Roberto Martinez has witnessed Goodison Park at its most disaffected before. He was in the opposition dugout as his Wigan Athletic team took David Moyes's Everton to the cleaners in an FA Cup quarter final, the nadir of the Scot's last season in charge of the Blues, and saw first-hand how Evertonians react to a performance that is uncceptably below par.
The boos that cascaded from the stands from a good many fans at the final whistle of this 1-1 draw with Hull City was unchartered territory for him as Everton manager, an accumulation of frustrations at his team's home performances this season – not to mention the cession of another lead at Tottenham at the weekend – and a consequence of the expectations he himself has raised since his symbolic reopening of the School of Science.
A goal to the good at half time despite a slow start, the Catalan's side were in the driving seat and heading for what looked like a routine victory over opponents who had lost four straight and dropped into the relegation zone following last night's results. At the end of arguably the most fruitless half of football under his stewardship so far, however, the Blues had dropped another two important points and lost the opportunity to regain ground on the teams they believed they would be challenging for a spot in the top four this season.
Martinez had made just one change to the team that started at White Hart Lane three days ago, Leon Osman replacing Samuel Eto'o, which meant that many of the players were on the field for the third time in six days. Once again, though, Everton's failings didn't appear to be related to fatigue, at least going forward – a case might be made for tired legs or mind affecting Sylvain Distin given the manner in which Sone Aluko breezed past his lazy tackle on his way to scoring Hull's equaliser. At issue was the players' singular inability to find any way through a stubborn, well-organised Tigers team who carried out manager Steve Bruce's tactics to a tee, strangling the life out of Martinez's much-vaunted passing game and marginalising the effectiveness of his fullbacks.
In the face of Hull's almost relentless pressing from the front and impressive shackling of Ross Barkley, the Blues resorted painfully and in vain to Tim Howard kicking the ball long hoping for something to break up front and the boos from some quarters during a painful 45 minutes and then at the final whistle were enough to make Goodison's collective feelings known.
Given the points the Blues had already dropped prior to today, results from the previous evening demonstrating that some of our peers have started to get their acts together, and a daunting trip to the Etihad looming on Saturday, Evertonians came into this game knowing that nothing short of three points would do. Barkley's apparent return to his preferred central role, coupled with Gareth Barry's continuation in defensive midfield and the on-form Belgian pairing of Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku in the forward areas merely bolstered that expectation. This was a strong Everton line-up that should have been too much for Hull.
At times in the first half, once they had warmed up a bit and got into their groove a little after a dull first quarter of an hour, they looked like they would be. Lukaku rolled his marker and had the first shot in anger for Everton saved by Alan McGregor and a nice passing interchange between Barkley, Barry and the Belgian striker put Lukaku in but his touch let him down and his attempt to stab the loose ball him with his weaker foot was heading wide until it hit Liam Rosenior's arm.
Mirallas then fired tamely at the 'keeper with a direct free kick after he'd drawn a foul from Michael Dawson on the edge of the box before scuffing an effort from the angle after being picked out by Barry's astute pass, Osman's flick in front of goal not enough to carry it past McGregor on his goal line.
The breakthrough did come 11 minutes before the interval, though, and, somewhat ironically, it came from a more direct route than Everton are known for. Lukaku flicked a long ball forward on for Mirallas who seemed to have run out of room at the byline before he slipped inside Dawson and laid the ball back invitingly for Lukaku near the penalty spot. The striker met the pass with an emphatic shot that flew in and the Toffees were seemingly on their way.
Muhamed Besic, growing in stature as a player with every game, curled a decent effort just wide and Phil Jagielka miscued a difficult headed chance from a corner as Martinez's men went into the break in the ascendency.
If confirmation of the fact that Everton are a poor team in the second half were needed – statistics revealed this week that the Blues would be second in the table behind Chelsea if matches finished at half time – it would come as the remainder of the contest unfolded. The Blues again started slugglishly and there was an air of complacency about them, as evidenced perhaps in Mirallas' audacious lobbed attempt in the 49th minute which, as impressive as it was, was in hindsight misguided. Given the acres of space in front of him as he collected Lukaku's pass, it was, arugably, the best chance Everton would have after half time but his effort off the outside of his right foot sailed onto the roof of the net.
The warning signs for Everton had come just beforehand, though. First Leighton Baines miscued badly by the touchline but the resulting shot was blocked; then Barry, seemingly heeding nothing from his costly error on Sunday, was caught trying to shepherd the ball out for a goal kick and robbed by David Meyler. Only Coleman getting in ahead of Diame in front of goal preserved the Blues' lead then but it was gone 10 minutes later.
Aluko, who had come on as a substitute for the injured Diame six minutes earlier, collected the ball just outside the Everton box, easily took on and beat Distin before drilling one of those low shots from the angle that Howard never seems to save. 1-1 and the feelings of dread that at least this was now going to take some unspectacular graft started to set in.
It almost got worse immediately when Nikica Jelavic, all familiar hard work but little end product up until that point, dropped a header a foot the wrong side of the post after more good by Aluko against Distin but Everton managed to steady the ship.
What followed, though, was an increasingly desperate exercise in frustration. Unfortunately, the manager would remove two of his best players on the night in the form of Mirallas (for fitness reasons) in favour of Steven Pienaar and Besic (less obviously), pushing the tiring Osman back a little and introducing Aiden McGeady, who briefly offered a little more purpose and pace but quickly fizzled out. Rarely has the Goodison Park pitch felt so small because Hull had successfully closed down all the routes out from the back and thrown a blanket over Martinez's Plan A. The players' Plan B – lump it forward aimlessly – was as uninspired an alternative to their inability to pass their way through the opposition as could be imagined.
With at least two players collapsing around Barkley every time he got the ball, Pienaar giving it away almost every time he was given it, and Seamus Coleman's control deserting him, any attempt to get any rhythm or forward momentum going was lost. It was strange, too, that despite his ineffective display at Spurs, Eto'o was left sitting on the bench, particularly given his impact against West Ham. A handful of dead-ball situations offered a desperate way out if the players could get the ball past the first man but Baines and Barkley both failed in key situations, none more so when the 20 year-old wasted the last chance of the game to sling the ball into the box from an injury-time corner.
Echoing the draw against Swansea and some of the similar games from last season, this was an encapsulation of Martinez's lingering challenge at Everton – how to break down entrenched, well-drilled opposition who are prepared to put men behind the ball and stifle his preferred way of playing. In that sense, with Everton seemingly incapable of mixing it up or picking their way through Hull, Bruce deserves enormous credit for doing his homework and disarming the Catalan's side for much of the game.
Whether Martinez is able to formulate an alternative plan for scenarios such as the one that played out this evening remains to be seen but his aim of achieving Champions League football through the League looks a long way off right now. He still has this time this season and the gloom that surrounded his team's fans as they trooped off into the frigid Merseyside night is nothing that an unexpected win at City wouldn't cure, but Everton need a run of results now and quickly.
It was a low-key start to the game as Everton kicked off but played the ball ominously back forth and side to side in their own half before Distin decide to hoof it forward. Rosenior was the first to really run with the ball. Hull were first to put in a decent ball, from Elmohamady, and decided to press high as the crab-passing nonsense from Everton resumed, Distin losing possession to Jelavic.
Hull had a good spell, winning their first corner, while Everton looked utterly abysmal, needing a defensive header from Lukaku. Another Hull corner, and Howard had to punch it away. Everton finally spent some time in the Hull half, passing the ball around with limited end product until Lukaku turned and fired in low and hard, straight at McGregor.
Besic suddenly dodged his marker and moved forward and played a great pass for Coleman tot cross in earnest... but no-one there on the receiving end. An poorly underhit pass from Barkley drew the first Everton corner when perhaps the youngster should have shot on goal.
Barry played a beautiful, perfectly weighted ball for Lukaku but, as ever, his first touch was woeful and a big opportunity was gone in an instant. But Everton were playing up better, and starting to move the ball with intent. A really nice passing move started by Barry set up Lukaku in front of goal but on his right foot and the shot was hopeless, leading to silly claims for a handball. Barkley then swung in a really tasty cross, just too high for Distin on the far post.
Besic needed to be neat and tidy at the back after Barry sold him a horrible hospital pass. Mirallas then drew Dawson into a foul that earned him yellow and Mirallas a glorious set-piece opportunity left of the dee that he placed comfortably for McGregor to gather. At the other end, another cross from Elmohamady was headed well wide by Jelavic.
Barkley was being very closely marked and the Hull pressing game was limiting Everton's forward movement. A stragnge wayward shot by Mirallas from the right side was almost flicked home by Osman before Lukaku rammed home in the next move after heading on to Mirallas who did a a tremendous amount of work. breaking forward to the byeline then pulling it back nicely fro that big outstretched leg to power and unstoppable shot into the Park End net.
Baines won a free kick left of the Hull area that Baines drove in low and it came pout to Besic who curled in a nice shot but it was a couple of feet wide. Everton were not sitting back, attacking with pace finally and pinning Hull back, Lukaku almost got off another shot from close range before a corner was swung in dangerously. From the next corner, Jagielka headed wide.
Hull were bright at the restart, attacking Everton and winning a corner, then Barry almost giving a goal away. But Barry then came up with a very neat pass forward to Lukaku running forward who played it nicely inside for Mirallas to attempt an audacious chip that went wide of the goal. Baines went down with a smack to the face, a bloody nose needing off-field attention.
Besic produced some wonderful touches in the middle of the field and, drawing a foul, the ball forward found Lukaku but his shot from wide left was very poor. With Hull probing and pressing, The Blues needed the second goal to make sure of this one, but they were lacking much conviction going forward and the sub Aluko showed what's what, pulling out a brilliant shot after bedazzling Distin to fire in beating Spoonfeet Howard at the near post with a tremendous shot to tie the game.
Aluko then befuddled Distin aon the other side and crossed for Jelavic, whose header had Howard well beaten, but it bounced just outside the post. Wake up, Everton! The unexpected response: Mirallas replaced by Pienaar.
Everton were struggling, with the crowd baying for blood as they witnessed the game slipping away with every poor touch, negative play, and cheap giveaway. It was not pretty to watch... or hear!
Finally, after what seemed an age, Everton won a corner but Baines's delivery was shockingly poor and the ball was quickly back with Howard in a cameo of what was degenerating into a dreadful Everton performance.
Baines was booked for a rash challenge on Elmohamady as McGeady came on to replace Besic with 10 minutes left. McGeady inspired a little better pressure but no real chance came of it. Coleman won a free-kick off Rosenior that Barkley drove in from the right, a great delivery, but only a defender in the sweet spot to repel the danger.
The clock ticked on, and it became less and less likely Matrinez's men would pull this one out of the fire, another two points dropped as the season fails to really spring to life in any sustainable manner. Everton were given 6 minutes of added time to get the winning goal but it was never going to happen after a dismal second half.
With two contrasting away fixtures behind them to close out November, Everton return to Goodison Park for their third game in six days as a busy December programme begins with the visit of Hull City and Nikica Jelavic's return to his old stomping ground.
Marching on in the Europe League, Roberto Martinez's side won handsomely in Wolfsburg last Thursday to book their passage to the next phase of that competition but followed it up with a 2-1 defeat at Tottenham on Sunday, a result symptomatic of the Blues' stop-start Premier League campaign this season.
Much credence is lent to the notion of the European hangover and a cursory glance at a scoreline which favoured the team that played at home in the Europa League and not the one that travelled to Germany would seem to support it but Everton's performance at White Hart Lane seemed to owe less to fatigue and more to a paucity of invention and tempo. Even when they were in the ascendency, it was a pedestrian display until the final 10 minutes when looming defeat demanded some belated urgency that was too little, too late.
The upshot of giving up the platform established by Kevin Mirallas' beautiful 15th-minute strike was that the Toffees failed to gain ground on the pack of clubs chasing leaders Chelsea for a place in the Champions League; indeed, the Blues fell further behind after Tuesday evening's results which dropped them into the bottom half of the table.
All of which makes a response against a struggling Hull team – the Humbersiders fell into the bottom three thanks to Burnley's draw against Newcastle – an absolute must lest the uphill climb facing Martinez morph into something more mountainous by the end of the year. Since earning creditable draws at Arsenal and Liverpool in October, Steve Bruce's men lost all four of their matches last month, scoring just once in the process. They looked on course for victory against Spurs 10 days ago until Gaston Ramirez's sending off completely shifted the momentum of the game and they followed that defeat with a 3-0 drubbing at Old Trafford so will likely travel to Merseyside with morale at a low ebb.
They should be no match for an Everton team that, James McCarthy, Steven Naismith, Darron Gibson, Antolin Alcaraz and John Stones aside, is gradually getting some of its walking wounded back to provide more competition for places. The latter two are out until the end of the month at the earliest while McCarthy will be given more time to sort out his hamstring issue and Naismith has been given an outside chance of making the squad for this one. Martinez told the media on Tuesday that he will wait until the last second before making a decision on the Scot whose movement and running was missed on Sunday.
Should he miss out, the manager at least has options in that part of the field, with Ross Barkley, Aiden McGeady and Samuel Eto'o all vying for spots and Mirallas able to be pushed into a forward role if need be, particularly if Steven Pienaar is fit to line up on the left flank.
It's in central midfield where he may have pause for deliberation. Gareth Barry played at White Hart Lane but looked rusty after his layoff with an ankle injury and playing against the Tigers would put him at risk of picking up the fifth booking that would rule him out of the visit to Manchester City on Saturday. Martinez could conceivably deploy Leon Osman, who filled in well in the defensive midfield against West Ham, alongside Muhamed Besic and rest Barry or get very creative and move Leighton Baines inside now that Bryan Oviedo appears to be fit again and Luke Garbutt showed his capabilities against Wolfsburg.
Everton will start the evening some eight points off the coveted fourth spot in the Premier League – closer to the relegation zone than Europe – but there are points on offer that the Blues should claim easily in this and the other forthcoming home games against QPR and Stoke. There is little margin for the kind of errors they committed against Crystal Palace and Swansea if they are serious about pushing for the top four or five in the League.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2014-15 Reports Index|
|Besic (McGeady 80')|
|Mirallas (Pienaar 64')|
|Subs not used|
|HULL CITY (4-4-2)|
|Meyler (Brady 86')|
|Diame (Aluko 53')|
|Quinn (Robertson 89')|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|C Palace||0-1||Aston Villa|
|Man United||2-1||Stoke City|
|West Brom||1-2||West Ham|