Tom Cleverley’s last minute winner glosses over problems at other end
Win at St James’ Park much needed but home comforts continue to evade Blues after loss to Stoke
Goalkeeper position needs addressing as Howard howler costs Blues – again
Everton’s Boxing Day celebrations were cut short on Monday as Roberto Martinez’s side failed to win at home for the third time in as many attempts.
The Toffee’s dominated proceedings at St James’ Park on Boxing Day but clinched 3 points the hard way; a last gasp Tom Cleverley header enough to see off a relegation threatened Newcastle.
However the euphoria of a first league win in five attempts quickly evaporated on Monday, as Everton lost out in injury-time to a skilful and hard-working Stoke City.
Marko Arnautovic dispatched the winning goal from the spot in the 91st minute in a thrilling game of football that swung pendulum-like throughout.
A wonderful team effort and a moment of near-divine intervention from Xerdan Shaqiri put the visitors ahead by half-time, despite Romelu Lukaku calmly netting in his seventh consecutive game at Goodison Park.
The Belgian would restore parity in the second half before Gerard Deulofeu tapped home to put the Blues in control. But Tim Howard’s flapped attempt at a cross let substitute Joselu slam in the loose ball before John Stones conceded a penalty in time added on.
Boxing Day win was vital, but Everton nearly fluffed their lines…again
There’s no finer thing in football than a last minute winner. Enough to send Everton’s travelling band into raptures in the lofty heights of St James’ Park, while the locals head for the exits, defeat and a miserable evening inevitable.
But for all the euphoria of that match-winning moment, Evertonians would be forgiven for wishing the Blues had the points wrapped up safely under the tree long before the game’s close, as opposed to frantically scrambling around for them as the shops close on Christmas Eve.
Lukaku was not the only one guilty of passing up good chances, with Kevin Mirallas and Aaron Lennon also going close. The wingers have not featured as much as they’d have liked and it seemed their eagerness to make up for lost time was in tune with Everton’s start on Tyneside.
Everton took control against a barely mediocre Newcastle side but their inability to score while they were on top nearly cost them dearly. Alexsandar Mitrovic came closest for Newcastle and Everton looked vulnerable from balls delivered from wide areas. Had the Serb’s second half header been planted a yard to the right of where it ended up, the Blues would have found themselves in a familiar position: 1 goal down, despite the excitement and promise of some beautiful forward play.
But if only to buck the trend just once in this autumn’s reel-show of squandered points, Cleverley found himself in the right place to loop Rob Elliot’s clearance back over him and into the net.
Howard needs to be taken out of firing line after goal-gaffe
The win ensured the crowds pouring out of ale-houses onto Goodison Road on Monday were drinking from the glass half-full. But as too often under Martinez on home soil, early optimism quickly gave way to sighs of “fu*ksake Everton”.
Stoke appeared to have two aspects to their game plan: restrict space to Everton when the Blues were in possession, and move the ball forward quickly once possession is turned over. Unsurprisingly –not least because it’s the same plan most teams employ at L4 these days- it worked a treat and Everton were behind to an extremely well-worked goal; a simple tap in for Shaqiri.
Some pundits have remarked –rather enviously it seems to me- that the Swiss’ intentions were not to lob a stranded Howard for his second goal, but to pull the ball across goal. The playmaker is demonstrably capable of such moments of quality, but why get caught up about such an irrelevant detail? The lob was executed superbly and there was nothing Howard could do.
There was, however, much the American could have done, or indeed should not have done, to prevent Stoke’s equaliser, after Lukaku and Deulofeu had put the Blues ahead. So often football is decided by individual errors, and it was Howard’s decision to come so unconvincingly for a Stoke cross that cost his team.
No Evertonian will need to be told how many times Howard’s profligacy in defending crosses has cost goals this season. Games against Liverpool and Arsenal spring to mind straight away. It’s quite clear that the stopper isn’t stopping goals at the same rate as he once did. And while we might not be able to pin down exactly why things have gone wrong (form, old age, arrogance) what is obvious is a player with a guaranteed starting place who is not playing well.
Joel might not be the long-term answer to our goalkeeping prayers but he has shown himself to be a steady deputy when called upon. For what other reason do you have a backup keeper if not to put pressure on and even replace your number 1 when the latter suffers a period of poor form? It can only be a matter of time before the young Spaniard gets a run of games in the league and for Martinez’s sake the sooner it happens, the better.