‘Everton, That’ is filmed in front of a live stadium audience. No episode this weekend, mind, which was probably just as well given most of us are still yet to truly process the events of Tuesday’s midweek special.
The problem with Everton playing so impressively for 93 of the 95 minutes of their 2-2 draw with Newcastle United is that, quite simply, it didn’t follow the script. Jordan Pickford didn’t scratch his red-and-white-striped itch. Morgan Schneiderlin and Fabian Delph actually had a decent grasp on the midfield. An emboldened Moise Kean even scored. A 2-0 breeze seemed within touching distance. But reality ultimately had to bite.
And so, better late the never; what followed was a capitulation so on-brand, so quintessentially Everton, that it’s impossible not to watch it back without the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme tune simultaneously looping in your head. And once the final whistle sounds and the end credits roll, all that is left to do is vacate your wooden seat, take a deep breath and grumble that same old adage once again: “Everton, that.”
This, of course, would have been at least more forgivable had it been a one-off for Everton, yet as Carlo Ancelotti has already discovered at least twice in his first month as manager, he inherits a squad innately gifted at making the impossible possible. Not in the same way that Shrewsbury Town could overturn a 2-0 deficit against Liverpool to force a replay, or that the Reds themselves could see off Barcelona after a 3-0 first leg defeat. Rather, Everton’s propensity to kneecap themselves when they appear on their home straight is a shortcoming that feels as ingrained in the club now as Seamus Coleman rallying cries and the search for the Arteta money.
Honestly, the list feels endless by now. Lose at home to Championship side Reading after beating Chelsea away in the previous FA Cup round? Everton, that. Concede a 98th-minute offside equaliser to Chelsea after scoring a 90th-minute winner, in a game where seven minutes were added on? Everton, that. Lose a 2-0 lead at Bournemouth with ten minutes left, go 3-2 up in injury time, and still draw 3-3? Everton, that. Bring a stray ball back in to play to gift Liverpool a derby winner? Everton, that. Everton, all of them and more. By now, surrendering a 2-0 lead to a hapless Newcastle should feel like a mere fly in the ointment.
Indeed, that Ancelotti presided over this debacle and the defeat to Liverpool’s C-team - neither of which he should take much, if any, blame for - may prove a blessing in disguise for Everton in the long-term. There was no witching hour at Goodison on Tuesday, or at Anfield earlier this month. Instead, if Everton are cursed by anything, it’s their own Frankenstein squad - the collaborative work of five different managers - top-heavy with players either sub-standard technically or mentally. Now that the Italian can surely see this, too, he must have a clearer view on who to show the door to either this week or in the summer.
Because it’s these sort of frailties which rather typify why Everton haven’t won at any of the Sky Big Six since December 2013, or why they haven’t come from behind to win a Premier League match since December 2017 (37 attempts in that time), or why, even, they have won nothing for 25 years, while clubs like Wigan, Middlesbrough and Swansea have all added to their cabinets. Indeed, you could see it in the way Oumar Niasse carelessly passed up a counter-attack in stoppage time on Tuesday by losing possession, silencing those who serenaded his untimely entrance on to the pitch minutes earlier. You could see it in the way Fabian Delph, a two-time Premier League winner recruited for his composure and leadership, drop-kicked the ball back to Newcastle after Florian Lejeune’s first goal. You could see it in the haunted, if not overly stunned expressions of those who have suffered through this instalment of ‘Everton, That’ all too often before.
Clearly, Ancelotti’s appointment represents a break from tradition for Everton, in that rather than poaching managers from Preston, Wigan, or Watford, they have attracted a venerable winner who has lived almost his entire life in the dugout at football’s top table. But there’s also an underlying mental fortitude beneath his urbane, somewhat reserved demeanour which perhaps was amiss in the blusterous Roberto Martínez or the hard-nosed yet at times blasé Ronald Koeman. He ended AC Milan’s barren four years having swept aside all before them in the 1990s. He helped Real Madrid realise their Décima dream in 2014, winning their first Champions League since 2002 - in a final they had to come from behind in, no less. Even at Napoli, his first game in charge saw his side go 1-0 down to win 2-1 at Lazio. As setting the tone goes, Everton could have settled for far worse.
And of course, it will be churlish to ignore the plethora of positives from Ancelotti’s first seven games, too. The dogged resilience Everton have displayed at times, particularly in his opening wins over Burnley and Newcastle, is a far cry from the flimsy glasshouse Marco Silva often found pelted with stones. The goals are now arriving in flurries for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has led the line far more assuredly than under any of Ancelotti’s predecessors. There’s even talk of an England call-up for Mason Holgate. Clearly, even if the manager has been left to stew over the remnants of another fruitless regime for now, there are crumbs of comfort, glints of light at the end of an endlessly dark tunnel.
For the time being, though, he may be saddled with that age-old trope; that lingering fear that, however comfortable Everton appear, take one piece out of the Jenga block and the whole tower will unceremoniously come crashing down. Whether Ancelotti has it within his managerial reservoir to harden the scorned, bruised squad he has inherited, or whether he will need to give it another face-lift, time will tell. Either way, it may simply have to be a case of short-term pain, long-term gain at Goodison, and plenty more classic ‘Everton, That’ episodes yet.