There were fears that Everton’s goals against column would shoot up this season following the appointment of Roberto Martinez as manager. Many critics looked at the leaky backline he had at Wigan as evidence his footballing philosophy would bring plenty of action at either end of the pitch.
Thankfully those fears have proven unfounded and Everton’s defence has proven to be the bedrock of the club’s success this season. The Toffees had the third best defensive record overall, with just Chelsea and Manchester City conceding less than Everton’s 39 goals. Chelsea were the only side to concede fewer away goals than Everton and only three other teams kept more than the Toffees’ 15 clean sheets.
Tim Howard once again has a superb season between the sticks, with his 15 clean sheets his highest tally since the 2007/2008. He only missed one Premier League game, against Southampton in December, after being sent off against Sunderland on Boxing Day. His replacement Joel Robles was also Roberto Martinez’s designated ‘cup’ keeper, playing in every Capital One and FA Cup game. Robles arrived with a growing reputation after a fine end of the season at Wigan last year, culminating in a clean sheet against Man City in the FA Cup final. However, his decision-making, command of his area and frustrating tendency to punch all the time instead of catch leaves question marks over his ability. In the short-term he is ok, but with Howard on the brink of his 35th birthday a long-term successor may need to be found sooner rather than later.
In my opinion Everton have the two best fullbacks in the Premier League. Leighton Baines, who is now England’s first-choice left back, put aside the distraction over a potential move to Manchester United to put in another solid season. He was no longer the primary outlet of attack like under David Moyes but still set-up four goals and scored five – including two memorable free kicks at West Ham in September.
Seamus Coleman meanwhile deservedly picked up the Players’ Player and Player of the Season award. The Irishman seemed to be the main beneficiary of Martinez’s free-flowing style as he plundered seven goals, a remarkable tally for a fullback who does not take penalties. All while helping the defence keep them out at the other end.
Bryan Oviedo won the hearts of the Everton fans, first for his famous winner at old Trafford and then after his sickening injury against Stevenage in February. That may have ended his season and World Cup dreams, but there is no reason why he cannot play a key role in the Blues’ squad next term. Tony Hibbert made just two starts and a further two sub appearances as age, injury and increased competition caught up with him. He remains a cult figure though and a coaching role must surely be not far away.
Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin were again the mainstay of a miserly Toffees defence. It is perhaps no surprise that some of Everton’s heavier defeats – against Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Southampton – were when one or both of them were not playing. The sheer longevity of Distin is astounding and he shows no signs of slowing down just yet.
Thankfully, when Distin does retire we have a ready-made replacement in John Stones. It is almost hard to believe that the 19-year-old had never started a Premier League game until January but four months later finds himself on England’s stand-by list for the World Cup. Even if he misses out on a place in Brazil in won’t be long before he’s an international regular and is a future Everton captain in the making.
Antolin Alcaraz was seen as a decent back up that cost nothing when he moved from Wigan last summer. Sadly his injury problems continued to hamper his progress and he never seemed to be truly match fit. He showed glimpses of his qualities at the turn of the year but his season will sadly be remembered for his woeful performance when half-fit in the 4-0 defeat at Anfield and first-minute own goal at Southampton last month.
Youngster Luke Garbutt was the only other defender to make a senior appearance as a late substitute against Southampton. With the Europa League beckoning next year the former Leeds youngster may well see some more action in 2014/14 along with Under-21 Player of the Year Tyias Browning and may be even Shane Duffy, who performed admirably on-loan at Yeovil despite their relegation from the Championship.