Everton were out-played, humbled and then outright humiliated at Goodison Park as shocking defending condemned them to a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of by Atalanta.
What began as an opportunity for some of the players who had been relegated to the fringes of the first-team picture since David Unsworth took over from Ronald Koeman a month ago to stake a claim for greater involvement ended in shambles as the Italian side ran riot in the closing stages, shortly after Sandro Ramirez had given the Blues hope at 2-1.
Everton were trailing 2-0 with 20 minutes left following a brace by Bryan Cristante and a penalty save from Joel Robles early in the second half when the Spanish striker scored his first competitive goal since signing from Malaga over the summer.
Any hopes of the Toffees completing a comeback were cut off at the knees by a spectacular effort from Robin Gosens which made it 3-1 before his fellow substitute and former Cardiff flop Andreas Cornelius plundered two more late goals. Like Arsenal, the last team to register five goals at Goodison a month ago, it was Atalanta's first away win of the season.
With Everton's interest in the Europa League already over, this penultimate group game was, for them at least, a meaningless fixture but Unsworth handed chances to impress to Joel Robles, Davy Klaassen, Sandro Ramirez and Kevin Mirallas who all started while Cuco Martina returned after recovering from a neck injury.
Beni Baningime got another opportunity in central midfield and Ashley Williams replaced Phil Jagielka in defence but there was no place in the starting XI for Nikola Vlasic.
Playing in front of vast expanses of empty blue seats, Everton made a purposeful enough start with Rooney attempting to pick Sandro out in the centre with a good, low cross early on but it was all-too familiar failings at the back that saw Unsworth's side concede the first goal before a quarter of an hour had elapsed.
Castagne breezed past Martina and Klaassen down the right, easily evaded Michael Keane as he drove into the box and while Williams got a foot to his square pass, it fell straight to Bryan Cristante who easily converted.
The Blues offered almost nothing in attack by way of response until Mirallas got in behind the Italians' back line, eventually shot and was foiled by the goalkeeper. The rebound fell invitingly for Sandro who had most of the whole goal to aim at but he snatched at a half-volley and sliced it well over.
Eight minutes before the break, Martina picked up Sandro's backheel, his cross was beaten out to Davies but his quick shot was headed off the line impressively.
Williams picked up his customary yellow card when he clattered through just before half time but Atalanta wasted the resulting free kick.
And Everton had the last real chance of the first half when a defensive header dropped to Mirallas just inside the box but his first-time effort was saved.
Everton's evening almost got worse early in the second half when Williams scythed Cristante down and conceded a penalty but Robles kept the deficit at one by guessing the right way and making the save and then foiling Alejandro Gomez again on the rebound.
Atalanta came at them again, though, and this time it was Kenny to the rescue when he cleared a header off his own goal line.
A foul by Mirallas just outside the area handed Rooney a free-kick opportunity in the 57th minute which was headed behind and the subsequent corner came to nothing.
At the other end, Keane was barged off the ball outside the area but Robles got a touch to the resulting shot that flew over the crossbar.
Atalanta did double their lead in the 63rd minute, however, as more poor defending let the Blues down. Williams was out-jumped as the ball was flighted in and it was headed home from close range by Cristante.
Everton finally found the net with 20 minutes to go with a fine finish from Sandro. Mirallas collected a long pass into the channel, found the Spaniard and he cut a shot across the 'keeper and inside the far post.
And Sandro forced a double-handed save from the 'keeper six minutes from the end with a stinging shot from 20 yards out before Keane was adjudged to have fouled his man before planting a header off the bar and on to the line.
Any chance of saving face with a late equaliser evaporated when the ball was cleared as far as Gosens on the edge of the area and he lashed a shot off the post and in.
A minute later, his fellow substitute Cornelius turned Everton's own recent introduction, Morgan Feeney, and fired between Robles's legs to make it 4-1 and the big forward completed the rout when he headed in with effectively the last touch of the game.
You learn who you can depend on
Just Ste and I went to this one, but such was the paucity of attendees, even with setting off a little late, we were able to comfortably park and get a pint. Ste and I were both a bit miffed when we saw Sehrou Guirassy tumble in the penalty area to gain Cologne a spot kick - and consequently a win - against Arsenal. Not miffed that Arsenal lost of course, but aggrieved that Guirassy went down in exactly the same fashion as Oumar Niasse, but nothing will ever be made of Guirassy’s dive. I don’t suppose their ex-captain is going to take to the airwaves demanding he be punished. What a farce.
We then got a quick chippy, and with still a little time to kill and the streets as good as deserted, we nipped in The Winslow Hotel for a drink before going into the stadium. It felt like pre-season as we made our way in. It really did, though this hadn’t stopped a few other hardy souls who had also come the match, one who travels from Middlesborough every game home and away. I don’t know how he does it, I really don’t. At the other end you had to credit the Atalanta supporters for filling the away end and backing their team throughout.
Unsurprisingly, and thankfully, David Usworth kept what he felt the bulk of his first XI well away from this one. The game meant nothing and it wasn’t worth risking anyone he needs for Sunday. The team talk on the face of it should have been a piece of piss. “Right you lot, here’s your opportunity. Prove to me why you should be in the team”. Unfortunately the majority out there only really proved why they shouldn’t be in the team.
Who did OK? Jonjoe Kenny - gave his all and was rightly given a rest for the final 20 minutes to give Morgan Feeney his debut. Wayne Rooney - seemed to end up in a few different positions and finished the game in midfield trying to spray passes. Not everything worked, and his set-piece delivery was poor but he at least showed heart and good intelligence on the ball.
Kevin Mirallas - I say just put up with him being a nark for the good of team performance. We’re in no position to be choosy. Like him or loathe him, and there are holes in his game, if we’re looking for productivity, he’ll create more opportunities and be involved more than most in midfield. Even if it’s just to help us out until he gets his Olympiakos move in January, so be it.
He had a few efforts on goal in the first half, one of which really should have resulted in an equalising goal for Sandro, but for his horribly wayward shooitng. Beni Baningime - needs time to develop and he made some mistakes but he looks a good prospect and has more than held his own this past month or so. Nikola Vlasic - replacing Davey Klaassen from the substitutes bench, he made a couple of errors but he is at least positive. His alienation from the squad is baffling.
Who didn’t do OK? Joel Robles - made a few good saves but I don’t know what happened with their second goal and his distribution was awful at times. What has happened to Maarten Stekelenburg by the way? He’s not injured is he? He just seemed to disappear.
Ashley Williams - the game is up. He’s too slow. He’s not brave. He doesn’t anticipate. He should be nowhere near our team. Neither of the other senior centre backs seem to be able to bear playing with him.
Sandro Ramirez - took his goal well when he was afforded a surprising amount of space but he otherwise played poorly. He missed a golden chance to score in the first half and though he runs, he’s not offering enough quality to put himself in the team. It was a big opportunity for him with Oumar Niasse suspended for the next two games and he really didn’t take it.
Cuco Martina - I don’t get the impression he really wants to be out there on the pitch really. That said, I don’t know who ever decided he’s a player who can play left back because he plainly can’t. At right back I think he can do a job, but at left back he’s all over the shop. Davy Klaassen - it wasn’t for lack of effort, and I can see a good player in there somewhere, but he’s going to need time to adapt to the Premier League. Time we can ill-afford currently.
Benefit of the doubt goes to the rest. Tom Davies is having a bit of a struggle, but can be relied on in that he does have character and he doesn’t hide. He has plenty to give, but not this weekend as he’s suspended. Michael Keane was cumbersome at times but just can’t play with Ashley Williams. Let Phil Jagielka and Michael Keane build that partnership…at least until January. Dominic Calvert-Lewin wasn’t great but is capable of better, while it was always going to be tough debuting into a defensive position with 20 minutes to play in that team, as was the case for Morgan Feeney. It should have been a dream come true for him but it instead turned out to be a nightmare.
On another day we might have drawn back level, but we have such a weak underbelly that we’re always up against it currently. All we can do is draw a line under it and go well at Southampton on Sunday.
One bright bit of news that emerged yesterday was the welcome news that Everton have exchanged contracts to lease the land at Bramley Moore Dock. To think, what we just witnessed could be Everton’s last ever European fixture at Goodison Park.
Talk about going out with a whimper!
Man of the match: For effort alone, Wayne Rooney.
Everton face Atalanta in what is, for them at least, a meaningless Europa League fixture but which could hand chances to impress for some of the fringe players.
By virtue of their 3-0 defeat in Lyon, the Blues are out of contention in Group E with no chance of progressing but the Italians are joint top with the French side with top seeding at stake for the team that finishes first after the final group matches next month.
Caretaker manager David Unsworth is expected to field some of the players who have not had much game time since he took over from Ronald Koeman last month.
That could include the likes of Davy Klaassen who Unsworth confirmed is fit and available; Sandro Ramirez, who came on as a substitute at Crystal Palace last Saturday; and Nikola Vlasic who has been, arguably, the most perplexing omission from the stand-in boss's plans.
Vlasic was a stand-out performer in the last few games under Koeman who signed him from Hajduk Split on transfer deadline day and scored his only Everton goal to date in the Europa League against Apollon Limassol.
While nothing is riding on the result, Unsworth stressed that the team will go out to win, not only as a matter of expectation but also because it will help in terms of morale where the Premier League campaign is concerned.
“We've needed a bit of fighting spirit. I think when you're in our position,” he said in his press conference at Finch Farm today. “That's what helps you win and put points on the board until the confidence is as high as it should be and the players can start expressing themselves as individuals.
“Now, we can't play as individuals at the moment because we're in a perilous position. What we want to do is add team performances and within that, a strong unity, a team spirit and a desire and fight to win every single game.
“We need to perform and we need to win to get ourselves out of a tricky start to the season and I believe, looking at the performances, looking at the points on the board over the last couple of games, looking at performances in spells — not 90-minute spells where we need to be… but you've got to have those foundations and those building blocks.
“And you need a starting point and I think we've had that and I think we've have got better with each game. The lads have won a game and drawn a game and this is another game we want to win.
“We represent Everton and every time you pull on that famous Blue shirt we have a responsibility to win the game.”
Phil Jagielka is expected to be rested and Morgan Schneiderlin won't figure either while Mason Holgate is ruled out because of a groin problem.
Kick-off: 8.05pm, Thursday 23 November, 2017
Reverse fixture: Atalanta 3 - 0 Everton