Everton’s pre-season dream of Europa League success ground to an inevitable, depressing halt in Lyon on Thursday as the glaring lack of a recognised goalscorer was again painfully exposed.
Caretaker manager David Unsworth will be relatively pleased with the effort from the younger players, but the lack of a striker, the poor first touch far too often of Gylfi Sigurddson and a needless red card for Morgan Schneiderlin will not sit well with anybody connected with Everton who endured their fifth consecutive defeat.
Knowing that another victory for his side would see Everton eliminated, Lyon head coach Bruno Genesio opted for a near full strength line-up of: Lopes, Rafael, Marcelo, Diakhaby, Mendy, Tousart, Ndombele, Cornet, Fekir (c), Depay and Traore.
With many Evertonians of the opinion that a settled side might begin to bear fruit, interim boss David Unsworth surprised them on Wednesday by confirming that Leighton Baines, Wayne Rooney and club captain Phil Jagielka were not travelling to Lyon.
Michael Keane also missed the trip to France as he battles to recover from injury in time for Sunday’s visit to Goodison Park of Watford, resulting in a call-up to the squad for 18-year old Bootle-born defender Morgan Feeney. Unsworth finally settled on a starting eleven thus: Pickford, Martina, Williams (c), Holgate, Kenny, Gana Gueye, Schneiderlin, Baningime, Lennon, Sigurdsson and Lookman.
Hailing from Israel was referee Orel Grinfeld and his assistants.
Not a full house in the stadium, but no shortage of vocal support for the Blues from over 3,000 travelling fans – fantastic support considering the position Everton find themselves in – for the love of the club and team, outstanding !!!
Inevitably and right from the outset Ashley Williams was booed, by the Lyon fans, with his every touch of the ball.
Lyon were into their stride almost immediately and looking to stretch the Everton midfield and defence with width and pace on both flanks from Depay and Cornet. Martina picked up a ridiculously early sixth minute yellow card for pulling back Cornet who looked to have way too much pace for the Dutch fullback.
A decent left wing link-up between Lookman and Sigurdsson gave Lookman a cross into the box that was cleared before Lennon could get there. Everton had weathered the early Lyon pressure and with Baningime and Lookman bring their U23 understanding to the team, the Blues began to enjoy some better possession.
The first real goal threat saw Pickford alert to deny a Traore header off a Depay cross in the 23rd minute with Fekir firing the rebound across the face of goal with a slight tough from the Everton ‘keeper.
Rafael turned sweetly to lose Lookman, get forward and cross into the box for Fekir who thankfully skied his one-time effort over the bar. Cornet was next to turn on the speed as Lyon countered quickly but Baningime did just enough to see the winger run the ball over the byeline.
Depay with a 35-yard free kick tested Pickford who was happy to punch clear with Martina hurt trying to complete the clearance and falling awkwardly. Worryingly for Everton and Cuco Martina, he appeared badly hurt with a possible head or neck injury and a lengthy period of attention saw him stretchered off to be replaced by Mo Besic.
Besic dropped in at right back with Jonjoe Kenny taking the place of Martina on the left as Everton sought to get to half time and re-evaluate during the interval.
Pickford pushed away a Traore shot after Depay dispossessed Schneiderlin and created the opening before Kenny did well not to panic in collecting a Mendy cross and turning to clear.
Jeers rang out just before the break when Williams and Pickford got in a muddle, with the Everton keeper falling even more awkwardly than Martina, but thankfully not incurring an injury.
Scoreless at the break and despite no cutting edge, something of a minor moral victory for the Blues given Lyon had enjoyed 67% possession and scored a first half goal in each of their last seven games.
Half Time: 0-0
No changes by either manager for the second half saw the Blues push Gana Gueye further forward and it almost paid instant dividends as a sweet little backheel from Lennon found the midfielder but his slightly mishit shot was easily dealt with by Lopes.
Besic introduced himself to Depay with a strong, ball-winning challenge as the home side looked to get back on the front foot and when Besic misplace da pass, Traore fed Cornet on the right, but his left foor shot was easily dealt with by Pickford.
Fekir went down in the box under pressure from Holgate, the Isreali referee correctly waving away penalty appeals as the Everton defender had got the ball first. Schneiderlin then picked up a needless yellow card on 57 minutes for arguing with the referee.
Lookman with a great burst forward after dispossessing Mendy found Sigurdsson, but his flicked effort was cleared by a joint effort from Lopes and then Marcelo, but this was better from the Blues.
On the hour mark, Dominic Calvert-Lewin replaced Gana Gueye to try and give the Blues more of a goalscoring threat in the final thirty minutes
Lyon, somewhat surprisingly, withdrew Fekir for Aouar moments later and switched Depay to the left flank to try and use his pace and trickery to expose Kenny now at right back.
A decent move started by Schneiderlin and Kenny saw Lennon, Lookman and DCL all involved to set up Sigurdsson for the shot that skewed wide of target.
Almost immediately, Lyon grabbed the lead as a tackle by Schneiderlin saw the ball fall kindly for Traore who stayed calm to make the most of the time and space to coolly beat the onrushing Pickford on 68 minutes. That was the last involvement for Traore as he was replaced by Mariano Diaz.
Nikola Vlasic became the third change for the Blues replacing Aaron Lennon in the 71st minute, the last throw of the dice for the Blues desperate to find two goals.
Any hopes of an unexpected fightback though were cruelly curtailed on 76 minutes as a long ball found Depay who quickly fed Aouar to consumately bend his shot beyond the despairing dive of Pickford.
And if an early exit from the competition wasn’t embarrassing enough, Schneiderlin picked up his second yellow of the game and second red card of the season for a needless foul on Cornet right under the nose of the referee.
With a little over two minutes left to play, Lyon rubbed salt into the gaping Evertonian wounds as a fine cross into the box from substitute Ferri was headed home powerfully by Depay.
Full Time: 3-0
What more can be said that hasn’t already been said about the shambolic state the club currently sees itself in?
Five straight defeats… an unbelievable lack of goalscoring threat… poor form and awful decision making from too many players… and a successful U23 manager valiantly trying to take on a poisoned chalice of a challenge.
Over the years, Everton have endured a number of threadbare times and without wishing to sound overly melodramatic, this current time is surely the most threadbare of them all.
Out of the League Cup, dumped out of Europa in just four games, in the bottom three of the league table… about the only bright aspect is the application and effort of the young players drafted into situations far beyond their tender years and experience.
Every Evertonian will have their ideas and opinions on who we need and how we’re going to get out of this mess, it is to be hoped that the powers that be act positively and decisively.
Sunday and the visit of Watford has just taken on even greater significance, and more than ever the players in blue will need the support of the fans – only together, will we get out of this shocking, shocking situation.