Over the last two seasons Everton have lost 30 points from winning positions. The side’s inability to see out a result comes back to bite them time and time again. However, nothing is being learnt from past mistakes.
In this blog early last month, I backed Roberto Martinez and urged fans to get behind the Spaniard. Somewhat incredibly, I still hold this opinion but I share the anger that Evertonians are expressing at the moment. The current squad is the best it has been in a very long time, yet the club languish in the bottom half of the table.
Saturday’s collapse against West Ham was embarrassing. For a team that should be pushing for a place in Europe, throwing away a 2-0 lead in 12 minutes is despicable. Sadly, it is something that has happened multiple times this term. Martinez has introduced a classy style of play to Goodison Park but sometimes this has to be sacrificed in order to maintain a lead. However, the manager refuses to do this.
Whenever a team is losing with 10 minutes to play it is a well-known fact that they begin to throw the kitchen sink at the winning side. The pressure is turned up and players expend any remaining energy in desperate attempts to salvage some points. In return, the leading side tend to sit behind the ball, absorb this pressure and grind out a result which is, more often than not, an effective technique. However, Martinez fails to make defence-minded substitutions and maintains the mantra that ‘attack is the best form of defence’. This leaves gaping holes in the defence which are all to easy to exploit. As the back four get stretched their weary legs lead to many careless mistakes.
The recent trend of throwing away points in the dying embers started against Bournemouth in November. The Toffees were 2-0 up with 10 minutes left to play before being held to a 3-3 draw. Whilst leading, Martinez made only one substitution which was bringing the more attacking-minded Tom Cleverley on for defensively astute James McCarthy in the 68th minute. In fact, the only defensive change he made in the match came in the 97th minute when Darron Gibson replaced Arouna Koné. Those changes are unfathomable.
Exactly the same happened when Stoke City came calling at Goodison. A 3-2 win was turned into a 4-3 loss in the last 10 minutes. Martinez was forced into an early change, bringing on Cleverley for McCarthy again, but instead of protecting the lead late on he introduced a striker, Steven Naismith, to replace Cleverley, who had only played 40 minutes! Again against Chelsea, despite leading 2-0 with 25 minutes to play, the manager only made like for like changes, not altering any tactics to see the game out.
Given these glaring obvious past mistakes you would think that against West Ham on Saturday, down to ten men, protecting a vulnerable 2-0 lead with just over 10 minutes left to play, it would be time to shut up shop. Frustratingly, Martinez made the same errors yet again. Inexperienced and yet unproven striker Oumar Niasse came on from Aaron Lennon in the 76th minute. Lennon had been one of the best players on the pitch and his pace along with his work-rate meant he did well tracking back to help out defensively. However, Niasse came on to stand clueless on the half-way line whilst the defence collapsed. Sure enough, minutes later Michael Antonio escaped down the flank to nod-in and start the comeback. Martinez eventually seemed to work out what needed changing, as Gareth Barry replaced Romelu Lukaku, but with only one minute left to play it was far too late and the Hammers’ winning goal came a minute later.
What Roberto Martinez has brought to the club is fantastic. The side is incredibly strong and the style of play classier than ever. However, until the manager loses his naivety, these strengths are redundant. The only way to climb the table is to win games and if Martinez doesn’t start learning from past mistakes that will not happen for Everton.