It is two years ago this weekend since, while Goodison Park teetered on the brink of mutiny, the manager in the home dugout teetered on the brink of the sack.
To even a passing observer, Ronald Koeman was on borrowed time at Everton. An unprecedented summer spending spree of more than £130 million was not bearing fruit, the Blues had lost their last three league games by an aggregate score of 9-0, and pre-season optimism of a top six finish or, dare you say it, a Champions League spot, had swiftly evaporated.
Goodison was simmering up until AFC Bournemouth’s visit to L4, but a deserved Joshua King opener for the Cherries shortly after half-time rendered the atmosphere utterly toxic. Had Jordan Pickford not denied Jermain Defoe a second minutes later, Koeman may well have begun to feel the ground shifting beneath his feet there and then.
But in turning to his prodigal son Oumar Niasse, the man he had repeatedly tried to banish, Koeman earned a brief, unwarranted stay of execution, the Senegalese's late brace earning Everton an entirely unmerited win, but sending Goodison into raptures nonetheless. Koeman was relieved of his duties exactly one month later, after it proved merely momentary respite, rather than the trigger of any sort of upturn in form.
It feels particularly pertinent to recount this after Sheffield United’s 2-0 win at Goodison on Saturday because, up to a point, the two matches feel eerily similar. Both saw the Everton manager start the match already feeling the heat, both saw Everton serve up ghastly performances, both saw Everton fall behind in games which, with the greatest respect, they should be winning.
But for Marco Silva, the same 'Get Out of Jail Free' card which duly arrived for Koeman against Bournemouth was never forthcoming for him against Sheffield United. In an almost identical position to where Pickford denied Defoe, the Everton goalkeeper was powerless to stop Lys Mousset doubling the Blades’ lead ten minutes from time. And that was where the similarities between the two games ended. No Niasse to desperately call on in his hour of need. No comeback. No points.
And for Silva, in all likelihood now, no hope. Indeed, by full-time, aside from the streams of Evertonians who took Mousset’s late goal as their cue to exit, or the smattering of half-hearted jeers, a hollow apathy ruled over Goodison once again, just as it did once his predecessors, Sam Allardyce, Koeman, and Roberto Martínez had plunged past the point of no return.
Yet once again, it is a predicament almost entirely of the Everton manager’s making. There was no obvious outstanding individual brilliance about any of Sheffield United’s players, but their cohesion as a unit, resilience and impeccable defending not only stumped Silva and his team, but put them to shame. Even Watford FC, who were thumped 8-0 at Manchester City on the same day, managed more shots on target away to the champions than the Blues did to Chris Wilder’s newly-promoted side.
Too often under Silva, this has proved to be the case. Blues revelled in the way his side were able to demolish Manchester United, or comfortably see off Chelsea and Arsenal, for instance, but in truth, those games almost easier for his players to manage rather than the crushing weight of expectation that falls on them when sides Everton should be beating visit Goodison.
Not only that, but the way in which ‘better’ sides will invariably go for Everton’s throats more lends itself perfectly to the Blues picking them off on the counter-attack. Teams like Sheffield United, which they are perfectly entitled to do, know their limitations, are happy to bide their time, stay compact and sit deep, then pounce when the moment comes.
Theirs was a game plan executed to the letter; Everton’s, in stark contrast, proved indistinct once again. An appalling return of a single point, and as many goals scored, in games against Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Bournemouth and Sheffield United this season, and a failure to come from behind to win a league game during Silva’s tenure, reflects the notion that he is failing to find the solution to a problem that is continuing to plague him. With a Goodison defeat, and another two conceded, even his two biggest saving graces, imperious home form and defensive parsimony, are now beginning to elude him.
And while he certainly tried different approaches on Saturday, it all felt excruciatingly haphazard. As has been often the case with Silva when Everton are chasing a game, he threw on an extra striker in Cenk Tosun, as well as Alex Iwobi for Morgan Schneiderlin, before Theo Walcott’s inevitable introduction came in the place of Seamus Coleman.
Within moments, Everton’s shape ebbed away. Having lurched from his anaemic 4-2-3-1, to a 4-4-2, Walcott’s arrival precipitated a total absence of any semblance of a formation. No right-back. Three wingers. Two strikers. An attacking midfielder playing almost in a defensive role. Meanwhile, Tom Davies, whose energy and drive from the centre of the park the Blues were crying out for, received no playing time for the fifth successive league game. It all smacked of a reactionary manager, deserting his own mantra to try and guess his way to a result, whose overly dour countenance insinuates he knows himself he is on the precipice.
Silva will not pay for this nadir with his job. The bigger picture is probably not quite as ominous as it was during the final days of Martínez and Koeman, for instance, and Everton are in too deep once again with their manager at this point. They have parted with too much money, both on him and with him, to part with his services so early into his second season.
But the same sense of inevitability lingers. Evertonians are well-versed enough in this narrative to know how this will surely end; that once again, the Goodison hierarchy will wait until the situation is so dire, so patently irretrievable, that they are left with no choice but to wield the axe once again. Some may cite a dearth of obvious alternatives as a reason to keep faith with Silva, yet in many ways, persisting with a manager leading you nowhere could be just as, if not more, detrimental.
And so, all Evertonians can do is trudge along and wait. Wait for the same lip service from the manager or senior players demanding a rallying cry after another bruising defeat to go unheeded. Perhaps wait for an unforeseen change in fortunes for Silva and his side. Or, conversely, wait for the moment when the Goodison hot seat becomes vacant once again.