Blues Still Searching For That Vital Killer Instinct

Everton, as clearly the superior team should have won this match comfortably but eased off too quickly and for too long, paying the price by conceding a late equaliser.

Lyndon Lloyd 16/08/2014 29comments  |  Jump to last

Leicester City 2 - 2 Everton

For a while it looked like the perfect start to 2014-15 was on the cards. Everton had scored quite spectacularly at that conceded almost immediately, but then righted the ship again and reasserted control of proceedings in the style which became so familiar under Roberto Martinez last season.

For those who feared that the Blues' lethargic and wholly unconvincing pre-season somehow foretold of the manager struggling through a case of second-season syndrome, the good news after 45 minutes at King Power Stadium against newly-promoted Leicester City was that nothing really seemed to have changed; Everton appeared to have rediscovered their mojo now that the real business of the Premier League is back underway.

The bad news after the final whistle was that, in some key respects, some things haven't changed. On the afternoon's evidence, Martinez's side can slip from the sublime to the pedestrian from one half to the next, remain suspect when defending set-pieces and still lack the killer instinct to drive home an advantage that is required of teams that hope to finish in the top four.

It's a shame because Everton, as clearly the superior team when they had their act together, should have won this match comfortably and taken three points back to Merseyside as a platform on which to face Arsenal and Chelsea between now and the end of the month. They came into the second half with a goal advantage but eased off too quickly and for too long and were then forced to go in search of a decisive third goal in the final 10 minutes when fatigue had clearly set in.

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Martinez made a couple of belated substitutions in an effort to carve out another goal but his opposite number, Nigel Pearson, had played a couple of decent cards himself by that stage, changes that gave the Blues much more to think about in their own third of the field and which ultimately secured the Foxes a point when substitute Chris Wood swept the ball past a stranded Tim Howard in the 86th minute.

The scoreline and timing echo that of Everton's opening match of the 2013-14 campaign when they were denied a victory by Ricky van Wolswinkel's equaliser for Norwich City, but the circumstances and character of this game were different. This was a Blues side minus crucially, perhaps one of the goalscorers that day in the form of Seamus Coleman but with all three of its September 2013 transfer deadline-day signings on the field, including record signing Romelu Lukaku, who not only started but played the entire 90 minutes.

The Belgian was a doubt based on his lack of match sharpness but Martinez played him anyway while keeping Kevin Mirallas on the bench until 10 minutes from time and while the former Belgian has come in for criticism for his performance, he didn't actually play as badly as some have suggested. Granted, he was more "group stage Lukaku" (in reference to his experience at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil) than "round of 16 Lukaku" but his movement, touch and hold-up play were better than we saw last season and his presence alone up front can be key to Steven Naismith's game, allowing the Scot to drop off into the No.10 role when needed.

Both strikers were involved in some of Everton's first forays foward during what was a confident and controlled start, Naismith almost finding the Belgian with a cut-back from the left-hand side but his pass was cut-out.

Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines, meanwhile, were re-establishing their almost telepathic relationship down the left flank and their first interchange provided an early shooting opportunity for the South African as he cut in across the edge of the penalty area but, as he did so often last season, he lacked the confidence to pull the trigger and the chance was closed down.

He was more effective as provider and it was his jinking run to the byline that forced the corner from which Everton indirectly scored. Aiden McGeady's set-piece was cleared to Baines who raked a 35-yard shot towards the Leicester area where it deflected into the path of Sylvain Distin. He was denied well by Kasper Schmeichel but the goalkeeper's parry only fell to McGeady who curled as perfectly-placed a shot as you will see in off the far post.

Unfortunately, the Blues' own weaknesses at corners at the other end yielded an almost immediate equaliser for Leicester (who had already threatened to expose some hesitation in the visitors' back line a few minutes earlier when Phil Jagielka and Tim Howard got in a muddle and Leonardo Ulloa almost nipped in to score). A routine ball was not dealt with, Distin could only hack the loose ball into the body of Ulloa and when the rebound sat up nicely in front of him, he lashed it past Howard to make it 1-1.

Everton were undaunted, though, and after re-establishing control over the game, they almost went back in front through a second goal from McGeady but though Baines picked him out neatly with a ball inside the from the left, Wes Brown made a crucial block to deny the Irishman's goalbound effort.

Martinez's men did find a second goal on the stroke of half time, though. Lukaku's floated pass to the wing found Baines, he collected a return ball via Pienaar's delightful backheel and when the South African continued his run and helped on the England fullback's centre, Naismith was on hand to smash a first-time shot in off the underside of the bar.

It was no more than Everton deserved and it set them up perfectly for the second period. Unfortunately and it remains an enduring mystery as to why they occasionally do this they stopped doing everything that had worked so well in the first 45 minutes and sat back, inviting their hosts back into the contest.

It was a strategy that worked as long as Leicester lacked the pace and imagination to truly trouble what was a back four that never looked truly at ease with John Stones at right back in place of Coleman. But when Pearson introduced the pace of Jeffrey Schlupp to compliment the probing of Riyad Mahrez and the directness of David Nugent, the dynamics of the contest changed.

Schlupp himself should have scored within minutes of his introduction when he raced in space behind Stones to collect a throughball but blazed high and wide with just Howard in front him. It was a let-off for the Blues and the Foxes were equally fortunate when Liam Moore appeared to handle the ball as Lukaku tried to knock it past him on the way to a one-on-one confrontation with Schmeichel but he escaped with only a yellow card.

With the Everton still ahead witb 10 minutes left, Martinez withdrew Pienaar, who had faded from the game as the team generally had stopped coming forward with any fluidity, in favour of Mirallas and then removed McGeady in favour of Coleman. McGeady had had another typically mercurial afternoon and was perhaps fortunate to last as long as he did given his profligacy in possession in the second half.

Unfortunately, Coleman had only been on the pitch a couple of minutes when what now looked to be an back three was caught out badly and Chris Wood, another substitute, pounced to grab Leicester a point. The goal owed a huge debt to fortune Mahrez's initial shot took a heavy deflection off and though Jagielka reacted quickly his challenge dropped into the ocean of space vacated by Stones as he tried to provide cover and Wood had the simple enough task of steering a shot past Howard.

Everton pressed in the final stages in response but could not force another way through and had to be content with an annoying point when three were in the offing for so long in this match. It is only the first match of a long season, though, one that will no doubt produce plenty of thrills and spills, highs and more lows than the post-match news that Ross Barkley could be out until the New Year. And there were some genuinely impressive moments from a team that was not at full strength and that bodes well for the campaign ahead.

Taking into account all the positives from the Blues' performance, though, you're still struck, firstly, by the fact that the players seemed to tire early in the second half; and, secondly, the nagging knowledge that Champions League-quality teams find ways to win these kinds of games and not drop vital points from winning positions. That lack of a truly clinical mentality could prevent Everton from achieving that top-four dream unless Martinez can find a way to instill it in his players. He has time and a barnstorming display against Arsenal next weekend would quickly transform the outlook.

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Reader Comments (29)

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Jim Potter
1 Posted 17/08/2014 at 08:14:26
Accurate and balanced as ever Lyndon.

As the second half commenced, I was convinced we’d get a third and secure the points. To see us fade physically and mentally thereafter was a real disappointment.

There were a lot of positives from the first half – especially the quality of the two goals. But, as you state, we were lacking that killer instinct that those who go on to ultimately challenge for the top four inevitably produce to win these type of games (see Arsenal – winning in injury time).

Not downhearted – just frustrated at 2 very obtainable points disappearing when in our grasp.

Kieran Fitzgerald
2 Posted 17/08/2014 at 08:10:43
As annoying as the result, and the second half performance was yesterday, at least we now have a game under our belt. Hopefully whatever rustiness and complacency we had coming into the new season is now out of our systems

I think that yesterday's game will give Martinez and the squad something to think about and focus on in the coming week. If the second half performance, plus playing Arsenal at home in our next game, doesn't inspire a positive reaction on Saturday, then a lot of people will have seriously misjudged Martinez and this squad.

In terms of the players, Lukaku won't be as bad again, Coleman will be another week closer to fitness come the Arsenal game, Naismith will be full of confidence after his goal and performance yesterday. Mirallas will be a week closer to fitness, Atsu and Besic will be more prepared. The team looked very unbalanced yesterday due to Coleman being out and us having to rely on Baines and Pienaar down the left instead of having threats down both flanks. This won't happen again hopefully with players coming back to fitness.

While yesterday was disappointing, it is important to keep some perspective. It was the first game of the season. It is the same squad and manager as last season. We are not suddenly back to where we were under the worst days of Moyes.

Ian Bennett
3 Posted 17/08/2014 at 08:45:26
At 2:1, I knew what the inevitable result would be. Bang on the money, we did an Everton. Gutted.

Jags and Distin, did a great impression of Jonesy, "don't panic Mr Mannering". Panic, rather than composure, gifting Leicester with 2 goals. This has to be sorted.

Left side looked better, right side badly missed Mirallas and Coleman. Rom looked off the pace, with control not looking great.

Kev Johnson
4 Posted 17/08/2014 at 09:17:58
It's incredible how often we're good for 45 minutes then poor for 45 minutes. Sometimes it's the firsts half when we play well, sometimes it's the second. We almost never manage to bridge the two. I don't know why.

Another 'oh-no-not-again' element was the way we brought on someone (Coleman) to close out the match - and promptly conceded. It's not just us, it seems to happen with other teams too. Conclusion? It doesn't work! The Mirallas sub was obviously meant to have the opposite effect, to increase our dangerousness, but he was the direct cause of their equaliser, being muscled off the ball on the touchline and allowing Leicester to break, with our midfield out of position.

Tony Cheek
5 Posted 17/08/2014 at 09:45:19
A few players out there were looking tired after an hour... I was amazed that Martinez took so long to use the subs. Why risk McCarthy when he obviously got a bad knock? There were good options on the bench. I think Besic would have put a spring in our step. Lukaku looked like a junior playing with men.

McGeady was great first half and probably should have scored more than one, but was nothing short of a liability in the second half and his passing in midfield really gave us problems. Baines and Pienaar were breathtaking first half but disappeared after the break.

Points against Arsenal? It would have to be a better performance all round!

Peter Barry
6 Posted 17/08/2014 at 10:29:15
Roberto's reluctance to commit substitutes to the game is worrying, makes you wonder how many of our squad are just not fit enough to be on the pitch.
Jason Heng
7 Posted 17/08/2014 at 10:45:36
Moyes could not get the team to play football, but he made sure the team made every set piece count. Since Martinez took over, we’ve lost the edge on this front. If only he could work on this.
Bob Heyward
8 Posted 17/08/2014 at 10:36:36
Something went wrong this summer. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a lacksidasical approach to squad preparation in the closed season. While the club blame the World Cup, I’m not so sure that this isn’t an indulgent excuse.

At the close of the season, we saw Roberto go to the World Cup with ESPN. I wonder whether the needs of Everton were thrown a little under the bus by that trip.

We’ve heard lots about ’signings are always late in a World Cup year’, yet this didn’t seem to apply to Liverpool or Newcastle, who’s respective managers weren’t in Brasil. Compare our approach with the late transfer business over at Van Gaal’s Man Utd, under another manager that was away till Mid-July. Before the signing of Atsu, many fans were getting rightly concerned at the lack of numbers. I’m still very concerned and can’t help linking this slow progress to a late start from Roberto.

We’ve also heard how players returning needed ’rest’. Well, Lukaku played two more games than England, but both as sub (playing 30 mins and 30 mins in both). Super Kev’ played a couple too (60 mins and 60 mins in both). But does that warrant reduced training before the start of the season?

Elsewhere, while Rooney (who played every game) has been playing pre-season in the USA, our Ross has been felt deserving of rest (despite playing a fraction of Rooney’s game time). It seems that, relative to other clubs, we’re being a little indulgent with this ’rest’.

And why on earth were non-World Cup players looking knackered in the second half yesterday? Pienaar and Barry looked goosed. Perhaps this indicates more of the mind set at Finch Farm than anything.

I know there’s no such thing as a single explanation, but I’m linking part of our lack of preparedness to a manager who’s perhaps a bit too willing to accept the ’World Cup’ excuse, possibly because he used it himself when talking of ’slow transfer markets’ in World Cup years. I’m not seeing other teams so hampered by the World Cup, though that may be because their manager’s were in the office watching it, planning transfers and pre-season, and not in Brasil prioritising ESPN’s coverage of it.

Paul Thompson
9 Posted 17/08/2014 at 12:43:17
Kev@4 is right - we continue to give Jekyll and Hyde performances across the two halves.

What was frustrating yesterday was that Martinez didn't try and change the mix earlier. Substitutions, particularly in midfield or defence, need to be made early enough to settle and make a difference. I'm convinced that Besic would have stabilised things in midfield and given the attacking play a more solid foundation.

Encouraging, however, that the left flank play showed signs of the old inventiveness, and Coleman and Mirallas down the right can do the same.

Rob Prince
10 Posted 17/08/2014 at 12:28:34
As everyone else on here, I am gutted about the result and the Barkley news to boot. First half we looked at times like the Everton of last season (the good); second half was painful to watch culminating in the all too inevitable Leicester equalizer.

The game was crying out for subs to be introduced around about the 65 minute mark – nevermind with less than 10 to go. Mirallas for Lukaku would have been my bet and Coleman for McGeady. Here's how I would rate the players if anyone's interested:

Howard, 7/10 – Not an awful lot to do, helpless for both goals;

Stones, 5/10 – Did not impress in the right back role today. As others have been keen to point out. Looked suspect in possession at times and was caught out of position.

Jagielka, 5/10 – Very poor from the Everton skipper. He looks a long way away from being back to his best. No presence.

Distin, 5/10 – Again, as others have said, he looked like his age is catching up with him. Poor on the ball, a dire clearance leading to Leicester's equalizer and no aerial presence. Worrying.

Baines, 7/10 – Had a sublime first half (attacking wise) but petered out in the second as did the team as a whole.

McCarthy, 6/10 – fairly anonymous if you ask me.

Barry, 7/10 –Good first half, involved in most Everton moves, though was lucky to stay on the pitch.

Pienaar, 7/10 – As for Baines, had a sublime first half. Was involved in virtually everything, was lively and busy, dangerous and rarely gives away possession like some others. Has been stated he is past it but on this performance he shows he still has much to offer. Would have been an 8 had he not faded second half.

McGeady, 6/10 – lively and busy in the first half. Scored a peach but can't score him any higher as he is tremendously profligate in possession, often putting Everton under pressure. Needs to improve sharpish.

Lukaku, 5/10 – All £28 million of him, we all hope he is unfit because he was dreadful.

Naismith, 8/10 – MotM great movement, industry, superb goal, rarely gives away possession, dangerous. well done, Naisy.

Mark Wilson
11 Posted 17/08/2014 at 12:14:09
Cheers Lyndon, balanced view as always, but as frustrating to read as I suspect it was to write ! These days you dare not express a potentially negative view on almost anything club Everton, lest the postive-police arrive sirens blaring to declare you a malcontent. Twitter is awash with such sentiment at present and tho TW can dip way too far the other way it's surely important to be allowed to express your concern. And guess what... I'm concerned!!

I think most of us either went for the hype with the Rom signing, or we sat back and thought "What the hell, let's be bold for once and hope it all works out and ignore the fact that the squad (badly) needed seven or eight players and now we can afford just three or four".

Strangely, whilst I thought the forward line was the priority, I'm actually thinking that we've all got this wrong and frankly time has caught up with Distin and Jags post injury and post poor World Cup and a defence without Coleman is (incredibly) a lot weaker – as is the forward line!

If we were to beat both Arsenal and Chelsea, this will look stupid so I'm hoping like hell it looks very stupid. But the truth is, despite it feeling a lot brighter to be a blue these days, it always feels same old same old... we can't afford to create a full strength squad and injuries and suspensions will undo our optimism however hard we hold onto it. One game at a time, one game at a time.

Jamie Barlow
12 Posted 17/08/2014 at 13:00:25
It's about time Martinez started to work on set pieces. We can't defend them or score from them. It's a massive part of the game and shouldn't be ignored because he likes to play proper football. In fact, our defending yesterday and all pre season has been a joke. Two centre halves who can't even head the fuckin ball.
Patrick Murphy
13 Posted 17/08/2014 at 13:14:01
Perhaps you get what you pay for - notice Arsenal yesterday got the win in the end because they believe that they are a top-side and perhaps more importantly the opponents believe they are a top side. Compare with Man Utd who three years ago would have equalised and gone on to beat Swansea because they had belief they deserved to win and because Swansea would have thought the same but not so yesterday.

Everton have got to find this self-belief from somewhere otherwise it will be another nearly season or perhaps worse. Jags from my viewpoint is one of the worst culprits for this lack of belief that permeates the team and Roberto should now consider who he wants to captain the side for the remainder of his time at the club. Two points dropped, little doubt about it, but it comes from not a lack of tactical nouse or lack of ability but from a complete lack of belief in themselves as a team.

Kunal Desai
14 Posted 17/08/2014 at 13:30:48
It's now 10 goals conceded in 5 league games. It's simply not good enough. This is not Wigan. It's Martinez responsibility to find a solution to this very very quickly.
Kevin Tully
15 Posted 17/08/2014 at 13:35:43
Kunal - that's a riduclous way of looking at our form. Applying your logic, we could also be League champions.

Look, we had the third best defence in the division last season, so let's not get too carried away after one game. Jagielka is clearly suffering a loss of form, and we are also missing Coleman down the right. Besic will certainly bring some steel to our defence, so we will have addressed any weakness along our back line as far as I'm concerned. It's just going to take a while for us to get it right while the new man finds his feet.

Our next two games could be a blessing in disguise. We have to up our game, and if we come out of these two with positive results, a win and a draw maybe,we have had a decent start.

I worry more about an Everton that cannot score, rather than one that makes individual errors at the back. One is easier to fix than the other.

Ian McDowell
16 Posted 17/08/2014 at 15:19:22
One player I would've liked in January and in the summer was Shane Long. Would've been a great foil for Lukaku.
Yair Kaye
17 Posted 17/08/2014 at 15:45:14
I definitely agree about the lack of killing instinct and our tendency concede late, especially against second rate teams.
Yesterday & today 3 of our competitors (Arsenal, Spurs & RS) scored late winning goals, some at the death, whereas we, against a team arguably weaker that the rest, conceded a late equalizer. Not a good omen.
Jack Cross
18 Posted 17/08/2014 at 15:38:07
Ian McDowell. Spot on mate. I've always like Long and liked what I saw of him at Hull City. I think we made a mistake selling Jelly. He seemed to gel, with Long, at Hull. I know we got him to score goals and they dried up, but I think he would have come good with us again. Never know now of course.

And he got around the pitch more than that lazy bugger Lukaku. Bony, we should have went for, cheaper and an all-round better player than Lukaku, I'd say. Probably get another 15 to 16 goals again off him but I can't see him getting more than that. Naismith, has improved greatly under RM; I like what I see these days and I never thought I'd hear myself saying that.

Paul Smith
19 Posted 17/08/2014 at 15:55:07
As I've said for a while, we lack the killer instinct to really get after teams when were ahead. This trying to protect a lead, just like Moyes teams, leads to far more draws and teams like this need to be put to the sword when we get ahead.

It's hard to see us winning as many home games as last year so we will have to win more away which means we need to be more positive in our outlook even when ahead.

Paul Ellam
20 Posted 17/08/2014 at 17:11:57
I believe this lack of killer instinct is the reason we should go for Loic Remy. He has a buy out clause at approx. £9M which means he isn't overpriced and, with Lukaku looking a bit rusty, he would have been ideal to bring on and offer something different – not just yesterday but in the future too.
Jack Cross
21 Posted 17/08/2014 at 17:17:20
Paul Ellam. I'm with you there mate. We have to finish off these lower teams. But no matter how much of the game we have we, never seem to be able to do it.

Loic Remy, seems a good choice. Have you seen Teemu Pukki of Celtic? He's a Finnish striker. I have been to watch Celtic several times having a mate living in that vicinity, so I have seen him play and not on the box. I thought he was quite useful.

I know most on here seem to have a negativity when it comes to Scottish team players but Celtic are a big club and go after players with who they think have potential. I know it doesn't always work out. But I think he is worth a loan spell with us.

Keith Glazzard
22 Posted 17/08/2014 at 19:23:08
I very much agree with that analysis - good overall, but aspects of defence have to be addressed, tightened, and we need to kill games off.

We need a playmaker, someone to pick the lock the massed defences we are bound to face. And maybe we already have him - Steven Pienaar. He looks to be fully recovered, but not as young as he was. Playing on the left with Baines has illuminated the top flight for years as we know but he is comfortable left right and centre with excellent control and an instant turn.

Given that role, with Ross out of it for a long time yet, I think his experience could be put to more telling use.

Jack Cross
23 Posted 17/08/2014 at 19:53:47
Keith Glazzard. Yes, I think we all look at our defence and can see cracks. And it's mainly down to age: too young and too old. Meaning Distin, Jags and Stones... and I don't think Baines (although I love him) has been on top form for maybe a season and a half.

For one, it's very unlikely we're going to bring anyone in defensive-wise at this late stage. And even if I'm wrong, who is out there that's available? I mean it's not as if this problem wasn't around last season or doesn't RM see what we all see? I think Hibbert could still figure but I'll probably get shot down for that but not much got past him.

Christopher Kelly
24 Posted 17/08/2014 at 20:13:13
Bang on Patrick Murphy.

We needed someone to grab the team by the scruff of the neck and drag them over the line. Jags sadly is not this man. Even sadder is, he never will. Sadder than that, he’s our captain.

Philip Arnold
25 Posted 17/08/2014 at 20:29:30
As I read the posts on TW about fitness, I am surprised there is little mention about the need to rest in order for players to survive a season where we may play 60 games ending in May. As well as physical rest, the players need mental rest.

For those of you who think that you can stay at a physical and mental peak without rest, I can only assume that you have not played top class sport.

Raymond Fox
26 Posted 17/08/2014 at 20:21:48
It's alright talking of killing games off but it's easier said than done, especially away from home. All teams have games where you could say they should have got more out of the game than they did, but there's more luck in the games than we like to give credit for.

Our second for instance you could argue was lucky along with both their goals which were from fortunate rebounds!

When Leicester went behind, they have to go for broke and this affects the direction and flow of the game. They then started to cause us much more problems and I don't think our second-half display was down entirely to us taking it easy.

Michael Winstanley
27 Posted 17/08/2014 at 23:51:09
An enjoyable read Lyndon.

Howard is culpable for the second, the ball goes right down the middle of the goal whilst he's diving to his right. This after Jags has kicked the ball to the Leicester player, wrong footing Stones in the process.

Barry should have been replaced after an hour, he was lucky to stay on the pitch the amount of fouls he gave away second half.

There was a lack of urgency about our second-half performance which suggested we'd knew we'd done enough. I don't think it's anything to do with tiredness or poor pre-season, after they equalized we up'd it again and pegged them in their own box.

In the first half, we played some excellent football, especially down the left. Our control of the ball and ball retention was great to watch, we scored two but had the chances for four. Lukaku linked the play well, made runs into space and looked sharp.

Barkley will be a huge miss, an attacking dimension to our game has been removed. I thought Naismith was excellent again, I'm hoping him and Lukaku can develop a good relationship in front of goal.

Next up Arsenal, hope Mirallas starts as he loves it at Goodison.

Mike Childs
28 Posted 18/08/2014 at 11:07:37
I keep tossing the lack of early substituting over and over in my mind and, given that RM seemed to make great ones last year, my only conclusion is that he wanted to allow the players who have been here a while an opportunity to win it. Perhaps he felt if he went to the new guys (Besic & Atsu) to soon, he chanced loosing the confidence and support of those players.

At least the next game should bring Coleman back into the starting XI as he loss was a glaring weakness and also the new guys will be given their chance.

Michael Penley
29 Posted 20/08/2014 at 06:07:15
Christopher #24

I saw a few times last season Gerrard got the team into a huddle and gave them a team talk after a goal and you could see the drive it gave them, could you ever see Jags doing that? From his interviews he's extremely passive and lacks confidence, not really what you want in a captain. Howard would be a better choice (I admired his team spirit in the World Cup) but I think Roberto's setting up to hand over to Leighton when Jags retires.

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