We’ll never know whether the 4-0 win over West Ham that David Unsworth oversaw as the final act of his spell as interim manager last autumn could have been the platform from which he could have built a steady run of form that would have eased Everton’s relegation concerns or, like the win over Watford that preceded it, it would have been followed more worrying results.
Had he been afforded the next game against Huddersfield at Goodison Park to see if he could deliver another three points, it’s possible that a period of stability might have ensued that would have allowed him to continue at the helm for the rest of the season.
Farhad Moshiri and the Blues’ board clearly felt following the defeats to Atalanta and Southampton that the situation was dire enough to go back to Sam Allardyce and offering him what he wanted and the decision had already been made by the time that game against the Hammers kicked off. To give the West Midlander his due, he fulfilled the brief as expected, with few frills.
The impression at the time was that it was only meant to be a short-term appointment, one that was unpalatable to most of the fans but necessary to get through to May with Premier League safety assured. Allardyce may have another year to run on his deal but it still feels like there is a decision to be made very soon over whether or not he should get to serve it out.
Hence the media speculation over the current manager’s future as Everton prepared for their third to last game of the campaign and Allardyce facing questions over the nature of his meeting with Moshiri in London last Thursday. Allardyce may have been searching for clarity over his position but it’s been evident among what seems to be a majority of Evertonians for a while now. There is no love for the 63-year-old one time England boss and never will be given that he was treated to more chants calling for his ouster even when the Blues were comfortably ahead.
Allardyce has been in this situation before, of course, at Newcastle and West Ham, both clubs with demanding fans who expect a certain way of playing which was not forthcoming under his stewardship. By admitting that, “I can’t honestly do more than I’ve been doing,” to win over supporters he is effectively writing his own P45.
Because if, for example, a 1-0 win over Newcastle at home with a single shot on target, two Merseyside derby performances and home matches against the Manchester clubs almost entirely devoid of attacking intent, and a complete lack of enterprise and adventure at the likes of bottom-dwelling West Brom and Bournemouth at the tail end of 2017 represent the limits of what he can produce by way of a “trial” for the Everton job on a long-term basis, he has fallen well short of this club’s standards.
The unfortunate fact for Allardyce is that we knew what we were getting when we hired him — a Premier League journeyman renowned for righting “listing ships” but who has never won anything in the game as a manager and isn’t ever likely to. He has done his job in terms of stabilising Everton and guiding the club clear of relegation danger but he hasn’t done anything to convince skeptical supporters that he has the ability to take Everton forward next season. The feeling is that, at most, he would oversee another season of thrills-free mediocrity with little chance of challenging the top six.
A 2-0 victory at Huddersfield, the same opposition and scoreline that began Allardyce’s reign back in November, doesn’t change anything in that regard even if it felt like a routine victory over bottom-half opposition. In their quest for a result that would move them further away from the relegation zone, the Terriers controlled most of the possession but were desperately poor in their execution.
Apart from a tame shot by Steve Mounie that Jordan Pickford gathered early on and a better opening that Rajiv van La Parra swept over the bar from 15 yards out, they had little to show for their efforts and the Blues’ defence was largely untroubled.
Everton, meanwhile, carried much of their threat on the counter-attack, trying to capitalise on their hosts’ need to get forward. When they did try and work the ball forward themselves there were the occasional patterns of neat play but, in the first period especially, moves routinely broke down in the final third with an untidy pass or overhit ball.
Cenk Tosun was industrious, Theo Walcott alert and threatening with his pace, and Nikola Vlasic, a surprise inclusion at the expense of Yannick Bolasie, was lively even if his touch betrayed understandable rustiness and he looked off the pace at times, the consequence of too many weeks sitting idly on the sidelines our out of the squad altogether.
As has so often been the case this season, much of the onus for knitting things together and pushing Everton forward fell to Wayne Rooney but he was, frankly, atrocious, once more a baffling source of embarrassingly mis-placed passes from a player so experienced and accomplished. It was no surprise that he was substituted once more before an hour had elapsed.
The Blues’ first shot on target wouldn’t arrive until six minutes before half time but it was a rapier-like move that began with Theo Walcott picking up an errant pass out of the Huddersfield defence in his own half and ended with Tosun firing home his first goal in five matches.
The former Arsenal man fed the Turk with a quick pass between two defenders and he single-mindedly took the ball just inside the area before steering an impressive low shot across Jonas Lossl and inside the far post.
Coming completely against the run of play, it was rough on David Wagner’s side but it was illustrative of the quality that exists in the Everton team but which hasn’t always been harnessed under Allardyce.
With the cushion of the goal, the Blues improved after the interval and Vlasic had the first sight of goal almost immediately after Walcott’s driving run but he fired his low shot down Lossl’s throat.
Seamus Coleman then had two chances to double the lead: first, when he beat the offside trap from Leighton Baines’s free kick but shot meekly at the goalkeeper and then when Vlasic back-heeled smartly to meet the Irishman’s run behind him on the overlap but Lossl made a good save with his leg.
Huddersfield were making errors all over the place as the half progressed but Everton failed to punish them with two or three promising openings on the break going begging. The Terriers were also finding it difficult to create genuine chances of their own but they spurned a good opportunity in the 65th minute when Van La Parra picked out Alex Pritchard but he mis-kicked badly from a central position.
And Everton then made the game safe with 13 minutes left following persistent work by Oumar Niasse down the right flank that ended with him floating a cross to the back side of the area to Baines. His one-touch lay-off found Idrissa Gueye with time and space to line up a shot that he buried with a crisp shot from 20 yards out.
Christopher Schindler had one chance with what would have been a free header with six minutes of the 90 to go but he missed a cross from the right completely while Scott Malone saw an injury time effort deflect wide but it was too little too late for the home side.
Vlasic starts in place of Bolasie as Everton's season continues to wind down with their first trip to Huddersfield Town in the League since the early 1970s next on the agenda.
Nikola Vlasic last started an Everton game back in January, the 1-1 draw with West Brom at Goodison Park, where he was withdrawn at half-time.
It was Vlasic who kicked off for Everton, with the required hoof upfield ultimately winning an early corner that was defended away. The early exchanges were mostly in midfield, with the home side looking more interested amidst the lively atmosphere their fans create.
Rooney got double-teamed and it seemed to exemplify the energy levels on show, Everton expecting to lazily pass their way around, while the home side were rather more intent on regaining possession and pressing forward.
A little bit better showing by the purple-clad Blues saw the ball moved closer to the home end until Rooney overhit his ball wide to Walcott. The first attempt on goal after 16 mins came at the other end, a lame half-shot that bobbled through to Pickford.
Van la Parra did well to win a corner off Coleman but the resulting shot was blazed well over. Vlasic was on a different wavelength to his teammates and struggled to get into the game. A cross finally came in from Coleman on 27 minutes, winning Everton a second corner that Rooney overhit beyond Keane. It came back to Rooney who tried a quick volley from a wide angle that was off-target.
Van la Parra dived blatantly (no card) before getting a cut-back played to him sharply by Pritchard that he fired over the Everton bar. Mounie had a weak header that did not trouble Pickford.
As Huddersfield increased the pressure, a potential Everton break was stopped by a shockingly poor pass from Rooney, straight to a defender, when Walcott was free and in space. But the next break was much better, Walcott intercepting a Huddersfield pass and picking out Tosun who was being pushed wide but placed his low spot perfectly, just beyond Lossl, just inside the post, a fine finish to give Everton a rather unmerited lead.
The half ended with Everton attacking and a strange overhit cross-cum-shot from Rooney.
Everton started the second half in a positive vein, Theo Walcott getting into the area and sliding a ball back which eventually ended up at the feet of Nikola Vlasic whose low hit from 18 yards was held by Jonas Lossl. A good free-kick routine saw three players break forward (at least two offside!) but none of them could do enough to score.
Better movement and desire saw a nice setup by Vlasic for Coleman to get in range but he shot straight at Lossl.
Tosun shaped to break but Lee Probert looked kindly on the block by Hogg, who was on a yellow. Walcott was next to almost get behind the Huddersfield defence, as they struggled to turn the game back their way, a corner well wasted.
Davies replaced Rooney soon after the hour mark with Everton in control, playing a little better, and heading for their third away win of the season. But it seemed to inspire the home side until Pritchard, in a dangerous position, fluffed his lines badly.Niasse replaced Tusun with 20 minutes left, and the energy levels flagging as Wagner made his final change, while Funes Mori replaced Vlasic, who had not really impressed on his big opportunity.
Great work by Niasse out by the corner flag, and a brilliant lay-off by Baines saw Gana Gueye tee up and fire in a fine second goal for Everton to kill off any lingering resistance from the home side, who remain at some risk in the relegation battle.
Without ever really looking anything like a top-half Premier League side, Everton had successfully pilfered two goals and three points that will have Sam Allardyce crowing happily in response to the travelling Blues fans who are committed to seeing him removed from the manager's position. "What a good job he's done..." —
Scorers: Tosun (41'), Gueye (78').Huddersfield Town: Lossl, Kongolo, Hogg [Y:50'] (62' Malonie), Mooy, Van la Parra (75' Depoitre), Pritchard, Quaner (59' Billing), Mounie, Zanka, Schindler; Hadergjonaj.
Subs not Used: Coleman, Smith, Lowe, Stankovic.
Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Jagielka, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Rooney (63' Davies), Walcott, Tosun, Vlasic (76' Funes Mori), Tosun (72' Niasse).
Subs not Used: Robles, Bolasie, Martina, Baningime.
Everton's season continues to wind down with their first trip to Huddersfield Town in the League since the early 1970s next on the agenda.
It's the reverse fixture of Sam Allardyce's first match in charge of the Blues, a 2-0 win that got his reign at Goodison Park off to a winning start and helped keep the team on course for safety from relegation following David Unsworth's parting victory over West Ham a few days before.
Since then, Everton have won just seven of 20 games under Allardyce but have managed, nevertheless, to ascend as high as eighth place, although Leicester City below them have played a game fewer.
As was the case before last Monday's win over Newcastle United at Goodison, the manager's future has been a prominent topic of conversation in the pre-match build-up, this time because of newspaper reports by The Mirror and Mail suggesting his meeting with Farhad Moshiri in London on Thursday did not provide the assurances he was looking for regarding to his continued employment by the club beyond this summer.
Allardyce was insistent during his pre-match press conference that there was clarity from his discussions with the club's major shareholder, however, and that they discussed plans for pre-season and the 2018-19 season beyond.
Fan opinion of the manager is unlikely to have been improved by his comments yesterday morning — if anything, they may intensify a resolve among the core support to make their misgivings about Allardyce known more vociferously — and there is the danger for him that he will be the subject of more chants calling for his departure today, particularly if Everton don't win.
Allardyce will plough on regardless and will likely aim once more for as few changes to his line-up as are necessary. Two alternations to the starting XI may be enforced following the news that Leighton Baines's cut to the
foot head could keep him out.
The defender may be sidelined again for this weekend's game while Morgan Schneiderlin, who came off against Newcastle with a dead leg, is also a cause for concern and could miss out as well.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, meanwhile, remains some way away from making his return, strengthening the doubts that he will play for the Blues again this season. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is now out for the season himself with a stress fracture in his back.
Should neither Baines nor Schneiderlin be passed fit, it presents an opportunity for Cuco Martina to deputise at left back again while Tom Davies will be hopeful of earning a recall after starting the two previous games on the bench. Davy Klaassen and Nikola Vlasic can also step in if selected, particularly if Wayne Rooney drops back into a deeper holding role.
While Everton have little to play for beyond trying to consolidate eighth place, Huddersfield are not yet safe from the drop and need a victory to almost guarantee survival. Indeed, the importance of this fixture in particular is heightened by the fact that the Terriers must face Champions Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in their final three matches.
Manager David Wagner is unable to call on Elias Kachunga, Danny Williams, Michael Hefele or Tom Ince as all four are ruled out through injury.
Huddersfield's need for the points should add a dimension to this game that would not otherwise be there but it will also make it a more difficult assignment for an Everton side that has won just twice away from home all season.
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday 28 April, 2018
Referee: Lee Probert
Last Time: Huddersfield Town 0 - 0 Everton, April 1972
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Jagielka, Keane, Baines, Gueye, Rooney, Davies, Bolasie, Walcott, Tosun