Goals win points and strikers score goals. Sometimes it's that simple. Tottenham Hotspur managed one shot on target in 90 minutes and from it Emmanuel Adebayor, the only reliable out-and-out striker on the pitch, scored the winner that condemned Everton to their fourth defeat of the season.
It also lifted Spurs above the Blues into fifth place in the Premier League table and, on the basis of this game, the fact that the standings currently suggest that Tim Sherwood's side are better than Roberto Martinez's is somewhat baffling. Unfortunately, a lack of cutting edge up front for Everton tells the story, not only behind this disappointing result but also the nine draws over the course of the campaign so far – dropped points that look likely to deprive the Blues of a place in the top four.
The early signs were good for Everton as they got off to a stong start that yielded four chances for Leon Osman inside the first 10 minutes. With Ross Barkley not deemed fit enough to start, the veteran midfielder was handed a start in midfield alongside the familiar holding pair of James McCarthy and Gareth Barry and Steven Pienaar, with Kevin Mirallas playing wider than expected on the right and Steven Naismith leading the line.
Osman's excellent shimmy opened up the space for an attempted curler that sailed a yard wide in the third minute but though he would head just wide from a corner and scuff another left-footer straight into the arms of Hugo Lloris, his best chance – and Everton's best of the afternoon – was a sliced half-volley that the French 'keeper had to palm behind at full stretch in the 6th minute.
Following a brief spell of possession for the home side, Everton resumed their dominance of the match and a ricochet off Paulinho in the Spurs box almost fell to Mirallas before Coleman shot low but too close to the 'keeper.
The final ball would be an issue for the Blues all afternoon, though, and had Mirallas supplied one for Naismith 10 minutes before the break, Everton might have gone into half time a goal up. Unfortunately, having gone on a scintillating run through the heart of the Tottenham defence, the Belgian went for glory and smashed a shot over the crossbar with the Scot in the perfect position in space in front of him.
Kyle Walker's dragged shot that missed badly and a wicked cross from Danny Rose that just eluded Adebayor was all that Spurs were able to muster in the first 45 minutes and though Martinez was no doubt ruing his side's missed chances, he would have been perfectly happy with the way things were set up for him in the second half with the likes of Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu and Lacina Traore waiting in the wings on the substitutes' bench.
The Spaniard made the first of those anticipated changes in the 64th minute when Barkley came on for Steven Pienaar who could count himself somewhat unfortunate as he had been combining quite well with Leighton Baines down the Everton left and had found himself in some good positions inside the Spurs area.
Barkley had had just one touch, though, when Tottenham scored. Naismith, who had put in a really laudable shift up front, was adjudged to have fouled Moussa Dembele 15 yards inside the Everton half but as the Belgian midfielder lay flat on his back and the ball some 10 yards away from the site of the infringement, Walker was permitted to take a quick free kick. A flighted ball found Adebayor, played onside – barely – by Sylvain Distin, whose back, like that of his Captain, Phil Jagielka, was turned, and the striker chested it forward before lashing it just inside the post. Spurs, who hadn't troubled Tim Howards's goal at all, save for a wayward Adebayor header off a corner 10 minutes ealier, were ahead.
Unfortunately, the cavalry in response from the Blues lacked incisiveness and with the luxury of the lead, Tottenham were able to dig in and provide the kind of rigid defensive shape that Martinez's men have found so difficult to break down at times this season.
Mirallas led a promising counter shortly after the goal but, again, a poor final ball let him down and the chance was lost and despite the introductions of Deulofeu for Naismith and Aiden McGeady for Osman, Everton would fail to carve out another clear-cut opportunity. Indeed, though he would have a few nice touches, Deulofeu looked understandably rusty and McGeady was particularly disappointing deployed down the left. The Irishman's deflected cross forced a save from Lloris at his back post and his international teammate Coleman had a penalty claim turned down – rightly as it turned out seeing as he extended his foot to seek out contact with Rose's Capoue's leg (see below for more) – but you got the feeling that the Blues' fire had been extinguished by this point.
Personally, I have thrown my virtual tantrums over Everton's failure to strengthen when needed ahead of various transfer deadlines over the past few years but elected not to at the end of January this year, preferring to take the long view that it appears Martinez has with regard to the project that he's only nine months into. I admit, though, that after he'd made replacing Arouna Kone one of his priorities, I was baffled by his decision not to bring in an extra striker following the sale of Nikica Jelavic, particularly as he knew that Traore would not be ready to start straight away.
The lack of a focal point up front was clearly evident today and while Naismith will probably regard himself foremost as a striker and Mirallas had success in Greece playing as a centre forward, neither have shown so far that they can be a consistent answer as the main man up top for Everton in the Premier League. Certainly they lacked the height of a Romelu Lukaku and that led to a frustrating reluctance to put the ball into the box and a frequent tendency to over-elaborate in the final third. It was a shame because the Blues played much the better football and you knew that if they'd had a real threat up front, they might have got the goals needed to win.
Had one of Osman's early efforts gone in, it might have been a different story because Spurs, for all their massive spending since last summer, were surprisingly poor but the Blues just lacked teeth and paid the price. Tottenham, meanwhile, just needed one chance to fall at the feet of a genuinely clinical striker to take all three points.
With 39 points still to play for, nothing is out of the question, but finishing in the top four is going to be a big ask at this point if Everton continue to struggle for goals. Defeats against our two main rivals for fourth place in the last couple of weeks has severely dented our hopes but a win over Crystal Palace in midweek and away defeats for Liverpool and Spurs and we will be back in the hunt again. One game at a time...
For this massive Sunday game at White Hart Lane, Seamus Coleman returned to the Starting XI with a very interesting bench including Barkley, McGeady, with Gerard Deulofeu returning and new towering loan signing Lacina Traore, potentially to make his debut as a sub.
The first attack came from Spurs when a great ball seemed to be played in to Dembele who was thankfully half-asleep. A nice penetrating move by Everton followed through Coleman down the right then in to Osman, who turned brilliantly and curled one superbly toward the far top corner but drifting just inches over the angle.
Distin forced Howard to concede the first corner but a tentative Everton defence cleared to Mirallas, who won Everton a corner, and they worked it around for Naismith to set up Osman for a superb volley that forced a tremendous save from Lloris. Osman almost headed home off-balance from the corner, then in the next move, it again fell to Osman but he drove it straight at Lloris. Four clear chances to score in the first seven minutes, all down to Osman!
Pienaar gave away a free-kick that Eriksen came close with, curving it over the Everton wall and Howard and the bar, onto the roof of the net. Coleman was all action, with plenty of enthusiasm as a vigorous competition developed in midfield with neither team prepared to give he other too much space or time.
Everton went for a more controlled build-up but Baines got himself offside for what would have been an excellent cross. Naismith and Pienaar ganged up on some weak play at the back by Spurs and then put together another smart move that ended with Pienaar flagged offside. Spurs got the ball but Walker drove a poor strike cross goal from distance
Mirallas tried to power his way in but his shot was deflected Baines got miles behind Walker but the cross did not find an Everton player and Everton's disciplined defence stalled the Hotspurs and Pienaar won a kick that saw Coleman work it onside and shoot low from distance, Lloris saving low at the near post.
Spurs finally threatened with Rose beating Coleman and crossing superbly for Adebayor but thankfully the big Spurs forward did not connect with an exceptional pass behind the Blues defence. Lennon looked to beat Jagielka but couldn't, some brilliant defending by the Everton captain as Spurs continued a strong spell, winning a corner that Howard punched clear. Spurs' fourth corner was headed high and wide by Dawson
Intricate build-up play saw Mirallas win a good free-kick on the left corner of the Spurs area that Baines curled in brilliantly, Distin's header but it only won a corner that Mirallas powered in in, headed away by Dawson. More build-up by Everton was too slow to take advantage, Naismith losing the ball at the end. Mirallas intercepted in midfield and went on a brilliant run that ended selfishly with a shot over when a pass to the well-placed Naismith would have been the better choice.
Pienaar won Everton's fourth corner, a weird outswinger, leading to the fifth that was curling away from goal again by Baines and Everton tried to force penetration but Spurs pushed them back. Everton looked to create more penetration with intricate passing but Rose strode in easily as Osman was statuesque and in a flash, Howard was under pressure at the other end, as a very competitive first half came to an end goalless.
Everton kicked off the second half but it was Spurs with the greater desire, winning an early corner from Eriksen that evaded everyone. Everton looked to build but Osman played the ball behind Pienaar and the Blues were under pressure again. Coleman tried to turn things but he was easily dispossessed and it was soon another corner for Spurs that Distin headed away.
Everton spent an age with triangular passing among Pienaar, Baines and Naismith on the left side of the Spurs area, just too laboured while searching for the ground ball rather than putting in a cross to the non-existent striker. Spurs then applied more pressure with a couple of corners, Adebayor coming close with a header.
Another turnover and another opportunity ofr the massively laboured Everton build-up and the inevitable lost ball leading to another Spurs attack. A slightly faster move down the right looked to be the first goal but somehow Osman and Naismith contrived to miss the chance. Martinez needed to make a change but Sherwood took the initiative, bringing on Townsend for Eriksen. Another slow, slow build-up ended with a forward pass too strong for Mirallas, while Martinez continued to watch rather than act.
Finally, as the hour-mark passed, Barkley was readied but needed more instructions as Everton won their first corner since the break, the youngster finally replacing Pienaar. A quickly taken Spurs free-kick, after Clattenburg had called the play back following advantage unfulfilled, saw Everton go behind under the softest of circumstances: a ball played up to Adebayor, and he beat Distin to lash it through Howard. Too easy, Everton sleeping.
Naismith made himself look really stupid, stepping over the ball and letting it run out of play as the Blues really needed to step it up at least three gears. Traore started some stretching moves as Naismith did it again, almost identically! A neat move looked to develop until Naismith played a crucial pass straight at a Spurs defender. McGeady joined Traore in the sideline calisthenics while, on the field, Everton's fluidity had deserted them.
Finally, Naismith was replaced by Deulofeu, and McGeady came on for Osman — both changes 20 mins too late. Everton tried to get a grip with more midfield possession but the inevitable turnover denied them again and Spurs had them under pressure rapidly, Adebayor lashing one over Howard's bar.
Barkley had started spraying long passes, some working, others, not so much... one trying to release Deulofeu well over-hit. Deulofeu won a good kick wide right that Baines sent to the back post where Barry could only head it to a Spurs defender and, in seconds, the ball was up with Adebayor,
Into the last 10 mins and Everton tried to play it through the middle, Deulofeu working the ball well, but McGeady's return pass defected easily to Lloris. Baines earned a corner he played in well, if a little lacking in the pace needed for a powerful header on goal that the non-existent Everton striker could not provide.
The minutes ticked away, and the lack of a target man meant that the slow build-up again went nowhere, Defoe replacing Lennon. Everton screamed for a penalty on Coleman that looked questionable at best, as Barkley ran illustratively right around the Spurs penalty area without going anywhere. A turnover and Defoe was off to the races, firing in and winning a late corner as Everton crumpled to a massive one-goal defeat that dealt a huge blow to their quest for 4th place Champions League qualification.
Everton's Champions League-qualification credentials will undergo another potentially stern examination this weekend as they travel to London to face Tottenham Hotspur.
Having suffered a setback at Anfield 10 days ago with defeat to Liverpool, the Blues hauled themselves back into the chase for the top four with victory over Aston Villa. That, combined with dropped points by both those rival clubs last weekend means that Everton come into this weekend's programme in fifth place, a point above Spurs and two behind the reds in fourth.
While important in the context of that jostle to finish in the Champions League places, the win over Villa was just as vital in terms of the team's psychology. With Roberto Martinez content to stick with what he had and wait for his injured stars to return rather than gamble on transfer deadline day, grabbing three points despite being weakened in a couple of key areas was a big boost.
With Romelu Lukaku sidelined again this weekend with an ankle injury and neither Lacina Traore nor Gerard Deulofeu likely to be risked from the start, Martinez faces the same need for a big performance from those players he will have available against a Spurs side still adjusting to life under new manager, Tim Sherwood.
The Spaniard will be bolstered by the likely return to the starting line-up of Seamus Coleman whose pace and goal threat have been a big miss at right back in recent weeks. The Irishman was named on the substitute's bench last weekend but was, sensibly, un-used by Martinez and he wil hopefully be raring to go this Sunday.
Barring any late injury problems, the manager's main decision will be which combination to employ in midfield. Ross Barkley started last weekend but was replaced at half time as he continues his recovery from a foot fracture and Steven Pienaar proved influential as his replacement in the second half, while Leon Osman, Aiden McGeady and Steven Naismith are all pushing for inclusion as well.
Whoever lines up across the middle, the Blues' key man could well be Kevin Mirallas who has stepped up in Martinez's time of need superbly in recent weeks. The Belgian's unpredictability and ability to a match will be crucial of the White Hart Lane edition of this match-up is anything like the tight 0-0 draw at Goodison Park earlier in the campaign.
Everton arguably edged that contest but couldn't find a way through Spurs' defence but though Sherwood boasts an array of attacking talent – not least the rejuvenated Emmanuel Adebayor – there will be plenty of self-doubt on which the Blues can play following the Londoners' 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City in their last home game.
Realistically, a point would be a satisfactory return from this game, setting up another must-win fixture at Goodison next week against Crystal Palace but if Everton could pinch all three points from White Hart Lane for the first time in five seasons, it would be a big statement of Martinez's intentions as the season's home stretch approaches.
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