Dr Jekyll, Mr Hyde and the Pantomime Villain

By Lyndon Lloyd 09/03/2019 0comments  |  Jump to last

They say that 2-0 can be the most dangerous scoreline in football; that uneasy position for the leading side that can be upset so quickly if they allow the other team to shift the momentum by getting a goal back. Add in Everton’s exasperating propensity to shoot themselves in both feet and some typically poor refereeing from Lee Mason and you have the recipe for what unfolded at St James’ Park today.

This was the quintessential game of two halves; the first had one wondering where this imaginative and purposeful Everton has been the past three months while the second left you cursing the mental fragility and abysmal game management that this Blues team under the current manager continues to exhibit.

The winning goal was a travesty of poor officiating and the muddied waters of the modern offside rule but the maddening aspect of this game wasn’t that Everton lost it, it’s the manner in which they tossed away a 2-0 lead and crumbled at the first sign of concerted pressure. A crumb of comfort could have been taken had Ayoze Perez’s winner been chalked off as it should have been but there would have been very little margin between a 2-2 draw and a 3-2 defeat in terms of how deflated Evertonians felt at the final whistle.

It was depressingly reminiscent of the draws at Wolves and Bournemouth and also brought to mind Watford’s defeat by the same scoreline at Goodison Park under Silva in 2017 when David Unsworth was in temporary charge. Injury to Heurelho Gomes in that match was a contributory factor in the Hornets’ collapse but it was a bumbling display by the Portuguese’s current goalkeeper that underpinned part of today’s calamity.

Jeered and booed throughout by the Toon faithful, Jordan Pickford lost his head trying to wind them up and, having escaped punishment for a howler in the first half by saving Matt Ritchie’s penalty, he failed to check himself in the second period and ended up contributing enormously to a damaging defeat.

Had the England international been sent off in the 29th minute for rugby-tackling Salomon Rondon in an attempt to atone for a horrible misjudgement of Ritchie’s cross, it wouldn’t have been all that surprising. Perhaps because he was unsighted, that he and his assistant felt that the ball was going away from goal or that Kurt Zouma was retreating into his goalmouth to cover, the referee elected not to show Pickford a red card for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity but the moment of madness could have cost the Blues their 1-0 lead 11 minutes after Dominic Calvert-Lewin headed them in front.

That 18th-minute goal had been a thing of beauty and exemplified the invention and drive that Everton showed for much of the first 45 minutes. Bernard, whose earlier back-heel to Lucas Digne had carved out an early first half-chance for Gylfi Sigurdsson, combined with the Frenchman again with a lovely reverse pass that Digne chipped into the centre for Calvert-Lewin to glance home in accomplished fashion.

A Magpies goal against the run of play would have been somewhat galling but Pickford, who wasn’t even booked for cleaning out Rondon in his penalty area, would redeem himself by saving what was an admittedly poor spot-kick from Ritchie to preserve the 1-0 advantage.

And when Everton doubled their lead a minute later, it appeared as though the penalty save had provided an irrevocable turning point in the game. Bernard was involved again, threading a pass to Calvert-Lewin whose attempted cross was headed out only as far as André Gomes who showed great strength to hold off his man and ping the ball across goal from wide on the right.

Martin Dubravka could only palm the Portuguese’s cross into Richarlison’s path and the Brazilian, preferred to Theo Walcott following his energetic cameo in the Merseyside derby, was on hand to stab the ball home from close range.

The urgency of their situation and the home fans’ ire at Mason and his officials combined to fuel a flurry of activity late in the half from Newcastle who, apart from an early chance when Pickford punched a clearance straight to Perez and the Spaniard looped a header over the bar, hadn’t really threatened all that much.

Perez was released in behind a somewhat flat-footed Kurt Zouma by a pinged ball over the top from a Magpies defender but Pickford came up big with a smart one-handed save.

2-0 up and coasting at the break, all Everton had to do was continue what they had been doing and that is what Silva claims the instructions were. And initially, it looked as though they would do just that as Bernard popped up in the Newcastle box early in the second half but shot well wide trying to bend a shot on goal.

Rafael Benitez, however, had clearly told his men to up the intensity and increasingly favour longer balls in an effort to unsettle Everton’s infamously erratic defence and it almost paid dividends 11 minutes after the interval when Rondon out-muscled Michael Keane and, with Pickford in “no man’s land”, the big striker bounced a shot a foot wide of the post.

Having ceded much of the impetus to their hosts, Everton tried to break away in the 65th minute but Bernard couldn’t dribble his way past two striped jerseys, Ritchie’s back-heel to Bobby Hayden took the Brazilian out of the game and within seconds the ball had been clipped to the edge of the Blues’ box.

Perez nodded it back to Rondon, he returned it to his strike partner and then made a run to meet Perez’s chipped ball over Jonjoe Kenny where he half-volleyed past Pickford to halve the deficit.

Three minutes later, the otherwise impressive Bernard sent a clearance straight to Ritchie and his cross was back-headed narrowly over by Paul Dummett as Everton wobbled.

Although playing increasingly on the counter-attack, Everton regained their composure somewhat and could have put the game to bed with around 20 minutes to go. First, Calvert-Lewin engineered space for a shot in the Magpies’ area but drilled his effort inches wide; then, Sigurdsson sent Richarlison into the clear for a one-on-one confrontation with Dubravka but an awful first touch from the Brazilian allowed Dummett to get across and slide-tackle the ball out for a throw-in.

Silva had already decided by that point on the “Moyes sub” and he withdrew Richarlison in favour of another centre-half in the form of Yerry Mina but that failed to address the lack of control in midfield where, perhaps, Morgan Schneiderlin would have been a better substitution. Everton failed to register a shot on target in the second 45 minutes and found themselves pushed further backwards.

The result was more Newcastle pressure and, aided by referee Mason becoming ever more lenient on the home side in terms of ignoring a series of apparent fouls on Everton players, they assailed the visitors’ defence and scored twice in the space of three minutes, starting in the 81st.

Miguel Almiron, who had hitherto been mostly contained by Everton despite his pace and movement, unloaded a swerving shot from 25-plus yards and Pickford parried it straight to Perez who had followed it in and had the simple task of stroking it home.

2-2 and there was an air of inevitability of what was to follow given how Everton had gone to pieces as the second half had worn on. Rondon half-volleyed narrowly wide from the angle a minute later and Dummett tested Pickford again with a stinging shot of his own that the keeper finally pushed away from goal rather than in front of it but a minute after that Newcastle grabbed their controversial winner following the resulting corner.

The initial set-piece was cleared but the ball was dinked over the top as the Everton defence moved up, catching four striped shirts offside in the process. The assistant’s flag stayed down, however, and Rondon knocked it on with his thigh to Perez who couldn’t miss in front of goal.

Ademola Lookman was already on for Bernard and Kenny, a late replacement in the line-up for Seamus Coleman who came down with an illness before kick-off, was taken off in favour of Theo Walcott but there would be no last-minute heroics from a Blues side that was mentally defeated. Another sorry capitulation and the question marks over the club’s immediate future reappear.

Just as was the case under Roberto Martinez, the Silva project is only going to succeed if the manager can demonstrate an ability to learn from past mistakes and develop the nous to successfully manage games. That is the gamble in hiring a young, largely unproven manager — you put your faith in a dynamic and progressive coach to evolve.

Silva was let down badly by his goalkeeper who veered like a pendulum from brilliant to ridiculous over the 90 minutes and his outfield players did him few favours by allowing themselves to be bullied and over-whelmed by a team that simply wanted it more in the second half.

The manager has to take his share of the blame, however, for his failure to control the game. The decision to alter the shape by throwing Mina on so early was a poor one and, once again, it revealed a worrying lack of awareness and savvy from Silva who desperately needs to demonstrate clear progress over the final eight matches.

Evertonians have seen this movie before, though; Martinez proved unable to improve and paid for it with his job and Silva appears to be heading in the same direction. After this latest collapse, you find yourself wondering not how long it’s going to take for things to turn around but how long this will all play out before its inevitable conclusion — a few weeks; months; a couple of years?

(The title of this report was changed post-publication – Ed)

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