Opinion: Hull City 2-3 Everton: Victory Despite a Comedy of Managerial Errors

Disasterclass. That’s the only word that comes to mind when I think back on Rafa Benitez’s managerial performance during Everton’s trip to Hull City in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Although the Toffees escaped the MKM Stadium with passage through to the 4th round of the world’s oldest club competition, they made it so much more difficult than it needed to be, and that falls on the shoulders of Rafa Benitez.

The Spaniard’s mistakes began as soon as they could have; with the team selection. He chose to start in a 5 at the back formation again despite Brighton exposing its many flaws just a week ago. I can’t begin to express just how cowardly playing a 5-back against a team sitting 19th in the Championship truly is. Benitez chose to start Salomon Rondon, a truly baffling decision unless nepotism is the actual reason for his continued selection. He is simply not good enough on the pitch, and Lewis Dobbin has not yet signed a contract to stay at the club past this season, so giving him the manager’s trust and a start in the FA Cup makes so much sense not only so that Everton don’t lose him a la Thierry Small, but also because he simply offers more, as we saw when he eventually came on in extra time. Benitez also chose, as a part of the back-5, to play the ever-aging Seamus Coleman as a centre-back despite Mason Holgate’s presence on the bench. Just perplexing.

Merely 45 seconds into the game, Hull City took the lead through Tyler Smith’s header from a freekick delivery. It was the 9th time Everton have conceded from a set-piece so far this season; the Toffees gave up only 7 throughout the entirety of the 2020/21 campaign. That’s down to the manager. The Tigers thoroughly dominated the first twenty minutes, and Everton were lucky they didn’t make it two, as Asmir Begovic made a great save to tip over another headed effort, this time from Eaves, to prevent them from doubling their lead. After another defensive breakdown, the Bosnian was called into action yet again to save a powerful shot hit straight at him again from Hull’s #9. Those first twenty minutes were pathetic and miserable from an Evertonian perspective.

Everton seemingly finally got off the team bus in the 21st minute when, after taking the ball down with a lovely outside of the foot flick, Demarai Gray played a neat one-two with Anthony Gordon and then opened up his hips to slot home superbly. Just about 10 minutes later, Gordon got on the ball again and weighted a perfect pass to Jonjoe Kenny, who then whipped in a cross which was met by the head of Andre Gomes of all people, and Hull keeper Nathan Baxter was unable to keep the Portuguese’s effort out. Everton took a 2-1 lead into halftime.

The Toffees yet again started slowly at the beginning of the second half, but luckily did not concede this time around. Hull made a triple change in the 63rd minute to try and turn the tide back in their favor, and Benitez’s response 3 minutes later was… bringing off Everton’s best performer of the match in Anthony Gordon, who was nothing short of running the show in attack. After a deluge of wasted chances for the Toffees, Hull subsequently scored 5 minutes later through a quite brilliant strike from substitute Ryan Longman. This prompted a change in formation from Benitez to a 4-3-3, which he should have started with, as he brought on Abdoulaye Doucoure for Jonjoe Kenny and left 33-year old Seamus Coleman on the pitch instead. Salomon Rondon remained on the pitch. After even more wasted chances, Rafa made his final change of regular time, this time bringing off another of Everton’s best performers in goal-scorer Andre Gomes and replacing him with Jean-Phillipe Gbamin, because a defensive midfielder who has played 3 games in about 2.5 years is certainly the best option off the bench when you are trying to find a winning goal. Salomon Rondon remained on the pitch.

Luckily, Nathan Baxter bailed Everton out, failing to stop a long-distance effort off the right boot of Andros Townsend; a good strike, but one that should definitely be saved. Only after Everton had found the goal, and the second half of extra time was to begin, did Benitez sub on Lewis Dobbin, and it was for Demarai Gray who had clearly been blowing for at least 30 minutes beforehand. Salomon Rondon remained on the pitch. Dobbin was very industrious, showing off some great skill and desire, and I don’t think it’s at all controversial to say he offered more in 15 minutes than Rondon did in the 117 minutes he was on the pitch. Cenk Tosun was the man to finally replace the Venezuelan, and the final whistle blew shortly after.

This was one of the least satisfying Everton victories I can ever remember, and it comes down to how much more difficult it became due to the manager’s incompetence. Did Everton being robbed of 2, if not 3 stonewall penalties due to the absence of VAR help? Certainly not. But the fact remains that this could have been an extremely comfortable, multiple-goal victory for Everton within 90 minutes had Benitez had his head screwed on. I cannot understand what Moshiri sees in Benitez which has led him to not only effectively dismiss Marcel Brands in favor of the Spaniard, but give him about 10 second chances in the midst of the club’s worst string of results in over 25 years. Although Everton will progress in the FA Cup, it’s an empty victory for me, and I imagine most of them will be this season until the manager is finally given his marching orders. It’s plain and simple: Rafa Benitez needs to go.

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