David Moyes famously revealed that Everton’s defeat to Bolton Wanderers a few weeks ago was the worst of his tenure at Goodison Park. That was until last night, when for much of the 90 minutes Everton matched and eventually surpassed that nightmare display with only a handful of exceptions – Tim Howard did nothing wrong, Leighton Baines was always a willing runner and Leon Osman was at least bright throughout, while Jermaine Beckford played through injury for 45 minutes and was considerably more energetic than some of his teammates. For the rest, this would surely rank as a career-worst performance, if this was not a season full of similar nadirs.
Those unfortunate enough to witness the defeat by Bolton, or the penalty loss to Brentford, or home capitulations against West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United but with the good luck to miss last night’s horror show in person or on television may find the idea that Everton were equally as bad or worse than the games mentioned impossible to believe. But the evidence was there for all to see.
It took Everton until the 78th minute to seriously test the Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, and the youngster produced a stunning save to deny Osman. That was the sum total of Everton chances bar one or two half-sights on goal which the Royals dealt with easily. For the rest of the game it was Reading looking dangerous and Everton vulnerable every time they were under attack. Perhaps most worrying from a defensive perspective was that Reading did nothing spectacular, just quite directly played into Shane Long and had speedy, direct runners in support, rendering Everton woefully unable to cope. That is not to take anything away from the visitors’ victory, for Reading were the better side for the overwhelming majority of the game. Everton can have no complaints at being dumped out of the FA Cup, and no one to blame but themselves.
The news Marouane Fellaini will miss the rest of the season because of ankle surgery will only worsen the mood of Everton fans. The absence of the Belgian however cannot excuse the poor performances from most of the XI in action last night, and should not excuse further unacceptable performances – there was enough talent and experience in that team last night and in the squad as a whole to make up for the loss of Fellaini. Jack Rodwell, whose tender years excuse him to a harsh a judgement from last night’s abject performance, now may have the chance to solidify his reputation as one of England’s finest young midfielders. But the midfielder needs support from the senior players who so pathetically wilted against Reading.