Everton’s 10-game unbeaten run in the Premier League came to an end at White Hart Lane as they were beaten 3-2 by Tottenham Hotspur.
A Harry Kane double put the hosts in a commanding position, as Everton looked second best throughout.
A Romelu Lukaku strike with 10 minutes to play set up a nervy finish but Dele Alli settled matters in stoppage time. Despite a quick-fire reply from sub Enner Valencia, Spurs took all three points in a deserved victory.
Line up showed lack of ambition, against a side full of it
Despite a decent start Everton quickly shrank into their own half in what will be their final appearance at Spurs’ 118 year old stadium. The Toffees were largely unchanged; Gareth Barry coming in for Ademola Lookman, but the lack of width against a Spurs side heavily reliant on attacking from the flanks put Everton under unnecessary pressure.
Not only did Barry’s ageing legs make them a less mobile outfit than usual, but the absence of at least one wide man meant that Spurs’ fullbacks Ben Davies and Kyle Walker had fewer concerns defensively and more focus for attack.
The Blues’ densely packed central midfield should have given Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman the opportunity to chalk up their boots but Everton were quickly penned into their own half. Despite moments of tidy play to get out of trouble, the visitors didn’t produce enough quality in linking up with sole forward Lukaku.
The one area Everton shouldn’t have conceded from was exactly the area Kane struck his first goal. Turning midway through Everton’s half with little more than the recovering attentions of Idrissa Gueye, the league’s leading scorer had the time and space to set his sights and fire in from outside the area.
Joel Robles seemed to be caught off guard, despite the obvious intentions of Kane while Barry had as much enthusiasm for closing him down as did Melania Trump for her husband on the President’s inauguration day.
Suspect for the opener, Robles was quick to put a halt to the ensuing onslaught, coming out to block Kane’s advance on goal moments later. But it started to become all to easy for Spurs and the rigid mass of Everton blue fell all too easily into a porous mess.
Untimely (and unlikely) errors
If some of the slack marking in the first half had Evertonians tearing their hair out, then the manner in which Everton conceded the second means there a few more bald Scousers on Merseyside.
Whether it was because of Everton’s cramped midfield or whether it was just one of those days, Morgan Schneiderlin didn’t exactly have his best game for his new club. So commanding last week against Sunderland, wearing a swagger that makes Evertonians purr, the Frenchman rolled over too easily in the second half.
Some have said Robles shouldn’t have played him the ball, but Schneiderlin is more than capable of receiving the ball 20-yards from his own goal, despite the pressure. But his barely-5-yard pass to the marked Ashley Williams was ill-judged and Kane did the rest, cantering through for and easy second goal.
With the game effectively sealed, Everton were lucky that Spurs took their foot off the gas instead of pressing for that killer third. Knowing something had to be done, Ronald Koeman replaced Barry with the legs of James McCarthy with just over 10 minutes to go and swapped the ineffective Gueye for Valencia. Not the most inspiring of subs, but the albeit late roll of the dice sparked Everton into life.
Suddenly the midfield was an entirely different proposition, and Spurs struggled to cope with the increase in tempo. McCarthy made himself the nuisance to the opposition we know him to be and was a positively disruptive influence. It also meant Everton could affect the game higher up the pitch, and it was in Spurs’ own half where The Blues regained possession before Jan Vertonghen’s slip gave Lukaku his chance.
Too little too late?
His 61st league goal for The Toffees turned what should have been a lazy Sunday stroll for Spurs into a frantic end. There was more endeavour from Everton in the final 15 minutes of the game than they could manage in the previous 75 and despite the lack of quality in the final third there was a sense -especially with an unbeaten run to protect- that the Toffees would snatch something.
That run looked dead and buried when Everton’s defenders (namely Ramiro Funer-Mori and Baines) were left flat-footed by Alli’s quick dart; the England midfielder poking in from Christian Eriksen’s quick free kick.
That was in the 92nd minute of the game, but with two still to play, remarkably Everton were not done. Valencia converted from a deep free-kick -the first among many attempts that afternoon to actually beat the first man- but The Blues’ ultimately paid the price for their lack of ambition (and a couple of errors) against a side dreaming of titles. They really don’t look too far off one.