Everton emerge from their slumber in time to snag a point against Villa

By Lyndon Lloyd 16/07/2020 20comments  |  Jump to last
Everton 1 - 1 Aston Villa

Amid the anger and frustration at another inept performance, one of the overriding feelings at the final whistle of this game was one of relief. Not because Everton had salvaged a draw that, on the balance of the second half, was harsh on Aston Villa but because there are now only two more matches of this increasingly tedious season left to endure.

All the talk since Sunday has been about this sorry bunch of players needing to show a positive reaction to their dismal defeat at Wolves and, while they offered a passable nod in that direction in the first half, for all but the last five minutes plus stoppage time of the second, they were as abject and guileless as at any point over the past four matches.

Then, suddenly, with a first home defeat under Carlo Ancelotti looming, they discovered some urgency; the kind of shift in gear that makes you wonder and plead why they couldn’t have mustered anything comparable for the previous 85 minutes so as to provide a modicum of entertainment for their absent fans watching on from home.

Like the Southampton game before it, one that also finished 1-1, this was an often pedestrian encounter short on action where the lack of a crowd to provide some impetus and desire to the occasion was keenly felt. That neither side managed a shot on target until the 72nd minute — against the second-worst defence in the division, Everton’s didn’t arrive until the 88th — was indicative of the poor quality of the fare. But while that might have been expected from a Villa side that could well be doomed to relegation now thanks to Theo Walcott’s late header, more is expected of Ancelotti’s side… at least it should be but no longer is.

For all the reasons that have been thrown around and dissected in recent weeks — the void in midfield, the dearth of effective wide players, the disconnect between the rest of the team and the strikers and a boring reliance on the long ball — this was another illustration of the work that lies ahead for Ancelotti and Marcel Brands in the transfer market on the one hand and on the other the manager and his coaching staff at Finch Farm in the coming weeks.

Part of that work will be psychological — trying to build confidence in the likes of Alex Iwobi and Bernard, players with obvious talent but who struggle to execute in the final third. In a move that promised flare and some attacking invention, the pair were deployed in the wide roles this evening as Ancelotti reverted back to the 4-4-2 formation that has been largely ineffective since the win over Leicester and, on the whole, they tried to deliver, even if the results were erratic for the hour they were on the field.

Bernard is a player capable of exhibiting exquisite skill but who suffers from questionable decision-making in and around the box and can, as was the case for Wolves’s third goal at the weekend, be expensively profligate with the ball. Iwobi can be threatening with the ball at his feet and isn’t short of technique of his own but his final ball is often disappointing.

This evening was no different and yet it could have been so on a couple of occasions inside the first seven minutes. First when Iwobi picked out Dominic Calvert-Lewin with a cross from the right that the striker scissor-kicked over the crossbar, and then when he slid the ball inside to Bernard with a pass that was begging for a first-time, side-foot curler aimed towards the top corner but was met instead by an attempted dribble from the Brazilian and lost possession.

But Bernard is also one of those luxury players who only needs a couple of moments over 90 minutes to make a telling impact — as he almost did in the 12th minute when his cross sailed over the goalkeeper and bounced off the top of the crossbar — but he requires the patience to wait for it, all while he frequently gives the ball away.

He wasn’t alone. André Gomes, recalled to the side after recovering from a minor ankle problem, allowed himself to be robbed of the ball in his own half on a number of occasions in the first half. It was almost costly in the 35th minute when Jack Grealish’s shot deflected over the crossbar but then, as if to ensure that everyone was aware he was back, he committed the typically clumsy foul outside his own box that led to Villa’s goal.

Conor Hourihane, who had managed to belt almost all of his dead-ball deliveries into the head of the first defender, finally lifted the free-kick to the edge of Jordan Pickford’s six-yard box where Ezri Konsa stretched out a boot and diverted it in to give Villa a lifeline in the bid to escape relegation.

And yet, for those who feel as though it’s harsh to criticise Gomes for his form based on the fact that he has been pressed back into regular action so soon after a horrific injury, there were a few revelatory minutes at the end of this game that demonstrated the extent to which the Portuguese has been wasted just sitting in front of the back four all these months.

There was a moment in the second half where Anthony Gordon threw his arms up when Gomes elected not to find him with a forward pass but went backwards instead for the umpteenth time. But it was Gomes who led Everton’s belated charge in the closing stages from near the front, beating his man expertly in the unfamiliar environs of the opposition penalty box and crossing low to Calvert-Lewin who really should have ended his goal drought in the 85th minute instead of firing wide.

Then Gomes swung the deep cross towards the back post the found the unlikely head of Theo Walcott who looped an effort over Pepe Reina and far enough under the bar to cross the line to trigger confirmation from the goal decision system before a defender could vainly hook it away. Just like that, 1-1.

If Jean-Philippe Gbamin ever recovers his fitness or the club can find a signing to enable Ancelotti to take the defensive shackles off Gomes, he could yet re-bloom into the player he was at Valencia and, at times, in his Barcelona days.

Calvert-Lewin made it seven games now without a goal since the restart, Richarlison toiled sullenly and rather unproductively alongside him and substitute Moise Kean had one effort that he lashed into the stands but, apart from Lucas Digne’s continued industry, there was one big positive to take from the game and that was the performance of Jarrad Branthwaite.

Thrown into the fray after just a quarter of an hour when Mason Holgate, rushed back from injury, broke down again with a recurrence of his shin complaint, the 18-year-old produced an assured display that augurs well for the success of his move from Carlisle United just a few months ago.

Everton’s rationale for signing him was clear on this evidence — despite his tender years, he is physically imposing, calm on the ball and distributes it intelligently and there should be no reason why he doesn’t see plenty of action over the final two games in order to provide him with valuable experience ahead of next season.

Unless there is a marked improvement on Monday at Bramall Lane, there will be precious little to look forward to for Evertonians when the team takes on high-flying Sheffield United apart from more signs of progress and hints at what the future might look at under Ancelotti. The end of 2019-20 can’t come soon enough!

If you’re of a glass-half-full persuasion, however, there is reason to feel hopeful that 2020-21 will be better, particularly when you consider how important midfield is and how it can surely only be improved during the close season with the addition of some genuine quality. The building blocks are there but there has to be more passion and fire injected into this team, either from the coaching staff or via recruiting the right personalities.

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Reader Comments (20)

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Mal van Schaick
1 Posted 17/07/2020 at 08:39:37
I agree with your first paragraph, Lyndon, and where I was angry and disappointed with five minutes to go thinking we were going to get beat at home by a relegation-threatened club, when I expected a reaction from the players after recent performances.

Although I am pleased for Jarrad Branthwaite, he played with maturity and a physical presence on and off the ball and is worthy of nurturing.

For me, it is still necessary to clear out our midfield and maybe keep Gomes as a creative midfielder, although his pace is in doubt. We also have to add other strikers.

I hope Ancelotti and the owner realise the great changes they have to make with perhaps 70 per cent of a squad clear out in order to reach our goal of Europe and may be top four.

Jerome Shields
2 Posted 17/07/2020 at 09:44:18
Lyndon, it is going to take Ancelotti as least two years to put together a challenging side, if he can get the support to do it. We may see a slight improvement next season, but players are still going to be around who have been doubtful performance-wise under successive Managers.

Ancelotti has the same problem that Brands faced i. e bringing players into a backroom culture that has failed to produce a consistent challenging team over decades. As a matter of fact they have succeeded in bringing down the expected standard of incoming players to what could be described as a well-known level of mediocre Everton performance.

Players being recurringly injured is a problem and question marks regarding training use as a preventative measure. There seems to be an emphasis on rest as part of recovery and rehabilitation policy. There are questions over the overall team level fitness.

The other area that Ancelotti will have problems is the burled objectives of the Club with Kenwrights parental hopefuiness and Moshiri absentee money orientated solutions. Neither seems to have clear objectives on how the club can compete to win any competition it enters.

Another problem for Ancelotti is that the future of the club is dependent mostly on Team performance and Moshiri largesse. The latter has been mismanaged to such an extent that it is detrimental to team performance. The contribution of the commercial side to the club is negligible, pointing to poor management, possibly explaining Moshiri's wasted millions.

On top all these areas of concern, which will be factors that need to be addressed, there is the Covid-19 fallout.

Everton need more than a new dawn, the club needs a collective kick up the arse. If instead Ancelotti gets the latter, we all better prepare for another twenty years of mediocrity.

Alun Jones
3 Posted 17/07/2020 at 09:55:02
Another woeful spectacle, I cannot understand why we cannot give Beni Baningime a game in centre-midfield, we have seen what the permutations of Davies, Gomes and Sigurdsson have to offer and with nothing really left to play for why not try him.

He could offer the defensive solidity that might allow Gomes to get forward a bit more often. I see he was not even on the bench last night, is he now injured? He has been an unused sub in post-Covid-19 matches.

Christopher Timmins
4 Posted 17/07/2020 at 10:11:27
Lyndon, in some ways the results since we were hammered by Chelsea may prove to be a blessing. There is no hiding place regarding the state of play with the team. Improvements have to be found or the hiring of Carlo Ancelotti will prove to be a costly failure.

If we can pick up 3 improvements in this window then I will be more than happy. We can only expect a steady progression over the coming two years.

We will end up with less points this year than last and probably finish behind Burnley and fail to breach the 50-point mark for the second time in 3 years. Not easy to attract top talent against such a background.

I live in hope!

Ajay Gopal
5 Posted 17/07/2020 at 10:24:06
The biggest positive we have right now is Carlo Ancellotti, in spite of what the haters may say. Apart from the money, the biggest attraction for a player would be the chance to play under one of the most decorated managers in world football.

He needs to be given time and money to help him rebuild the squad. There will be many ups and downs, but surely, Everton will slowly crawl back up the league.

I predict that next season, the positions between 5 and 10 will be keenly fought. The top 4 will be between Man City, Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea. The next 6 places will be fought over between: Arsenal, Spurs, Leicester, Wolves, hopefully Everton, and maybe 1 surprise package – Leeds, Southampton, Newcastle, or Sheffield Utd?

Ray Jacques
6 Posted 17/07/2020 at 10:36:20
If Ancelotti cannot solve the problems, then who can?? That is my concern. We have had four managers since Moyes all of a different ilk and nationalities with different styles of playing and spent millions of pounds, and yet we have not progressed one iota.

What a farce! The problems at Everton go much deeper than the players and coaching staff.

It is systematically and institutionally flawed in all respects from top to bottom and I fear that the issues are beyond the resolve and capability of any man.

Alan Rooney
7 Posted 17/07/2020 at 11:28:01
Was it wrong to have felt disappointed that we equalised?

We deserved nothing and a Villa win would have made for a more interesting end to the relegation dog fight.

Richard Lyons
8 Posted 17/07/2020 at 11:55:08
Ajay #3, he may be given the time, but I doubt he will be given sufficient money. Sure there'll be millions, but we've already spent many millions and still we only get crap players.

Not even Carlo Ancelotti can make a silk purse out of a cow's ear...

Jerome Shields
9 Posted 17/07/2020 at 12:10:41
Alan #7,

I was disappointed, especially with Walcott getting that jammy header. I would have preferred Villa getting a better chance of survival. I don't think Everton deserved a draw.

Villa have been involved in two successive Championship play-offs prior to promotion and another season may have helped to re-establish themselves in the Premiership.

Villa are the Club most Evertonians fear their club will replicate, so an improved situation for them would be welcomed.

Brent Stephens
10 Posted 17/07/2020 at 12:11:29
Christopher #4 - agree totally.
Tony Everan
11 Posted 17/07/2020 at 13:42:25
A yawn-fest on the way to the end of this terrible season.

The only reason for keeping the eyes open with the matchsticks was the graceful emergence of the teenager Branthwaite. To have that kind of composure at 18 is impressive. He has a bright future and is a very shrewd acquisition.

Jon Wit
12 Posted 17/07/2020 at 16:07:25
If we go on thinking changing the manager is going to fix things then we will just end up in the same loop. Instead, we should be supporting the manager to change things – playing and training staff hopefully.

It starts with finding players with more hunger. I'm glad to see Gordon, Branthwaite, Holgate playing for that reason – Calvert-Lewin has contributed a lot too. A combative midfielder – not a headless chicken like Davies – would be ideal.

Brent Stephens
13 Posted 17/07/2020 at 16:16:45
#12 - we know who you are!
James Byrne
14 Posted 17/07/2020 at 16:21:14
In the past when we have had bad spells (plenty of them) you sought of get through them hoping the next few games are part of a turnaround!

For the past few seasons, it just isn't the same gut feeling. Is it just me or do other life long Evertonians feel that watching Everton is just fucking pointless!

The managers we have been through and the money we have spent on utter shit is farcical. Any other business model would have been out of business by now. If Everton was a dog, you'd consider it to be sick and have the poor thing put down!

I'm afraid this period under Ancelotti and his 6 key staff are a last chance saloon for Everton FC. We now have to attempt to get rid of the deadwood and make another financial loss. At the same time spend more millions on new players.

I have faith in Ancelotti but if he doesn't get this right Everton as a club are in big danger of losing their Premier League status, and any journey into the Championship will mean curtains for this club.

Tony Hill
15 Posted 17/07/2020 at 18:09:27
Jerome @9, it was a very good finish that, and a very good cross. We can do it when we get our heads out of our arses. We've scored three excellent goals recently.

Branthwaite is raw but very promising. Amid the gloom there is the odd glimmer. Let us pray for a firestarter.

Tony Everan
16 Posted 17/07/2020 at 19:05:50
Brent, It’s the Phantom of ToffeeWeb, someone (thing) posting from the other side.
Jerome Shields
17 Posted 17/07/2020 at 20:30:52

Everton are capable of producing moments like that. They are too good to be relegation contenders and have some promising players, but there appears to be a drag on challenging when it counts and the causes must be deeper than what we can see. I have put forward a few suggestions, which may not be that wide of the mark.

Tony Hill
18 Posted 17/07/2020 at 20:42:28
Of course, Jerome @17. We get occasional whispers of what might be. I've just said on another thread that Alex Young was both our ghost and our embodiment. Pure Everton. We've been betraying him for most of the last 50 years.
Jerome Shields
19 Posted 17/07/2020 at 20:44:50

The above post refers to you.

I am hopeful that an experienced manager like Ancelotti will effectively address what issues he can. He has already started, but appears to be playing a long game given the circumstances and the depth of the issues.

Clive Thomas
20 Posted 17/07/2020 at 22:00:24
We need a big clear-out in the next transfer window.

We are piss-poor and we actually don't have a midfield. Teams just running through us at will. We still can't defend at set-pieces. I don't know what Carlo is gonna do but it's going to I be a miracle for us to get even in the top half.

l have been supporting Everton since 1960 when I was 6 years old. I'm just dismayed at how this great club has deteriorated over the years. But hopefully next season we will start to get back to the glory days I experienced when I was growing up.

Come on, Everton – let's see a decade of greatness again.

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