For much of the game it was unclear just which side is bottom of the Premier League. In the latest of an increasingly-long line of soporific home performances, stretching back to the very first home game of the season against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Everton were disjointed and sorely lacking fluidity, invention and inspiration. Goals are often said to come against the run of play but that was not the case against West Ham – the standard from both sides to that point had been so poor there was no play to speak of. But when they did take the lead, the visitors were buoyed and only the goal post and the offside flag prevented Everton from being blasted out of the game before half time. If they had gone in at the break three goals down Everton could not have complained, second best in every department as they were.
Indeed, the opening period was reminiscent of the first half against Liverpool a week ago, but then the adrenaline-induced second 45 minutes erased the memory of the bad start and suggested better to come. The story was similar against the Hammers – coming from behind for the second game in a row – but Everton cannot continue these slow starts and expect to claw themselves back into the game before the final whistle – eventually, a good team will shut them out, as has happened all season long. Everton have conceded first on 12 times this season, drawing six and losing six, taking just six points from a possible 36 in the process. Irreversible defeats have come against Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, Newcastle United, West Bromwich Albion, Arsenal and Stoke City, while points have been rescued from Liverpool, Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers, two from West Ham and a more creditable draw with Chelsea, but any attempt at explaining why Everton have struggled so must include giving away the first goal as a prime cause.
But why Everton are conceding the first goal so often – 12 times out of 23 league games must be considered often – is the question that needs answering. A lack of preparation, perhaps, or concentration, but the only people who can say for sure are the manager and the players themselves. What is certain, however, is Everton’s tendency to concede first puts greater pressure on a strike force that is already creaking. The team’s forward deficiencies are well documented but each time Everton fall behind the lack of firepower up front is exposed further. Tightening up at the back would go a little way towards helping the beleaguered Louis Saha, Jermaine Beckford and Victor Anichebe, but Everton’s defence is not wide open. In fact, Sylvain Distin has been one of the Blues’ best players this year, but early lapses are strangling Everton’s season.