Sporting Lisbon 3
Veloso 64, Mendes 77, Fernandez 94
Everton crashed out of the Europa League with a wretched display against Sporting Lisbon, losing 3-0 on the night and 4-2 on aggregate after a performance devoid of the intensity that brought such great results against Chelsea and Manchester United.
Philippe Senderos and Joseph Yobo replaced the suspended Sylvain Distin and ineligible John Heitinga but Senderos did not complete the game due to a leg injury, with Phil Jagielka replacing the Swiss international in the second-half. The former Sheffield United defender’s return after 10 months out injured was the only positive for the Blues on a terrible night where Tim Howard was to thank for the scoreline not being even more embarrassing. Everton’s tactics on the night withstood little scrutiny, sitting far too deep and allowing Sporting’s talented and pacy midfielders to run forward in numbers, and with the defence swamped and the midfield unable to support Louis Saha, the Frenchman was left isolated and got little service. The Toffees failed to get out of their own half for practically all the first 45 minutes and most of the second, only pressing their hosts briefly when Steven Pienaar curled a shot wide immediately before Sporting scored their second goal and then late on as they chased a goal of their own to level the scores overall. With the hosts encouraged by Everton’s reticence, however, there was little chance David Moyes’ men were going to get the strike they did not merit.
The question is why Everton’s zeal deserted them in such a fashion. Was it Moyes instructing his players to try to contain Sporting or were the players perhaps nervous at holding such a slender advantage and giving it up too early? If it was the former, then Moyes obviously has to carry the can for Everton’s elimination as there was little the players could have done to prevent any of the goals, hamstrung as they were by Everton’s introversion. If it was the latter, Moyes has to bring the stage fright out of his players lest his oft-stated hunger to win a trophy while at Goodison Park go unsatisfied. This was Everton’s biggest game since the FA Cup Final, and in that match too, despite the fine start through Saha’s early strike, the rest of the game was a harrowing experience for Evertonians as Chelsea threatened to run riot.
Whatever the reason, Everton’s caginess was their downfall and underscored the inconsistency that has hampered their season since the opening day. It has been a year of crushing disappointment and joyous celebration with little in between, but the frustration at missing out on the latter stages of a winnable European tournament will rank high in the list of regrets come May. A strong end to the season is vital if the Blues are to get the opportunity to make up for this latest plunge to the valleys of despair next term.