Everton 1 - 1 Southampton
Here we go with another home game... (gulp) the first for some time but the air has not been cleared after the international break and a couple of away fixtures. The number of fans calling for managerial change seems to have grown and anti-Martinez banners have made an appearance.
This is rather sad as we really need a united front to give us the best chance of a decent run up to the Semi-Final and to the Final itself. Even with the banners displayed at Watford, the faithful did sing â€˜We all belong to Bobbyâ€™s armyâ€™ so there is still the will to roar the players on. But, unless the players come out all guns blazing and play the game like their lives depend on it, then that fan support can quickly die away. If the players truly want us all to stick together, they need to take the lead and that fan support will come cascading down the terraces from first to last whistle.
We made our way to the Room of Nonsense, ordered the beer and set to putting our thoughts on which we thought was more important â€“ the derby or the semi. It was almost unanimous â€“ the semi-final. The thinking being that, although the derby is normally the must-win game, but this season with our poor showing in the league, the chance of a sniff at a trophy is paramount.
We are just going nowhere in the league which left quite a few willing to see some of our big hitters rested on Wednesday. This might surprise some of you but I have noticed before that the match-going fans often donâ€™t gel with the thoughts put forward on our site. I think the chance of reaching a cup final will ensure great support; however, going out after showing no extra fight from our dismal home form then things may well look very different.
The team came through and a few oohs and aaars were heard as it was very much a make-do-and-mend team with a couple of academy lads, namely Connolly and Davies, on the bench. I think a fair number of fans took that line-up to mean we had sacrificed this game in the hope of having strong teams for the next two matches. By the end of the game, many were of the opinion it may be best to concentrate on the semi-final.
The walk up on a sunny day but with a cold wind was one for chatting on all things blue yet with little emphasis on the forthcoming game. Speaking to many matchday acquaintances, not many were expecting anything but another home defeat. Hell, itâ€™s depressing stuff. Six changes made to the starting line-up and whilst many were passed as physically fit it was soon obvious match fitness was not to be on show, understandably, but of little use to either players or fans as passes went astray and first touch and timing were embarrassing at times.
Koeman had earlier said that a win today would see them in contention for a top four berth and as the game unfolded it was hard to see any other outcome but, by hook or by crook, we somehow kept them at bay, albeit with great fortune at times but the Saints manager will never be given a better opportunity to bag all the points.
There was a chance for our fringe players plus two academics to stake claims for a game at either Anfield or Wembley â€“ or indeed both â€“ but this scribe failed to note anyone putting in that type of performance. It was not that they did not try but more of not quite being up to the required standard in thought and deed.
Mirallas started on the front foot and early doors Fonte thwarted him three times with first his belly stopping a shot from a Deulofeu cross then deflecting his shot wide for a corner. Then, after getting the better of Fonte, the Saints man clearly pulled him back but our ref Mr Pawson made some sort of gesture that meant play on. Strangely, after this opening period, Mirallas went missing from the play for long periods and only appeared in flashes for the rest of the match.
Saints were now controlling the game and a large portion of the crowd were merely waiting for them to take the lead. Yet we hung on in and hacked and headed balls away and rode our luck as, on 20 minutes, Tadic put one just over then Long beat our offside trap but blazed over. It seemed all Saints now as from a free kick Joel resembled the agility of Beth Tweddle as he flew across his goal and palmed the ball wide. He got a clap for that.
Half-time could not come quickly enough as we held our breath as Stones made a great tackle in the box to rob Pelle for a corner which arced in and someone got a head on it and the ball glanced past the far post. The whistle that signalled half time was very welcome. A poor half really and you could not miss the vibe that said, "Letâ€™s get home and prepare for Wembley."
The half time chat was a bit bewildering as we really didnâ€™t know what to make of it. No good castigating manager or players as we certainly had not prioritised this game and in truth no one seemed that bothered even though we seemed to be looking at another home loss.
Second half and it was to be much more of the same. Kone had not had the best of halves and I wondered would we see our Â£13.5 million wonder kid or is he under wraps to be unleashed in the semi-final? I doubt itâ€™s the latter. As the half meandered on, it did indeed get a bit boring as Saints played all the footy and we got forward when allowed but the move always seemed to end in a backwards pass, sideways was less noticeable. It did give us a chance to talk amongst ourselves, though, and the fact that fans were treating some of our efforts with jokes I thought, just what have we come to?
It was all Saints and Tadic had one against the bar and Stones produced a superb tackle in the box to deny Pelle. Mirallas was still mostly missing but he did make some backtracking runs that halted a couple of attacks. Along came the 70-minute mark and for once a ball forward played and this time three Blue shirts followed it in and a corner was forced. We won the first contact but it was cleared only to Funes Mori who lashed home a left foot pearler. From the celebrations by the players you could have thought it was the winner at Wembley. As we kicked off the Gwladys Street broke into the "Everton, Everton" chant but that was about it.
We are one nil up after being on the back foot for most of the game and I wondered â€˜can we manage this half out and take an unlikely three points?' I should have known better as, within ten minutes of us taking the lead, I had my answer â€“ No! Tadic got in down the right and after putting the ball into the mix it seemed to hit three or four players and we did seem to have chances to hack away but the final bounce went to Mane who converted. Talking to a Saints fan after the game, he told me that player had not scored for something like twenty-odd games. Had to be us didnâ€™t it?
It gets worse as we lost Coleman to a hammy. Now, have we got another seasoned right back? I donâ€™t think so. Oh dear.
However, this gave us a chance to see the academy lad Connolly make his debut and his first job was to make a great headed clearance from a corner; our senior players struggle to do that. Barkley came on for Deulofeu to help yet he hindered more than helped on quite a few occasions; to see us to the end the other academic Tom Davies came on.
Remember the name â€“ he seemed to have that midfielderâ€™s devil about him and some very good pace as he showed with one superb tackle in our box that an inch either way out and it was a pen. He put some of our players to shame as he got about the pitch closing down and harrying anything that moved. Always eager to get forward which brought him high praise from those assembled. I was glad I was there to see it and now hope that this raw talent is nurtured in a way he deserves and his feet kept on the ground.
The final whistle was welcome, many had left by now but, of those of us left, some booed and others clapped the lads off.
MotM â€“ Stones. Gibson did okay after such a long layoff.
Overall it was a day out and the chance to see fringe players and academy hopefuls. The disconnect between manager and many fans is growing but there was no organised protest today although we did have a one man pitch invader who seemed to be heading toward our present manager but was headed off by three stewards. He threw a haymaker at one of them but missed and with his route to Martinez blocked he spoke to our captain for the day, Osman, before being led away to the Park End and was greeted by a loud chorus of boos from the patrons.
The walk back to our Temple of Learning was enlivened when passing the Fat Van the programme seller was at the top of his voice yelling â€˜Still Time to get your matchday programmeâ€™ but seemed to have no takers so he changed his cry to â€˜Still time to change your managerâ€™ which brought a roar from those within earshot.
Over a pint of the nectar we made arrangements for Wednesday and Saturday effectively writing todayâ€™s game off, which is sad. A quick straw poll revealed that most wanted our present manager to keep his strongest line up for Wembley. Again sad but at least understandable.
It would seem most believe that the FA Cup is keeping Martinez in a job and the outcome of those games will see his involvement with us either onward or out. However, the only people that can do anything significant about this situation is our board. Could it be that they will see fit to let him keep building and get us to the Promised Land? Who knows... but the post Wembley fans reaction will reach new heights in offering suggestions.
Never a dull moment down Goodison way. See you at Wembley... TWICE!!
UP THE BLUES