Everton’s striking crisis was back on the agenda as they fell to a 1-0 defeat to an Emmanuel Adebayor strike at White Hart Lane.
Everton wasted several first half chances, mainly through Leon Osman who could have netted three times in the first 20 minutes. Despite Everton’s dominance, Spurs took full advantage of some poor defending and Adebayor’s deadly strike was too much for the Blues.
It was undoubtedly Everton’s best opportunity in the Premier League era to come away from White Hart Lane with all three points, while the added significance of a potential Champions League spot at stake meant the tie had more riding on it than past encounters.
It goes without saying that Everton under Roberto Martinez visit away grounds with more positivity than they ever did with David Moyes at the helm but it was a situation so familiar with Everton under Moyes that ultimately prevented the Toffees taking all three points.
Injury to Romelu Lukaku and the sale of back-up striker Nikica Jelavic in January saw Everton arrive in North London with just Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas to choose from to play up-front.
January arrival Lacina Traore was deemed fit enough for the bench but as it transpired was clearly not fit enough to make his Premier League bow. Such decisions beg the question: “why bother including him on the bench?”
As it was, Naismith led the line after a game-changing appearance from the bench in last weekend’s 2-1 win over Aston Villa. And for all the boo-boy’s criticisms, the Scot enjoyed a good first half, linking up well with Osman, Mirallas and the attacking pair of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar.
In the seventh minute Naismith took in a well-drilled Sylvain Distin cross in the box, shielded it from the attentions of Michael Dawson before laying off for Osman. Had Hugo Lloris not been at his best, the midfielder’s sliced effort would have nestled in the corner, but the French keeper was at full stretch to keep the score level.
While it was not as such one-way-traffic, the Blues did enjoy the better of exchanges, Osman again finding space around the Spurs area but failing to test Lloris. At the other end Danny Rose found space on the left, putting the ball on a plate for Adebayor whose outstretched leg came a second too late to making contact.
Mirallas was busy without being effective and summed up Everton’s play in the first half with a wandering run which promised so much when he and Naismith found themselves two-on-one with a Spurs defender. But instead of taking the numerical advantage, the Belgian’s greed took over and his shot, while completely unbalanced, was high and off target.
Spurs resumed play in the second half with far more urgency than they had shown in the previous 45 minutes, but still Everton looked in control of proceedings. The only issue being that with Naismith’s energy sapped thanks to a first half of tireless running and chasing, and the still un-fit Pienaar beginning to struggle, Everton attacks were looking more and more scarce.
When Martinez’s men did foray forward, play was interrupted by a weak pass or the wrong pass. Every poor decision in the final third brought more groans and the fateful feeling that it would not be Everton’s day, while the home support sensed the opposite.
Matters were not helped by some of the decisions made by the man in black (I don’t think Evertonians need his name repeating) and a bizzare decision to award Spurs a free-kick just inside Everton’s half led to the goal. He seemed to gesture an advantage moments before when Osman appeared to be man-handled, only to disregard that advantage once we had lost the ball.
But the Blues were guilty of switching off, and the in-form Adebayor who has now scored six times since Tim Sherwood took over in December took full advantage with a pin-point strike which Tim Howard was powerless to stop.
Martinez has stressed time and time again this season (no more so than after the forgettable derby defeat) that he is not willing to sacrifice his style, not even in the face of defeat. And so with the clock ticking, the slow, patient, passing build-up continued despite the obvious need for urgency.
In that respect Aiden McGeady and Gerard Deulofeu were added to Ross Barkley’s substitution, yet Everton’s approach play was laboured and predictable.
Seamus Coleman- the goal aside- had a fantastic first game back from injury, and despite not being at full fitness was always willing to get forward. It looked like he may have earned the Blues a lifeline in the dying minutes when Etienne Capoue steamed in to a challenge in the area but failed to win the ball. Another dubious decision to not award the penalty can be added to the Clattenburg-against-Everton case.
But the referee not awarding a last minute penalty was not the reason Everton lost this encounter. The opportunity to move four points clear of Spurs and shorten the gap between Everton and Liverpool was there for the taking, but a lack of ideas, the lack of a recognised centre forward and a combination of individual errors and poor decision making saw the Blues stumble. Again.
Martinez’s men are now five points adrift of fourth placed Liverpool and the disappointing defeat puts a big dent in Everton’s hopes of a Champions League place. Many fans have already turned their attentions to the FA Cup, writing off a league campaign still with 13 games to play.
The Blues are certainly not favourites for fourth, but then they’ve always been more comfortable chasing the pack, and there’s still some way to go what has been a brilliant first season for Martinez- something some fans are seemingly too willing to forget.