I have stuck by Roberto Martinez for a very long time, but the Spaniard is still failing to learn from his mistakes.
On paper; the 2-1 defeat against Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final looks like a close match which Everton were unlucky to lose out on. I agree that the Toffees were unlucky, but the problems at Wembley started before kick-off with Martinez’s team selection.
The manager must have known that his position at Everton was, and is, under intense scrutiny, so he should therefore have fielded a stable and balanced team in order to try and win the game. However, the starting eleven chosen by the 42-year-old is bamboozling.
Muhamed Besic, a defensive midfielder, started at right-back where he was completely outplayed by Anthony Martial. Besic is a fantastic player and I argued that he should play in the semi-final in my last blog piece, but the Bosnian was never going to have the pace and defensive know-how to handle the incredibly tricky Martial.
It’s unfathomable how Martinez believed he would have fit that role well. Furthermore; selecting John Stones, who is all too error-prone, was another risk. Darron Gibson was also named in the starting eleven despite having only made nine appearances before the semi-final this season. The 28-year-old has been battling endlessly with injuries over the past couple of years and was never going to cope with the United midfield.
However, the most frustrating decision for me was Martinez’s refusal to bring Gerard Deulofeu on off the bench. I was disappointed that the winger hadn’t started the match, but accepted the manager’s decision with the hope that Deulofeu would be introduced as an impact substitution later on in the game.
After half-time, there was a period of 15 minutes when the game was in the balance. Neither side was pressing too high and it was clear that whoever managed to seize the momentum just after the break was going to stand a greater chance of winning – it was screaming out for Deulofeu. I wasn’t the only one to notice this.
When browsing Twitter, I saw hundreds of football fans, not just Evertonians, voicing the same opinion. Yet it took Martinez until the 70th minute to introduce the tricky Spanish winger, which proved to be all too late. Within five minutes of taking to the field, Deulofeu teed up Chris Smalling’s own goal and Everton were in the ascendency.
It made me wonder, what if Deulofeu had been brought on ten minutes earlier? The Toffees could have got their goal earlier, perhaps even a second and then closed out the match and avoided that heart-wrenching ending. To add to the frustration, Martinez settled for watching the game play out as a draw, waiting for extra-time, and refused to make any more substitutions to try and win the match before the 90th minute.
The semi-final finished with a lapse of concentration from the back-four in the closing minutes, with Martial slotting home an injury-time winner. It was the same lapse of concentration that angered fans against Bournemouth in November, Stoke in December, Chelsea in January and West Ham back in March. So many times this season Everton have thrown away matches and Martinez has failed to change the situation.
Although these problems on the field scream for Martinez to be sacked, the reason I believe his position as manager is now even more untenable than before is because the fans are unifying against him. Against Bournemouth this weekend, fans staged a protest by throwing tennis balls onto the field and I have seen images of a fan sat by the dugout in a Grim Reaper’s costume all over social media.
With the current anger being directed at the manager, it is impossible for the players to concentrate on the football. The hostility towards Martinez has been a problem all season, but it has now reached a climax. It was only three years ago that Everton enjoyed a 39 home game unbeaten run at Goodison Park, but we have only won five at home this season.
That is no coincidence. It shows how important the fans are and the fact that so many have made up their minds about Martinez’s future, leaving Bill Kenwright and Farhad Moshiri with no option but to show the manager the door. I believe they will wait until the end of the season, but there is now little doubt in my mind that Martinez must be sacked.