Following last week’s departure from the Capital One Cup, Evertonians had every right to feel extremely deflated and upset.
Indeed, the fixture’s poor officiating – the latest in a lengthy list this season – did not help whatsoever. Yet what was arguably more disconcerting was the manner in which Everton crumbled in an all-too familiar fashion over the course of the second half.
As they say, it’s the hope that kills you.
Modern Everton sides have shown a mastery for ensuring this notion strikes the club’s fans again and again and again. Over the two-legged tie with City, there was the promising 2-1 victory in the first meeting. Then came Ross Barkley’s excellent strike in the early stages of the second. By half time on Wednesday the relatively solid display was encouraging and it was possible to dream of Wembley.
And then Roberto Martinez’s poorly constructed dam broke. The flood came and Everton’s hope of lifting silverware at Wembley was drowned.
Ultimately, it was a predictable scenario. The Toffees let another excellent opportunity to achieve something slip through their fingers, leaving the same bitter taste in the mouth that a whole generation of Everton fans have grown up with.
When Aguero hammered the final nail into Everton’s coffin, painful images buried in the Evertonian psyche resurfaced. Duncan Ferguson’s disallowed header, Lampard’s FA Cup-winning goal, Distin’s back-pass, and the 2-3 home defeat to Crystal Palace in Martinez’s first season which derailed the Champions League charge.
At times such as the semi-final exit it almost feels as if the Blues are scared of success. The infuriating sense of defeatism seems almost innate now.
The loss to City invoked that familiar thought of what could have been.
Dark clouds gathered instantly and everything seemed hopelessly gloomy as the final whistle blew at the Etihad. In that moment, Everton’s season seemed over. Yet on Sunday afternoon things brightened up a little following the simple 0-3 victory at Carlisle – at the unhappiest of times it can be easy to forget the positivity that even the most basic Everton victory brings.
Although it doesn’t change the overall picture, and nor does it answer the looming question of whether Martinez is the right man to take Everton forward, the expected and professional performance away to the League Two outfit allowed fans to celebrate Aaron Lennon’s committed work-rate, Joel Robles’ distribution and Ross Barkley’s potential.
It was pleasing to see a straightforward victory. It brought time and space to think about what can be expected of the remainder of the current season, before the league campaign continues.
As for what exactly Everton need to do in order to rescue its campaign from the jaws of complete, dispiriting failure is debatable. The following Twitter poll reflects what many Evertonians hope and expect their club will achieve this season:
— Alex Leonard (@AlexLen1995) January 31, 2016
Over two-thirds of the voters still hope and expect Everton to go as far as possible in the FA Cup, just over half believe the Blues will finish in the top 10.
Perhaps, it is possible something promising will still come of this season. Yet given the story of the campaign thus far, it’s difficult to imagine the Blues progressing to the final of the FA Cup if they come up against a talentedPremier League side en route.
And as for whether Martinez can steer his side to a commendable league finish is also an eyebrow-raising proposition. The Spaniard will have to seriously and quickly learn from his mistakes if he wants to save his job and accomplish anything with this talented squad.
Given his stubborn tendency to make the same mistakes, 30% of the voters evidently and understandably expect nothing to change.
Despite the negativity generated by the successive Swansea and Manchester City defeats, Everton’s fortunes could begin to change with a positive result against Newcastle on Wednesday.
The fixture provides a springboard to kick on from following the recent frustrations. Furthermore, the upcoming FA Cup fifth round fixture at Bournemouth allows Everton an opportunity to progress into the last eight of the tournament and mount another challenge for silverware. This time in a month, things could really be looking positive.
However, even if Everton do begin winning more, many fans will not be completely satisfied until the manger’s overall attitude changes. Progression for the Toffees does not solely depend on positive results. It is widely known that Martinez and his side are capable of producing special performances – but trusting the manager will only come with a consistent alteration in how Everton win games.
Take a moment to cast your mind back to that utterly baffling 3-3 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Untimely, what can be pinpointed as indirectly leading to John Terry’s goal was not the linesman’s misjudgement, nor Mori’s celebrations or the successive headers lost. It was Gerard Deulofeu’s decision-making.
Despite being 2-3 up at a ground Everton will likely not get as good a chance to win again for some time, the winger lost possession in the middle of the park. And he was not exactly attempting to shield the ball or even hoof it into touch. He was attempting to take on his man in response to Martinez’s instructions.
The manager explained this thinking after the match: “We want to be a brave team and win games by not running the clock down or playing with aspects that aren’t what we want to be.”
For Martinez there is evidently a fine line between being brave and being naive.
The Spaniard’s baffling interpretation of how to win and close out football matches has left Evertonians despondent on several occasions this year. The Blues have lost a staggering amount of points from winning positions. If Martinez could organise his team to shut out the opposition effectively and see out games then his Everton side would be in the top six easily, if not top four.
And if this begins to change then Everton’s fortunes will subsequently begin to improve. However this of course all hinges on the manager’s state of mind. Although Everton have a good opportunity to kick on and attempt to achieve something to rescue this season, it would admittedly be surprising if Martinez alters his ideologies and style of play at this stage.
If he was going to change, it can be argued that he would have done so already. All signs would point to nothing changing if Everton continue to play in such an imbalanced manner, and if certain players depart then the future could well seem bleak.
Therefore Martinez and his Everton are at a pivotal crossroads. If the manager is ever going to actually learn from his mistakes as he promises again and again that he will, now is the time for him to do so.
If he doesn’t, and this dreary form continues, he will lose the faith of even more fans. Two full successive underwhelming seasons is unacceptable. On the other hand, if indeed Martinez does begin to change his ideological approach to matches, then with the exceptional players Everton currently have, something significant really can be achieved.
But that, unfortunately, remains a very big ‘if.’