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Venue: Goodison Park, Liverpool
Premier League
 Monday 19 January 2015; 8:00pm
0 0
 West Brom
Half Time: 0 - 0
Attendance: 34,739
Fixture 22
Referee: Michael Oliver

Match Report

If the alarm bells weren't ringing before, they certainly are now. Everton's spectacular fall from grace continues following a dismal goalless draw that extends their unfathomably bad run of results to just one win in 12 games – 13 if you deign to count the exercise that was the home game against Krasnodar – a sequence that has "relegation form" written all over it.

No wins since the "gimme" home fixture against Queens Park Rangers 35 days ago, four straight defeats and an early exit from the FA Cup have transformed Everton's season from one of hope for a belated assault on the European places to an increasingly nervous battle to avoid getting sucked into a scrap to escape the drop.

If the three meagre points that separated the Blues from the bottom three at kick off against West Brom this season weren't enough, the turgid frustration that followed surely rammed home the fact that we're already there, back in a situation no Evertonian would have thought possible in their worst nightmares last season... or the half dozen before that.

The apparent recent turnaround in Everton's fortunes, underscored by a revival in team spirit and fight over the last three games, was supposed to translate into a desperately needed victory tonight in one of those "must-win" games but it stalled in the face of a determined defensive stand by Tony Pulis' men. Where other sides this season have come to Goodison intent on pressing Martinez's men high and pouncing on the almost inevitable mistakes, the Baggies virtually abandoned all attacking pretence, failed to register a single shot on target all evening and merely dared their hosts to break them down. It was an invitation Everton consistently failed to accept.

The evening's controversy surrounded the decision by Kevin Mirallas to ignore the recommendation of Romelu Lukaku and Steven Naismith and usurp Leighton Baines as the Toffees' penalty-taker before dragging the all-important spot-kick wide of Ben Foster's goal. The inquest into the Belgian's act of hubris masked, however, the salient theme of the evening and that was Everton's singular inability to translate almost 70% of the possession into so much as a gilt-edged opportunity in 90-plus minutes of football.

That Mirallas' almost comical miss was really the only real chance the Blues had to score served as either a glowing tribute to Pulis' powers of defensive organisation or to brutally illustrate the breathtaking ineptitude of Martinez's team as an attacking force when faced with a team willing to pull almost all its men behind the ball. It's not a new phenomenon – indeed, Everton were similarly toothless in this fixture and a few others like it last season – but the manager looks increasingly unable to adapt his system or approach to find ways around it and simply grind out victories.

The continiuing absence of James McCarthy aside – Everton have won just once this season without him in the starting line up – Martinez could have few complaints about the personnel available to him and, the desire from many fans for more balance and width notwithstanding, he named arguably his strongest available team. Fresh off a quite brilliant display off the bench in the ill-fated FA Cup replay at West Ham, Mirallas was passed fit and it was as-you-were in the rest of the line-up.

And the pattern of the game was established from the first whistle, with Everton in near-complete dominance of the ball for the opening 10 to 15 minutes but with no real end product to show for their efforts. There were glimmers of incisive passing in the final third, most notably when Gareth Barry threaded a lovely pass to Baines wide on the left and his attempted cross was blocked but when the fullback failed to beat the first man from the resulting corner – again! – deja vu started to creep in.

It was all too laboured and pedestrian but every now and then Baines would take the proverbial bull by the horns and charge headlong forwards to unsettle the West Brom defence. One such run earned a free kick in a dangerous area in the 23rd minute but Mirallas despatched a direct effort into the spot where anyone who has done their homework knows Mirallas is going to put his free kicks and Foster made a routine catch.

Blocked shots for Lukaku and the effervescent Muhamed Besic continued the theme of West Brom bodies getting in the way of everything thrown at them but Everton generally struggled for options and movement once they got to the opposition penalty area. Lukaku was frequently shacked by two defenders but Naismith kept letting himself down with poor touches and Barkley's battered confidence led him to opt persistently for the safe pass for fear of committing an error and prompting groans from an increasingly vocal section of the crowd.

It needed something to break for them and it arrived a minute before half time when Lukaku tried to bring down Seamus Coleman's cross from the right and Joleon Lescott handled the ball as he tried to intercept, leaving referee Michael Oliver with little choice but to award a penalty. Had Mirallas scored, it would have lifted an enormous weight off Goodison Park and might have led to a more expansive game in the second half more suited to Everton's style. As it was, the players trooped off to the dressing room crestfallen and weighed down by the fans' anxiety.

You want confident players in your team but, having stepped up, Mirallas had to score. The decision spoke volumes about the player's self-aggrandisement and the lack of leadership in the team. When you're desperate for three points, you absolutely have to put your best foot foward and that is with the player with the 94% record from the spot.

Plenty has been read since into the fact that Mirallas did not reappear for the second half but whether Martinez opted to take a stand against him breaking protocol over the penalty or whether the forward was indeed "not 100%" due to the sudden recurrence of a hamstring problem, the fact remained that the Blues were now shorn of arguably their most potent player. Mirallas had been livelier than most in the first 45 minutes without really threatening to carve West Brom open but his replacement, Bryan Oviedo, at least had the potential to provide a bit more width down the left flank.

Unfortunately, though, it continued to be an exercise in attrition that was ultimately futile as attack after attack broke down with the a tame shot, a block or deflection, or the Blue shirt in possession turning back and playing it sideways. Such was West Brom's lack of interest in threatening the Everton goal – a break into the box by fullback Andre Wisdom, a wayward bobbling effort by Craig Gardner and a miscue by Sebastian Sessegnon were as close as they came to troubling Robles all evening – that John Stones regularly took the opportunity to drive forward to bolster the attack but even when he overlapped Coleman and cross well into the box, there was no teammate within 10 yards of the ball.

Besic's transformation for the evening out of his holding midfield role into that of playmaker seemed to suggest the Bosnian was on a one-man mission to drag his team to victory at all costs and it was he who saw two or three efforts on goal deflected behind. It wasn't all that surprising, then, that when his number flashed up on the fourth official's board to make way for Kone (apparently due to a foot injury but his reaction was a quizzical one), Goodison erupted into a chorus of boos.

Meanwhile, set-piece opportunities continued to be spurned and, in their increasingly desperate attempts to grind out a late winner, the Blues just ended up running into endless blind alleys trying to pass or dribble their way into a crowded box. The whistle to signal another blank, Everton's fourth in the last six league games, was almost merciful but it leaves the team in a perilously bleak situation as far as confidence goes, one not likely to be helped by a visit to notoriously uncharitable Crystal Palace in 12 days' time.

Martinez has the gift of an empty cup weekend and the planned warm-weather training camp to find the solutions to his team's problems but there is a growing fear that he is not going to be able to do so, perhaps not without some significant additions to his team before the month is out – if only to replace the creativity and ingenuity that has been lost in the absence of Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar's decline in fitness and form.

Make no mistake, though, supporter confidence in Martinez has been badly shaken through this awful run of form over the last eight or nine weeks as he stubbornly persists with tactics and formations that aren't working and he fails in games like tonight's to make the necessary adjustments to engineer victory. Everton need inspiration from somewhere and they need it very quickly. Whether it comes from the manager or via the checkbook, few will care until the season is over and the club is safely in the top flight for another season.

Lyndon Lloyd

Match Summary

Roberto Martinez named his strongest available team for the visit of West Bromwich Albion, with fit-again Kevin Mirallas coming in for the suspended Aiden McGeady as the only change from last Tuesday.

Tony Hibbert started on the bench where he was joined by Arouna Kone, Luke Garbutt and Bryan Oviedo. Samuel Eto'o was absent from the squad as he awaited confirmation of his pending move to Sampdoria...

Everton kicked off but the game settled into a predictable pattern with Everton building a slow attack with laboured sideways passing, West Brom sitting in. A good pass from Barry picked out Baines and that move ended in a corner that was defended away.

Mirallas did have a shot from far out, easy meat for Foster. Baines was next to take a good hard potshot from distance as Everton searched for a way through the solid WBA defence. They looked to be more direct as the game developed, but the accuracy and timing of the forward/diagonal passes was not good enough as The Baggies increased in confidence and involvement.

Gardener went right through Barkley but no yellow card and the pattern resumed, with Lukaku being well marshalled and unable to get any space or decent ball. The crowd were getting agitated at the slow ponderous build-up until Naismith hoofed a dreadful aimless ball to no-one upfield.

More pointless circulation down the right broke down and WBA were in the Everton area, Wisdom so close to firing in a decent shot. Baines finally took the initiative, running forward at pace, drawing the foul. Mirallas almost repeated his West Ham trick but Foster had it covered all the way.

Barkley was tentative again when forward motion was needed. The ball did get through to Mirallas who was crowded out. Besic shot from wide right, deflected for a corner, taken short and maddeningly an Everton player offside! Ridiculous nonsense.

At the other end, a free-kick and the ball then came through to Gardener, just offside, forced a great save from Robles. Stones got right down to the other byeline and crossed brilliantly but Lukuka was static on the 18-yard line, miles away from the goal area.

There was finally some attacking action, the ball pinging around, ending in a shot that Naismith tried to defect goalward but it flew over. Lukaku seemed set to get a chance off a forward ball to feet from Barkley, turning his man, but his shot was immediately closed down. Mirallas looked to find Lukaku with a great pass but he allowed Lescott to step through him and collect the ball with ease.

Coleman almost got caught in possession at the back. Mirallas then crossed perfectly for Lukaku who made no attempt to beat Lescott for the aerial ball and the chance was gone.

Nothing was really happening as Lukaku chested the ball down and Lescott seemed to control it with his arm, PENALTY! Baines conceded to Mirallas, who smashed the ball onto the outside of the left post... Unbelievable!

Mirallas did not reappear, and there was a suspicion that taking (and missing!) the penalty was against team orders, Oviedo on in his place. Coleman crossed well after saving a goalkick but it evaded everyone. A stupid misplaced pass by Barry was followed by a stupid needless block and a stupid yellow card.

WBA won their first corner, headed away at the near post. Oviedo was then demolished by an apparently fair Jacob challenge. Oviedo tried to be too clever with a backheel for Barkley, then fouled in frustration: yellow card.

Lukaku was fouled and the free-kick whipped in by Baines but headed clear. More completely silly nonsense passing just outside the Everton area almost ended in tears before another toothless passing session ended in another blind turnover.

Barry played Lukaku forward as Lescott slipped but Lukaku was selfish trying to shoot, blocked, and Barry took the ball forward, fouled, Barkley took the free-kick, terrible delivery into the heart of the wall

A period of slightly better pressure ends with a corner after the second cross headed behind. Naismith ran into Jacob and collapsed before it was taken, then a scramble as the corner came in, Naismith going down again, Jacob rugby tackling him. More pressure got the crowd roused but the clear-cut chances just weren't happening as another corner was defended away.

Baines ran offside before getting the ball as another attack failed. The next one failed when Besic anticipated a run that never happened. Coleman got out wide and crossed well to Lukaku whjo missed it completely. Then, the big man got himself hopelessly offside, as only he can.

In a rare West Brom h, Anichebe crossed well and Stones cleared. Besic tried another shot that earned a corner which came to Jagielka but he could not power it goalward. Barry powered forward but his pass was easily read. Finally a great move, Stones bringing it out of defence ball out to Coleman, then Naismith and crossed in for Lukaku to shoot... wide.

Besic picked up a yellow card for a late foul and was then replaced by Kone, to a round of boos... presumably because Besic was one of the few showing a bit of bite, drive and intention. West Brom put together a chances that Sesegnoon should have at least hit the target, and sub Ideye was next to surge at the Blues, who tried to counter but just so slow getting forward. Kone's ball in was poor.

Barkley finally tried to run in on goal but no conviction, no confidence and the ball bounced off a defender to a chorus of groans. A little more promising play but the quality from Kone was poor as the clock ticked away in to the last five minutes of this horribly painful game.

Baines resorted to a hoof and it did get the ball into the area but it was Foster and not Lukaku or Naismith who got on the end of it as the faithful started to make for the exits.

A late free-kick whipped in low from Baines, just a really poor delivery. The Blues had huffed and puffed to no meaningful effect, another 'must-win' game not won.

Michael Kenrick


Match Preview

With the brief FA Cup adventure over, Everton's focus returns to the Premier League and a fixture that has assumed huge importance for team morale and the Blues' season as a whole.

Roberto Martinez's side come into the Monday night televised clash with West Bromwich Albion sitting in 13th place, just three points off the relegation zone and a bewildering 18 points shy of the top-four finish that was the accepted goal before the season started.

Though Europe remains uppermost in the mind, it's the resumption of the Europa League campaign next month and timing a revival in the Toffees' fortunes for the first leg against Young Boys that is the target and not an increasingly unlikely finish in the League's European places.

Difficult but winnable fixtures against the Baggies and Crystal Palace, followed by more marquee games against Liverpool and Chelsea, lie in wait before then and Martinez's challenge is to use the next four games to resurrect his team's form and build up some momentum.

He will be aided by the potential to name a virtually unchanged team if he is moved to do so. Aiden McGeady's suspension following his sending off in the Cup replay at West Ham last Tuesday is the only enforced change to the starting XI and his place could be taken by Kevin Mirallas if his ankle is up to it.

The Belgian came off the bench at Upton Park to put on a breathtaking display that almost won Everton the tie but he admitted midweek that the injury he sustained a month ago against Queens Park Rangers might not be fully healed for another week. Should be need to start on the bench again, his absence could open up an opportunity for Bryan Oviedo or Luke Garbutt, depending on how Martinez wants to line up his side.

Deploying the Costa Rican or Leighton Baines wide on the left would shift the width to the left flank and allow the manager to retain the forward trio of Romelu Lukaku, Steven Naismith and Ross Barkley. With Barkley's form and confidence dropping off noticeably in recent games, though, it's not out of the question that Martinez could opt to give him a break, in which case Arouna Kone might be the beneficiary, with Naismith dropping a little deeper.

Of the walking wounded, only Tony Hibbert appears likely to be passed fit. James McCarthy, Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar and Sylvain Distin are all ruled out, while Christian Atsu is on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The fact that struggling West Brom, who have already gone through a managerial change, come into the weekend just a point behind the Toffees underscores how much Everton have under-performed this season. And with Tony Pulis, the man who oversaw one of the most painful results of last season when his Crystal Palace side put an irreparable hole in the Blues' Champions League dream, in charge there will be nothing foregone about the conclusion of this one.

Importantly, though, the Blues appear to have rediscovered their fight since the debacle at Hull on New Year's Day and provided they don't allow indecision to creep in and fear to set in on the terraces by conceding early, they should be able to add a win to the hard-fought draw over Manchester City to continue the turnaround in results.

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Match Preview
Match Summary
Match Report
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2014-15 Reports Index
< West Ham (A) C Palace (A) >
EVERTON (4-5-1)
  Besic (Kone 79')
  Mirallas (Oviedo 46')
  Subs not used
  Distin (injured)
  Gibson (injured)
  Howard (injured)
  McCarthy (injured)
  Osman (injured)
  Pienaar (injured)
  Atsu (international duty)
  Eto'o (transfer negotiations)
  Lundstram (loan)
  Pennington (loan)
WEST BROM (4-4-2)
  Morrisson (Sessegnon 65')
  Berahino (Dorrans 70' )
  Anichebe (Ideye 79')
  Subs not used

  • Possession
  • Shots on target
  • Shots off target
  • Corners

Premier League Scores
Aston Villa 0-2 Liverpool
Burnley 2-3 C Palace
Leicester 0-1 Stoke City
Newcastle 1-2 Southampton
QPR 0-2 Man United
Swansea 0-5 Chelsea
Tottenham 2-1 Sunderland
Man City 0-2 Arsenal
West Ham 3-0 Hull City
Everton 0-0 West Brom

Team Pts
1 Chelsea 52
2 Manchester City 47
3 Southampton 42
4 Manchester United 40
5 Arsenal 39
6 Tottenham Hotspur 37
7 West Ham United 36
8 Liverpool 35
9 Swansea City 30
10 Stoke City 29
11 Newcastle United 27
12 Crystal Palace 23
13 Everton 22
14 Aston Villa 22
15 West Bromwich Albion 21
16 Sunderland 20
17 Burnley 20
18 Hull City 19
19 Queens Park Rangers 19
20 Leicester City 17


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