Winter of discontent setting in as Everton again show naivety and impotence…

Ian King
Rayan Ait-Nouri of Wolves celebrates scoring a late winner against Everton.

Everton lost at the very last to Wolves, which is what happens when you’re at toxic combination of defensively soft-centred and incapable in front of goal…


If there’s been one feeling that has been pretty much universal as the Premier League hoved into view again after the end of the World Cup, it’s been a sense that we’d all forgotten what had been going on in the league beforehand. It’s been a little over six weeks since Everton were booed from the pitch at Bournemouth following a performance as lacklustre as anything that has been seen from them in the last couple of years or so.

It took Everton supporters 90 Boxing Day minutes to remember exactly where they were up to before this particular interregnum. An afternoon which began with an appropriate level of seasonal optimism ended with a familiar level of booing and derision after a stoppage-time goal from Rayan Ait-Nouri gifted all three points to the Wolverhampton Wanderers team that had started the day at the very bottom of the Premier League pile.

Seven minutes in at Goodison Park, there was a feeling that perhaps this potential booby trap of a game might swing their way after all. A corner from the right-hand side saw Yerry Mina escape his marker and head down into the corner of the goal. On the touchline, Frank Lampard punched their air with the relieved facial expression of a man whose seen his life flash before his eyes several times over while the World Cup played out.

But Everton didn’t just fail to take advantage of that early lead. They allowed themselves to be pegged back to an equaliser from Daniel Podence midway through the first half and then huffed and puffed for a full 70 minutes without creating anything much of note and then found themselves getting mugged four minutes into stoppage-time when Adama Traore’s deflected cross fell kindly for Ait-Nouri, who scrambled the ball in from close range at the far post to complete a successful smash and grab raid from the Black Country.

This is now the second time in the last three months that Everton have lost three successive matches in the Premier League, but the portents look considerably gloomier than they did the last time this happened. When this happened before in October, those three defeats came against Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, three games from which they may not have expected to take very much at all.

But this is different. Everton’s last three Premier League defeats have now come against Leicester City, Bournemouth and Wolves, none of whom are in the top half of the table at the moment, and two of which have come at Goodison Park. These are the sort of matches that Everton should be taking points from if they’re hoping to avoid getting dragged into another relegation battle this season, but on the evidence of all three of them – with the Wolves performance having demonstrated little improvement on their pre-World Cup blues – it seems as likely as not that the febrile atmosphere that hung over the club throughout much of last season is set for a return.

The winning goal seemed to sum up many of Everton’s current issues. They’d been pushing hard for a winning goal without creating too much by way of really clear chances, but the hint of desperation over picking up all three points hung heavy in the air, and with too many players committed forward too late in the game, they were clearly susceptible on the break and there was something almost inevitable about the way in which Wolves broke to snatch all three points with just seconds of the game remaining.

That combination of being just a little defensively soft-centred and not quite creating enough in attacking positions has the potential to become toxic. An over-reliance on any one player for goalscoring, for example, is not healthy. An over-reliance on the goals of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, a player who apparently can’t be fully relied upon to get through much beyond a warm-up without something inside one of his legs making an alarming wrenching sound, seems almost reckless. Only Wolves have scored fewer goals in the entire division this season. That needs to change.

After the game, Frank Lampard said that Everton were ‘the better team’ who’d ‘created the better chances’, but when you’re in 17th place in the Premier League and only above the relegation spots by a single, solitary point, the only statistic that matters in any way whatsoever is who’s scored the most goals by the end of each game. With just one win in all competitions since October 1, Everton desperately need points on the board, and the matter of who ‘deserves’ what is absolutely and utterly irrelevant in comparison to this.

The fixture list certainly doesn’t get easier for them. Four of Everton’s next six games are against Manchester City, Brighton, Arsenal and Liverpool. After the match on Amazon, Joleon Lescott said that ‘there are three worse teams in the Premier League’ than Everton at the moment which will probably be enough to keep them up, but this really says more about the pickle that they’re in at the moment than anything else, dependent on the incompetence of others rather than anything that they can offer for their own survival.

Will Frank Lampard survive this latest dismal result? There’s a reasonable chance that he will, but this may be for no other reason than that the list of potential replacements for him doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence either. Lampard achieved the bare minimum that was expected of him last season. His team survived the drop. But this season has only seen any improvement on that in fits and starts, and that spluttering to life has been far too infrequent.

This time last year, Everton were in 15th place in the Premier League with five wins from seventeen games and were eight points above the relegation places. By the end of this Boxing Day, they’re in 17th place with three wins from sixteen games, and they’re just a point above the relegation places and two points from being bottom of the table.

That’s why the atmosphere at Goodison Park is so febrile. Everton supporters may have temporarily forgotten the limitations of their team over the last few weeks but it only took them 90 minutes to remember against Wolves, who gladly accepted the gift that was handed to them in stoppage-time in this match. Everton need a shakedown, and the evidence that Frank Lampard will be able to deliver it is looking significantly diminished. But something has to change before the end of January, because on current evidence the prognosis for this team isn’t very positive at all.

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