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Don’t go breaking Blue hearts…

In 49 years of watching Everton, I’ve seen some wonderful footballers play some magical football, the Holy Trinity, Latchford and Thomas, the Kendall mid-80s’ sides and the occasional flirtation with success of the ‘punching above our weight’ teams under Moyes.

Along the way there’s been trophies and despair, but in hugely uneven proportions the wrong way. Too many times we’ve been the bridesmaid when being the bride was within reach – 2009 FA Cup Final and the 2016 League Cup and FA Cup semi-finals to name just three.

But that was history and we have to deal with the ‘now.’

Up until the mind-boggling added-on time defeat at Anfield, there were some reasonable signs of improvement emerging, albeit slowly. But given the depths of anguish under Koeman and Allardyce we were seeking to break free of, Evertonians well used to needing patience in bucket loads, were sensing daylight at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.

Since that derby loss though, the despair has returned as the signs of improvement have all but disappeared. The green shoots of recovery have either died or gone back into hibernation awaiting sunnier days.

We’d begun to play some attractive, attacking football. We’d begun to look like a team, something we haven’t done, dare I suggest since season one under Martinez. We’d begun to play some footie with a swagger, a style was emerging and hopes were raised, maybe prematurely, that a corner was being turned.

Almost all of that pre-December optimism has disappeared, evaporated into the ether and Everton Football Club needs to fathom out precisely why, and furthermore implement strategies and policies that will prevent it ever happening again.

Is it the players, is it the coaching, is it the manager, is it the board of directors, even is it the supporters? We all have opinions, some much stronger than others as to what the hell has and appears still to be going wrong.

Boxing Day at Burnley was a most welcome Yuletide gift, but we didn’t build upon it. Was the somewhat fortunate win over Bournemouth a new dawn? We earnestly hoped so but after a quite shocking and supine defeat at Southampton, the rather overwhelming thought now is that we aim for the mythical forty point survival mark and then take a deep breath of relief.

Farhad Moshiri joined the club and has invested heavily. Bank debt was resolved, Goodison got a facelift, ambitious plans for a new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock were launched and the transfer business went into overdrive.

Almost three years have elapsed since Moshiri arrived, but for the rank and file supporter, little appears to have changed for the absolute better where we can see the evidence – on the field of play.

Borrowing a catchphrase from National Rail about problems on the trains, we need to ‘See it, Say it, and Sort it.’

Moshiri upon listening to and reading the match reports from St.Marys’ might find himself thinking, “Do I need this?” But then, if you’re a billionaire, I guess you also think, “I have (some) responsibility for this…”

Let’s cut to the chase… it needs saying… Moshiri probably needs to be wondering whether Marco Silva is the right man for the job, or organising and getting the best from a group of young men? Moshiri might need to be calling a meeting with his newly appointed Main Board Director of Football Marcel Brands to ask, “Marcel, what do you think right now?”

What such a conversation might need to also address is… is this manager ever taking this club into serious European competition?

He can be given all the statutory soundbite statements – support, patience, adjustment period blah, blah, blah but beyond his bent to attack, which is admirable, where’s the philosophical steel that players can cling to when things go wrong? And as many are posing in lots of other forums, if there was a plan A yesterday there certainly wasn’t a plan B.

Whether that conversation takes place and what might be said, is all a matter of pure conjecture. And as we’re still carrying financial responsibilities for previous managers and coaching staff, it’s probably reasonable to suggest that Marco Silvas’ position is safe… for now.

So let’s look at other issues…

Not for the first time this season, at Southampton our team were beaten, simply and pretty straight forwardly by another ordinary team – because that’s what we are at present – who simply wanted it more.

Southampton came into the game off the back of an exit from the FA Cup last week that went to extra time and penalties. Shouldn’t they have been both mentally and physically tired, well if they were they gave a pretty fair imitation of not being. They were hungrier for the ball, quicker to the ball, stronger on the ball and they played to their strengths, as individuals and as a team.

Their manager put together a game plan based on quick counter attacking and occasional Route One football, and his team clearly understood and adopted the plan successfully… and Everton failed to see it and consequently had no idea how to adjust to nullify the hosts.

In contrast, it was hard trying to figure out exactly what our game plan was other than to dominate the possession. Sure we did that but in so doing, failed miserably to register one shot on target in the first half and only two in the second half.

Playing Richarlison as a lone striker just doesn’t suit the boy, lumping balls out of defence for him to try and win in the air was and is futile. Gylfi Sigurdsson saw the game pass him by for long, long periods, he’s got skills of that there’s little doubt, but does he have it within him to take a game by the scruff of the neck and run it… the jury is out.

The adoption of zonal marking continues to astound and confuse many fans and seemingly one or more of the players too.

Andre Gomes has gone from looking breath-taking in November to looking lost in January, and his early substitution didn’t appear to come as any surprise to him. Collectively, Everton were second best all over the field, with the possible exception of Jordan Pickford and on loan Kurt Zouma.

We played with no great pace, too often – as in recent seasons – players looked for the safety first pass, more in a ‘get rid’ way of playing rather than a way of trying to hurt the opposition.

If we’re not going to do any January transfer business as appears likely, surely we need to stick DCL up front for the rest of the season with the service to him from Richarlison wide left, Lookman wide right and Sigurdsson from midfield?

There’s no real need to go much further with a hatchet job on the performance at Southampton, we’ve all seen pretty much the same traits since the beginning of December. We’ve lost that sense of confidence, swagger and style that was slowly emerging and we’ve scuttled back into our shells, hoping the next error or goal conceded can’t be blamed on me.

There’s another question that also needs to be asked and answered… about leadership.

Right now, we just don’t seem to have a natural leader on the team. We’ve had no fewer than five starting captains this season but I still cannot see a player who all the rest can and will readily turn to for direction, guidance and inspiration. Moreover, who in this current squad can we honestly point to and say, ‘he cares as much as we do.’

I’ve only ever been a fan and being honest, it’s been a few years since I went traipsing all over the country to cheer the Blues on, these days my season ticket in the Main Stand is my footie fix, but I admire and respect the stoic steadfastness of the fans who do still make the every week effort to follow the Blues.

What I know for absolute certainty though is that a fan lays his or her heart on the line every single time the team comes out to play, the roar that greets the players merely serves to confirm that.

We all know we can’t win every game and if we played Barcelona tomorrow, we’d expect to get beat, but equally, we’d expect our team to play to the best of their ability.

When that simply doesn’t happen and on a hideously regular basis, a fans heart breaks.

Back in 1976, Elton John wrote the following lyrics, and they describe perfectly the relationship between football fans and the club they support… “Right from the start, I give you my heart, Oh… oh I give you my heart, So don’t go breaking my heart…”

It seems in this day and age, that doesn’t count for diddley-squat.

And as a final thought we perhaps and albeit reluctantly have to accept, that clearly Guardiola and Klopp are the best and most recognisable examples that it is possible to take and mould a bunch of strangers into a functioning, proud unit.

Right now, this Everton squad are neither functioning nor proud.

(Originally published on my personal blog – andycostigan.wordpress.com)

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