It’s been long known that if a player hasn’t scored in a while they should play Everton; Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Jon Stead, Corrado Grabbi, Esteban Fuertes, Roberto Soldado, Radamel Falaco…..just a few players who either scored their first goal against Everton, or ended a long run without scoring against the Toffees.
So when is emerged that Danny Graham had yet to score for Sunderland in 27 appearances we all knew what was about to happen. That said, even the most cynical of Evertonians probably didn’t foresee the sheer blind luck falling Sunderland’s way when Jordi Gomez’s wayward shot stuck Graham on the heel before looping agonisingly beyond Howard, off the post and into the net for the opening goal. Then again, given Everton’s record for such things, maybe they did....
When your luck is in
Once is bad enough, but when Sunderland’s second goal was scored in similar circumstances you simply have to accept that it isn’t your day. Granted, the defending perhaps left something to be desired but can also be partially excused given they were chasing the game. Adam Johnson’s shot may have been going in, but it also may have been saved by Howard. The American stood no chance, however, when the ball struck a gleeful Jermain Defoe on the knee – and then the arm – before going in. Throw in James McCarthy’s shot that hit the post, a decent penalty claim turned down following a trip by Defoe on Seamus Coleman and some smart stops from Costel Pantilimon, and you just have to accept it wasn’t our day.
More creativity needed
Everton have consistently struggled this season to break teams down that sit back and defend, compress the space, and look to hit on the counter. Everton had 73% of the ball on Saturday but struggled to exert any real sustained pressure, with just four of their 22 shots on target. Yes, they were unlucky with some chances but this isn’t the first time they have failed to convert possession into goals. Roberto Martinez needs to add pace, width and creativity to his ranks next season to try and unlock these stubborn defences. The problem is that those sorts of players cost big money.
Ross Barkley is still a work in progress
Ross had another one of ‘those’ games on Saturday. He saw plenty of the ball in decent areas but his distribution and decision-making was not up to scratch. There were times when he could have shot or played a forward pass, but either hesitated or tried something over-ambitious that conceded possession. As fans we have to be patient with Barkley as he is encouraged by Martinez to express himself, which will always bring mixed results in one so young. I would much rather have that than play Barkley within himself, as although that may help in the short-term it would stunt his long-term development. Like many players he probably needs to get this season out of the way and start afresh next campaign after a nice, long rest.
Fair Play and the Europa League still in the balance
The race for a Europa League spot via the Fair Play League is almost as tight as the relegation battle with three teams in contention with two games to go. Everton, West Ham and Burnley are the sides vying for that last European spot, with Everton blotting their copybook with two yellow cards on Saturday compared to West Ham and Burnley’s one apiece. There are other factors to take into account such as positive play and behaviour towards officials before a total score iscalculated. Either way, next week’s trip to Upton Park looks decisive in the race for that largely unwanted European place.