FA Cup: Semi-finals
Capital One Cup: Semi-finals
The distraction and the fixture congestion caused by the Europa League was the main reason provided for an indifferent campaign for Everton in 2014-15 as they fell way below the standards set when narrowly missing out on the top four in Roberto Martinez’ first season in charge. This time there was no such excuse and there were some encouraging signs to begin with, but it all ended up going horribly wrong as a squad full of talent flopped badly once again.
The summer transfer window largely went down as a success as Tom Cleverley arrived on a free transfer following the expiry of his contract at Manchester United, youngster Gerard Deulofeu returned on a permanent basis from Barcelona, and the multiple advances from Chelsea for highly-rated defender John Stones were rebuffed despite the former Barnsley man submitting a written transfer request at one point.
And on the pitch it all started reasonably well as their counter-attacking prowess was there for all to see in a 3-0 win away to Southampton, while after the first international break a Steven Naismith hat-trick accounted for a badly off-colour Chelsea and a superb comeback saw them win 3-2 at West Bromwich Albion having trailed 2-0 early in the second half.
The creativity and flair given to the side by Deulofeu was making a real difference, and Ross Barkley was beginning to edge towards returning to his best form in midfield. But the star of the show was undoubtedly Romelu Lukaku, whose immense strength and sharpness in front of goal saw him hit the top of the Premier League’s scoring charts by mid-December. Inexperienced full-back Brendan Galloway was also prospering after being given his chance
Goals were becoming reasonably easy to come by, with Barkley and Lukaku scoring two each in a 4-0 thrashing of lowly Aston Villa just two weeks after another struggling side in Sunderland were hit for six at Goodison Park, where Arouna Kone helped himself to a hat-trick of his own.
But soon things began to go wrong as a miraculous failure to hold on to victory away at Bournemouth brought about a dip in form which saw the team’s mental strength come under fire as several more leads were squandered despite numerous chances to put games beyond doubt. Defensive errors began to creep in with the overly praised Stones finding the going tough in particular as seven goals were conceded over the course of two dramatic home defeats during the festive period, against Leicester City and Stoke City.
The turn of the year brought the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup, where they raised their game significantly to lead Manchester City going into the second leg, only for a massively controversial goal at the Etihad Stadium to serve as a severe enough psychological blow to see them narrowly miss out on a Wembley appearance against bitter rivals Liverpool.
Up until then the feeling was that the defensive frailties were preventing the Toffees from fulfilling their potential and challenging for a Europa League spot at the very least as Lukaku’s efforts proved so often to be in vain thanks to the volume of goals conceded at the other end. Still, Martinez rarely wavered from his usual positive stance and things looked to possibly be on the up again as a sequence of four wins in five from the beginning of February lifted them back into the top half of the Premier League and also the last eight of the FA Cup.
There was also long-awaited new investment in the shape of former Arsenal shareholder Farhad Moshiri, who bought a 49% stake in the club ahead of the FA Cup victory over Chelsea. This was a game where Lukaku was at his best, scoring both just a week after his penalty miss led to an amazing collapse in the closing stages against West Ham United.
However, following that success over the Blues the team just completely fell apart, turning in an inept performance at home to Arsenal before a further four matches without a win took them into the Merseyside derby at Anfield. The display that night was a watershed moment for the already under-pressure Martinez, who saw his team get beaten in the most appalling fashion. Indeed, they were flattered by the eventual 4-0 scoreline.
The FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United saw them muster some renewed fighting spirit, but all was lost deep into stoppage time as an Anthony Martial strike condemned them to a 2-1 loss, and now it was clear that Martinez was living on borrowed time as the demands for his removal grew louder by the week. Supporters angry at Martinez’ post-match assessments and apparent unwillingness to alter his tactics were growing more vociferous in their criticism.
Home wins were rare and they were already consigned to their poorest ever record in a season at Goodison Park, and after the game against Bournemouth the fans made their feelings clear. Further defeats away to champions Leicester and resurgent Sunderland proved to be the final straw for Martinez, who was shown the door ahead of the final game at home to Norwich City.
David Unsworth took charge for that one and oversaw a handsome victory, introducing a couple of youngsters in the process. The search is still ongoing for a permanent successor for Martinez. The current favourite is Frank de Boer, but whoever it is must find a way of unleashing the obvious star quality that exists within the squad and lifting them back towards the region of the table in which they expect to be fighting.