What a disappointment. Following a game last week where the attack looked to be at its absolute best, things fell flat for Everton on Saturday as they drew 0-0 with Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium.
Conditions were not ideal. Players and supporters on the sidelines were noticeably cold and the rain/snow mixture falling from the sky surely didn’t help things. Several times, those on the pitch were slipping and sliding all over the place. Even still, the Toffees lacked any sense of urgency or creativity.
There was practical no service for Romelu Lukaku, which is unacceptable. He was the league’s top goalscorer heading into today. Objective number one needs to be getting him the ball. That didn’t happen often enough.
That said, this is exactly what Boro do. They are actually quite a decent defensive side and are in the midst of a relegation battle. Any goal was going to be earned and hard fought. If anyone could break through, Everton seemed like the team to do it, but it just was not happening for them today.
Both Kevin Mirallas and James McCarthy missed out with previously unreported injuries. That turned out to be a big blow to the squad. Instead, Ademola Lookman and Idrissa Gueye were inserted into the starting lineup. That’s certainly not a bad thing. They are a pair of quality, maybe even exceptional, players. But Lookman blew some of Everton’s best chances, and Gueye played what may have been his worst game since joining the team this summer.
The Blues had two great chances to score. In the first half, it was Lukaku on a break away with just the goalkeper, Victor Valdes, to beat, but he couldn’t do it. Valdes made himself big and knocked away Rom’s shot. In the second half, Lookman collected a lovely through ball from Ross Barkley and, at a tough angle, took aim and goal only to be denied by Valdes himself. The Middlesbrough keeper had himself a heck of a game.
Boro had two opportunities of their own in the second half. The first came off of a corner where Leighton Baines headed away a ball off the line. The second was a terrific save by Joel Robles off of a rocket header that seemed destined to score.
Robles was the biggest positive for Everton. Once again, he is showing improvement on commanding his box and taking control on corners and crosses. He was atrocious with that under the previous manager. He is fantastic now. Maarten Stekelenburg should not expect to get his job back anytime soon, if ever.
Lookman and Barkley also had semi-decent efforts in terms of they were the creative forces for Everton. Even though the youngster blew some good chances, he also put himself in a spot to have chances. No one else was doing that today. And Barkley just seemed to have more ideas than anyone else, but without support those ideas were wasted.
But there were some negatives. In addition to the poor service for Lukaku, you also have to say that the centerbacks continue to underwhelm. Ashley Williams is bad at distributing with long balls right now. He’s ambitious passes often end up out of bounds or in the opponents possession. And Ramiro Funes Mori is a liability. It is great to have him when Everton have a corner kick, but he struggles to stop the attack going the other way. He is suited to be a backup, but can’t be one of the team’s regular starters.
Unfortunatley, Manchester United won their game today, meaning Everton are now chasing Liverpool for sixth place. The Reds game with Tottenham starts soon, as if you needed another reason to hope for a Liverpool lose.
Everton are off until Saturday, February 25 when they host bottom-of-the-table, David Moyes-led Sunderland. Three points will be expected.