It’s been a grim few weeks for Evertonians. An alarming inability to score goals has seen the team slide down the Premiership table, with fans disgruntled not only by the lack of firepower, but with many also questioning the tactical decisions employed by manager David Moyes.
Things were certainly stale. A desperate over-reliance on Tim Cahill to provide the match-winner was never more clearly demonstrated than in the away game at West Ham, where he was employed out of position as a lone striker, despite the manager having three forwards at his disposal. All were relegated to the bench. It was a move that backfired spectacularly, with the Blues only coming away with a draw against a struggling side they were expected to beat comfortably. This, coupled with a desperately disappointing 2-0 defeat at Stoke just four days later, left fans fearing for the future, with some questioning whether Moyes had achieved all he could at the club.
Something had to change, and with Tim Cahill leaving to join up with the Australia squad for the Asian Cup, Moyes’ hand was somewhat forced ahead of Wednesday night’s game against high-flying Tottenham Hotspur. There had been an increasing clamouring among the supporters for former Leeds United striker Jermaine Beckford to be given a chance in the starting line up alongside Louis Saha, but until now Moyes had stubbornly been sticking to his rigid 4-5-1 formation.
Beckford’s opportunities since his free transfer from Leeds in the summer have been limited so far, but fans have seen enough in his fleeting appearances to believe he will adapt to the demands of the Premiership given time and games. His touch and precision may not be quite there yet (although his injury time goal against Bolton showed what he is capable of) but he creates chances and his positioning is excellent, a rare commodity among Everton strikers this season.
There was renewed hope and optimism then, when against all expectations, Moyes elected to switch to 4-4-2 with both Beckford and Saha in from the start. While Beckford himself didn’t make it onto the score sheet, the pair linked well and with more game time, could easily prove the answer to Everton’s goal problems.
The overall team performance on the night was excellent, with Sylvain Distin exceptional in defence, Marouane Fellaini commanding in midfield and the mercurial Mikel Arteta almost back to his best after a below-par first half of the season. Tim Howard pulled off a couple of magnificent saves to deny Tottenham and Seamus Coleman continued to impress, terrorising the Spurs back line with his rampaging runs down the wing.
But it was Louis Saha who provided the stand out performance of the night. His impressive strike just three minutes into the game was enough in itself to earn him plaudits and he almost capped the display with a fierce, narrowly deflected pile driver late in the second half.
But his goal was not the only impressive aspect to his play. Saha looked rejuvenated, a player out to prove a point. He chased, harried and tackled and looked a far cry from the man who has left so many Evertonians frustrated by his apparent apathy and lack of effort in other games this season. He thrived with a strike partner alongside him and looked to be enjoying his football again.
The fans have been trying to send Moyes a message over his team selection for weeks. In 90 minutes on Wednesday night, Saha made their point for them loud and clear with his display. He clearly wants to play in a 4-4-2 system. With Cahill’s continued absence, him and Beckford (who also needs a partner to maximise his potential up front) will hopefully get their wish. Everton can only benefit as a result.