Everton v Crystal Palace, a nice home game to set us up for Manchester United on Sunday, may well have been how people saw this game but it didn’t quite go to plan did it ? I must admit I felt a bit of trepidation beforehand and felt that the United game was so big to us for obvious reasons and this game would almost be a distraction but not in a good way.
After a very hard fought victory at Sunderland in a game that we didn’t perform very well in had set us up nicely to take advantage of being at home but sadly we just didn’t turn up.
Roberto made some changes to the starting line up from the weekend and it was a line up that consisted of all of our attacking players apart from Steven Naismith. The team looked a bit unbalanced on paper and that is how it played out really.
Some fans raised eyebrows when Roberto paid £13m for James McCarthy from Wigan Athletic back in September but he has won those doubters over and when he wasn’t there last night we looked lost without him. Him and Gareth Barry have been fabulous this season but Barry looked a bit lost without his wing-man last night and Everton looked devoid of any decent shape.
I thought we started the game okay but passed up opportunities to shoot and quite often slowed the game down to walking pace which suited Crystal Palace down to the ground. Their tactics consisted of getting everybody behind the ball and counter attacking us with the pace of Jason Puncheon, Yannick Bolasie and Cameron Jerome and it worked a treat for them. However, they did take the lead totally against the run of play and the excellent Puncheon fired the Eagles ahead.
Ross Barkley was asked to play deeper and certainly split opinion with his performance, but for me he never stopped looking for the ball and played his part in both teams second goals. After winning the ball really well on the edge of our box and dancing away from one challenge Ross should have played the ball wide to Kevin Mirallas but he tried to beat another man, he lost the ball and Palace won a corner and boyhood Liverpool fan Scott Dann headed past Howard to put Palace two up. It is these decisions that Ross needs to learn which will improve with experience.
Everton pulled one back through ‘johnny on the spot’ Naismith who turned home Leighton Baines headed pass and it was game on. As the ball hit the net Goodison Park came alive for the first time as the crowd had been somewhat strangely subdued before then. The problem was Julian Speroni had apparently hurt himself when Naismith scored and he milked every bit of the stoppage to slow Everton’s momentum. The awful Andre Marriner allowed Speroni to waste time from the 3rd minute and this time a good 5 minutes passed which were not added on at the end.
Shortly after Speroni had been giving the magic sponge Kevin Mirallas blasted over from a Baines cross as Everton pushed for an equaliser but they were soon made to pay after making unforced errors at the back. Sylvain Distin should have cleared the ball but took a poor touch and kicked the ball out in a dangerous area, then John Stones allowed Jerome to get a ball under control and fire past Howard to make it 3-1.
Everton huffed and puffed and were certainly more incisive in the second half after the introduction of James McCarthy but it was a little too late. Ross Barkley showed his attacking strengths by playing a ball through to Mirallas to enable the infuriating Belgian to score a well taken goal to reduce the deficit to 2-3 but there was no way back and Everton’s seven match winning streak had ended.
It was a poor display from the Blues and like I have said followed on from another scrappy performance at Sunderland. As I said earlier think we started the game okay and certainly got into the attacking third quickly but once we get there too often we slow the game down, almost to walking pace and that allows the opposition to get organised. It is certainly one area where Roberto needs to work on throughout the summer.
Another is set pieces at either end which are ridiculously poor. I cannot understand how we can’t get a head on the corners and we are not any threat whatsoever. I know that Martinez doesn’t like set pieces but it is an integral part of the game. If we could add that to our armour then it would give us another threat to compliment the expansive football that we are playing.
Defensively from corners we are as equally bad, in fact all set pieces seem to cause us problems. Cardiff City, Swansea City and Crystal Palace have all scored from set pieces against us recently and we need to sort it out sharpish.
One positive was the performance of John Stones who seems to get better and better with each passing game. Okay he was at fault for the third goal but overall he had a very good game and for me should partner Phil Jagielka in the long run.
We now have to pick ourselves up and start again on Sunday. I often work on probabilities and having won 7 on the spin I guess I was expecting a hiccup somewhere along the line. Now have to start again and winning 4 straight games seems very probable to me rather than winning 12 on the run. Its all about mentality and we now go into Sunday as the chasers rather than the ones who can be caught. I strongly fancy Hull City to avoid defeat on Sunday meaning that an Everton win would put us back in the box seat come Sunday night.
To achieve that though the players have to be ready right from the first whistle. Manchester United have a really good away record this season but I fancy the atmosphere to be white hot on Sunday due to the ‘Moyes effect’ and that can work in Everton’s favour. We simply have to create that hostile atmosphere that will give the players an extra spring in their step and make it all the more difficult for United. If Hull have played their part then the place really will be bouncing, that coupled with Wayne Rooney and Mark Clattenburg and it has all the ingredients for Everton to take the points.
If we win the game that will revitalise them and give the players the belief that anything is achievable. Roberto has had us dreaming this season and the fact we are fearless means that I am confident we can achieve at least 3 wins from our last 4 games. If we could get 10 points I think that would give us Champions League football next season.
We need to stick together and regroup after this setback, we would all have taken being one point behind Arsenal in the Champions League spots with 4 games to go and that is exactly what we have got. Maybe us as fans have to learn to cope with expectation levels just as much as the players as it was a very nervy Goodison last night but as we seen against Arsenal if we back them vociferously they respond in a positive manner. So let’s ensure on Sunday that we back them to the hilt so they can get that all important victory that keeps us in the hunt for Europe. Let’s also hope that Nikica Jelavic grabs a couple of goals to dent Arsenal’s hopes, there will be a couple of twists so let’s hang in there together.
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