There’s nothing more uplifting than a late winner away from home. The contrasting emotions of each side, the wild celebrations of the players and for the supporters who have made the trip, some sweet vindication for all their time, effort and money invested.
Yet within these rare, magnificently anarchic moments, there’s often a composed figure. A player for the scoring side who remains assured, converses with his team-mates and realises, as is always the case with a goal like Ross Barkley’s for Everton at Bournemouth on Saturday, there will still be a spell to see out before the game is done.
Sadly, that presence was absent for the Toffees in the dying embers of a remarkable match at the Vitality Stadium, as the Cherries equalised what looked set to be a 95th minute winner. In truth, the dearth of any calming influence was evident long before Junior Stanislas levelled things up for the game hosts in the 98th minute; it’s been absent for a lot of this campaign too.
We’ve all rightly revered at the merits of this effervescent young outfit in recent weeks and as the team turned in a mature performance in the opening half on the south coast, it seemed set they were ready to make another key step in their development.
Yet one of the obvious downsides to having such a green first XI revealed itself as the carnage unfolded during the second half of the 3-3 draw: a distinct lack of leaders.
It’s the first time team captain Phil Jagielka has been a notable absentee since his injury. While not the most boisterous of skippers, the centre-back is a strong organiser when Everton come under pressure. Without him and without the industry of James McCarthy protecting the back four in the final stages, a soft underbelly was ruthlessly exposed by the rampant hosts.
Missing the captain would be detrimental to any team in the division, but Everton need to find more leaders on the pitch who aren’t in possession of the armband. That much was unsettlingly evident at the Vitality Stadium, as Everton’s older statesmen, the men who should be fulfilling these duties, were engulfed by the mayhem.
Tim Howard was erratic, stand-in captain Gareth Barry gave away cheap free-kicks and Arouna Kone was profligate in possession. In addition, the manager, who was inexplicably naive in his game management in the second period, stood on and watched as Bournemouth grew in stature.
The likes of Barkley, John Stones and Romelu Lukaku will be chastened by this experience and should the Toffees score a similarly late goal in the weeks to come, be a little more savvy seeing out the win. Indeed, a leader could yet emerge from the talented crop in the months and years to come.
But if this team is to achieve anything this term, Everton need more generals in the ranks. There have been many times this campaign when the Toffees have descended into blind panic, with Barnsley, Manchester United, Arsenal, Sunderland and now Bournemouth all netting goals in quick succession in chaotic spells. They’re instances which reek of a lack direction and composure.
As the pressure from the Cherries grew in the second half, Everton needed someone to get a grip. Someone to take the sting out of the match, help address the obvious tactical flaws on the field and settle the side down despite a 95th minute “winner”. Howard, Barry and Kone, the three players over 30 in the starting XI, must do more in these precarious periods
So too must the manager. During his first campaign at Goodison Park, Martinez was marvellously proactive on the sidelines, altering the course of games with astute substitutions and shrewd systemic tweaks. Yet the manner in which he left an exhausted Kone marooned on the left flank was staggeringly inept, thus heaping more pressure on what was a creaking defence.
Last week I wrote this is a team which looks increasingly adept at coping with a variety of different challenges and the south coast surrender doesn’t alter the fact Everton are an enthralling young side. But there needs to be a shift in mentality and an injection of governance if they are to achieve anything in the immediacy.
Martinez must encourage this burgeoning group to be more vocal on the field to prevent these kinds of deteriorations occurring in games. It’s a step which may feel unnatural to some, who may not envisage themselves as communicators, but vital in their development if they are to evolve into the complete players so many anticipate.
With five players in yesterday’s starting XI 22 or younger, you have to accept there will be times when inexperience manifests and points are subsequently relinquished. But the senior players in this group must puff their chest out in the wake of this shambles, starting with the critical League Cup tie against Middlesbrough on Tuesday evening.
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