In the catalogue of wasted opportunities, Everton’s defeat at Leeds United on Tuesday may not rank at the top but it surely takes a place close to the summit. For all the well-deserved plaudits directed at David Moyes and his players lately, at Elland Road they halved their chances of delivering something tangible later this season for a variety of reasons, many of which were entirely avoidable.
It is not so much that Evertonians are desperate to win the League Cup itself, although it is the only major domestic trophy Everton have never claimed. The reaction to the defeat was so anguished for two main reasons. First, it was a televised game, thus multiplying the number of people in a place to offer informed comment on what they saw. Second, it was a trophy, and Evertonians want a trophy, any trophy, after so long without one.
Leeds always had the potential to prove difficult opponents. Evertonians make much of the atmosphere generated in Goodison Park under the floodlights and against more illustrious opponents, and the noise when Manchester United were put to the sword in August will indeed live long in the memory. But the same is true for Leeds and Elland Road, and it makes for an uncomfortable night even if you come away with a win.
And then comes the team selection. Make no mistake, the XI that started the match should have been strong enough to beat Championship opponents. But if Moyes was using the match to see if Marouane Fellaini can revert back to midfield, or if Francisco Junior is ready for the first team, then the answer to both is a resounding no. Everton were toothless with Fellaini playing deep, and Junior was overawed by the pack of white shirts hounding his every touch.
Much better would have been to play Junior in the last round, at home to Leyton Orient, but the manager chose to throw him in at the deep end in Yorkshire instead. If it was a case of sink or swim, then Junior was drowning within minutes. But Junior was far from the only culprit, and comfortably not Everton’s worst player on the night.
It would be pointless to single out anyone for that unwanted accolade, and there would be too many candidates anyway. But whether the win over Swansea City went to the heads of the players and the manager, whether they were taken aback by the quality and ferocity of the home side, or whether they viewed the League Cup as a distraction, it was a night too reminiscent of the FA Cup semi-final in April, and one that needlessly decimated the good feeling around the club.
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