Blues progress by the skin of their teeth

As with any cup game, the important thing is to get through, sometimes by whatever means are necessary. On this occasion, that meant relying on a goalkeeper seizing his chance to shine and finding enough impetus from the substitutes to find a route back into the match.

Lyndon Lloyd 28/10/2015 13comments  |  Jump to last

The wisdom of making wholesale changes to a team for the League Cup has been a frequent subject of debate over the years, not least where Everton goalkeepers are concerned. It was under David Moyes that the widely-deployed selection tactic of a "cup keeper" was brought to Goodison Park and it was his undoing on at least one occasion while Jan Mucha was kicking around Goodison Park.

Last night, the reverse was true not only were Evertonians comfortable with the idea of nominal "understudy" 'keeper Joel Robles coming in to face Norwich City, after the shambles at the back against Arsenal on Saturday they were positively enthused to see what the Spaniard could do to further his case for an extended run in the first team in the Premier League as well. Not only did Robles prove himself more than capable, he was arguably crucial to the Blues progressing to the quarter finals with a series of fine saves and important guess-work in the penalty shootout that allowed him to foil Wes Hoolahan and heap all the pressure on Nathan Redmond to fire the decisive spot-kick wide.

Job done by the 25-year-old from Getafe, you would think but Roberto Martinez didn't even give Robles the evening to savour his man-of-the-match display; ignoring the recent scrutiny of Tim Howard's increasingly erratic form of late, the manager stated outright after the game that the American would be back in the team on Sunday to face Sunderland.

Martinez is paid to make harsh and unpopular decisions when they are warranted, of course. Derek Mountfield recently recounted his experience in the 1980s when he deputised impressively for the injured Dave Watson only to be dropped back to the bench as soon as Waggy was fit again. Back then, Howard Kendall made a decision for the good of the team to restate one of his best players who had been on top form prior to his injury.

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In this instance, however, the manager's rationale appears to be one based on the dressing room status quo and appeasing a veteran player rather than recognising form. Coming as a repeat of the situation last winter when Robles came in and performed well in place of the injured Howard (who was struggling in a noticeable post-World Cup slump) only to be summarily dropped the moment the senior player was fit again, it sets an uneasy precedent and a confusing message for those players bidding to break into the first team.

Of course, Martinez could be forgiven for counting his blessings that the goalkeeping controversy is what fans are talking about after last night rather than an ugly exit from a competition that the Blues should be going hell for leather to win. Call it luck, some sort of manifest destiny in a competition in which they have have always appeared cursed, or the result of having just enough squad depth to get the job done but Everton have yet to put in a convincing display in the Capital One Cup so far this season, much of it down to over-zealous squad rotation.

Three times Roberto Martinez has made significant changes to his starting line-up in the competition and three times he has had to find salvation on his substitute's bench. But where last season his side found humiliation at the first hurdle in Swansea, this morning they find themselves in the quarter finals and two wins from a date under the arch in the Capital.

In the end it required the lottery of penalties to dispose of a Norwich side featuring a number of changes itself but one which nevertheless almost capitalised on what was, on balance, an abysmal Everton performance. It was the first shootout the Toffees have won at Goodison Park since the European Cup tie against Borussia Munchengladbach; somewhat fittingly, given that an illuminated picture of him adorned the side of the stadium in his memory last evening, Howard Kendall scored one of the spot kicks.

It's hard to recall a worst opening 25 minutes to a game from an Everton side. Leon Osman and Darron Gibson betrayed their lack of playing time this season with rusty performances in the first half, Arouna Kone looked curiously lost up front with Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas showed only fleeting glimpses of the player he needs to be to regain his own place in the side. Meanwhile, Norwich, themselves featuring seven changes from the weekend, were lively and productive, forcing a succession of corners that had Evertonian hearts in mouths given the team's recent fallibility from set pieces.

And yet, as bad as they were in the opening 45 minutes, the Blues could and probably should have gone into half time ahead. Tyias Browning's surging run opened up the visitors' defence for Lukaku but his low, right-foot shot was saved by Declan Rudd and the best passing move from the hosts a few minutes later ended with James McCarthy putting a first-time cros too close to the 'keeper with the Belgian striker lurking in a great position in front of goal.

Everton's vulnerability at set-pieces reared its head again, however, six minutes into the second half. A short corner routine wasn't dealt with and when the ball made its way to the other side of the box and was delivered to the unmarked Sebastien Bassong in the centre, he had the simple task of turning it past Robles from close range.

Like he did at Barnsley and Reading, Martinez turned to his bench for inspiration and found enough of it in the form of Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley to get his side back on level terms with 22 minutes of the regulation 90 to go. The Spanish winger, in particular, helped up the tempo significantly going forward and after the corner he forced was only cleared to Mirallas on the far side, the Belgian sent in a low cross to Osman who scuffed the ball in off the post to make it 1-1.

Both teams had chances to win it in normal time but Lukaku headed a Bryan Oviedo cross narrowly wide at the back post, Osman dragged shot wide and Robles had to be at his best at the other end to push point-blank header over the bar from Lewis Grabban, tip Martin Olsson's shot over and then paw another Grabban effort away.

After Mirallas had squandered a great chance to put Everton ahead in the first half of extra time, the peformance from the home side deteriorated as some of the players without regular playing time this season visibly began to tire. But after Matt Jarvis had gone close with a header at one end, the better opportunities still fell to the Blues as the clock wound down towards penalties; Lukaku did well to stay on his feet as he was wrestled by Bassong but his shot deflected wide and Barkley passed up what looked like a routine square ball for the Belgian to tuck home in the final minute and elected to balloon the ball high over from a tight angle.

The 21-year-old was not made to pay for that moment of over-exuberance, though, and his was one of four perfect Everton penalties in the resulting shootout that the Blues won when Robles dived to his left to smother Hoolahan's kick and Redmond missed trying to ping his penalty into the top corner, much to the relief and delight of the home crowd.

As with any cup game, the important thing is to get through, sometimes by whatever means are necessary. On this occasion, that meant relying on a goalkeeper seizing his chance to shine and finding enough impetus from the substitutes to find a route back into the match, but it's hard to ignore just how bad Everton were at times in this game and how close they came to being dumped out in entirely avoidable circumstances.

The closer we get to Wembley, the more seriously you would hope Martinez takes this competition when it comes to making sweeping personnel changes. But it's the identity of the person in goal where the debate will continue to rage unless the manager's chosen incumbent can get back to his best in short order. The problem for both Howard and manager who has set out his stance is what happens if he doesn't...?

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Reader Comments (13)

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Christopher Timmins
1 Posted 28/10/2015 at 18:34:33
Lyndon, the manager takes very little credit from the events of last night and in no way shape or form should he have stated that Howard was back in on Sunday.
Jay Harris
2 Posted 28/10/2015 at 19:00:58
Totally agree with all you say, Lyndon.

I was also a bit concerned at one point where the players were having a go at each other and our famous team spirit seemed to be unravelling rapidly. For all his critics, that would never have happened under Moyes.

Unless this fella gets a grip quickly and decisively, which I don't have faith that he will, I can see another season where the wheels fall off but this time they may well stay off.

I was totally disgusted that Robles wasn’t even allowed a day or two to enjoy the accolades for his performance with RM seemingly impatient to announce that Howard will be back against Sunderland.

John Keating
3 Posted 28/10/2015 at 19:03:20
It would be very interesting to see what would happen if we were to get to the Final. First time in years we’re within touching distance of silverware. Sold out our allocation in 5 minutes. Mass hysteria on Merseyside.

Now who is Martinez going to put in goal? The guy who helped get us there or his unquestionable Number 1, regardless of the amount of unforgiveable mistakes he makes?
Paul Jeronovich
4 Posted 28/10/2015 at 19:10:56
I reckon Martinez has dug himself in to a hole with favouring certain players even when they are consistently stinking the place out. Last night was painful to watch; great result and I’m made up we got through but getting anxious.
Michael McCarthy
5 Posted 28/10/2015 at 19:54:19
We are going backwards, our general play is pedestrian with little movement off the ball.

Positives from last night... Funes Mori not afraid to put his foot through the ball and he can play; Joel Robles staked a claim that cannot be ignored by the manager for much longer.

Lucky Blues last night.

Michael McCarthy
6 Posted 28/10/2015 at 20:05:27
Interesting point by Jay... Team Spirit. Not sure we have any, there is not a togetherness about the team. Stones is not over his, "I want to leave", which will or has split them. All teams have little groups within but when the day comes all is one. Not convinced we are all one.
Peter Carpenter
7 Posted 28/10/2015 at 20:40:49
I agree with the points about team spirit and wonder what effect the goalkeeping thing has on that. The players know when someone is playing well or not and the defenders particularly want a confident, decisive goalkeeper behind them, just what Howard is not right now.

They must know Robles is the better bet and deserves his chance. Is there a sense of resentment on his behalf? Younger players probably identify with Robles more than Howard anyway and may fear the same problems when trying to take the place of an older established player.

Add to that the arguments on the pitch, the arm waving when things go wrong, the squabbles over taking the free-kicks and the 4 players who, when the ball is lost, don’t see it as anything to do with them to get it back.

Maybe there’s too much navel-gazing going on here but it doesn’t look like good team spirit to me and that, ultimately, will be the most damaging thing.

Brian Harrison
8 Posted 28/10/2015 at 20:48:37
Well, in Cup football, results are everything, and we are in the next round. RM picked what looked like a very attack-minded side, but the lack of game time for many looked like it would cost us.

Regarding the goalkeeping position, well although Robles did well, the same problem is still there. RM chooses not to have anybody on the post from a corner kick, so there is absolutely no protection if the goalkeeper comes off his line. I can't understand why any manager would not want at least one player on the post, and this weekend there was a Premier League game where the defender on the post for a corner cleared to save a certain goal.

Seems like the first half in games is becoming a real problem, I think in each previous round we have gone behind in the first half. We have also conceded in the first half of a lot of our league games this season.

Last nigh,t I thought Stones had another very average game, maybe the move to Chelsea is starting to take its toll on him. Their goal was down to Stones; he was a good yard away from the player, who was in our 6 yard box, not good enough by a long way.

Again, another very average night from Lukaku, and Barkley was very ordinary when he came on. I think that Lukaku, Barkley, Stones, McCarthy, Howard and Barry have become undroppable as far as RM is concerned.

I think we had that little bit of good fortune last night, but I get the feeling that the crowd are getting more and more frustrated with RMs tactics as the weeks go by.

Gerry Quinn
9 Posted 28/10/2015 at 20:59:42
Good to see that we are at least top of the numbers table for the draw:

1. Everton
2. Hull City
3. Sheffield Wednesday
4. Stoke City
5. Liverpool / AFC Bournemouth
6. Manchester City / Crystal Palace
7. Manchester United / Middlesbrough
8. Southampton / Aston Villa

Michael Polley
10 Posted 28/10/2015 at 21:21:13
Too may changes seemed to destabilise the team, but we should've had enough talent to see off Norwich much more easily. We seem to be lacking not only team spirit, but leadership, and enthusiasm.

Howard had better not make any screw-ups over the weekend. All eyes on him!!!

Barry Pearce
11 Posted 28/10/2015 at 22:13:34
To be honest, if the next few so-called easier games go against us, then surely Martinez has to go.
Brian Garside
13 Posted 29/10/2015 at 00:17:32
"We shall learn how seriously RM takes the competion by the team he picks" I have read. What ever team he picks we should be able to beat Middlesborough home or away. Is this not why we have a SQUAD of players?
Jimmy-Åge Sørheim
14 Posted 29/10/2015 at 15:23:31
It is indeed strange that Martinez has escaped critics this season, since we have the exact same amount of points from as many games since last season.

I feel we are heading down a negative spiral with Martinez, and I blame his tactics for this.

Lukaku is too isolated, he hardly gets any chances to score on a regular basis, and the non-winger policy of Martinez is clearly to blame.

Lady luck has been with us in the League cup and long may it go on, otherwise we need Martinez to stop this downward spiral.

Looking back at last season, he had the chance to stop the rot by starting with Robles, but chose an out of form Howard.

There are so many things wrong with Martinez, I no longer bother to point them out, all I can say is that he seems incapable of correcting simple mistakes, such as bad tactics and team selections.

I predict Martinez will be gone come summer.

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