from Barkley to equalize again, with 6 mins left.
Davies ran forward with the ball but lost it easily and from the move Hull won a corner. Robles tried a long ball to release Lukaku. It was still competitive despite Koeman seemingly locking up with Funes Mori on instead of Lennon. A fantastic cross from Coleman, Calvert-Lewin seemed to have the goal at his mercy but headed wide.
Davies doing everything to try and win a penalty but he over-egged it a little, the blues looking to press through 4 minutes of added time. At the other end, Funes Mori played in Mbokani but his cross was not converted.
It was another painful struggle, perhaps some positives from Barkley using his talents a little better but still not dazzling.
Hull City: Marshall, Dawson, Davies, Maguire [Y:62'], Robertson, Meyler (56' Clucas), Livermore, Elmohamady [Y:62'], Snodgrass, Mbokani, Diomande (85' Huddlestone).
Subs not Used: Maloney, Jakupovic, Weir, Henriksen, Mason.
Everton: Robles, Coleman, Williams, Jagielka [Y:59'], Baines, Gueye, Barry (65' Davies [Y:75']), Barkley, Mirallas (87' Funes Mori) , Valencia (74' Calvert-Lewin), Lukaku.
Subs not Used: Hewelt, Holgate, Cleverley, Lennon.
Referee: Jon Moss
The wider world can't get rid of 2016 fast enough and the sentiment is mostly true for Evertonians as well who are still waiting for a new dawn to fully break on the pitch following the descent into chaos of Roberto Martinez's tenure earlier in the year.
The assumption of the Goodison Park hot seat by Ronald Koeman promised big things for the Toffees but, six months in, the scale of the project ahead of the Dutchman has been exposed by a three-month stretch of poor form that threatened to plunge the club back into the bottom half of the table.
There have been signs that Koeman is getting to grips with the task and his squad, however, and with two wins in the last three matches, Everton are once again looking up the table with designs on catching any of the top six who might hit a bad patch of their own in the second half of the season.
The Blues will see out the calendar year with a trip to Hull to face the Premier League's bottom club. Mike Phelan's Tigers began their first season back in the top flight in decent fashion, registering back-to-back wins in the Premier League but, despite progressing to the last four the League Cup, they've only won once more in the league since.
That has left them with just 12 points from 18 games, four points from safety coming into this Friday night encounter on Humberside, and one of the favourites for the drop back to the Championship.
For Everton, that represents opportunity as they go in search of successive victories for the first time since September. A number of sites listed at gamblingwebsites.org.uk have attractive free bet offers for new sign-ups if you fancy betting on the Blues' chances. Hull made life difficult for Manchester City on Boxing Day but eventually collapsed in the last 20 minutes in the face of Pep Guardiola's superior firepower; if Koeman's men can put on a repeat of the Leicester display, then they stand a good chance of taking the points.
With both Maarten Stekelenburg and James McCarthy still ruled out through injury, the line-up could conceivably be the same, although Hull's preference for one up front might preclude the three-man central defence that was effective at the King Power Stadium. His relative youth would make Mason Holgate the unfortunate but likely casualty in the event that Koeman reverts to a back four.
In midfield, meanwhile, Tom Davies and Ross Barkley both made strong cases for inclusion from the start with strong cameos at Leicester and, with Barry unable to play two games in a week, the manager could opt for one of them in his stead and bring the veteran back against Southampton on Monday. If Barry plays — Hull have a robust midfield of their own but it's not one blessed with an abundance of pace — Koeman could just as easily keep Davies or Barkley in a super-sub role, ready to make an impact off the bench.
With all of the teams above them accumulating results from games against weaker teams, Everton have little room for error if they are to keep on the coattails of the top six. That makes this an important fixture, in terms of points, momentum and morale.
A win at Hull with three successive home games to follow — not to mention any boosts provided by early forays into the transfer market — could set Koeman's men up nicely for a strong start to 2017.
Kick-off: 8pm, Friday 30th December, 2017
Referee: Jon Moss
Last Time: Hull City 2 - 0 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Robles, Coleman, Williams, Funes Mori, Baines, Gueye, Davies, Lennon, Barkley, Mirallas, Lukaku