Everton take on Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday in a rematch of the second game of the season, which finished 1-1 at Goodison Park. On a frustrating afternoon for the Toffees, that draw was an early indicator of a problem that has dogged David Moyes throughout the Premier League campaign.
Despite having 61% of possession, 13 shots on goal (to Wolves’ nine) and taking the lead on the stroke of half-time, Everton could not put the game away. For all the neat football played by Moyes’ side there was not enough potency to wrap up three points, while their opponents took one of their few chances – Wolves managed only four shots on target – and snatched a point. The Midlands outfit deserved their draw that August day, which in itself is damning of Everton, who, if they were to ever live up to pre-season ambitions of at least qualification for Europe, had to beat the relegation strugglers when on their own turf. Wolves’ own manager Mick McCarthy described their first-half performance as “abject”, an adjective that could also be applied to Jermaine Beckford’s finishing that afternoon.
Beckford has improved in front of goal as the season has worn on – indeed, the former Leeds United striker’s all-round game has improved greatly – but the theme of outplaying opponents only to draw or even lose has continued unabated. Against Birmingham City in March – again at home – Everton had 59% of possession, 17 shots on goal (to Birmingham’s five), nine corners (to Birmingham’s one) and again could only draw 1-1. If the two points gained from the two aforementioned home games had been converted into six, Everton would currently be level on points with Liverpool, instead of four points behind. Similar scenarios against Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and West Ham United suggest this season should go down as one that might have been for Everton.
It is not misfortune that has left Everton so perturbed so many times this season. It is more simply a lack of quality in front of goal. Beckford, Yakubu, Louis Saha, James Vaughn and Victor Anichebe have all featured regularly for Everton this season, while Tim Cahill, Marouane Fellaini and Leon Osman have played as makeshift strikers but only Cahill has convinced on a consistent basis, and the Australian has been quiet since the Asian Cup in January. Moyes admitted last week he should have signed an additional striker in the summer and the hand-wringing and dropped points are a symptom of that mistake. The supply line is there but the finishing has not matched up – at one point this season Everton had the worst goals-to-shots ratio in the Premier League.
Despite the problems Everton have faced in front of goal this season, they may still be on the verge of European qualification. Hauling back Liverpool is a realistic prospect and depending on the destination of the FA Cup, sixth place could put Everton in the Europa League. Perhaps more remarkably, Everton are on course for a better finish than last season’s eighth, something that felt a long way away after August’s draw with Wolves.