For much of Everton’s FA Cup draw with Oldham Athletic David Moyes’ side managed to overcome the threat posed by the League One outfit and also the inadequacies in their own side that have cost points in recent weeks. But then Matt Smith intervened while Everton were also punished by failings entirely of their own making.
Moyes chose to play a 4-4-2 formation, with Victor Anichebe paired next to Nikica Jelavic. That meant Marouane Fellaini and Leon Osman moved to central midfield and the right wing respectively, taking two of Everton’s most important players away from the positions in which they’ve impressed this season.
Fellaini is demonstrably more effective in support of a lone striker. Osman, meanwhile, lacks the pace to play on the right hand side – and, when in tandem with Phil Neville at right-back, forms the slowest duo you’re likely to see from a top flight team. Play him in central midfield – the position in which Osman so impressed England manager Roy Hodgson – and Everton have a tidy little playmaker.
Without Osman in central midfield, and with the behemoth of Fellaini instead, Everton lack the ability to move the ball quickly through midfield. Against Oldham, in the first-half, there was also no Kevin Mirallas to offer a burst of speed down the flank, making Everton especially pedestrian.
In past months the injection of pace has come from Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines but it’s unfair to ask the two players to shoulder all of the responsibility for Everton’s attacking play. Pienaar has looked a little heavy-legged of late, too, so respite from elsewhere is desperately needed. But it’s not found by moving Osman to the right wing, and Oldham was not the first time that’s been seen in recent games.
Mirallas looked as if he was approaching something like his best form for Everton in his second-half cameo. The Belgian still flatters to deceive a little, too often settling for crashing a cross against the shins of the full-back rather than taking on his man, but the potential is there at least. With Everton toiling a little though, Mirallas couldn’t pick a better time to find his feet.
Amid the background of Everton’s trouble with Oldham is Moyes’ contract situation. The manager says he’s delaying a decision until the end of the season to end the speculation over his future, but the only way to really do that would be to sign a contract.
It’s been nearly 11 years since Moyes took over and Everton have come on leaps and bounds under the Scot. The next step is to follow Tottenham’s lead and take a place in the top four on a regular basis, but Spurs have seen how difficult that is, and that’s with financial power that tops Everton’s.
Winning a trophy would vindicate much of Moyes’ time at Goodison Park and give the entire club a boost. But would it also be the ideal way for Moyes to sign off? Time will tell.
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