The Smell of Football by David Downie

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There was a bit of stench at Goodison on Wednesday night. No I’m not talking about the smell of an over priced pie on which someone had spilt a bit of warm Chang, I’m not even talking about the old girl’s drainage system which probably hasn’t seen a plumber this century. It wasn’t a strong smell that would make you hold your nose and look around suspiciously. It was just that hint of something that once lingered and made your nostrils tingle but had been recently cleaned up, only to leave a slight reminder that it used to be there as its roots used to entwine the very foundations of the ground.

The smell was fear. And it returns to its former home on Sunday to give us another reminder.

There has been plenty of fallout from that defeat to Palace. Team selection, individual errors and tactical discussions have been scrutinised to the bone over the last couple of days – and rightly so. For so long in these situations, Everton had always been the bridesmaid, too scared to put themselves on the line that could one day lead to them being the one everyone looked at on that altar – but that appeared to change almost a fortnight ago against Arsenal.

For many, the Arsenal performance was the dawning of a new day. The long-awaited arrival of Everton with the big boys. Yes we’ve had those kind of results against the giants in recent times, but this was one that finally mattered so much more. It was a shedding of the skin that encapsulated us under David Moyes – a real statement of intent. It was arrogant, cocky and utterly brilliant. It was an Everton performance that counted when it really mattered, not a David versus Goliath story at Goodison that has been told so often. It was a performance that wiped away those failures on a stage we have so often stumbled on. It was a performance without fear.

Fast forward a few days and Roberto Martinez’s post match comments following that defeat to Palace: “”I thought in the first half, we wanted to win so much that we forgot about the simple basics that you need to do to win a football game.

“The way we defended carried somehow a bit of fear and that left us a bit exposed. It is not normal for us to play with that feeling.”

Extremely honest assessment from the manager as we’ve come to expect, yes, but it’s fascinating to hear him talk about fear given there has been very little evidence of any whatsoever since he took over last year – there’s countless pieces of evidence to support that.

But as we reach new heights and break boundaries under his stewardship, its time to remember just what sort of clean-up job Martinez has had to do with this squad in terms of mentality.

I’ll leave the Moyes-bashing for others this weekend, I’m sure they won’t be in short supply, but I believe that slight sense of fear Martinez spoke about derives from what the Scot left last summer.

The Spaniard inherited a top group of players, there’s no denying that. But what he also inherited was a side that used to be led by a man who couldn’t handle the pressures of being a favourite or a front runner. A man who so often froze on the big stage. The nucleus of the squad – Osman, Jagielka, Hibbert, Distin, Baines, Howard, Coleman and Barkely (to an extent) were exposed to that mentality for, in most cases, many years under David Moyes. Whilst Roberto Martinez appeared to have swept all of that “knife to a gunfight” nonsense to one side in one swift master stroke, old habits very much die hard.

Palace was a game and a result from which we must take stock. Martinez has come such a long way in such a short space of time, it’s very easy to forget the magnitude of the job he’s done and even easier to underestimate the work there is still left to do.

The slight smell of Moyes’ mentality still lingers based on Wednesday night, we’d be naive to think every element of what become his stagnation had been washed away in the space of 10 months.

The fact we’ve come such a long way and all but broken down all of those barriers is testament to what a wonderful, forward thinking manager we have now. But Rome wasn’t built in a day etc. and setbacks like this were always going to happen.

It’s funny the chance to extinguish that slight smell of fear comes against the very man who created it this Sunday. He’s gone about creating a whole new stench at Old Trafford in the time since he left, but again, I’ll leave that to others.

There was undoubtedly a touch of Moyes in that first half the other night. The pressure of needing a result to regain fourth place was obviously on everyone’s mind and that is where some work still needs to be done and it will, combined with greater experience of these situations. After all, when is the last time we had something this meaningful left to play for at this stage?

It’s ironic that youth is so often blamed when it comes to tripping up in games in which experience is needed. In our case it’s probably the experience and past experiences of our senior players in these situations that counts just as much.

The proof that fear isn’t even an afterthought for the manager could be seen in the selection. It was a side created to sting Palace early and then dominate on the counter as they had to come out. It was the kind of selection that was our undoing at Anfield – but one thing is certain, there wasn’t even the slightest whiff of fear. This is where Martinez will succeed in the upcoming months. Not one year into the job and he has us all believing there’s no limit to what can be achieved. But we must remember just exactly where and who he’s taken the club from.

David Downie

follow me on twitter @DavidDownie17


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