Ronald Koeman's unbeaten start to life as Everton manager came to an ignominious end as his much-changed side slumped to a miserable defeat to Norwich City and were turfed out of the EFL Cup.
Following in the footsteps of previous Blues bosses, the Dutchman made a raft of alterations to the settled line-up that had won four Premier League games on the bounce but those players charged with staking a claim for greater involvement let him down with a largely toothless display.
Struggling to carve out clear chances at one end, Everton conceded from the only two shots on target the Canaries, who had made 10 changes of their own, managed all evening, with ex-Toffee Steven Naismith scoring on his return to Goodison Park.
Koeman bemoaned his side's luck after the game and there was some sympathy given that the Blues had two goal-bound shots blocked by defenders during the game and John Ruddy made two more decent saves but Romelu Lukaku shone like a beacon in his absence through injury and Everton toiled up front without him.
Enner Valencia had been handed his full debut instead of the Belgian who picked up a toe injury against Middlesbrough on Saturday, while Gerard Deulofeu played off the new loan acquisition in a line-up that offered pace but little in the way of a physical focal point for the attack.
Tom Cleverley made his first start of the season and there were recalls for Ramiro Funes Mori and Mason Holgate in defence, Aaron Lennon in midfield, while Seamus Coleman was handed the captain's armband in the absence of Phil Jagielka.
Things started promisingly enough for Everton but it became clear midway through the first half that there was a worrying lack of cutting edge about them.
After Oliveira had dragged a disappointing shot across goal from the visitors' perspective, Everton took control of the game in the early stages, with Valencia skipping down the left with purpose but only finding goalkeeper John Ruddy with his cross.
Great work down the opposite flank by Coleman ended with a tempting cut-back for Lennon but when the winger's goal-bound shot was blocked by the arm of Steven Whittaker, referee Andrew Madley waved play on and there was no call when Valencia went down under Ruddy's challenge as the pair challenged for the rebound.
A couple of minutes later, Cleverley released Deulofeu down the channel but the Spaniard's side-foot shot was blocked behind by Ruddy and then when Funes Mori sent Valencia scampering to the byline down the left again, his cut-back aimed for Cleverley was cut out by Robbie Brady.
Everton's performance ebbed as the half wore on, however, with the final ball consistently lacking as moves broke down around the opposition box. Barkley and Deulofeu, in particular, were guilty of profligacy with the ball and it led to increasing frustration among the home fans.
A neat move involving the duo looked promising five minutes before the break, however, until Barkley was pulled back illegally and the referee awarded a free just outside the box. Barkley's direct effort was on target but lacked venom and Ruddy was equal to it.
It was Naismith, however, who broke the deadlock at the other end, the picking up Oliveira's flick, surging into a huge hole in Everton's defence and then slicing a shot as he slipped in front of Funes Mori that arced over Stekelenburg and in shortly before half-time.
Everton came out for the second half needing a quick reply and Barkley had an early chance when a headed clearance dropped to him with the goalkeeper off his line but his attempted lob bounced well wide.
Having flattered to deceive for much of the evening, Deulofeu then had a purple patch of activity during which he came ever closer to testing Ruddy. His free kick after another quick move involving Barkley saw Valencia tripped on the edge of the box by Yussuf Mulumbu missed the target by a couple of yards, though and his next two efforts following good work by Lennon both cleared the bar .
Funes Mori, meanwhile, rifled a shot into the side-netting as the Blues continued to press. A lovely pass by Gueye found Deulofeu in space down the channel again and his cut-back to Cleverley was shuffled on to Barkley unmarked on the other side of the box but he wanted too long with the chance and his shot was charged down.
Increasingly in need of some inspiration, Koeman made a double change midway through the second half, with Yannick Bolasie replacing Lennon and Kevin Mirallas coming on for Deulofeu. The changes almost reaped instant rewards when Bolasie's cross was cleared but Funes Mori won a free kick outside the box which Mirallas took and Ruddy clawed away for a corner.
From the resulting set piece, the ball sat up for Valencia as Williams challenged for it but Pritchard blocked the Ecuadorian's cross on the goal-line and was able to divert it behind again.
The size of Everton's task was made that much more difficult when Josh Murphy was allowed to cut inside, progress along the area and that belt an unstoppable shot into the top corner and make it 2-0 with just over a quarter of an hour to go.
Bolasie had a low shot that was straight at the goalkeeper saved before Arouna Kone was thrown on for Mason Holgate with just eight minutes to save the game.
Williams' header off a free kick also found Ruddy's arms while Kyle Lafferty's late tackle on Funes Mori set up another set-piece opportunity but once again it was delivered straight to the keeper.
With time ticking down and home fans filing out of the stands, Gueye smashed an excellent shot goalwards but Ruddy was again on hand to beat it away. Valencia then saw a leaping far-post header drop the wrong side of the post.
Having made such an impressive start to the new season all competitions, this defeat comes as a massive disappointment, particularly given the burning desire among Evertonians to end what will be the club's 22-year trophy drought by the time the League and FA Cup finals are played.
Though his side had chances to score, the performance will hopefully have underlined for Koeman the paucity of alternatives in some key areas of the field, not least in attack where the loss of Lukaku was critical and in central midfield where Gareth Barry remains a vital cog in the machine.
The opportunity to bounce back with an improved display at Bournemouth where the first-choice line-up will hopefully be restored beckons but another dismal exit to lower-division opposition in the League Cup will still leave a sour taste for a few weeks to come.
From My Seat: Norwich City (H)
A chippy tea in L4 a quick discussion on receiving the line- up and subs and the thought was maybe six changes were a bit much especially if we have ambitions to win this competition but on analysing the likely positional make up of our team it seemed we should have enough to progress.
The walk up was as usual since Big Ron took over and smiling Blues availed themselves of the fast food that was on offer with the Blue Dragon chippy being the winner of the biggest queue competition. On to the turnstile through a throng large enough to suggest a good numerical attendance. A quick chat with matchday regulars who are also friends and all were relaxed and ready for a cup tie that all expected to win. The game kicked off and within five minutes I had a feeling that we were not quite right. It was hard to figure why but we just seemed edgy, unsure in the pass, to hurried and consequently giving the ball away.
Norwich were clear in their method of play. Two banks of four and sitting quite deep. This invited us on and although our approach play was quite good we stumbled time after time when it came to the clinical bit in the box. Barkley, Deulofeu and Lennon being the chief culprits in the arts of giving the ball away by means of too many touches or poor layoffs and making shots that cannoned off defenders when they really needed to be more savvy.
You know what the half went on like this with Norwich defending and us attacking but messing up before a breakthrough pass or shot could be made. The word shoddy comes to mind. The atmosphere in the ground was of funereal silence and Norwich had brought so few fans they could not goad us into action. The first half was dire and petering out but on 42 mins a long ball toward the street end saw Funes Mori fall over and our great mate and ex-player Naismith strode on and he slipped over as he shot and the ball took a looping trajectory and ended up in our net. It summed up the first half. All Everton but a goal down from their first shot on target. The faithfull actually gave Naisy a rousing round of applause for his goal and all because we liked the lad.
Half-time was a dismal affair as we were unanimous that we needed a change either in personnel or tactics – we got neither and carried on as in the first half which in turn had firstly the crowd trying full on support to lift the lads but when that failed they reverted to giving the players down the banks as just like the first half we were toothless. Not much point in trying to give a blow by blow account of that half as it was dire.
Our manager had seen enough by the hour mark and had subs warming up and on 70 mins Mirallas and Bolasie replaced Deulofeu and Lennon and to be honest he could have hooked a few others as well. We attacked they defended and the defenders came out on top each time and the nearest we came to at least getting on the scoresheet was when Valencia had a shot cleared from the line but on 74 mins we all realised our goose was well and truly cooked when Josh Murphy cut inside unchallenged and from some distance fired a beaut into the top corner of the Park End net. This was the cue for a mass exodus as great numbers of the faithful had well and truly had enough.
We were brought back down to earth after Big Ron’s first defeat. I heard his post-match interview and he seemed to put it down to cup football and bad luck for us and good luck by the visitors for scoring. I have the feeling that he may just have a few of our players names written in red ink in his notebook. However he has stated that it will take probably four or five transfer windows to get what he believes is required and tonight’s no-show may well give him more idea of what is required than if we had snatched a win. Well, always look for a silver lining is my motto.
MotM – Naismith
If I was into player ratings, my personal view from tonight is that only Gueye, Coleman and Williams would be above a 5. However ,when Saturday comes, we need to be ready to take the points at Bournemouth and, if successful, tonight will probably filed under ‘shit happens’.
The comment that raised a good smile and laugh out of me occurred on the walk back to the Room of Nonsense when a lad shouted to his mate ‘Hey lad, was Martinez back for a one-night stand ‘der?’
See you soon...
UP THE BLUES
The League Cup wait goes on
Gaz generously picked me up from work and picking up Ste on-route, we were around Goodison Park in comfortable time to get some food and wash it down with a few drinks in The Brick. We needed a cold drink in there just to cool off such was the heat in the pub.
Whilst the changes to the team were many, there was certainly a strong enough team out there to get the result against Norwich City though looking at their team there was plenty to hurt us with John Ruddy, Steven Whittaker, Sebastien Bassong, Robbie Brady, Youssouf Mulumbu, Ryan Bennett and, of course, Steven Naismith all in the team. Even Kyle Lafferty came off the substitutes bench as if to highlight we were up against a pretty strong team though the player who caught my eye the most for the Canaries was Alex Pritchard, a young midfielder signed from Tottenham Hotspurs. With Romalu Lukaku out of this one, our new loan signing Enner Valencia led the line in attack. Gareth Barry and Leighton Baines were also experienced absentees with Mason Holgate and Ramiro Funes Mori notable deputies.
The first half was largely a none entity though had Aaron Lennon struck the goal rather than Steven Whittaker early on, we may have found ourselves a goal up early doors. This wasn't to be, however, and you had to give Norwich City credit for being disciplined and organised and making it difficult for Everton. They were fairly comfortable in the dismal first half and seized their opportunity with a sizeable chunk of fortune when our ex-attacker, Steven Naismith, slipped as he hit the ball and, with everybody around me, myself included, expecting the ball to whizz into the stands, it somehow looped into the net. Norwich City with a half-time lead and Steven Naismith afforded a generous applause from the Gwladys Street. Everton with work to do at the break.
Ross Barkley was having a nightmare and I expected him to be hooked along with perhaps Ramiro Funes Mori; however, Ronald Koeman, unusually for him, resisted the urge to change things early and kept faith with what he had on the pitch. On another day, it may have paid off. Gerard Deulofeu missed two great opportunities (one particularly presentable) and Ramiro Funes Mori drove into the side-netting.
Though we had plenty of the play after the break, the goal never really felt like coming with the XI which began the game. I felt an introduction of Arouna Kone (yes, I know, it comes to something when you're screaming for Kone to get onto the pitch) to replace Valencia; and taking Ross Barkley off and allowing Gerard Deulofeu to play off Arouna Kone with Kevin Mirallas on the wing instead would have heralded better results.
Ronald Koeman felt otherwise, however and simply switched his two wingers Lennon and Deulofeu replaced by Yannick Bolasie and Kevin Mirallas. Despite my reservations, the impact was almost immediate when first Mirallas forced a save out of Ruddy from a free kick, from which Valencia's drive was blocked on the line by Pritchard.
Norwich City were proving resilient as Everton toiled for momentum and further opportunities, and the difficulty of our task was doubled when Josh Murphy scored for the visitors with a quite brilliant solo goal which even had many in Goodison Park applauding. "It's not often both goals from an away team get applauded by the home team" said Ste.
With nothing now to lose in the game, we were shocked by how long it took for Koeman to bring on Kone, but in truth it made little difference and, though we rallied in the closing stages, the goal never really felt like coming; once again, we found ourselves out meekly in the early rounds of the League Cup... a cup it seems we're never going to win. Let's hope we can take the early cup exit as a kick up the backside and help us to carry on our good form in the Premier League.
The defeat would feel much worse had we not have started the season so brightly. Let's be a little pragmatic also. Though Norwich City deserved their win, on another day, it may not have come. They got lucky with their first half chance and we missed ours, plus we had the chances to get back into the game but just didn't take them. On another day, it could have been different.
Just as an aside, though his goal was a fluke, the tenacity, work rate and his ability in front of goal suggests to me we might have done well to have kept Steven Naismith, at least given since he left we signed Oumar Niasse whom it is generous to even call a flop, and now had to settle for a last-minute deadline-day loan deal for Enner Valencia who, on tonight at least, really doesn't look the part. We'd have been better off keeping hold of Naismith in my opinion.
Stekelenburg: Beaten twice though helpless twice with Norwich City's two only shots on target. 6
Funes Mori: Had a poor game at left back. I don't rate Funes Mori but I think it's a little unfair playing him at left back when it's not his position. I don't rate him either, but if he really didn't want to field Leighton Baines, then maybe he should have played Bryan Oviedo who is at least a left back. 4
Holgate: Struggled a bit in this one which is a tad disappointing given his early season Premier League form but I'm sure it's just a blip. 5
Williams: Did a little better than Holgate at centre back. 6
Coleman: Captained Everton for the first time and didn't let us down. One of few to leave the field with credit actually. 7
Gueye: A typically combative display. We might as well give him Player of the Season now as his consistency levels, work rate and ability are all outstanding. My Man of the Match. 8
Cleverley: He did okay first half but I remember very little of him after the break. 5
Deulofeu: Caused problems but didn't make the most of his opportunities. 5
Lennon: One of the better ones out there which is why I was surprised he was substituted. 7
Barkley: After a promising display at the weekend, you hoped he would crack on this evening but he never got going sadly and it was a frustrating performance from Ross. Let's hope for better at Bournemouth. 4
Valencia: Was pretty anonymous for most of the game and you can only hope he is able to improve with games. Certainly unconvincing on tonight's showing. 4
Bolasie (for Lennon): Worked the wings and put in some crosses, albeit to no avail. 7
Mirallas (for Deulofeu): Put a shift in and was lively. 7
Kone (for Holgate): Should have been introduced sooner but I'm not sure it actually would have made a big difference. 5
Going great guns in the league, Everton's attentions turn back to the seemingly interminable quest to win the League Cup as Norwich City return to Merseyside for the first time since the first match of the post-Roberto Martinez era in May.
That day former Toffee Steven Naismith and the already doomed Canaries were easily beaten in the atmosphere of relief and renewed positivity that pervaded Goodison Park and new boss Ronald Koeman will be hoping for an equally comprehensive victory to the 3-0 win that afternoon or the comfortable ride his side had against Yeovil in the last round.
Norwich are off to a good start in their bid to bounce straight back into the top flight. Following their 2-1 win at Nottingham Forest on Saturday, they sit second in the Championship behind early leaders Huddersfield Town.
Koeman explained in his pre-match press conference today that given the recency of their demotion and their chances of being promoted again this season, he regards the East Anglians as a Premier League team and will not be taking them lightly.
He confirmed, nevertheless, that there will be at least one change to the team that started against Middlesbrough on Saturday, with Enner Valencia coming in for Romelu Lukaku who has a minor toe injury, and also hinted at other changes.
Koeman suggested that the chance was there for a few players to stake their claims for more regular action after being forced to watch on from the sidelines for the most part as he has retained a largely settled side in recent weeks.
While Darron Gibson is ruled out as he recovers from groin surgery, the likes of Tom Cleverley, Aaron Lennon and Gerard Deulofeu will be hoping for a chance to shine, as will Joel Robles who was not handed a "cup goalkeeper" assignment in the last round.
Koeman insisted that Everton would be taking the EFL Cup seriously this season given its importance in the light of how hard it would be to win the Premier League.
“The [League Cup] is important,” the Dutchman told the media . “Normally, we can't win a [Premier League] title. I think Leicester last season was an exception and then you have the EFL Cup and the FA Cup which are important for the other teams.
“Of course we're taking it seriously. Normally we'll make some changes but all the players who will start tomorrow are training hard for the opportunity to play and we will start tomorrow with a strong team.
“[A game like this] is always an opportunity for players who did not play a lot in the last few weeks because we didn't change [the team] a lot.
“I'm the kind of manager that when the team is doing well and if the players are performing how I expect [then I won't change it] … perhaps one or two changes can be made for tactical reasons.
“Some players will get their chance tomorrow and you take notes about that because that means that after tomorrow you can make your conclusions about players and make decisions about competition. We like to have that competition [in the team] and it's a big opportunity for some players and they need to respond.
“[Valencia] will start tomorrow,” he concluded.
Norwich manager Alex Neil, meanwhile, is expected to make changes himself and that could hand Naismith the chance to face his old team again after being one of the older heads at Carrow Road who have not featured all that much in the early part of the season.
In his own “presser”, he said that while the Championship must be the Canaries' priority, he still wants to do well in the cups and, as such, he won't be “going there to send some kids out as lambs to the slaughter.” That could open the door to another ex-Blue in the form of goalkeeper John Ruddy and defender Sebastien Bassong who scored Norwich's goal when the clubs met at the fourth round stage of the same competition last October.
Everton had to win on penalties that night but Koeman will be hoping to get the job done inside 90 minutes so he can move on to preparing for the trip to Bournemouth on Saturday.Kick-off: 20 September, 2016; 7.45pm
Referee: Andrew Madley
Last time: Everton 1 - 1 Norwich City (Everton won 4-3 on pens)
TV: It appears as though the match is only being carried live by beIN Sports Arabia 9 and being streamed online by beIN Sports Connect in the USA and Canada