Quality rescues Everton from complacency

The 70 minutes that preceded extra-time in this tie were pretty grim but James Rodriguez and Abdoulaye Doucouré combined to send the Blues through against Rotherham

Lyndon Lloyd 09/01/2021 26comments  |  Jump to last

The following is an expanded version of the initial match report published straight after the game

There was a moment with about 15 minutes gone and Everton already a goal to the good where the mind drifted to wondering how many the Blues might get this afternoon. James Rodriguez was starting his first game in more than a month, sitting deep in more of a play-maker role alongside a Portuguese international in André Gomes and a potentially enterprising Alex Iwobi.

Anthony Gordon was relishing his rare opportunity to shine, having already come close to scoring himself with Everton’s first real attack and then carved Rotherham’s defence open with a pass that Cenk Tosun clipped past the advancing goalkeeper to make it 1-0. And Lucas Digne was back at left-back having made an improbably quick recovery from ankle surgery.

That kind of complacency is harmless as a watching fan but it’s potentially damaging if it’s adopted by the players. And yet, hubris is exactly what appeared to infect the Everton team as they lost control of this tie for long periods, allowed the Millers to equalise and then remained vulnerable to an FA Cup shock until Carlo Ancelotti reminded them, perhaps, during the break before the start of extra-time, that they were supposed to be the Premier League outfit in this equation.

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With an important League game at Wolves looming on Tuesday, the extra 30 minutes’ toll won’t have pleased the manager but his players at least responded, restoring their lead thanks to a beautiful pass from James and eventually closing out a match they should have won at a canter without much further bother.

The 70 minutes that preceded extra-time were pretty grim and despite the quality in their ranks there were times when it threatened to plumb the depths of the last FA Cup tie over which Ancelotti presided just over a year ago against Liverpool’s youngsters. The starting line-up this afternoon may only have featured two players from that horrendous display at Anfield in Digne and Seamus Coleman but there were unnerving parallels in the sheer levels of ineptitude and lack of drive and tempo.

It should never have been this way, particularly after Gordon had gone on a mazy run in the second minute and then effected a brilliant turn away from his marker in the ninth and before playing Tosun in with a well-weighted pass to hand the Turkish international his first goal of the season, one he secured with a very good finish.

But from the moment that Rotherham, a team currently sitting 23rd in the Championship, mounted their first few attacks and realised there wasn’t much to fear from a midfield boasting Gomes and Tom Davies, they began to grow in confidence and ambition. Davies had struggled in the League Cup tie against Salford earlier this season to really stamp his authority on a game against inferior opposition and he was largely disappointing again today. Gomes, meanwhile, continues to confound, sometimes looking lively and purposeful in cameos off the bench but then failing miserably to deliver when handed the chance to really stake a claim to a starting role.

You sensed that Everton were almost gambling that the visitors wouldn’t have the quality to find their way past Robin Olsen, particularly given some wayward first-half shooting from Michaels Ihiekwe and Smith in the 21st minute. However, they found Matthew Olosunde on Rotherham’s right flank increasingly difficult to handle and it was the American who eventually wiped out Tosun’s opener, but not before he had forced a good save from Olsen in the 22nd minute, the rebound of which was met by a weak effort from Matt Crooks and cleared. The ball only made it as far as Daniel Barlaser, though, and Olsen had to push his crisp shot from 20-plus yards over the bar.

Crooks then narrowly missed with a glancing header off a corner and Olsen had to nip in and punch ball away from Ihiekwe's a few minutes later as the visitors continued to apply pressure.

Everton briefly came to life again towards the end of the first period but at the end of a well-worked move that saw Seamus Coleman collect a “one-two” pass from Alex Iwobi, Tosun could only scuff the Irishman’s cross wide of the far post.

If the latter half of the first half had been poor from the Blues, worse was to follow in the second. Olosunde sounded another warning immediately after the restart when he eased past Digne and went down in the box under the attentions of Gomes but referee Stuart Atwell saw nothing in the challenge.

Then, after Iwobi had dragged an effort across goal at one end, Rotherham levelled the tie at the other, capitalising on sloppiness in Everton’s midfield and a wayward header from Davies that fell to Olosunde and he drilled the ball past Olsen in the 56th minute.

The required response from the Premier League side failed to materialise and Olosunde out-stripped Digne and centred where Wes Harding arrived from the other full-back position but his attempted curler was well wide.

With an hour gone, Ancelotti withdrew Gordon, whose early flourishes had faded as Everton’s cohesion had evaporated, in favour of Bernard and Iwobi for Doucouré and then swapped Davies for Gylfi Sigurdsson and Digne for Yerry Mina five minutes later but the changes sparked very little life into the home side’s performance.

They didn’t win their first corner until Rodriguez’s shot from 20-odd yards was deflected behind in the 73rd minute and would finish normal time having registered just a single legitimate shot on target. That’s because Tosun’s strike off a James free-kick from the left was adjudged by Video Assistant Referee Paul Tierney to have been offside.

Thankfully for Ancelotti, Everton began extra-time looking more like the superior side and Rodriguez would depart the action in the 94th minute having got to experience his first January cup-tie against lower-division opposition by taking a ball to the face in cold weather, bloody nose and all, and made a telling contribution that underscored his importance to this team a couple of minutes beforehand. Sliding a super ball between two defenders, the Colombian put Doucouré into the clear and the Frenchman made no mistake with a composed left-foot finish.

Bernard should have made the game safe a few minutes later when James’s replacement, Niels Nkounkou, crossed from the left but the Brazilian’s placed shot came back off the post. Tosun choked another shot wide a minute after that and Coleman forced a parried save from Blackman in the Rotherham goal with a strong drive from 18 yards.

The Championship team’s fire had been extinguished by this point and they barely threatened Olsen’s goal in the final 30 minutes, leaving Everton to see out the game and advance, but not without having perpetuated serious concerns about the players’ collective mentality and the suitability of certain players to the Ancelotti project moving forward. If this is what the Italian can expect from his players in future rounds then the Toffees have as much chance of reaching Wembley this season as near neighbours Marine.

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Reader Comments (26)

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Steve Hogan
1 Posted 10/01/2021 at 09:40:13
In reality, yesterday's performance just confirms what we already know, that this team is still three or four players short of being a side capable of challenging for the games top prizes.

Ironically, the area where we strengthened in the summer, midfield, still needs fixing. The current displays of Davies, Gylfi and Gomez are consistently below the standard required, and collectively they make little contribution to our overall performance.

Whilst we have seen improved displays from Iwobi of late, the threat caused by the pace of the Rotherham winger Olosunde, caused us problems all afternoon, and highlited what we lack at times, real pace up front, and a player capable of putting the opposition on the back foot.

We are making progress, but still require some major surgery and the offloading of the many mediocre players still occupying places in the team.

Frank Sheppard
2 Posted 10/01/2021 at 09:55:59
Difficult to understand how and why the team collectively slumped after taking an early lead, and were second best to a struggling Championship team. We need a leader, like a Ratters or a Reid to shake and wake people up during a match.
Si Pulford
3 Posted 10/01/2021 at 10:00:06
Agreed we need a leader. See we’re being linked with josh king today. Sam mart signing. Improves the first team squad instantly. Would have played yesterday instead of Tosun or the increasingly frustrating Gordon.
Andy McNabb
4 Posted 10/01/2021 at 10:01:14
After the first 10 minutes, much of this game was simply painful to watch.

I have really enjoyed reading ‘Quiet Leadership’ by Ancelloti but after being reminded of the superstars he has worked with, I do wonder what must go through Carlo’s mind during another error-strewn, inept performance like yesterday.

Credit to Rotherham. After a shaky start, they dug in and made life difficult for us. But I would defy an uninformed observer to identify the Premier league team out of the two on show.

About 18 months ago I stacked my CBR 600 and in the absence of my pride and joy, I even tried cycling again. It was not a success. When he looks at his current players out on the pitch, I wonder if Carlo also feels he is being asked the equivalent of competing at the Nurburgring on a bicycle?

Alun Jones
5 Posted 10/01/2021 at 10:21:42
The problem today was our 2 holding midfielders were awful, failing to impose themselves on the game and offering little protection in front of the back four. Andres Gomez clearly cannot play that role and hopefully won’t be there again. I though Cenk did ok with very little service and with a bit more luck and no VAR would have got a brace. Thank god for Doucouré.
Jon Wit
6 Posted 10/01/2021 at 10:23:50
We could be forgiven for not being world-beating given recent returns from injury in the form of Digne, Rodriguez, Coleman and Tosun. I expect Carlo partly saw this as a match fitness game - and not one to risk injury recurrence - so perhaps we weren't playing at full throttle.

Still, it is that vacant midfield of Gomes and Davies that boggles the mind again.

I really like Gomes and I do hope he can find himself again. I'm not sure Davies will be good enough for the level we want to be at.

There aren't many good strikers around for purchase, so I wonder if we'll keep Tosun. I see rumours of West Ham going for Sarr and perhaps we should be all over that.

Geoff Williams
7 Posted 10/01/2021 at 10:38:07
There is a general lack of athleticism among the Everton squad. The lack of pace is so obvious as is the absence of movement when in possession of the ball. I'm not sure players know what is expected of them by the manager, I genuinely believe that they are not coached particularly well at all and this is why they look a shambles on the field. A good coach can produce a team better than its individual parts, this is not the case at Everton.
Jerome Shields
8 Posted 10/01/2021 at 10:38:26
As I posted before Michael Ball, a former Evertonian, and pundit at the West Ham game noticed the lack of leadership in the Everton team. Without a crowd the players communicating was audible.

West Ham players where communicating to one another all the time, encouraging, informing and instructing. There players where making sure they where living up to the expectations of their team mates.

There was little communication in the Everton team. Ball liked it, to being on the training ground and definitely not a team challenging for points at the top of the Premiership.

What I have seen of the Rotherham game was a headless chicken performance in midfield particularly and I would say the atmosphere would be similar to what Michael Ball has previously described.

Everton have no leaders on the pitch, a perennial problem I hope they someday will sort out. I hate to say it we need yet another midfielder, who is a 'mouth'.

When I played we had such a midfielder, who we all called 'the mouth'. He also could do a Kenneth Wolstenholme commentary of his progress down the pitch and his on team mates play or lack of it. He was a Leeds United supporters and celebrated his goals like Alan Clark which was even more sickening. He was a good footballer.

Andrew Bentley
9 Posted 10/01/2021 at 10:51:25
We're in the bag for the next round, and some players coming back from injury got some valuable match fitness and time on the pitch. The only real positives I can take from that performance.

Back to the midfield comments, what's interesting when watching us play is that we spend all of our time playing the ball along our back four to retain possession, which puts pressure on us as typically this is done in our half of the pitch and also in the final 3rd for the opposition. We don't seem to have a strong midfield who can retain the ball amongst themselves and move the ball side to side along the pitch. Looking forwards and to the side and not backwards all the time which is what happens at the moment.

We miss Allan yes, and Doucoure alongside him as a pairing, but I do feel we need another strong CM to really make this team tick and allow Richie and James to sit further up the pitch supporting Calvert Lewin. Be interesting to see what sort of player Gbamin is in this current team (really a big IF we ever see him play and what damage the injuries have done to his capabilities).

Davies is not good enough - if he wasn't a die hard Evertonian then he wouldn't get the support from people that he does. He's not good enough - and I struggle to think of any Premiership team who would come in for him should we be selling him.
Gomes - frustrates the hell out of me now. I was one of his biggest fans and was amazed at how quickly he got back from injury last year, but this year he either isn't fit enough or doesn't care enough as he's not imposing himself like he can. Think back to the very first derby at Anfield he played in and he was the best player on the pitch that day - where is that player now? Carlo needs to help him with his confidence and quickly

Gordon - I've said it before on another thread. He needs to go on loan to another club (we'd have to get a replacement in of much better quality in Jan) as he clearly has talent but he's not doing enough at the moment either and getting a few mins here and there is not doing enough for his development. A 2nd half of the season loan out to a championship club playing week in and week out could do him wonders. Ancelotti doesn't seem to trust him and when he's been given an opportunity to start then he doesn't take it and is always the obvious choice to be subbed off. Long term he could be a good player for this club but he could do with some game time to build his confidence back up.

For me - a CM (more box to box than CAM who can drive us up the pitch) should be a priority in the Jan transfer window and an attacker who can play LW or RW. This would give us flexibility to push Richie up to CF if we wanted to give DCL a rest.

Tony Everan
10 Posted 10/01/2021 at 11:58:09
When Allan is out the midfield struggles to get a grip on any game, when Doucoure is left out of it too it is a meltdown.
Rotherham were winning the midfield battles and controlled the game until Doucoure came on.

There’s more and more consensus about the necessity of getting a midfielder .

We need one younger, quality, tenacious, mobile midfielder with energy and desire to make progress. Allan and Doucoure need some cover from a proper central midfielder. Without this player we will always, without fail, suffer when one of these two is injured or needs some respite.

We will not break the top 4 or 6 without this player. We’ve got to find him, don’t spare the horses. Realistically it will be the summer, but sourcing him needs to be happening way in advance. The cover from the squad we have got now is plain as day not good enough.

The sixty million dollar question is : what can JP Gbamin bring to the table . After som many injuries , being out so long and playing in a new league it’s almost a complete unknown . Hopefully we get the chance to have a proper look at him over the next few months . It would be a massive boost if he came good for us but with all the variables it is with hope rather than expectation.

Gomes still looks only 80% fit to me and looks like he still has anti gravity footy boots on. This is not going to change. He and Delph need moving on in the summer if it is any way possible and why can’t Besic find a club to go to?

I’d keep Tom Davies as a squad player because of his comparative low wage unless Newcastle or similar make a big offer for him. Same goes for Sigurdsson keep him for he squad as he is effective in certain games and has improved a bit lately, but if China or the MLS make a big offer for him, take it.

Danny O’Neill
11 Posted 10/01/2021 at 13:53:28
Probably a summary of what I said on the liver forum and Michael's report.

Not going to criticise individual players as it was a poor team performance, but we got a result. It does expose the limitations of the squad beyond the likely first 11 - 14 players regardless of who we were playing. The last few matches have demonstrated that, certainly in terms of creativity.

Until Doucouré came on, we had no-one in midfield to link with the forwards and make forward runs / moves. Mina gave us some sort of presence and also calmness on the ball.

I was interested in seeing Gordon. Looked lively for 20 minutes then faded, but let's cut him some slack as he likely suffered from the gap between our midfield and the front 3.

A seemingly routine game turned into a potential (and deserved) giant killing. I wouldn't say it's the worse Everton performance I've seen, but I certainly was alarmed at how many poor individual performances there were out there yesterday.

Looking forward to the draw tomorrow.

Derek Taylor
12 Posted 10/01/2021 at 17:57:33
Failed to make a BT connection to watch this game although apparently I missed nothing.

Bad though it sounds, I shall still seek odds against us finishing 7th in the Premier League which I continue to believe is the target set of Ancelotti by the Board.

Has any bookmaker's friend put their money down yet and am I being optimistic?

Thomas Richards
13 Posted 10/01/2021 at 18:04:19

Skinny odds for that.
9/4 to finish top 6.
Be around 6/4 for top 7.

Brendan McLaughlin
14 Posted 10/01/2021 at 18:33:34
Derek #12

You'll never get rich backing Everton to finish 7th as generally that's where the bookies have had us finishing for most of the last 15 seasons or so.

Having said that, at the beginning of this season we were predicted to finish 9th with Leicester & Wolves along with the usual suspects expected to finish ahead of us. The last time I checked, Everton had re-emerged as the team most likely to finish in 7th place.

Derek Taylor
15 Posted 10/01/2021 at 18:58:27
Brendan, I know I shall never get rich backing Everton to achieve anything. But given the start we made, we were being tipped for higher honours.

What has become clear since is that, once again, we shall be struggling to reach Moyes territory (seventhish) which is a great improvement on what has been achieved in Moshiri's time. To get back there would be the first step of recovery after all the disappointing managers we've been made to suffer.

Martin Mason
16 Posted 10/01/2021 at 19:18:16
Exceptional report Lyndon and good headline.
Phil (Kelsall) Roberts
17 Posted 10/01/2021 at 19:31:23
Tosun being investigated by FA for his goal celebration.

Some no-mark says it refers to a Far Right Turkish Organisation and Cenk says "Who?"

Thomas Richards
18 Posted 10/01/2021 at 19:38:04
An investigation?

Problem here is Cenk can't publicly condemn the organisation. He has to be careful in his statements.

Danny O’Neill
19 Posted 10/01/2021 at 19:42:55
Headline actually sums up yesterday. Seemingly cruising, got very very complacent (understatement), fortunately quality took over in extra time.
Joe McMahon
20 Posted 10/01/2021 at 19:50:18
The goal by Tom Davies v City was 3 years ago. After that game, I was thinking we may have to watch out for the Champions League vultures. It's interesting that the other goal scorers that day are no longer at the club.

Tom has gone on to score another 4 goals for Everton in over 100 appearances, yes many as sub, but does this not tell me how wrong I was. There is no future for him at any Premier League club with realistic aspirations.

I'm so desperate for Ellis Simms to make it, but at 20 it's not looking good. The Academy isn't providing enough quality for the first team, and we need it to.

Tony Abrahams
21 Posted 10/01/2021 at 19:56:05
Just a question Joe, because I don't study football like I used to, but it does seem that not many younger players are coming through at an early age, such is the power, speed, and physical nature, of the Premier League?
Joe McMahon
22 Posted 10/01/2021 at 20:11:15
Tony @21 you may be on to something there. Not many Phil Fodens, Rashords, Tammy Abrahams you are correct, I agree. On the other hand, a Liverpool team with several academy players beat Everton first team 12 months ago. It just seems like there has been investment in the whole academy set up at Everton and it's not supplying the first team.

Unsworth has been there a long time now, and other than talking about the 'Everton Way' (whatever that is), there doesn't seem to be any outcomes, objectives etc.

Jay Harris
23 Posted 10/01/2021 at 20:18:36
I think thats a good point Tony. They spend as much time in the gym as they do on the training pitch these days and all the top clubs seem to prefer the "beastie" boys in MF.
Danny O’Neill
24 Posted 10/01/2021 at 20:21:57
Tony, Joe, that is something that warrants it's own thread!

I won't go off on a tangent about the state of grass roots and the English game's focus on pace, speed and power as I could talk all night and I'd bore you!

It pains me but if we compare Everton with our neighbours, the key difference in my opinion is that Unsworth is left to do his own thing which is not necessarily aligned to what the first team are doing.

I hate using them as an example, but in my opinion, the Liverpool academy feeds the first team and serves them so well because Klopp has installed a system throughout the club. The Academy coaches are implementing Klopp's system and philosophy. It is a top to bottom, bottom to top system. The Academy will train and play the same way as the first team.

So their young players aren't necessarily better, they just know exactly what is expected of them when asked to step up. They don't care who they are playing with, they just know what to do. The transition is more seamless.

We have arguably equally talented individuals who are being coached by left hand (Unsworth) and then having to adapt to right hand (latest Everton manager).

And to your point on the other thread Tony, it doesn't help that there has been 4 managers in as many years.

That's my take.

Tony Abrahams
25 Posted 10/01/2021 at 20:29:33
That's what I thought Brands was here to do, Danny, which is to do what you say and implement the same style, right throughout the football club?

I also thought that, when Liverpool's second string beat us, it was partly due to the extreme physical nature of the Premier League, because the speed in which the game is now played definitely affects most teams around the Christmas period.

Danny O’Neill
26 Posted 10/01/2021 at 20:49:30
Be interesting to see how that pans out Tony.

I thought the Brands-Silva relationship was awkward and they didn't seem in synch.

I thought maybe the Brands-Ancelotti relationship might provide more direction and clarity for the DoF, but in honesty he seems to have taken even more of a back seat and I understand fans who question what he is doing.

I agree with you to a degree about the speed and pace of the game, although Liverpool are a freak in that sense. I look at City and see that it is still possible to slow the game down and control it but the trick is, when you do go forward, do so with purpose and intent.

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