Doubtless the inquest into Everton’s 2-1 FA Cup semi-final defeat by Liverpool has already begun, but it is important the questions asked generate answers that get to the bottom of why David Moyes’ side again failed against their most fierce opponents and at the most challenging hurdle, rather than producing only knee-jerk but admittedly tempting responses.
Arguing over whether or not the outcome would have been different had Everton been able to call on the cup-tied Steven Pienaar or Royston Drenthe, the winger dropped for disciplinary reasons, does little to explain the result. If the two wingers were available Everton may have prevailed, or perhaps Liverpool would have won by more. There is no way to know what could have happened if the circumstances had been different, and any attempt to examine the contest based on what did not happen and who did not play is entirely speculative. The only way to assess why Everton disappointed at Wembley is to look at the match itself, the 90 minutes being the only evidence on hand.
The process may not be easy, and the answers may not be pretty, but if Everton are ever to shake the hoodoo that has dogged most of the big games they have played in recent years, and every Merseyside derby not held at Goodison Park since 1999, it will have to take place eventually. But equally important is that the good work of Moyes in the last decade is not ignored by a visceral response to what was a thoroughly dispiriting day. On the journey home this writer overheard discontented supporters suggesting variously that Everton will never win a trophy under Moyes, that Everton would have won the match under former manager Walter Smith, and that Everton’s players ‘bottled’
Putting aside the impossibility of predicting the future to say whether the first of these points is valid, the fact remains Everton have come closer under Moyes to winning a trophy than at any time since 1995, the year of their last silverware, and certainly closer than at any time under Moyes’ predecessor Smith, whose last match in charge was in the FA Cup, a 3-0 defeat away at Middlesbrough. The third argument, that Everton lacked fortitude, may have merit, but it does not go far enough. If that is the case, why did Everton lack fortitude? Is there a mental block on some of the players, do the coaching staff project doubt, inadvertently or otherwise, or do Moyes’ tactics encourage the sort of second-half timidity that led to Liverpool’s win?
Under Moyes Everton have routinely beaten sides above them and turned out results when they looked least expected, but in one FA Cup final and one semi-final Everton have been defeated, and have not recorded better than a draw away to Liverpool in 13 years. Meanwhile, Everton are currently above the FA Cup victors in the Premier League, suggesting that the Toffees have conjured better results than Liverpool over the course of the campaign. But the one-off game went the way of the Reds, as both Merseyside derbies have this season. Correcting this flaw, the same one that also caused Everton to lose the 2009 FA Cup final, must be the most pressing long-term concern of the manager.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Man Utd v Everton