Given Southampton has not been a happy hunting ground for Everton since the Saints' re-emergence as a Premier League team; given Southampton have been in ominous form over the last 12 months, and given Everton had just limped to a fortuitous draw to new boys Watford the week prior, most Blues fans would have been forgiven for hiding behind their sofa whilst the match was aired on BT Sport on Saturday afternoon. Instead, strong performances from Lukaku, Barkley and the much maligned Kone catapulted Everton to back-to-back away league wins for the first time since April 2014.
However, to offer a sobering thought, Everton have now gone three without victory at Goodison Park, worryingly with a defeat and a draw against Sunderland and Watford included in the fixtures. Simply put, games Everton MUST be winning.
The support at St Mary’s on Saturday from the Everton fans was nothing short of exceptional. Most scousers would have been on the road at 04:30 to make the early kick-off and, taking into account recent Everton form, you would need to be a glutton for punishment to think this was an appetising trip. Despite this, the away end was rocking as the fans clapped and chanted the team to a comprehensive 3-0 away win.
One particular video circulating on social media shows beer and arms flying in the concourses as the fans remind anyone in earshot that Everton “have a diamond called Ross Barkley”. In stark contrast, the mood at Goodison Park the preceding Saturday was lacklustre at best and in danger of turning toxic had Barkley and Kone not popped up to spare Everton’s blushes. This surely suggests that the players are suffering from the pressures of playing in the anxiety filled confines of the Grand Old Lady.
This naturally leads to the next consideration of what is causing the moodiness which is so evidently apparent at Goodison in recent months. It is quite obviously two-fold: Everton’s performances since last Christmas have, simply put, not been up to scratch. Albeit, it seems remiss to criticise Everton’s tactical performances after Saturday’s fine display of counter-attacking football; much more common failings on the pitch in recent months have led to many fans, including myself, being very apprehensive ahead of games at Goodison Park.
Confidence is clearly an issue, particularly at home, for both fans and players. Added to that, the well-documented unrest amongst the fans after a particularly dismal summer transfer window has surely had an impact. The volume and frequency of protests are gathering pace and some of the facts presented will be resonating with more and more fans who may previously have been unaware before national media provided a wider platform to present them.
The protesters turned the screw on Saturday afternoon, chartering an airplane to fly above the stadium to inform the Board of Directors at Everton that it was “time to go”. There were no unwanted consequences on the pitch as Everton rallied; however, an evident divide is appearing between Everton fans, some of whom are more sympathetic to Kenwright than others.
The next natural step is to bring these protests closer to home. Flying a plane over Southampton is one thing, but this is 240 miles away from Walton. A protest at home offers a much stronger catchment area to appeal to the masses. Along with the fact that Sky television will be bringing their cameras for next Sunday’s match vs Manchester City, it would be sensible to assume that this is the next milestone in the process for these fans to vent their frustrations.
The purpose of this article is not to turn this into a “Kenwright In” or “Kenwright Out” debate hence my reluctance to nail my allegiances to the mast.
The purpose of this article is, in fact, to highlight the importance of pitching these protests at the right level. Disgruntled fans have every right to voice their opinion at any opportunity; this is not in doubt. But the fans, whether supportive or not of the current board, must not allow any anger and bile directed at the Board to spill down onto the pitch. Undoubtedly, protest activities will be ramped up in coming weeks but it must be accepted and considered that the negativity sweeping around Goodison is already impacting the players. Introducing more anxiety and frustration into the terraces can only hamper performances on the pitch which may really jeopardise Everton’s chances of a good season by harming the likelihood of crucial results at our home.
Everton fans do not have to look too far for an example of how to balance protest and support but also an example of how unrest can cascade on to the pitch. In 2010, our neighbours across the park were staring into the abyss as the Hicks and Gillett regime at Anfield threatened their future. Love them or hate them, they collectively rose to fight for their team in the streets and outside the courts/stadiums but remained as passionately behind their team as ever once that white line was crossed.
Nevertheless, results suffered due to the uncertainty. In fact, Everton’s last derby win coincides with this period of Liverpool’s history as we beat them 2-0 to consign them to 19th in the Premier League table. This was an unheard of scenario for most Liverpool fans. However, Kenwright et al cannot be branded in the same category as Hicks and Gillett, whatever your opinions of them. Whether a supporter of his or not, it cannot be denied that Kenwright loves the club whereas Hicks and Gillett saw Liverpool as an opportunity to transfer debt. Kenwright and Co are clearly well liked by a fair cross section of the fans, the staff/players, the local media etc. So turning the heat up under him will create inevitable divisions which is why care must be taken.
Back on the pitch, a victory at Southampton is the perfect tonic for Everton heading into a tough match against a revitalised Manchester City. Added to this, strong rumours are circulating of a big money move for Andriy Yarmolenko. If Everton were to rubber stamp a big-name addition to the squad prior to kick-off on Sunday, the atmosphere at Goodison would be considerably different to that which loomed over Goodison during the opening match against Watford. It would be foolish to harm the feel-good factor that may arise by allowing anger and uncertainty to permeate around the stands.
Protests should be pitched right – outside the ground, pressurising local media, whatever needs to done. But when Z-Cars hits at five to four next Sunday, it is of paramount importance that the efforts of everyone in that stadium are geared exclusively on supporting the eleven players on the pitch to a hard-earned result against a strong City team.