For a man who has been in an overt mode of self-preservation lately, Sam Allardyce’s comments after this frustratingly predictable draw with Swansea can’t have come as a surprise to many. In addition to the usual guff about a point against a team that started the day four points off the relegation zone being a “great” result because Swansea had won their previous four at home, the manager declared that what he has achieved at Everton since he arrived at the end of November constitutes success.
Granted, the question from the interviewer came loaded with that particular word but Allardyce is on tricky ground when it comes to discussing success in relation to a club like Everton. We’ve known it, revelled in it, been robbed and then starved of it for too long now and, bitterly enough, the fact that the journeymen former England boss sits at the helm of this grand old team is a by-product of the latest shambles to befall it.
Allardyce has fulfilled the brief handed to him by a panicked Farhad Moshiri four and a half months ago. He has kept Everton in the Premier League, albeit with a win percentage of just 35%. In truth, his job was done by Christmas; the last 15 games presented an opportunity to take the bull by the horns and transform his image of a one-dimensional, motivator type whose simple talent lies in saving clubs from relegation.
We’ll never know whether David Unsworth would have been able to achieve the same feat for Everton this season following that 4-0 drubbing of West Ham; the decision to replace him had already been made. What’s clear, though, is that if this were one long job interview for one of the plumb jobs in English football, Allardyce has shown little appetite to ace it.
This game was as neat an illustration of his play-for-the draw lack of adventure as any. Seemingly without instruction to retain possession, dictate the game, or attack their hosts with any conviction, Everton found themselves 1-0 up at half time thanks to an own goal by Kyle Naughton.
It was unfortunate for Swansea who had belied their lowly status by employing crisp pass-and-move football and an impressing harrying game when out of possession almost from the off and fashioning three clear-cut openings by the time Yannick Bolasie’s 34th-minute daisy-cutter had registered for the Blues their first shot on target.
Jordan Ayew thought he had opened the scoring at the end of a 21st-minute counter-attack that led Wayne Rooney in an embarrassed heap after he’d missed a tackle in midfield but the Ghanaian’s shot took a vital deflection off Leighton Baines.
From the resulting corner, Federico Fernandez went even closer, rising highest to head back across Jordan Pickford’s goal but Cenk Tosun cleared his effort off the line.
Five minutes after that, the two Ayew brothers combined at the end of a good passing move from Carlos Carvalhal’s side but Andre, having out-muscled Michael Keane, could only fire straight at Pickford.
Everton offered a brief flurry of attacking intent in the waning minutes of the first period and, after Keane had headed wide after Lukas Fabianski had parried the defender’s initial header back to him, the visitors struck two minutes before the interval.
Seamus Coleman got forward well to ping a cross the back post and pick out Bolasie in space and, true to established form of doing on good thing a game to justify his inclusion, the Congolese forced a parrying save from Fabianski who repeated the feat a split second later to deny Idrissa Gueye from the rebound.
Unfortunately for the goalkeeper, his second save hit Naughton and crossed the line before Alfie Mawson swept it clear, the goal decision system alerting referee Lee Mason to the fact a few seconds later.
Theo Walcott was almost in a minute later from Tosun’s quick thinking but couldn’t bring the Turk’s long pass under control and that allowed Swansea to begin the second half on the front foot as they searched for an equaliser.
Keane’s header from a Swansea throw fell straight to Tom Carroll but Pickford was equal to his placed header with a diving catch and Andre Ayew was denied by the Blues’ keeper when he batted his shot behind in the 51st minute.
There was precious little desire or impetus from Everton to try and turn the screw on the Swans but Walcott did deliver a rare cross of quality from the right to find Gueye in a central position but his header was a poor one that had no hope of troubling Fabianski’s goal.
Benefitting from the introduction of Tammy Abraham with 25 minutes to go, Swansea kept probing as the half wore on and got their reward against a ponderous, untidy Blues side in the 71st minute.
For a second time, Tosun was called into emergency action to head off his own goal line but this time Everton’s defence couldn’t get it clear. And when Coleman’s scuffed clearance fell straight to Carroll and he shanked a ball out to Jordan Ayew on the left side of the penalty area, the forward accepted the chance with gusto, hammering a shot off the inside of Pickford’s left-hand post.
Allardyce pointed to fact that Coleman came so close to winning it for Everton with a quarter of an hour to go but his shot on the run from Tosun’s cross cannoned off the crossbar. In retrospect, however, a victory would have flattered the Blues and the manager’s decision to throw Ramiro Funes Mori on for Bolasie in the closing stages was evidence enough that he wanted to protect the point rather than build on Coleman’s chance to earn all three.
In keeping with his tenure, Allardyce’s side did enough but did exhibit the necessary guile or gumption to secure a win to reward the travelling faithful who once more sold out the away end. He will, no doubt, continue to insist in his press conferences that the criticism is only coming from a handful of unprofessional speculators on social media but as “fuck off Sam Allardyce” rang out unmistakably from those massed ranks in Blue, he can’t have been left in much doubt what they thought of him.
Allardyce is unlikely to walk away of his own volition — indeed, rather disconcertingly, he is now talking of pre-season plans and squad-building — so, again, the hope is that behind the scenes, there is no doubt about what needs to be done come the end of the season, if not before. If there is anything to the rumours that the decision has already been, it’s hard to see what good from stretching his tenure out over the last four meaningless games.
Yes, Sam, you’re a success. Now how about going out on “a high”?
Gueye partners Schneiderlin as Everton face Swansea City.
Davies and Funes Mori are on the bench, with Holgate and Sigurdsson out injured. No place for Calvert-Lewin or Klaassen among the subs but Nikola Vlasic may get a chance.
Early exchanges were fairly even until Rooney was clipped by Carroll but it was Swansea who benefited with an attack that led to a corner that Everton cleared. Swansea showed some good movement to get forward and apply a modicum of pressure that started to make the Blues a little nervy. Ki fired on on Pickford.
Brief Blues possession ended with a forward ball from Coleman that Tosun did not anticipate. More Whites pressure followed, needing a brave tackle well executed by Wayne Rooney. For a second time, the ball to Bolasie on the left was lost and an embarrassing backpass from Keane had to be headed away by Pickford.
Bolasie and Baines overlapped for Baines to cross, Everton's first real foray forward in 15 minutes of home dominance. Bolasie dispossessed again saw Swansea set up for a shot that was badly miscued by Ki.
Bolasie forced Everton's first corner from Rooney, well placed for Keane. But Swansea broke at speed, brushing aside a challenge for Rooney, but somehow Ayew screwed it wide off Baines when it seemed easier for him to score. From the corner, a great header by Alfie Mawson needed to be headed off the line by Cenk Tosun.
Everton were getting stymied down each flank, with Coleman and Walcott struggling to link up effectively down the right. Swansea got forward again and Andre Ayew had a brief moment to lash his shot at Jordan Pickford. Gueye was the next to squander the ball poorly.
Tosun played in Walcott for a shot that was blocked, possibly Everton's first shot on the half-hour as the Blues struggled to equal the Swans' energy and desire. Some better Everton passing ended with a clever backheel that was not clever enough, allowing Swansea to break at pace again but their cross was overhit.
Walcott had to defend the next Swans move well, leading to a break down the left by Keane and a classic centre-back cross straight to a defender. Walcott then hopelessly let the ball role out of play. Lee Mason gave Everton a soft free-kick for an aerial collision. Rooney picked out Keane whose second header landed on the roof of the Swansea net.
A very fortunate own goal for Everton came following a good cross from Rooney found Bolasie in space, Fabianski parrying his shot to Gueye, blocking his scooped shot up and off Kyle Naughton, bouncing goalward, the ball cleared by Mawson but deemed by goal-line technology to have crossed the line giving Everton a quite undeserved lead.
Everton should really have had a second moments later when Walcott had the chance to move for a lose ball over the top, but held back allowing Fabianski time to advance and clear.
From the restart, and a deep Swansea throw-in Keane's header set up Carroll but Pickford was equal to his looping header. From another throw-in, King lashed the ball well over. Another good move from the Swans saw the Ayew brothers combine to test Pickford at the near post.
In the other direction, Tosun played a lovely ball for Walcott to bring down but you just knew it would not stick with the Blues player and any chance evaporated. More midfield errors saw the game swing breifly from end to end, Tosun seemingly having space but only on his left foot.
A fantastic delivery from Baines out wide left off a free-kick was unchallenged by any Blue. The ball cleared from a corner had Jordan Ayew show his studs in a 50/50 challenge with Baines, and a yellow card from Referee Mason. Keane headed the free-kick well into the danger area where four white shirts scrambled it away.
Walcott turned his man by the corner flag and picked out Gueye in space for a header that could not have been more poorly executed by the Senegalese midfielder.
It was competitive, becoming scrappy, as Swansea challenged for every ball and Everton responded with some determination to preserve their slim lead. A slopy clearance by Coleman, straight to a white shirt. led to a corner and more pressure until the ball went behind for an Everton goal-kick.
Rooney had a chance to shoot but no strength, no direction, really poor from the clapped out former footballer. Keane was called upon again and again for vital interceptions, clearing headers and blocks as Swansea piled on the pressure.
Beni Baningime replaced Gueye. Dyer got in a fine effort that skimmed over the Everton bar, the Blues resisting wave after wave of attack, Keane again the key man in the middle of the Blues defence, Tosun again repeating his goal-line clearance. Another poor Coleman clearance and the ball finally fell to Ayew after a scuffed shot from Carroll that fell nicely for him to fire across Pickford into the far corner to finally equalize. It had been coming and, for all their good work in defence, the Blues could not stop this one.
A great Everton move down the right, roles reversed with Tosun crossing for Coleman to lash the ball onto the face of the cross-bar when it seemed easier to score — if only!
Allaryce's response was to bring on Ramiro Funes Mori in place of Yannick Bolasie for his first appearance of the season, Fat Sam settling for a point? Funes Mori's first involvement produces a free-kick that fell nicely for Abraham but he skies his shot from 7 yards.
Into the last 10 mins, it had had been quite a lively second half, with Everton falling short in their task but Allardyce no doubt perfectly happy to protect an away point rather than go for the win, having shamelessly conceded any initiative. Dyer fouled Walcott in a dangerous area for Rooney to launch it over the wall and over the bar.
Baningime went down after getting his ankles tangled with Ayew. Everton tried to build but inevitably lost the ball and Swansea pushed forward again. Walcott was then fouled by Fernandez, Baines delivered another brilliant ball and again, the Everton players all watching it fly by — Funes Mori the closest, but still not close enough.
Vlasic came on for Rooney and challenged clumsily to give away a free-kick but the pressure seemed to have lapsed; however, a late corner in added time needed to be batted away by Pickford. Coleman did brilliantly to lose his man at the corner flag and place a prefect cross for Tosun to head home... only he incredibly completely missed his header, albeit with Fernandez leaping in front of him!
It finished 1-1. A game that could have gone either way. From an Everton perspective, another three points poorly squandered but you won't hear that from the belligerent Allardyce.
Scorers: J Ayew (71'); Naughton (og: 43').
Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Mawson, Fernandez, Olsson, King, Carroll, Ki (65' Abraham), Narsingh (46' Dyer), J Ayew [Y:56'], A Ayew.
Subs not Used: Nordfeldt, Van der Hoorn, Bartley, Roberts, Routledge.
Everton: Pickford, Keane, Jagielka, Baines, Coleman, Gueye (68' Baningime [Y:90+3']), Rooney (87' Vlasic), Walcott, Schneiderlin, Bolasie (76' Funes Mori), Tosun.
Subs not Used: Robles, Martina, Davies, Niasse.
Referee: Lee Mason
Everton travel to South Wales to face Swansea City in the first of their three remaining away matches of the season.
Successive home games without a win, coupled with Burnley's uptick in form means that the prospect of finishing seventh — and, possibly, securing European football for another season — has become a remote one. It has also, therefore, reduced the Blues' last five games to being essentially meaningless beyond the need to secure as much prize money as possible.
Not that they won't lack meaning and importance for their opponents, four of whom are still not clear of relegation (West Ham will almost certainly be safe by the time they entertain Everton on the final day), and that includes Swansea who are on course to complete a remarkable act of self-salvation under new manager Carlos Carvalhal.
The Swans looked to be on their way back to the Championship after their 3-1 defeat in the reverse of this fixture in December. Four points adrift at the bottom of the table heading into Christmas, by statistical tradition a death knell, their plight was a desperate one when their board of directors took the somewhat surprising decision to appoint Carvalhal.
Without a Premier League pedigree and having just been fired by Sheffield Wednesday, the Portuguese wouldn't ordinarily have been high on many chairmen's shortlists. Just one defeat in his first seven League games, however, lifted Swansea out of the bottom three and they come into the weekend sitting four points above the drop zone with a game in hand over four of the sides below them.
Importantly, in the context of this Saturday's game, Carvalhal has overseen home wins over three sides from the top seven at the Liberty Stadium since he took over from Paul Clement having seen off Liverpool, Arsenal and Burnley. With Everton notoriously poor travellers this season and Swansea having established a rhythm at home (their recent 3-0 defeat to Tottenham notwithstanding), it has the makings of a difficult afternoon for the Toffees.
With little to play for, these final games present an opportunity for Allardyce to hand some opportunities to some of the fringe players in the squad but you rather sense that the manager's desire for self-preservation, one enunciated himself during a radio interview with talkSPORT this past week, could trump any impulse on his part to throw the likes of Davy Klaassen, Nikola Vlasic, Ramiro Funes Mori and Oumar Niasse a proverbial bone.
By the same token, however, the idea has been thrown up enough times by supporters online and the local press over the past few days that it wouldn't be beyond Allardyce to field a couple of those forgotten names and present it as his own idea.
It's hard to see beyond a familiar line-up, though, with, perhaps, the odd change here and there to accommodate the return to the starting XI of Idrissa Gueye and a reversion to the team that started against Stoke, Everton's last win.
With Mason Holgate out injured and Ashley Williams having possibly blotted his copybook significantly with his red card at Burnley, the back five is likely to remain unchanged. In midfield, Morgan Schneiderlin could partner Gueye at the expense of Tom Davies as reward for a markedly improved performance in last week's Merseyside derby, with Wayne Rooney sitting in front of them while Yannick Bolasie and Theo Walcott would provide width down the flanks.
Victory would keep those faint hopes of finishing seventh alive while also keeping the pressure on Leicester in eighth place above but, on the flip side, a defeat for Everton here and a win for Newcastle over Arsenal on Sunday would put the formerly relegation-threatened Barcodes level on points with the Blues. Some indignity that would be but par for the course in a dreadful campaign.
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday 14 April, 2018
Referee: Lee Mason
Last Time: Swansea City 1 - 0 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Jagielka, Keane, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Rooney, Bolasie, Walcott, Tosun