Nikica Jelavic marked his home Everton debut in March earlier this year with a goal against Tottenham Hotspur, the Toffees’ weekend opponents. The Croatian has struggled to repeat the form of his early months in the Premier League during the first half of the current campaign, but the memory of his goal against Tottenham lingers for anyone there to witness it.
It was the first sighting in Everton colours of what has become a classic Jelavic goal. Somehow finding space in a crowded penalty area, touching the ball only to divert it past the opposing goalkeeper, wheeling away arms outstretched – it was a common occurrence between February and May. Jelavic scored 11 goals in 16 games and, while his return of five goals in 16 games this season is a clear drop off, it still represents a decent ratio of around one in three.
The feeling around Goodison Park is, nevertheless, clear. Jelavic has not been performing as expected and it is not a story told only in his goal tally. Evertonians were perhaps spoiled by the barnstorming way in which Jelavic burst onto the scene following his move from Rangers, and that could be part of the problem. Expecting Jelavic to maintain that kind of form was always unrealistic. But if his performances had been sharper, if he had looked more likely to score in the games he has drawn a blank, the belief would be much less prevalent.
Jelavic has not looked sharp this season. It was particularly evident against Arsenal, when he spooned a good chance over the bar after turning the Gunners’ centre-backs with a delicious piece of play, and again when he lacked the awareness to recognise he was offside after Leighton Baines intercepted a pass and had clear grass stretching ahead of him. Jelavic though took over and the assistant referee’s flag followed immediately. The Arsenal match is one of four consecutive that Jelavic has not scored in.
It is the longest dry spell of Jelavic’s Everton career. Earlier in the season he went three without scoring, in two separate spells, and did likewise last season, but the fourth game brought a goal each time. Added to that, Jelavic seems to be playing on his heels rather than his toes. Even he would likely struggle to explain why, and chances are there is not just one sole reason, but Everton’s style of play, subtly different from last season, could be a factor.
Everton played some good football from January last season but this season has been another level of intricate. At times, Steven Pienaar, Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini have been a joy to watch in combination, all stylish flicks, smart lay-offs and over-or-under-lapping runs. Jelavic, as noted, is a predator who wants one touch, somewhere in the penalty area, and is best served by the early cross. Pienaar, Baines and Fellaini seldom cross early. Jelavic needs to find his role in this Everton side, and when he does, the goals will return.
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