Outfought, out thought, completely outplayed, second best in every position, defensively disorganised and offensively impotent, Everton whimpered out of the FA Cup with a thoroughly embarrassing defeat to Wigan Athletic.
Everton never got to grips with Wigan’s formation, which allowed the visitors to overload on Everton’s right flank. They never coped with the slick passing that enabled Wigan to move the ball from back to front in seconds. They never put a decent cross into the penalty area, either from open play or a set-piece, and they never once got behind the previously-leaky Wigan defence.
From even before the match kicked off, when it was revealed Phil Neville would be replacing Darron Gibson in midfield, it was a bad day for the home side. Wigan may be struggling at the bottom of the league but they’ve always been a team able to keep possession and counter-attack quickly. In Neville David Moyes chose a player of desperately poor technique and creaking 36-year-old legs. Neville was withdrawn at half-time and it was a mercy killing.
Marouane Fellaini was the next player hauled off, departing the field to a smattering of boos that were most definitely aimed at the player and not the manager. It was the Belgian’s poorest performance in a while, and he capped it off by getting involved with a fan near the touchline. As a symbol of how poor Everton’s day was, Fellaini, dragged off after misplacing a straightforward pass and cursing everyone and anyone rather than chase the ball, was it.
What was perhaps most galling for frequent watchers of Everton was that the problems so ruthlessly exposed by Wigan have been there for a while. Everton’s build-up play has been painfully slow lately, the ball moving sluggishly across midfield and back again and against a team as well organised as Wigan, it was distressingly easy to defend against.
A possible reason for why Everton are so lethargic is that the squad today is roughly the same as it was at the start of the season. January saw no arrivals to speak of, only an 18-year-old right-back yet to make his debut. In that case though Moyes has to get more out of his squad but if anything, he’s getting less.
Moyes has been waiting 11 years for a trophy with Everton. But Everton have been waiting a lot longer, since long before the current manager arrived. Prior to the Wigan match the focus was on how much the FA Cup would mean to him. In hindsight it was a skewed spotlight and the suggestion it matters more to Moyes than Everton a little disrespectful to the club.
The Scot was appointed in 2002 after a 3-0 FA Cup quarter-final loss to Middlesbrough, in a performance every bit as bad as Saturday’s. It’s a stretch to say this was Moyes’ Walter Smith moment but not a huge one, not when the manager’s contract is running to expiration. And every day that passes without an extension signed, so Moyes’ authority dwindles too, among the fans at least if not the players. It’s a leadership vacuum and harmful.
Two years ago Steven Pienaar was in the same situation and he was sold to Tottenham. For Moyes to now be the one letting his contract run down – stringing the club along while he waits for a better offer maybe – is poor from a manager who has served the club so well. Moyes may well stay, but the Wigan result shows just how much work is still needed.
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