Everton took the trip to Carrow Road on Saturday, hopeful and somewhat expectant of coming away with all three points on offer. It was almost a must win game after three previous disappointing results in the Premier league. Everton started on fire and had Norwich on the ropes for most of the first half. Everton created so many chances that it was almost hard to believe that the Blues finished the half with just a solitary Romelu Lukaku goal.
The second period began and no sooner had the referee blown his whistle to restart the half, had Norwich scored the equaliser. There was to be no more goals in the game and yet again Everton had to settle for a disappointing draw.
Killing a game
It's becoming all too much of a frequent scenario where we find Everton in an unbelievably strong position in a game but fail to convert it into a victory. A half of football played by the Blues that is full of quality, heaping with chances and bursting at the seams with class. But the main word amongst all of that is 'half'.
Unfortunately, it only seems to be 45 minutes of the game the team can provide that quality and those chances. The other half seems to go completely in the opposite direction. Often involving a lack of ambition, becoming progressively sloppy as the half goes on and ultimately not having the tempo or the determination to create those chances that we usually witness within the first half.
In the games where the Toffees have passed on the opportunity to finish a game from a leading position, we have lacked a degree of toughness in the middle of the park. Tom Cleverley provides creative passes, driving runs and a good mind for the game, but lacks a tough tackle to prevent an attack. Gareth Barry could be put in the same bracket somewhat, but where Cleverley has pace, Barry somewhat lacks that turn of foot and often gets caught behind during the opposition's counter attacks. The side has really missed the determination and grit of a certain James McCarthy. What McCarthy brings to the Toffees is an engine in the middle of the field, the drive on and off the ball and that physicality every side needs. If I was to pick the team tomorrow, with McCarthy still injured, Muhamed Besic would easily replace Darron Gibson on the bench. Besic gives you the aggression and he still provides that ability on the ball.
The Toffees must learn to kill a game, kill a team when they're down and take the chances they create. That learning curve has to come quickly, or else Everton may once again find themselves looking at another mediocre mid table finish.
It would be all to easy of me to bang on about how we threw away another two points and not talk about just how good that first half was. This isn't meant to overlook the clear issues the team has for killing games of football or the way we only play for 45 minutes, but instead to highlight just how good we can be when we persist for a length of time at a good quality and tempo.
Once again Gerard Deulofeu, Romelu Lukaku and even Ross Barkley proved too much for the Canneries in the first half at Carrow road. Deulofeu can add another fullback to his list of defenders who failed to block the Spaniard's skill and burning pace. The former Barcelona man provided us with the majority of opportunities and should have bagged himself more assists during the game, but the fact he didn't can't be all his fault. When one of our forwards did get on the end of his pinpoint crosses we got a goal. For a striker it must be a dream to have Deulofeu picking you out in the box time and time again. It's fair to say the Spaniard has become our main source of opportunities and threat. Now it's important the other players combine and provide opportunities as well so Everton don't become predictable or one dimensional.
Our diamond, Ross Barkley was a lot more lively than he previously was against Crystal Palace. The England man took that responsibility to drive his team forward and began those lung-busting counter attacks. The thing that fans maybe ever so slightly critical of currently though with Barkley is his consistency both on a match-to-match basis and his effort and consistency during the 90 minutes of any one game. If he can work hard to improve on that aspect of his game, both him and the team with benefit immensely.
However, I don't believe there is any greater positive for a team than to have a striker who has scored seven consecutive goals and is taking almost all of the chances that come his way. Romelu Lukaku has already improved upon the aspect of his game. The striker has been flawless for the majority of the season and the Blues aren't fully capitalising on the Belgian's firing form. If the players around him could improve their performances across the full 90 minutes of the match, then the possibilities are truly endless for this young Everton side.
Whilst it was hard for the fans who sat at home watching Saturday's game, it must have been even harder for the 2,600 fans who travelled the four-and-a-half hour journey to Norwich. I feel that the commitment of our fans is massively under played within the media, so I thought I'd talk a few numbers to summarise exactly what kind of incredible effort the Everton fan base puts in every other week.
To buy a match ticket for the game on Saturday was a steep £40.00, overly priced somewhat, but that's for another argument. To travel via a supporters coach, be it provided by the club or by a supporters club based within the many pubs that surround Goodison Park, you'd have been looking at another £40-£50. Finally, from a financial stand point, you couldn't travel all that way without buying a few beers when in Norwich, some food and maybe a match day programme. That's yet another £20 at least. So, in total for the days outing, one of our committed fans would have roughly been forking out between £100-£150.
Now take those figures and factor in the festive period which is a matter of two weeks away. You might be thinking that we didn't fill our allocation at this point. Well, if you truly follow Everton you'd know how wrong you are for thinking that. A packed-out away terrace with fans travelling from Liverpool for an early kick-off, meaning they had to leave their beds at the unnatural time of 4:30am in order to get to the ground on time. The fans deserve all the credit and plaudits that come their way.