WEST BROMWICH ALBION 4
Scharner 16, Brunt 26, Tchoyi 76, Distin (o.g.) 87
Everton crashed to a devastating defeat against West Bromwich Albion in a game that saw the Premier League new boys teach their more established hosts a lesson in football. For their part, Everton were tragic and only helped the Baggies with a number of mindless decisions, not least from Mikel Arteta who was deservedly sent off for a stamp on Gonzalo Jara.
David Moyes made a handful of changes to the side that drew with Sunderland, replacing Louis Saha, Seamus Coleman and Phil Neville with Yakubu, Victor Anichebe and Tony Hibbert. The XI again lined up the 4-4-1-1 formation Moyes has welded himself to but after being outplayed and out-thought by the visitors, the manager will surely re-examine every aspect of his team including the system they employ.
The difference between the two teams was striking. Albion were a blur of perpetual motion both with the ball and without, each player darting into space and passes snapping crisply to feet with just one touch, full-backs overlapping and midfielders interchanging at will. Everton were static. Hesitant in possession and timid when defending, the home side appeared scared, as a unit and as individuals – scared to play an early pass, scared to break the midfield line, scared to shoot from distance. As West Brom’s second goal evaded the dive of Tim Howard the confidence almost visibly drained from Everton’s players, and the spell from the restart to Cahill’s goal before half-time was punctuated by hurried, misplaced passes and needless miscommunications between experienced professionals going through the motions.
It has often been said about Everton that they are just one striker away from a truly excellent team, and at times it was accurate. On this evidence, however, the forward line is just one of the departments in need of a serious overhaul, and it may be the midfield, once Everton’s crown jewel, that requires the most urgent attention. Even before his red card Arteta had a day to forget, one of an increasing number this season. His main crime was not to waste the ball when in possession. Rather, the Spaniard rarely showed for the ball in the first place, sitting far too deep to affect the play and lazily rolling the ball sideways, showing even less urgency than his teammates. Arteta’s midfield colleague John Heitinga is an imposter of the player who reached the World Cup final and of the one who impressed for Everton at the tail end of last season. The Dutchman is as guilty as Arteta in shirking responsibility for building Everton’s attacks, but with the added sin of forgoing his defensive duties too – West Brom passed around the Toffees’ supposed defensive shield as if he was not there.
Perhaps Everton needed to reach the nadir before they could begin the long climb back to respectability. They will hope this was it. A trip to Chelsea beckons next, the site of many merciless beatings for struggling teams and, in this form, it will be a miracle if Everton do not join the ranks of embarrassed visitors.