With every passing press conference since he was first presented to the media as caretaker manager, David Unsworth looks more and more the realist.
Talking up Everton’s chances ahead of a tricky trip to Stamford Bridge just a day after Ronald Koeman’s exit from Goodison Park, there was optimism in his voice. He was right to be, at least right to act optimistic, even if Evertonians could see through his attempts at positivity in an increasingly desperate situation.
Three games and three defeats later, the attempts to remain upbeat still rang around his Friday press conference, but there’s a sense that this might be the last brave face Unsworth is required to put on.
Seven conceded and just one goal for represents a dismal return for any manager, caretaker or not. No one expected a Lazarus-style, instant revival from a side that finds themselves in 18th place and on the end of a five game losing streak. But there was an expectation that the former player would at least be able to get a tune out of a group of players in desperate need of a motivational leader.
An energetic second half at Stamford Bridge aside -when The Toffees really should have taken advantage of a folding Chelsea second string- there has been nothing from the players to suggest a change in the club’s fortunes is due anytime soon.
Morgan Schneiderlin has been pedestrian and absent. Idrissa Gueye has shown just flashes of the brilliance that made him a 2017 player of the season contender. Ashley Williams continues to defy his 75 international caps with schoolboy erros and sulky despondency, while Leighton Baines’ regression is not surprising but sad nontheless. And Phil Jagielka has misplaced whatever leadership skills he had over pre-season to leave the side lacking the necessary motivation and belief to win football matches.
For whatever reason, the magic fairy dust that is usually sprinkled over teams with new managers has so far evaded Everton under Unsworth. The players are not playing for their futures, they don’t have the bit between their teeth and the proverbial boost has not been forthcoming. Those expecting a radically-motivated Everton since Koeman’s dismissal have been let down.
They’ve been let down by the players first and foremost. Youngsters like Beni Baningime, Tom Davies, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Nikola Vlasic have come into the side and fared well (under the circumstances). But it’s obvious that the senior players, including those who have been at Everton for over a decade, have not risen to the challenge before them. Young and new can’t be expected to dig the club out of a relegation sized hole. They need the leadership of the older heads.
They’ve been let down by the club’s hierarchy. Steve Walsh is mainly responsible for Everton’s recruitment, but the chairman and majority shareholder are tasked with steering the club in the right direction and it’s clear that a mismatched transfer policy has hurt the club dearly. Several key areas were left unaddressed (left centre half, left back, left midfield and striker) while one of the most important areas of the pitch is over-populated and causing an unresolvable imbalance.
And to a lesser extent those fans expecting more from the Chelsea, Leicester and Lyon games have been let down by the caretaker. Unsworth knows more than anyone that Evertonians travel well, especially in Europe, and yet there has been virtually no improvement in their performances; nothing to give fans hope. In France Unsworth left Wayne Rooney (top goalscorer with five), Jagielka and Baines at home. Already there is one eye on the visit of Watford on Sunday. His selection left those thousands of travelling blues baffled; a right back playing left back, three defensive midfielders and most heartbreaking of all: no striker.
“Has to win”
I don’t doubt Unsworth had intentions to get something out of the game, but it wasn’t three points. A clean sheet? Yes. A solid performance? Yes. The return of some belief in themselves? Hopefully. But with such a selection, and lack of attacking intent, there was no chance of victory, something that smacks with Evertonians; not simply in light of Moshir’s “expected losses” comment, and not just because of Unsworth’s pre-match comments ahead of his first game in charge: “Whoever gets the honour of this role has to win” he said. He talked up the job, fully aware of the pressure on any Everton manager to win every game.
That Unsworth fell so short of this expectation on Thursday night is a dent to his chances of keeping hold of the reins beyond the next game. Watford come to Goodison Park flying high in the Premier League in what lots of Evertonians are calling a must-win game. Regardless of whether Unsworth wins, loses or draws this game -and with an international break giving fans a fortnight’s respite from further heartache- there is a sense that this it could well be his last in charge.