The week had been a good one. Starting the year with an (admittedly not so comfortable) 3-0 victory over Southampton followed by a positive AGM meeting, an exciting young prospect signed up and another highly regarded player apparently on the way, you hoped we could continue the good feeling with a cup run. I even dared to dream about winning the FA Cup. I mean, we must be due one. It's only been 22 years since our last one after all.
Picking up Ste and parking up in plenty of time for the game, as we went to the ATM at the Shell garage I saw The Barlow Arms out of the corner of my eye. The pub sits adjacent to a now closed down pub we used to sometimes frequent, The Westminster. We thought we'd give it a go and were impressed with the layout and atmosphere in the place. Though we only stayed for the one before meeting the other guys in The Brick, we shall return.
Catching the team news in the pub, we were all happy enough with the starting XI. The back three worked well at Leicester City on Boxing Day and so it made sense to try it again. As the game got underway it became bizarrely apparent that Mason Holgate was deployed at right back with Seamus Coleman further ahead of him in midfield. It made little sense. The idea of the three central defenders, two wing backs bombing forward, a midfield three of Barry, Davies and Barkley, with Valencia playing just off Lukaku sounded good. It's a shame we didn't get an opportunity to see it, and come half time we had nothing to show from the team.
A bit more determination from Ross Barkley from Romelu Lukaku's centre might have produced an early goal, and with another opportunity, Romelu Lukaku also failed to react quickly enough and headed well over and wide when the ball came back to him quickly from a Schmeichael save. At the break it was 0-0 but with the Premier League champions (well backed by their noisy following) getting the better of it, Demarai Gray coming perhaps closest when thwarted by Joel Robles who came off his line to block. "We might as well just turn up at half time" said one of the fellas. "We only turn up for the second half under Koeman".
This once again proved the case after the break. A half time change introduced Gerard Deulofeu for Mason Holgate and made us more attacking. Valencia, though busy, was a bit hit and miss in and around the penalty area. He seemed to up his game just before he was substituted and hit a speculative overhead volley high and wide. He was replaced by Kevin Mirrallas who should have started the game. He has scored in his last three starts against Leicester City so it would have made sense to give him another go in this one. Off the ball you had to chuckle at Leicester City's supporters chant of "YOU'RE SHIT! AHHHH" as Robles took a goal kick.
Mirallas had nothing to do with the goal however. This was all down to brilliant wing play by Gerard Deulofeu who beat Ben Chillwell before squaring for Romelu Lukaku who just couldn't miss with his 12th goal of the season.
Though just a few minutes between the goals, we appeared comfortable, yet Leicester City's goal came out of nothing. A ball down the channel which dissected the off-form Seamus Coleman, and was fired at goal by Ahmed Musa. We haven't had a lot of luck with rebounds off the post lately! Though you credit Musa for reacting quickest, Joel Robles was a little unlucky to see his punch clear rebound off Musa and bundle into the goal. The game level and it had become the real cup-tie we had all hoped for, albeit with the result about to get worse.
Kevin Mirallas, who was probably the only one who looked like scoring for the remainder of the game, fired at goal from distance but Schmeichael beat it away. Shortly afterwards we found ourselves behind when Musa again scored following a nice move by Leicester City, but with very passive defending by Everton.
With twenty minutes still remaining I was pretty confident we'd scramble a replay and keep our cup hopes alive but it wasn't to be. The effort to force the game was there, but our quality of play in the final third wasn't and we became more rugged and desperate as the game rolled on, with Kevin Mirallas again coming the closest with another distance drive, this one very well saved by Kasper Schmiechael.
Martin Atkinson was up to his old tricks...giving Leicester City everything, not punishing their blatant dive and handball and not really totting up their time-wasting well enough, surely the four minutes additional time should have been longer, but this is all moaning rather than genuine excuses. We could have played for the rest of the evening and probably not scored again. We were poor today. We could have done with an easier fixture to kick off our campaign, such as Plymouth Argyle at home let's say, but we got the home draw against a team we're above in the league so it's difficult to whinge too much really.
Ronald Koeman's complaint about his players defending is valid, though his public complaining to the board to get things done is not in my opinion. These things should be kept private, not public. Also, what message does this send out to the players we already have? Many of them have under-performed throughout the season and are capable of better. If you know the manager can't wait to get rid of you it can't inspire much confidence. He should be trying to make the best of what he's got until he can bring new players in, not publicly complaining about a board who, to the best of my knowledge will shortly have parted with the best part of £33 million, comfortable more than anybody else this January, to sign players for him. Signing the players you want takes time. You've got to make the most of what you have in the interim. Ronald isn't really doing that.
Still one Evertonian was happy enough with the result. With three successive home game this month, my German wife has been patiently waiting upon this result, and subsequent FA Cup draw to see who we are going to play on the weekend of 28th January so that we can plan a trip back to Germany to see the in-laws. Naturally I'm less enthused about the trip. I arrived home after the game to see an eager Katja with laptop open on Ryanair's website.
"So, Germany on the 28th then?" she asked.
Robles: His indecision at distribution was maddening. Otherwise he didn't do badly. Unlucky with one goal and helpless with the other. 6
Baines: My man of the match. He was excellent in the tackle and did OK going forward. 8
Funes Mori: I always feel he's got a mistake in him and can be rash. Very hit and miss for me. In this game he was miss rather than hit. 5
Williams: Similarly hit and miss. Also, miss rather than hit for me in this one. 5
Holgate: Didn't really do anything wrong, more substituted as a victim of Koeman's puzzling tactics to begin the game with. 5
Coleman: His worst game in some time. He had a real stinker. 4
Barry: He'll never be short of effort but it's difficult to deny his difficulty in getting around the pitch any more. He had to play today really as we had nobody else fit. Against Southampton he came on late and helped us see out the game well. When injuries clear, Gana returns from the African Nations Cup and new signings arrive he'll surely become more of a bit-part player. As he's contracted with us for another season yet, we should really try to tie him down to coaching. He must have a lot to offer. 5
Davies: He did very well. I love his enthusiasm and his willingness to take the game to the opposition. He's full of fight and can expect many more games throughout the rest of the campaign. 7
Barkley: I thought Ross was doing pretty well and with us 1-2 down with 15 minutes left I turned to Ste and recommended "should we just take Barry off and bring on Kone and just go for it?". I was very surprised therefore to see Barkley taken off as he and Davies were working things well between them. It was time to throw caution to the wind and trust Davies and Barkley to take on the responsibility of tracking back when they had to. It was cup football and we had nothing to lose. I'd rather have gone down giving it everything and who knows, we might still be in the hat had we have tried. 6
Valencia: Didn't do too badly but I thought that Mirallas introduction was a good thing. 6
Lukaku: Busy at times and could do more yes but I share his frustrations. He doesn't get enough service. Get the ball to him more and he'll score more goals. If he feels he's going to get the ball more, he'll probably move more and get us more goals. There's things he can work on for sure, but he needs the support in attack, and he's not getting a lot of that. 6
Deulofeu (for Holgate): He did brilliantly for our goal but, despite plenty of effort, that was all he did. Great to see what he can do, we need to see that with consistency. His showing highlighted everything that is right and wrong about Deulofeu's performances. 6
Mirallas (for Valencia): He should have started the game. If players tend to do well against a certain opposition you should play them every time. Look how Lukaku plays against West Ham. Think Ian Wright, Les Ferdinand and Ian Rush against us. Their tails are somehow up against certain teams and Mirallas' was when he came on and was the most likely to score. Should have began the game for sure. 7
Kone (for Barkley): Poor outgoing sub and a poor incoming one. Clueless at times in fact. As one of the lads at the game said, could Niasse really have done worse? While I'm at it, and just for the sake of a little rant, I also saw Aiden McGeady and Steven Naismith make noticeable contributions in their cup games over the weekend, both against Premier League opposition. You can argue that neither are the long term answer, and you'd be right. However the former can beat a man and the latter can score goals. Neither would be bad options off the bench at the moment but McGeady has been neglected entirely when he wasn't all that bad, whilst Naismith was sold by Martinez when he is miles better and more capable than Kone or Niasse. 4
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