Ronald Koeman himself has been pragmatic enough to acknowledge that his Everton team won’t win every game but, having overseen such a strong start to life at Goodison Park, it’s unlikely he would have expected to witness this kind of performance in a game in which the Blues were expected to do well.
Two defeats in a row, both under-pinned by really poor performances, have brought a swift end to the Dutchman’s honeymoon period at Everton and have thrown up some vexing questions and problems with a squad that still badly lacks sufficient depth.
With a display that was hauntingly familiar to the worst of last season, Koeman doesn’t appear to have the answers yet but he will have learned plenty from a chastening week where supporter expectations will have been realigned and sights will have been lowered.
Given that Everton should have won this fixture last year, that they beat Bournemouth on the two other occasions they faced them in 2015-16 and were coming into the weekend on a four-game winning streak in the Premier League, optimism was high that Koeman’s men could put the EFL Cup stumble against Norwich behind them by getting back to winning ways.
Sadly, they never really got going — almost to a man they looked for the first 45 minutes as though they’d sleep-walked off the team bus — and they paid the price against a Cherries side that was on the top of their game as they carried out what seemed to be a masterful tactical plan by manager Eddie Howe.
In stark contrast to the visitors, who all too often couldn’t get the basics like ball control, foul throws and a simple five-yard pass right, Bournemouth were quick, sharp and hungry and they had registered their intent in no uncertain terms before they eventually took the lead in the 23rd minute.
Ross Barkley’s weak give-away before a minute had elapsed almost ended with Callum Wilson opening the scoring, but he glanced Charlie Daniels’ cross inches wide of the far post. Jack Wilshere would have notched his first Cherries goal had Seamus Coleman not got a crucial deflection on his side-foot shot that carried it onto the face of the crossbar. Then the energetic Jordan Ibe, who tormented Coleman in the early going before the Irishman eventually managed to shackle him a bit more, fired a shot that looked destined for the bottom corner until it, too, took a vital nick off Ashley Williams. That was five minutes before Harry Arter drifted easily past Barkley and shaved the outside of the post with a similar angled shot.
It was worrying just how much control the home side had assumed of the game by the midway point of the first half and just how easily they were retaining it. Everton struggled to get the ball off their hosts and when they did, they invariably gave it straight back. Surely even Junior Stanlislas would have been surprised, though, at just how much space he found himself in 25 yards from goal. With time to line up his shot, he arrowed a 25-yarder into the top corner of Maarten Stekelenburg’s goal to make it 1-0.
Had Everton scored first, as they did at the Vitality Stadium last November and again in March, things might have been different. It certainly would have put a different complexion on proceedings had Barkley not frozen by the penalty spot when an early Yannick Bolasie cross bounced past his feet in the second minutes or had Artur Boruc not pulled off an excellent save to deny Romelu Lukaku eight minutes later. The Belgian met Barkley’s in-swinging free kick with a downward header searching for the corner but the goalkeeper reacted quickly with a firm hand to push it away and Barkley himself then lashed wide after the rebound had been fed back to him.
Starting in spite of an ankle injury, Gareth Barry was visibly off his game and with even Idrissa Gueye looking fallible, the first half made uncomfortable viewing for the travelling fans who had come in fine voice. Barry went closest to equalising before the break, though, when he tested Boruc with a crisp 30-yard shot that the ‘keeper helped over the bar with both gloves.
Apart from a Kevin Mirallas effort that was deflected well wide, Koeman’s side barely threatened otherwise in the final quarter of an hour before half-time during which fireworks — not to mention some decisive action like his early substitutions against West Brom and Sunderland — might have been expected in the away dressing room.
There were no changes after the interval, however, either in terms of personnel or the pattern of the game from Everton, at least until an otherwise well-below-par Coleman whipped a teasing ball in from the right that Barkley met with a firm header that he planted wide of goal.
Two changes from Koeman in five minutes before the hour mark saw Barry make way for Tom Cleverley and the largely anonymous Mirallas go off in favour of Gerard Deulofeu but while Cleverley brought the kind of energy and purpose that the rest of the side had been lacking, the Spaniard offered next to nothing.
After wasting a rare break-away chance with a lame prod forward looking for Lukaku, his only other contribution of note was a dangerous, deep cross that Boruc had to bat away from under his bar in the 64th minute.
If Koeman felt, as he indicated after the game, as though his players’ second half efforts were closer to the level he expected, it was probably due to the fact that they had far more of the ball after half time and were the ones trying carve out the chances as they tried to get back into the game.
With no real creativity or drive in attacking midfield, however, they had no answer to Bournemouth’s suffocating pressing game and with Howe assigning double markers to the Blues’ wingers, Bolasie and then Deulofeu often found themselves boxed off near the touchline, starving the side of width and keeping Lukaku in familiar isolation up front.
Not once did Everton get into the clear behind the home defence during 90 minutes as the Cherries did an impressive job of making the tight confines of Vitality Stadium — it’s five metres longer than the pitch at Goodison Park and just as wide) feel much smaller than it actually is.
When Bolasie threw off his tendency to over-elaborate he was quite effective. He played a one-two with Lukaku on the edge of the box and had a rare sight of goal with quarter of an hour to go but smashed his shot narrowly over. And with the Toffees still in with a chance of grabbing a point right to the end, it was the former Palace winger’s excellent delivery from the right that substitute Enner Valencia just couldn’t react to quickly enough to steer home, his first-time shot flying a yard wide of the far post.
Even after seven matches in all competitions, it’s early days in the Koeman era and the manager and he is still on a learning curve when it comes to the strengths and weaknesses in his team. He can’t fail to have been concerned by the collective malaise that blighted this performance, however. Apart from Stekelenburg, who had little to do apart from pick the ball out of the net and smother an early Wilson chance, and Cleverley who made as much of an impact off the bench as he could, it’s hard to find any positives from any of the other individual performances.
More worrying was the shortage of game-changing options on the bench, with the team’s supposed difference-makers — Barkley, Mirallas, Deulofeu and Bolasie — all letting him down to varying degrees and Valencia again failing to illustrate convincingly what he can offer the team up front. It's for those reasons that talk of a top-four challenge this term have been shown to be wildly fanciful without significant investment in January.
As an opportunity to get things back on track, next Friday’s game against a Palace team that underlined their own resilience and aerial threat by coming back from 2-0 down to beat Sunderland at the Stadium of Light now takes on added significance. Hopefully, the manager will use the days in between to ram home some harsh truths and light a fire under some under-performing backsides because he cannot have been pleased at all with what he has seen this past week.
Bryan Oviedo got a start replacing Leighton Baines at left-back while Ross Barkley retained his place and Romelu Lukaku returned after missing Wednesday's defeat to Norwich with a toe injury.
Baines missed the game due to a hamstring injury, while Gareth Barry was also carrying a knock, but declared fit enough to play. Oveiedo started in preference to Funes Mori as the more accomplished left back, with the Argentine international looking out of place in that position against Norwich.
Jack Wilshere kicked off for the home side and they applied some good pressure when Barkley failed to hold the ball, a good ball in flashing across the Everton goal. At the other end, Bolasie swung in what seemed to be a perfect cross to the feet of Ross Barkley who seemed well shocked by the quality of it!
Some good pressing play from Everton followed but without the quick enough ball into the danger area, and the Cherries eventually repelled the swarming blue shirts, with Eddie Howe's side snapping in to deny Everton space and time on the ball.
Stanislas got around Jagielka but Stekelenburg was out sharply to claim the ball. Everton won a free-kick in midfield that Barkley placed in perfectly on Lukaku's head, and a super header looked goalbound but Boruc pulled off a magnificent save down low to deny him and the parried ball was driven wide.
Barkley smacked a brave first-time shot well, well wide off a good lay off from Lukaku. The ball was then straight up the other end were Williams was rather easily beaten by Wilson and a shot from Wilshere needed to be deflected onto the bar. From the corner, Ibe drove in and almost created a goal with his driven cross. Everton looked less then solid as the ball pinged around their area.
Sustained homeside possession won another corner, and Arter powered in a shot that grazed the far post after he brushed off Barkley's weak challenge. Everton really needed to get a grip of this game before the home side became too comfortable. Adam Smith rolled around in agony off the ball, some time after Mirallas had caught him inadvertently.
The goal had been coming and Sanislas was given masses of space to power an unstoppable shot from outside the area. Shocking defending from the Blues.
The Blues, stung, looked to respond but Bolasie could not beat his man, then Geyue needlessly lost the ball in midfield. Blues pressing was ineffective and Bournemouth looked to almost be toying with them, such was their dominance. Francis decided to have a crack from wide right.
In a better move, Bolaise to Coleman, back in to Geuye who fed Barry, his shot was good but parried over for an Everton corner. Some better pressure on the ball in the Cherries area but nothing came of it as Coleman could not keep it in.
Bolasie did well to get in a cross but it was away from Lukaku, as Everton failed to get enough bodies moving around the opposition area. Barry was a little too heavy on Wilshere, giving away a free-kick. Also Gueye who had stepped on Arter's foot in his challenge: yellow card. Barkley swung in another good set-piece but the ball was not attacked effectively and Bournemouth were straight up the other end, winning a corner that Jagielka gifted to Daniels, who could only head wide, thankfully.
Bolasie was double-teamed off the ball as he failed to cross, and they ganged up on him again to good effect, easily dispossessing the Everton star and winning a free-kick in the process. The Blues continued to labour at their task, looking slow and indecisive in all areas, and nearly getting into trouble with some ridiculous pass-the-parcel nonsense on the edge of the Blues penalty area.
Bolasie got free and was cut down by Daniels, who was booked, giving Everton a better chance for a set piece wide right, slid back too hard by Barkley to Mirallas whose shot was deflected behind but the Everton corner came to nothing.
Apart from the Lukaku chance, Everton had been shockingly poor in all departments, Barry apparently off his game, Barkley unable to get on the ball, other than at set-pieces, and Gueye uncharacteristically unable to influence proceedings. A real test for Koeman to turn things around after the break...
No changes at the restart, Barkley kicking off after some bizarre delay (The ref forgot his whistle!) with Blues needing to up their game by an order of magnitude. But forward movement was painfully slow until Mirallas's heels were clipped; Barkley's floated ball was easily repelled.
Gueye gave away a poor free-kick for holding back Smith. Not too smart when already on a yellow! But the Bournemouth attack came to nought. However, Everton could not play out of their half and were soon under pressure again, Arter trying to power through a shot that Jagielka blocked and cleared.
A promising move failed when Gueye took his eye off a ball nicely rolled into him from Oviedo, and the Blues resorted to chasing shadows. Barkley picked out Mirallas twice but the build-up was slow until the cross form Coleman picked out Barkley whose header was inches the wrong side of the post. Cleverley came on for Barry after 55 mins.
A slightly better forward move came after Gueye won possession deep in Everton's half but Barkley was slow on the ball and the defence was well set to stop it. Oviedo was then carded for a late tackle that led to a corner but little else. Mirallas, who had done nothing, was replaced by Deulofeu on the hour.
Deulofeu was quickly closed down wide right and was denied a corner. On the other side, Bolasie was easily dispossessed but Barkley did well and Everton pressed to win the corner, taken by Deulofeu but headed away, then crossed in superbly and batted away by Boruc. Some better pressure ensued until Bournemouth somehow broke out, with more space in Everton's half, and the ball coming back.
Bolasie finally got a chance to run down the left wing but his cross was woeful, and the impetus remained firmly with Bournemouth who were disinclined to surrender their lead. Deulofeu had space to run in the channel but his pass through to Lukaku was just too heavy, and wasted. Barkley got into a good position but could only dig out a mishit shot-cross that went behind.
The Blues looked to play down the right but Cleverley then Deulofeu were denied space and took the ball all the way back, trying this time down the left through Bolasie with the same result. Blues possession but it was all too slow and predictable, with no sign of penetrating the Bournemouth defence. Cleverley and Bolasie finally combining but Bolasie's strike off Lukaku's clever lay-back was just over the angle. Former Everton player Dan Gosling replaced Wilshere for the home side.
The Blues had a slightly better spell, playing high up the field, but the ball wasn't really running for them, and Bournemouth eventually regained control with the minutes ticking away, into the final 10, and the Blues still struggling to fashion a real chance to save this game. Gueye was withdrawn with Valencia on for the final push.
Oviedo tried to run the ball but was easily blocked. Then Jagielka was clipped horribly and it was a yellow for Surman. Bolaise again was too clever for his own good, trying in vain to trick his way in, as the Blues showed no sign of scoring an equalizer, Bolasie again surrendering the ball with consummate ease.
Coleman got space to run and cross but it too was repelled until Bolasie, swapping sides with Deulofeu, whipped in a tremendous cross for Valencia but he was incapable of converting the golden opportunity.
Smith got a bad cut when he got Williams's elbow in his face.
The Blues huffed and puffed in the final added 5 minutes but it was clearly just not going to happen for them as Everton under Ronald Koeman fell to their first Premier League defeat, their second game in succession after an awful week that is best forgotten.
AFC Bournemouth: Boruc, A Smith, S Cook, Francis, Daniels [Y:42'], Stanislas, Arter, Wilshere (76' Gosling), Surman [Y:84'], Ibe (71' Gradel), C Wilson (90' Afobe).
Subs not Usded: Ake, B Smith, Federici, Mousset.
Everton: Stekelenburg, Oviedo [Y:57'], Jagielka (c), Williams, Coleman, Gueye [Y:34'] (81' Valencia), Barry (55' Cleverley), Bolasie, Barkley, Mirallas (60' Deulofeu), Lukaku.
Subs not Used: Robles, Lennon, Funes Mori, Holgate.
Referee: Robert Madley
If you believe in such things, perhaps there is a parallel universe somewhere in which Everton held on to 3-2 leads at Dean Court, Stamford Bridge and the Eithad Stadium last season and went on to finish in the top six, lift the League Cup, and preserve Roberto Martinez's status as Everton manager and the club's new messiah.
Given the deep flaws in the Catalan's stewardship of the team that were exposed by those psyche-scarring results and the manner in which 2015-16 eventually unravelled, you somehow doubt it… unless, of course, Bobby Brown Shoes is an entirely different coach in this other dimension.
If you discount the warning signs that were flashing prominently the season before, you can probably trace the collapse of Martinez's tenure to Everton's trip to Bournemouth in late November last year. Having come out of a gruelling start to the campaign, in which they faced the top eight teams from 2014-15 in their first 10 games, sitting ninth, the Blues came from behind in the League Cup to edge past Norwich on penalties, thumped Sunderland 6-2, despatched Aston Villa 4-0 and were eyeing a relatively modest run of fixtures until the end of the year in which they could hopefully kick on towards the top four.
The reality was much harsher. The defensive concerns that underpinned the Cherries' recovery from 2-0 down in that fateful game on the south coast might have been brushed under the carpet somewhat had Ross Barkley's stoppage time "winner" not been wiped out by Junior Stanislas's header even deeper into added minutes. Instead, they were brought front and centre, as they would be time and again thereafter until the Board finally bowed to the inevitable in May.
Evertonians travelling south on Saturday would already have had that shock to the system playing on their minds regardless of how well the Blues have started in the Premier League under Ronald Koeman, so they could have done without Tuesday's defeat in their League Cup reunion with Norwich. It's allowed to creep back in some of that nagging doubt that four wins from the first five under the Dutchman had helped push to the edges of our collective consciousness and put a little bit more pressure on the players' shoulders.
Koeman, however, has already demonstrated his capacity to turn around a disadvantageous situation as Everton boss and as he (hopefully) welcomes back the starting XI that beat Middlesbrough last weekend, supporters should be confident that he will have instilled in his charges the need for a strong response and reattain his high standards.
Though it is away from home, it's the right sort of fixture in which to get back to winning ways as well, something they will have every chance of doing if they play the way they did at West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland. With Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines expected to return to a rearguard that has only let in three and Gareth Barry set to retake his place alongside Idrissa Gueye in midfield, Everton will offer stern opposition for a Cherries side battling for goals and points.
Bournemouth have just four points from their first five games — their only win since the sides last met in April was over West Brom two weeks ago — and have struggled for goals, scoring just three times while shipping nine at the other end in the process. They will have the potent Callum Wilson up front and he will require particular attention from Koeman's centre-halves, while Jack Wilshere will be hoping to get his first win on the board since moving south on loan from Arsenal but more of the solidity that has characterised Everton's strong start should provide the Toffees with the platform to win the game.
The presence of Romelu Lukaku will be crucial in that regard, however. Pulled off against Boro with a toe injury, the striker is expected to recover in time to play this weekend but the team's performance against Norwich illustrated how difficult the task will be if he doesn't make it.
The return of Yannick Bolasie and Kevin Mirallas would partially mitigate the striker's absence but it would be a big ask of either Enner Valencia or Arouna Koné to fill the Belgian's shoes. It was comforting, therefore, to see Koeman relaxed about Lukaku's prognosis in an otherwise brusque pre-match press conference.
Kick-off: 3pm, Saturday 24 September, 2016
Referee: Robert Madley
Last time: Bournemouth 3 - 3 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Stekelenburg, Coleman, Jagielka, Williams, Baines, Barry, Gueye, Barkley, Bolasie, Mirallas, Lukaku