Everton FC: Testing Times by @LowerGwladysLad

To quote Silvio Dante from The Sopranos; “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

I got to five days and I cracked; five days of not trying to think about Everton and ignoring my urge to pen my thoughts on the current affairs at my beloved Club.

But now I’ve caved, and now I will attempt to discuss and hopefully dispel the disappointments of our season so far. I can’t watch England, the feeling is just not the same, I have a thirst for all things Everton and that will never change, so international breaks aren’t really my thing, nor are they yours, either, I can tell.

Testing Times for Roberto Martinez

Testing Times

I’m a miserable bastard at the best of times, so when Everton don’t win and things don’t go our way I tend to cower away from social media, or the media in general, and don’t really fancy talking about footballing matters because I’m in a bit of a sulk.

That has been the case since last Sunday, since Everton were last defeated and since Everton were dealt another massive blow. Is it me or do we always go into an international break on the back of a defeat?

Anyway, these feelings and thoughts are something we become accustomed to as Evertonians and football supporters and although there was a real feeling of hope and optimism going into this current Premier League campaign it is hard to blank out the disappointments and downbeat mood that currently surround the Club we all follow.

Over the course of the past 18 months I have gotten used to writing enthusiastic, excitable articles about Everton FC and in the main I’ve never been one for dwelling on the negatives; preferring to focus on the good things and always trying to have belief in my team, even though the Blues have let me down on numerous occasions over the years.

In more recent times my positivity has been mainly down to the appointment of Roberto Martinez and the way in which we played last season, but already this term I have found myself writing some questionable, angry pieces about our performances and dreadful luck with injuries and I suppose this is all part and parcel of my love for the Toffees and my need to write about them.

The Everton good inevitably comes with the Everton bad, and it’s the latter that we’ve unfortunately seen for the main part this term.

It is still relatively early days and there is another eight months of football ahead of us, however some of our performances and results – paired with our downright shocking luck on the injury front – have already seen a lot of despondency and negativity set in within our fan base in recent weeks.

Our latest blow came at United in a game which could easily have been different in terms of score line. Against an average home side we lost 2-1, missed a penalty and had two clear-cut chances saved by a Man of the Match goalkeeper, and the result left us just one place outside the Premier League relegation zone.

Admittedly we won’t be in that position come May 2015, but with only one League win to our name this season and an ever-mounting list of injuries, then it is fair to say things are hardly going to plan for Roberto and his men. Us the supporters can only remain behind the team that will hopefully come out of this tough period fighting to get themselves back up the table where we belong, because we all know the potential is there.

Cursed

I don’t know where to start with our injuries. The curse seems to have followed us since last September/October time and shows no sign of letting up.

I have never witnessed a period of time so bad with injuries and it isn’t just to squad players too – it’s our key players and some of our major stars. I heard Arsenal fans whining about Giroud and Ozil on talkSPORT the other night, and Liverpool fans crying about Sturridge and now Lovren too. Yes, every side will experience bad spells, but what is happening at Goodison Park now and has been for the past 12 or so months is unbelievable. But because it is only plucky little Everton who aren’t classed as one of the ‘Sky Four’ then we hardly get a mention.

It all started with Kone, and correct me if I’m wrong but since then we’ve seen Pienaar and Baines have prolonged spells on the sidelines, Gerard Deulofeu, Bryan Oviedo, Darron Gibson, Romelu Lukaku, Phil Jagielka, Kevin Mirallas and Seamus Coleman have all also experienced major injuries and spent long periods out of the side.

Looking at more recent times it has started again with Barkley just a week before the kick-off to the new EPL campaign – ruled out for months and only now looking like he is on his way back. Not to mention the likes of Gibson, Oviedo and Kone were still injured going into this campaign too. Pienaar has again been injured twice more plus both Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas have again suffered bad knocks that have or will keep them out for some time.

Add to that the news that McCarthy is nursing a knock, you begin to question who will be next – Lukaku again? Naismith, Barry? It has been ridiculous and I’ve probably even missed a couple out, but the sight of the in-form Mirallas and the brilliant John Stones go off with serious injuries within the space of a week was an absolute piss take.

Injury woe as John Stones joined long list of Goodison asualties

Pienaar even came off again with what looked like a knock against United and who knows will be available for our next game on Saturday week against Villa. As me Grandad used to say at times like this ‘take your boots with yer lad, you might get a game yourself.’

The latest blow is probably the hardest to take. John Stones has been superb in this Everton side and at times this season he has lead by example, even though he is just a kid. In a defence that has come under fire he has kept his nerve, remained assured, composed and looked like he is developing into a proper football with huge potential.

He was cementing his place in our side and doing it with a swagger and a smile on his face, and now he might be out until the new year because he faces surgery on his ankle – just sickening. What makes it worse is that Jags has been iffy since mid-August when it all began, Distin has apparently gone AWOL or had a scrap with the gaffer and Alcaraz plays one game then misses 15.

We don’t really have anyone else to fill in at centre half so in reality it is going to be down to those three aforementioned old-timers to attempt to put a bit of steel and assurance back into the heart of our defence, and it is going to be a testing challenge with a relentless run of fixtures both in Europe and domestically in the coming months.

Form

Our only two wins this season came within a week last month and the optimism following the successive victories over West Brom and Wolfsburg soon diminished with defeat to Palace and Swansea inside three days. Since then a morale boosting last-gasp draw against the Shite and an almost identical scenario in Russia gave us some hope that although we were far from at our best there was still character and spirit within this Everton side.

Obviously we’ve then gone on to be beaten by United and there was a few positives to take from the game most notably Naismith’s performance, the return of Oviedo and the emergence of Tyias Browning but overall there is a glum mood about the place and most of us just can’t wait until our next game to try to put all of this negativity behind us.

Villa at home in front of a full house is our next challenge followed by Lille and Burnley away before the end of the month respectively – the perfect chance to get a bit of momentum going you would think, but this is Everton, after all.

Looking further down the fixture list to the month of November we have five fixtures, three of which are at home against Swansea, Lille and West Ham and two away trips – Sunderland and Wolfsburg. By then we can only hope to have a couple of our players back and obviously the likes of Coleman and McCarthy should be in the reckoning for Villa which will provide a much-needed boost. It is going to be interesting to see who steps up and takes their opportunity because at the moment the squad is stretched and Martinez has no choice but to shuffle his pack.

We might sit fourth bottom in the Premier League and we might have had a shitty time so far this season but I suppose it is how a team reacts to disappointments that we can measure them.

Will they come out fighting and turn things round? I have every faith they will – but these injury woes need to stop. To think we might not see our strongest starting XI until January/February hurts, but we’ve faced challenges before and we will face them again.

We’ve all seen Everton play much worse than we have this season and although we cannot blame everything on our injury luck, I fully believe that things will begin to tick again this season and I’m not going to lose faith in this manager and crop of players just because of a bad few months.

We’ve had awful luck, but now we must get on with it. It is has been hard to watch at times but if we keep going and gradually get players back to full fitness we can hopefully go on to still make this season a memorable one. Last season we set the bar high and maybe we didn’t sign enough players in the window, but we knew Europe was coming and we knew there would be expectation.

Just because it hasn’t gone to plan and I know I speak for many when I say this, we will still be there in the stands against Villa, kicking every ball and winning every tackle, roaring on the team we all love. Through the good times and the bad as they say, well Everton is certainly no different.

Personnel

For all of our disappointments on the injury front and a treatment table as chocker as the bookies on Grand National Day, we now have to look to the players who will shortly return and give us that extra bit of bite.

Coleman is sorely missed when he isn’t involved and although Hibbert has done OK filling in you have to look at Browning as the long-term successor. Coleman offers so much both in defence and attack, and with us being low on numbers down that side Martinez might look to play both Browning and Coleman in the same team, either in front of each other or with Browning at CB.

That is one option but in reality I’d expect Distin to come back in to partner Jags in the coming weeks and whatever has happened with the Frenchman needs to be forgotten about, we have to move on because we don’t have any other major alternatives.

Hopefully McCarthy won’t miss any more games as he is an essential figure in the Blues midfield, and the inclusion of Besic in recent weeks has been good to see. Although he hasn’t done anything fantastic you can see the potential there and the more the Bosnian plays the more influential and confident he will become.

Muhamed Besic

Oviedo has had a small op this week and the Costa Rican’s return provides an excellent boost with Martinez saying he has reacted well to the procedure. Pienaar continues to struggle with fitness so Bryan could well feature heavily in the coming weeks and months and another player who might get more of a chance to impress is Atsu who has only shown small glimpses of talent so far.

McGeady will continue to be involved and my opinion of him is that he needs to swerve the fancy flicks and tricks and just have a go at taking someone on and get a ball over in the box. He possesses quick feet and has obviously got great ability with both his left and right but Aiden tends to do the hard part then mess up at the crucial stage.

Up front we have Romelu Lukaku who didn’t half do my head in against Manchester United. Rom is a massive investment and has massive potential, but does he want to fulfill it? Is he arsed? Is he fit? Can he hold a ball up, ever?

The lad frustrated so much last Sunday at Old Trafford and I can only hope the return of Ross Barkley will see him start firing again. Those two have a great understanding and with Mirallas and Pienaar not in the side then we will be looking to Barkley to provide that spark and cutting edge going forward and I just hope this gives Lukaku a much-needed rocket up the arse, because at the moment he just isn’t doing it.

His movement is lethargic, and he looks like he’s done fifteen laps of Wally Park before he’s even started a game. Sort it out Rom and take a look at your team-mate Steven Naismith as an example, who works tirelessly for the cause and manages to get his name on the score sheet too. Eto’o should have come on against United on Sunday but as it was we could have ended up snatching a draw if it wasn’t for De Gea’s excellence in goal.

The experienced striker will be a key figure in keeping Everton heads held up after a disappointing few weeks and just as he did against Krasnodar I’d expect him to be given more opportunities as the games continue to come thick and fast after this international break.

Focus

Overall it has been a painful couple of months since the beginning of the new season and I think our failure to strengthen in central defence has now come back to bite us.

Although Martinez did make some good signings we could have done with another new face at the heart of our defence but nobody could have foreseen our continued bad luck with injuries and now we have to deal with our team selection problems and knuckle down. I suppose we can take heart from some of our play at times this term and Steven Naismith continues to lead by example, working tirelessly for the cause.

The Scot has been a constant positive in a side that has had to be chopped and changed and a side that has only shown a percentage of it’s potential from last season. The Europa League has been a positive for us too in terms of results and we face a number of exciting fixtures ahead, but obviously with a depleted squad this will further test our resolve.

Last season I wrote about a new venture under Martinez’ vision for the Club and the way in which we applied ourselves was a joy to watch. We had to deal with a number of absentees during the last campaign and unfortunately that theme hasn’t changed, but in Martinez we have a manager who will remain upbeat, he will continue to implement his ideas and I have faith that he has the characteristics and know-how to eventually succeed.

There is no denying that this current spell is Roberto’s toughest test since arriving from Wigan and questions are already being asked of the Spaniard – football is a results business after all – but bringing things in to perspective I believe that once we have some of our key players back we will see an upturn in fortunes, and this begins with the return of Ross Barkley in the imminent future.

Barkley possesses the attributes to take Everton to another level and I simply cannot wait until the youngster is back in a royal blue shirt, he has us Evertonians on the edge of our seats. With him back fit and other players returning too, we must tackle each game head on and focus on the players who are fit and available and these are the players who need to be well up for the challenge if we are to get ourselves back on track anytime soon.

Keep on keeping on.

Up the Toffees.

 

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Mark Finnegan

Proud Dad, Evertonian and owner of @EFCFeelinBlue http://efcfeelinblue.com

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