Given the topsy-turvy nature of Everton’s season so far we should not be surprised that last Monday’s win over QPR was followed up with yet another away defeat.
However, the manner of the loss to Southampton, a team decimated by injury and on a run of five straight defeats, was particularly concerning.
They were slow and ponderous going forward, struggled to retain the ball in midfield and vulnerable at the back. A fateful combination I'm sure you will agree
The overwhelming majority of Evertonians are fully behind Roberto Martinez –and rightly so - given the wonderful first season he enjoyed last year. But his post-match comments after the game only served to worsen the mood among the fans.
"The most disappointing thing was the way we defended our box. We were a little bit soft and were undone by three balls that went into the six-yard box.
"We are to blame for the defeat because we didn’t defend any simple ball into the box well. Our record shows that we are normally a lot better in that respect and that is where we lost the game.
"The second half we started with a good mentality and we had Southampton where we wanted them. All they wanted to do was work on the counter-attack.
"But it was disappointing to concede three goals the way we did. Clearly it was a day when nothing went in our favour because even when we created opportunities we never hit the back of the net. The difference between the two sides was in the boxes."
Supporters who watched the game would say there was a wider gulf between the two sides than Martinez suggests.
Teams have clearly worked out how to play against Everton, and the team have yet to respond and adapt. Our success in Europe, against unfamiliar opponents, backs up this theory. While his assertion that Everton are normally "a lot better" at defending balls into the six yard box clearly doesn't apply to this season, where it has been a recurring problem.
A frontline of Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley, Samuel Eto’o and Steven Naismith sounds thrilling on paper. But in reality is doesn’t work as all four want to play centrally, meaning those who are pushed out wide tend to struggle.
The midfield struggles badly without James McCarthy, who seems to have a greater influence on the way the team plays than we previously thought.
Meanwhile at the back time seems to have rapidly caught up with Sylvain Distin and Tim Howard. The return of John Stones will help, but a goalkeeper must be high on Martinez’s shopping list – and that’s said with a tinge of regret given the sterling service Howard has given the club.
The hope is that Martinez is simply seeking to defend his players in public while working on their deficiencies in private. If not then we could be mistaking his endless optimism for naivety.
Martinez also had to defend his lack of substitutions on Saturday, saying he had faith in the team on the pitch to turn it around. The Spaniard used his changes so well last season, often altering the course of matches in his favour as a result. The fact he is often reluctant to make substitutions this year suggests he may too be lacking confidence and self-belief.
Any hope of finishing in the top four already looks to be fading even at this early stage, meaning the FA Cup and Europe may take priority in the New Year.
But to do that Martinez needs to rediscover that spark from last season or risk the campaign petering out before we even reach spring.