The reaction of the Everton fans inside Goodison Park at the final whistle of the 2-2 draw with Leicester City, the Premier League’s bottom side, wasn’t, as might be expected, anger. It was apathy. The Toffees have become resigned to struggling to break down well-organised defences, lacking inspiration on and off the pitch, Romelu Lukaku’s wastefulness and Tim Howard’s errors only making matters worse.
From the hero of Berne to the villain of Walton. Lukaku claimed a hat-trick in Thursday’s Europa League win over Young Boys but could have had six, and should have had at least one against the Foxes. Matthew Upson got the decisive touch on the goal Lukaku thought he scored, the one that gave Everton a barely-merited point against Nigel Pearson’s visitors, and the Belgian missed plenty of other presentable chances. And then there are the chances that weren’t, Lukaku flagged offside so often even Pippo Inzaghi would be embarrassed.
Lukaku – or rather Upson – went a little towards sparing the blushes of Howard, at fault for both Leicester goals. The United States international recently returned to the side after a spell out with injury, dislodging Joel Robles, and in the three games since his return, Everton have conceded four goals, compared to the three clean sheets in the Spaniard’s last three appearances. Robles earned 40
There isn’t one reason why Everton are struggling, not even the manager, Roberto Martinez, although he is who will ultimately carry the can if there’s no improvement, be it criticism from the stands or getting his marching orders from owner Bill Kenwright. Some of Martinez’s decisions – recalling Howard, persisting with Gareth Barry, the handling of Ross Barkley and paying £28m for Lukaku – are rightly under scrutiny and, at this stage, they’re hard to justify. Time will tell.
The different flaws in the different positions on the pitch are though working together to contribute to a run of one league win in 10 games. The goalkeeper and defence are vulnerable, which means Everton generally have to score twice to win – but the leading striker is unreliable – still learning, according to Martinez – so scoring twice is far from guaranteed. Add to that a midfield that rarely breaks to support the lone attacker and is too slow in moving the ball and it’s desperate stuff.
Martinez has throughout his managerial career been lauded for the football his teams play. The intention – keep the ball on the floor and build from the back – may be good but right now, the results aren’t. Everton haven’t won a home league game since the middle of December but Martinez gives the impression he’d rather record bad results playing the so-called right way – his way – than change, even if it means moving Steven Naismith, arguably Everton’s most important creative player last year, out of his best position. The Scot’s goal came in spite of his wide berth, not because of it.
Leicester went to Goodison with five defenders, four midfielders and a lone striker, all behind the ball, and invited Everton to try and break them down. For most of the match they couldn’t. When they did, Everton had no similar resolve to protect the lead, no authority to dictate the game and no clear understanding of how they were going to score a second goal and give themselves some breathing space, both in the match and from the bottom three. A six point gap with 12 games to go is not enough to rest comfortably.