The team’s fighting spirit and belief is back
Out of all of Everton’s recent defeats this might have been the most painful, but it has left me feeling far more optimistic about the rest of the season than I did just a few weeks ago. Everton’s disastrous Christmas fuelled speculation about a dressing room split, player unrest and loss of faith in the manager’s philosophy. All those rumours have been swiftly put to bed after a gallant display at Upton Park. The old Everton was back; passion, desire, work rate, but also the composure and quality on the ball Martinez is so keen to instil in the team. They deserved more than the cruel lottery of penalties. And although the game ultimately ended in heart-breaking defeat, the green shoots of recovery remain intact.
Joel Robles deserved to be the hero
Football can be a cruel game and in a callous twist of fate goalkeeper Joel Robles was thrust into the role of villain when his decisive penalty kick smashed off the crossbar. Most Evertonians, including myself, were thoroughly unconvinced by the Spaniard after a handful of shaky performances during his first season at Goodison. However, since Tim Howard’s injury he has steadily improved with each game, culminating in a man-of-the-match display at Upton Park. He made two wonderful saves late on from James Collins and Kevin Nolan, as well as blocking Stewart Downing’s spot kick to keep Everton in the tie. He, more than anyone, did not deserve to be on the losing side.
Kevin Mirallas' fitness is key
Mirallas revealed last week that he is still nursing an ankle injury, explaining why he began Tuesday’s game on the bench. He showed little sign of injury though when he came on, injecting some pace and dynamism into Everton’s attack, stretching the West Ham defence even though they had one more player. His wonderful free kick speaks for itself, but his skill to set up Lukaku’s goal was equally impressive. Everton’s physios need to work extra hard to get Mirallas fit and firing as he is critical to the way we play.
Does Ross Barkley need a rest?
Roberto Martinez actively encourages Ross Barkley to express himself, to play without fear and take calculated risks in the opposition’s half. However, that leaves the midfielder open to criticism from the supporters when things don’t come off. Barkley had one of those days on Tuesday, he was always hungry for the ball but for one reason or another it just didn’t work for him. Romelu Lukaku benefited from a couple of games taken out of the firing line over the new year and I wonder whether Barkley could also do with some time out.
Yet more poor refereeing
The issue of refereeing performances is a hot topic right now and once again the man in the middle, Neil Swarbrick, had a poor game. Aiden McGeady’s sending off was perhaps correct by the letter of the law, but similar offences were let go by the official, none more so than from James Collins, West Ham’s hulking centreback who pulled tugged and wrestled Lukaku all game. In the second half of extra time Mirallas was fouled in the area, but after initially waving play on the ref was drawn to the assistant’s flag waving for a foul. He then awarded a free kick on the edge of the box, a classic case of bottling a crucial decision for fear of getting it wrong. By all accounts John Stones was lucky to not concede a penalty for handball at the other end, the referee again giving a free kick on the edge of the box. The players’ job is tough enough as it is without the officials getting so many critical incidents wrong and lacking the confidence and belief in their decision-making.