Following on from Everton’s defeat in their opening Premier League fixture, David Moyes’ side are in action again on Wednesday night as they host Sheffield United in the Carling Cup. Considering the unrest currently surrounding the Toffees, the meeting with the Blades is arguably Everton’s most important Carling Cup tie since reaching the competition’s semi-final stage in 2008.
Anything less than a convincing win over the League One side will only add to the discontent felt in the stands, while Moyes’ team selection will be under an even greater microscope after being criticised for leaving Marouane Fellaini, Mikel Arteta and Louis Saha on the bench against Queens Park Rangers. Fans’ ire was raised even further when Fellaini’s introduction saw Jermaine Beckford – the only striker wearing Everton blue that day – removed, with Moyes later arguing that the Belgian midfielder’s presence enabled Everton to improve their build-up play. Maybe so, but with six midfielders and no strikers, the absence of Beckford and Saha then begged the question who was going to finish off the new and improved Fellaini-led build-up play, although Everton’s shooting was so wasteful all game the answer was predictably no one.
With Sheffield United currently third in League One, having scored eight goals and conceded three in their four league games, they represent the kind of obdurate and confident lower league side that so often frustrates Everton. A year ago, however, Everton faced Huddersfield Town at the same stage of the tournament, again off the back of a first-game Premier League defeat, this time away at Blackburn Rovers, with a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers sandwiched between. The Toffees responded by thumping the Terriers 5-1, a convincing and unusually straightforward triumph for a club that has been knocked out of cup competitions by the likes of Oldham Athletic, Shrewsbury Town and Port Vale in recent memory. A similar outcome is needed this week to soothe the wounds not only of Saturday’s defeat, but of the increasingly fractious atmosphere around the club.
The discontent felt by an increasing section of supporters is not so much based around the club’s meagre finances but rather the club’s failure to engage with supporters desperate to know what is happening at boardroom level to improve the situation. It is widely accepted that Everton are poor – the balance sheet speaks for itself – and that something needs to be done before the situation becomes untenable. Precisely what is being done is too often shrouded in secrecy, leading to rumour, speculation and conjecture running rampant while the club stays silent, although after details of a meeting between Bill Kenwright and a group of Everton supporters was allegedly leaked by the supporters – who deny any wrongdoing – against Kenwright’s wishes, the club is now more likely to maintain their vow of silence.
The off-field shenanigans are altogether depressing for Evertonians, and the past weekend offered little light when matters were moved on to the pitch. Correcting that against Sheffield United would go a long way towards healing the rifts currently exposed to the world, but another shoddy performance – not to mention a defeat – will only further inflame tensions.