A few words on the season just gone

The last thing you probably want or need is a reflective try-too-hard internet piece reviewing the season just gone. A season that in your mind you’ve already throttled and buried under the patio. So that’s exactly what’s happening right here.

2014/15 was meant to be a season where we pushed on under the optimistic School-Of-Science-is-on-its-way-back wave that preceded it with a very promising year before under Roberto Martinez. Indeed, and not a lady to get carried away, Goodison honoured the breaking of the new season with a fine mural on the side of the Main Stand. It looked ace but at the time the wiser arl arses bemoaned such a gesture as being overly kind. Or in their words “a bit kopite that lad”.

And so it proved.

Nothing generates optimism like a player signed on the back of a World Cup so when Mo Besic was signed there was the usual fanfare because he’s passed dead boss and stalked Messi relatively well in Brazil. That was merely a taster though.

There has been discontent about and out of contract Gareth Barry being able to agree terms with someone else if Everton didn’t activate the £2m agreement they had with Man City as part of the weird loan agreement. Barry was an essential part of a performing Everton team the season before, along with protégé McCarthy in a very slick and effective midfield. It was considered sensible business to wrap it up.

An Everton press conference was called late July and out stepped Ross Barkley to commit his future to the club. There’d been some tithead media mutterings of him being wanted by the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea but there was a quiet confidence that he was made of more loyal stuff than some of those in the fifteen years before him.

The following day though was the real excitement as Everton done the good things and smashed their transfer record, spending £28m on Romelu Lukaku. It was at this period an expectant fuse was lit under Everton’s season. Lukaku had provided the goals the season before and it was though Chelsea would keep and develop him, but here he was declaring his love for Everton and Martinez. If you wanted a sign of ambition then this was akin to the new lad in class walking right up to the cock of the year and grocking square in his grid.

It felt like Everton were back for a moment. A boss Everton. And then we signed Samuel Eto’o (Samuel Eto’o, Samuel Eto’o…) who appeared in front of the blue tiles of Finch Farm, a natural replacement for the Bellefield tree that greeted new Everton players previously. Stephen Hughes fans may recall.

Martinez talked of having a squad able to cope with the demands of Thursday night togger and this was exactly what it seemed we had. Did Samuel Eto’o really play for us though?

So that’s the context of the players leading up to the season, now a quick look at the games.

Everton players were well represented at the World Cup in Brazil that gave Martinez the first of some posers on how to integrate the squad with these players during pre season so we were good to go on the first day of the season. In truth both these returning players and the rest of them all just generally looked shagged throughout pre season, and continued into the new season itself.

The pre season was a rotten scabby dog of a pre season. We just never got going. Highlights included flying to Thailand to get turned over by a crap Leicester team in overly humid conditions and some really cringey marketing appearances for a cup honouring a king or someone? Anyway, it screamed human rights abuse.

Another highlight was a Nolito inspired Celta Vigo taking us apart on St Baghead’s Park on the Wirral. We were all over the show and a few started worrying about it carrying over into the real season. Fear not, the brown shoes will make it all better screamed the positive types. Little did they know that this was the first cracks appearing in a, at times, wonderfully polarised fanbase to come during the season.

I have no interest in remembering anything about pre season, save for an ace Chris (new Michael Branch) Long goal against a German team who them promptly pulled our pants down too.

So the season began with a not too difficult trip to newly promoted Leicester City. A pain because there’s no doubting the motivation of impressing on your first game back in the big time but a look through their squad didn’t scare us in the least. Play your thing blues and we got this. McGeady found the postage stamp but we were largely dull and a 2-2 final scoreline was reflective of a poor Everton opening performance.

Not the springboard wanted when your next two games were versus Arsenal and Chelsea, albeit at home.

Arsenal was the first league game at Goodison and set up nicely with a 1730 kick off, affording a full day’s merriment on the streets closest to your heart. It started well too with a 2-0 lead at half time thanks to Coleman and Naismith, Everton were set up tightly to exploit Arsenal’s weakness just as the season before. Then Everton got collective cramp and retreated yard-by-yard, minute-by-minute, and as the angry dars yelled in anxiety so all the confidence sapped out of Everton and Arsenal easily scored two late goals to dull the start of the season. It should have been six points and instead, two.

If I was to go through game-by-game then it would be even more painful to read and overly long, but it would be amiss to paper over the next home game where Chelsea gubbed six goals past a shell shocked Everton. Sure there was some fight back, and a debut headed goal from Eto’o, but each time it just seemed to annoy Chelsea who moved into gears that we just didn’t have.

Three games played, two points.

Easier games to come though right? And we’ll piss the League Cup this year with that aforementioned boss squad.

The international break was time to get ourselves ready for an important run of games which yielded a first three points from a very charitable West Brom team and then a prompt slapping from Crystal Palace at home, where it became evident that all was not well behind the beard of the recently crowned “Secretary Of Defense (sic)”.

Sandwiched in-between those league fixtures was our first Thursday night episode of the season, where we promptly slapped Wolfsburg off Goodison to the tune of 4-1. It was the competition where we produced our best performances of the season. Maybe it was the way we are set up to play, maybe it was freedom from the shackles of Premier League struggling, maybe it just was that the league in this country is so competitive and others seem easy by comparison. Apart from the Ukrainians like, they’re mustard.

September 23rd was the date that our latest and bravest attempt at winning a cup we’ve never won that no one is apparently really arsed about fell apart, as Swansea swatted aside the a piss poor Everton team and our hopes that we did indeed have a squad that would cope with the extra games. A thoroughly piss poor beginning to the domestic season was underway. Like lpnging really hard for beards to neck one of the fittest girls in your year and when you manage it she kisses without tongues.

The final fixture of September was against Liverpool at Anfield and despite an insipid performance from both teams it was the blues happier at the end as Phil Jagielka gave a captain’s goal to savour right at the death. Sniff that you rash faced scruffs.

October yielded six points out of nine in the league and two useful away draws in the Europa League in Russia and France, the only defeat coming to Man United where Oviedo nearly nicked a late point. The month ended on a high as two Samuel Eto’o goals slapped Burnley back into the 1970s.

It was seeming that the ship was steadied, even if we hadn’t got the sails out into the open wind yet.

November offered further hope as we steadily picked up points with draws against Swansea and Sunderland, and a win at home to West Ham. The Europa League gathered pace as we first dispatched with Lille at Goodison with relative ease and then produced one of the performances of the season away at Wolfsburg where Martinez’s counter attacking set up punished a confident Wolfsburg team who were second in the Bundesliga. This was more like it, you seen the cojones on us? Then, for me a turning point of the season. If you like it was the jarg anti Kevin Brock moment.

Away at White Hart Lane on the back a few good wins and with only one defeat in eleven games it was Everton making the early running, indeed it was rewarded with boss Kevin Mirallas goal. It was looking sound until Spurs then turned the match too easily in their favour and all of a sudden everyone noticed we were playing attacking midfielders out wide and things were never quite the same.

Into December it was.

We played seven games and lost five, drew one and in the one that we did win against QPR it was soured as the crowd wasn’t too happy at the dull football and lack of desire to go right after a terrible QPR side that rightfully got relegated. It was a bit surreal as Everton were 3-1 at the time and coasting, and it preceded a run of results that were like an unwanted DeLorean ride back to the 1990s.

Southampton, Stoke, Newcastle and Hull overcame the dullest and meekest Everton I’d seen for some time. Suddenly there was a seismic shift of opinion in the fanbase with hostility towards Martinez and his position thriving as we dropped down the league. It was a miserable time, the shittiest Christmas since yer mar got you adidas four stripe off Greaty market and a BMX with spokes, not mags.

Knowing what we know now takes the edge off it, we finished the season reasonably comfortably but no one knew then if the freefall would be curtailed at any point soon. There were players out of position – an annoying persistence in playing Barkley, Eto’o and Naismith out wide. A meeker defence than anything more than forty miles west of Baghdad and the obvious rumours of Martinez losing the dressing room. The players were sick of the pedestrian football if you listened to the usual guff and the only way we could get out of it was by playing more long balls.

You knew that things were a bit weird when there was an uproar at Joel Robles getting dropped, in a weird decision by Martinez that started a lot of doubts which maybe many Evertonians will be able to rid themselves of too easy. Or maybe they don’t want to rid themselves of the doubts as a small portion had hedged their bets on a Portuguese manager who wore an armband. As you can see this wasn’t a time for middle ground, no way, and the polarisation of a fanbase into two distinct camps was well underway.

In the end neither of them particularly won. But it was fun, right?

Martinez decided to make Everton harder to beat by packing the midfield with defensive players and moodied out some draws and a win away to Crystal Palace at the end of January.

It was around this time of the season where there were some moves in the transfer market that seen Samuel Eto’o shipped out after just a half season to Sampdoria and Aaron Lennon join on loan from Tottenham until the end of the season. Eto’o was a free signing and left as one, so apart from considerable wages in between his loss was minimum. He was a higher class of washed out player to tell the grandkids you saw play for Everton – certainly better than Ginola and Gascoigne, but he never got going. Playing on the wing wasn’t the best way to utilise him and there was some rumblings of dressing room influence but with these things we just never will know. Guess some things don’t work out, shame.

Lennon’s arrival was not met with widespread eager anticipation but he turned out to be a very important cog in a run of games later in the season that would ease things considerably for the club.

The next game was the Goodison derby and a midfield of Barry, McCarthy and Besic was dull but enough to smother a point. Then came the second dip of the season, a double dip recession of a season, if you will.

A run of games cumulating in a crushing 5-2 defeat in Kiev, the only high points being a two leg win over Young Boys of Switzerland and a three nil home win against a laughably bad Newcastle. The rest of it was painful, and the a particular low point being not able to do it away at Stoke on a cold night with a 2-0 slip but more worryingly an Everton team devoid of any confidence or ability to fight back. Once again the pressure, and justifiably, was on Martinez.

The exit from Europe was predictable as it was painful and while there were plenty of awful performances throughout the pitch it was Alcaraz who excelled in the shiteness department. Such performances are not easy to shake off in the mindset of an Evertonian and it was the beginning of the end of him, as Stones came back and cemented his position as the first choice central defender next to Jagielka. The boy from Barnsley is a very big bright spot for the immediate future for the club and at the end of this season he’s established himself as the brightest young player on the books, some feat when you consider the feelings towards Barkley a year ago. John Stones quite simply is the utter tits.

A rebound was on the way and it started with a very scrappy away win at QPR which turned into a backs against the wall job at the end and relied on Aaron Lennon scoring one of a few important goals.

April seen us take ten points out of twelve and regain some of the swagger we’d enjoyed the previous season. Our best league performance of the year was saved for Man Utd at Goodison where we proved that it didn’t take Moyes to manage them for us to give them a rough slapping out. It was 3-0 in the end but we were better all over the pitch. A degree of optimism returned tentatively.

It was during this period where a couple of things stood out, as mentioned above John Stones being one of them as he carved a great understanding with an impressive Phil Jagielka at the centre of defence. It’s coming towards the end of Jagielka’s career and I reckon it’s a bit too easy to get too used to having his reliability at the back. There is often misty-eyed preference for Lescott and Yobo but Jagielka has been as a good as any of them and to boot has the valuable commodity of consistency with it. He rightfully took the Player Of The Season – which said a lot when it was a defender really.

The important changes in our climb to mid table dossing also included McCarthy being pushed a little further forward, with Gareth Barry retained as just a sold defensive midfielder. McCarthy’s energy was influential up the pitch and got him a couple of goals. He’s not going to have the vision or flair to unlock the better defences but it was an effective move and something we will see more of next season hopefully.

The last effect was Lennon and Coleman building a relationship on the right. Lennon grew more and more confident in the team and his pace was very useful in making teams play just a few yards deeper against us when we were under pressure. Lennon’s work rate endeared him to the fanbase too, and allowed Coleman to find some form which had been missing throughout a very average season for him.

I’m not sure if Lennon is the answer long term but if available for a reasonable deal then we could do worse than make that loan permanent. All will be revealed in the summer, or more likely in the first day of September.

So as the Martinez polls swung back into his favour – the polls are badly ted by the way you X-Factor beauts – we rolled into May wanting to make a good final impression and extra places in the Premier League. Fittingly for a dull season we made a hash of it as we lost to Aston Villa, Sunderland and Spurs and gained an ace injury time win away to West Ham.

Distin got a generous see off in the last game against Spurs, a game where Spurs were just much better than us at all areas across the pitch. There’s plenty of room to grow this summer for sure.

We finished in 11th place which is a big disappointment considering the excitement going into the season and the players we’d added. Sadly 11th was about right but there was times when it was a lot more worrying.

Whilst Jagielka took the Player Of The Season and John Stones the Young Player Of The Season it was an underwhelming season for the vast majority of the squad. Apart from that run at the end of the season and in Europe we just didn’t fire or play like how we should.

There’s some holes to be fixed for next season such as Martinez settling on a system which makes us play with players comfortable in their positions. Our presence in the final third always needs looking at too, Lukaku scored 20 goals which is no easy feat but in the league his influence was disappointing for the most part. The service and system set up to support him didn’t make it easy but it just increases frustration when you hear him again making comments in the Belgian media when one season into a five year contract.

He should remain for next season but it’s a big one for him, and not just him but many more.

None more so than Martinez. Amongst many there’s almost Western style mistrust of Putin as Everton’s Manager right now. Scousers are not easily seduced by blue sky thinking talk and dull football served up for their weekend escape at Goodison or wherever.

Recent stability of Everton has been based on not being too hasty and with one good season and one poor season in the bank it would be churlish to get rid of Martinez in a Geordie style fit of misplaced self importance. There’s been enough evidence to suggest that if – and that’s a big if – it does click in a sustainable manner then there are gears that this team have that others previously may not have had.

But one of them gears needs to be a trophy winning one as it’s now a full twenty years since an Everton skipper put a trophy over their head. That only increases the anxiety of a lot of the fans, which, wrongly or rightly, places pressure on Everton managers to deliver. I doubt we’ll see the patience afforded to Moyes at any point soon in the near future.

It’s going to take some money and that’s another sticking point.

There are a few bright points to generate optimism, like a young spine to the team of developing talent. There are a number of already established players like Stones, McCarthy and Lukaku that should only get better each season that passes. A talented bunch of young players as demonstrated by Galloway at the tail end of the season are bristling through. The Thursday night distraction wont be there next season so full focus and pattern will be on domestic interests.

The season we have had gives full mandate for the changes Martinez or the indeed the club want to make. It’s a perfect opportunity to move on some of the older players who aren’t contributing much. Not that they’re toxic, but there’s little sentimentality in top-flight football. Thanks for the memories.

Season 2014/15 will no doubt go down as a large portion of meh. I believe in time it won’t be recognised as the disaster that many paint it but it was a very Everton season of promising much but delivering relatively little. Only in years to come will be able to examine its place in a process of positive or negative change, or indeed stagnation.

A season that asked more questions than provided answers. Very Everton indeed that.

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