Hull City 2-2 Everton
It’s somewhat fitting that a year characterised by frustration — from two stumbles in sight of a Wembley final and the long-delayed removal of Roberto Martinez to a mixed bag of a summer transfer window and the alarming drop-off in results after Ronald Koeman’s strong start, 2016 has vexed Blues fans almost from start to finish — should end with another infuriating Everton performance and two more dropped points against one of the poorest sides in the Premier League.
Optimism was high following the win at Leicester that Koeman’s side could finally start to re-establish some momentum with successive away victories at a time when the top six clubs are starting to pull away. Instead, Evertonians had to be content with a sixth draw on the season after seeing their team concede the first goal for the 11th time in 19 games.
On the back of what was probably an entertaining 2-2 draw for the neutrals watching on Sky Sports, Everton have now rescued 12 points from losing positions under Koeman; it’s the fact they keep having to do it that is so annoying. Furthermore, it felt so avoidable if the manager had just kept faith with a winning team and not broken up a back line that had kept its first clean sheet since October. He may have had one eye on Monday’s clash with Southampton but the feeling was he got his selection wrong tonight and paid the price.
The Dutchman has chopped and changed his line-ups to an uncomfortable degree this season but among a number of positives to come out of the Boxing Day win at the King Power Stadium were the feeling that Ronald Koeman could finally see a combination of personnel that could form the foundation of a settled side and the fresh impetus provided by two of Everton’s youngest players.
Even if you accept the logic of reverting to a back four against Hull’s lone-striker formation, there didn’t seem to be any in dropping two of the three centre-backs from Monday and drafting back in Phil Jagielka and his ageing legs to sit alongside the 32-year-old Ashley Williams. To an extent, Everton were let down this evening by their old guard – Leighton Baines would redeem himself late on with an excellent assist – and the performance went a long way to cementing the notion that for a couple of them, their time has come and it’s time for a permanent insertion of younger blood into the side.
With Mason Holgate and Funes Mori dropped to the bench, veteran legs at centre-half and the 35-year-old Gareth Barry in central midfield, the Blues had to drop deep inviting Hull on from almost from the first whistle, not helped by sloppy distribution all over the park in the opening few minutes. The Tigers, desperate for what would have been only their fourth win all season, seized the initiative in the early going and, for the umpteenth time this season, Everton made an awful start and were a goal down within six minutes.
Williams had already blocked Jake Livermore’s shot and Robert Snodgrass had curled narrowly wide of Joel Robles’ far post — both instances resulted from poor passes from Barry and Enner Valencia respectively — by the time Baines was sucked into midfield and bypassed by Ahmed Elmohamady who had been left untracked by Kevin Mirallas.
The Egyptian’s cross was hacked behind by Jagielka and while the resulting corner was cleared by Mirallas, the return ball to the left flank found Snodgrass in oceans of space to pick out Michael Dawson. The defender had lost Barry completely at the back post and he rifled a shot past Robles.
Despite what represented another poor result in the context of Everton’s ambitions, Koeman appeared fairly upbeat after the game, citing in particular some of the football his team had played over the course of the 90 minutes. In that sense, while it was often ponderous and clumsy, the manager did have something of a point because, stung into action by the concession of another early goal, the Blues did set about the task ahead of them in the right way. For one thing, they actually carved out a good number of chances, something that hasn't been said of them for a while.
Within eight minutes, Mirallas had forced David Marshall into spilling a powerful low drive and Seamus Coleman had planted a header onto the inside of the post, the rebound from which just eluded Romelu Lukaku and was belted clear. Later in the first half, Barkley dragged a shot a wide of the goal with one effort and Barry lasered another inches past the opposite post with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot in both instances.
Lukaku and Valencia both had shots charged down as Hull dug in with dogged defending, the Ecuadorian sent a teasing ball right across the face of goal that was begging for someone in a Blue shirt to tap home and Mirallas drove just wide as the Blues pressed for an equaliser before half time.
They would get it time added on, albeit not before they had survived a hair moment at the other end when Deumerci Mbokani failed to get a decisive connection on another cross from the right flank and Robles was able to pluck his header out of the air.
Lukaku latched onto an excellent pass down the channel by Baines and while his shot was blocked behind, it provided the corner from which Everton equalised. Mbokani and Marshall went up for the same ball and colliding with the former, the keeper couldn’t prevent the ball going in off his out-stretched arm as he attempted to punch clear.
It was a gift that the visitors largely deserved and they came close to augmenting three minutes into the second half when Lukaku again found himself in front of goal with a shot from the angle but while this time the blocking challenge looked to have looped the ball under the crossbar, Marshall got crucial fingertips to it to guide it into the crossbar and keep the score at 1-1.
A minute later, Barkley raced onto a Lukaku flick-on and fired early before his effort could also be charged down but he placed his side-foot shot too close to the keeper and Marshall saved again.
Everton had lost some of their momentum by this stage and Hull were beginning to regroup. Barkley’s cheap foul on Snodgrass in a dangerous area handed the Scot the chance to line up a free kick in a dangerous area, one which he smacked off the woodwork from 25-plus yard out.
Another corner half-cleared by the Blues’ defence ended up back at the feet of the unmarked Dawson in the 61st minute but this time Robles beat his effort away minutes before Baines was adjudged to have bundled Harry Maguire over as the defender was allowed, not for the first time, to sashay unmolested through the middle of the pitch.
This time, Snodgrass elected to sweep his free kick to the right side of Robles’ goal and though the Spaniard got a hand to it, he couldn’t prevent it from putting Hull into a 2-1 lead with 63 minutes on the clock.
Tom Davies, a strong candidate to start the game, was already being prepared as a replacement for the lead-footed Barry and he was duly introduced, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin coming on for Valencia who had run around a lot but been generally ineffective as an attacking entity. The energy and drive that Davies provides quickly became evident and it contributed to Everton’s dominance over the final 15 minutes as they searched for another equaliser but it was a to ask of an 18-year-old defensive midfielder to provide the guile as well.
Thankfully Baines would up with a telling delivery six minutes from time to put the second Everton goal on a plate for Barkley. The 23-year-old had seen one hard strike parried away a few minutes earlier while referee Moss ignored strong appeals for a handball against Livermore and the Blues had completely wasted a dangerous free-kick opportunity after Mirallas had been taken out by Maguire just outside the penalty area.
But it all came together a minute later when the veteran left back arced a beautiful ball to the edge of the six-yard box where Barkley, unmarked, just had to steer a downward header past Marshall to level things up at 2-2.
Cue the frantic push for a winner, one which was compromised somewhat by another questionable decision by Koeman. The manager had prepared Aaron Lennon to come on prior to Barkley’s goal but with parity restored, he went for the more defensive option of throwing on Funes Mori in place of Mirallas. The intent was to go 3-5-2 and push the fullbacks on and it sacrificed an attacker but any debate was almost rendered moot when Calvert-Lewin popped up between the two Hull centre-halves in the final minute to meet Coleman’s cross but he bulleted a header the wrong side of the post with hero status beckoning.
Full marks to the youngster for being there in the first place and it would have ended the game on a thrilling note for the travelling Blues rather than the four minutes of frustration they would endure in stoppage time as move after move broke down with poor control or poor deliveries in the final third.
It left supporters with a yearning for the opening of the transfer window on Monday because an injection of genuine quality can’t come soon enough. Nor, indeed, can a settled starting XI which you have to hope is something Koeman's aspires to.
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