You could be forgiven for thinking after last week’s enthralling comeback against Blackpool, Everton would have gone into Sunday’s match against Bolton Wanderers in high spirits and brimming with confidence. In reality, the team put in one of the most abject displays of the season, lacking passion, drive and commitment.
The 2-0 defeat was galling enough in itself. Bolton have certainly exceeded expectations under Owen Coyle but the thousands of Evertonians who made the short trip to the Reebok Stadium expected the Blues to come out on top. Yet it was the manner of the loss that gave the biggest cause for concern.
From the first whistle, Everton were second best. Bolton assumed control immediately, aided by the lack of pressure from anyone in a blue shirt, spraying the ball around the pitch with ease and finding themselves gifted with an alarming amount of time and space. It was only a matter of time before the first goal came and once they fell behind, Everton never truly looked like clawing back any kind of result.
The defence was shambolic, with even the usually reliable Sylvain Distin and Leighton Baines having an off day and the midfield was non-existent, with Marouane Fellaini in particular guilty of one of his worst displays since joining the club. Tim Cahill, restored to the starting line-up after his exploits in the Asia Cup, was also uncharacteristically off the pace. While Bolton produced wave after wave of attack, Everton failed to show any signs of the team spirit which has seen them triumph in so many games where they have been under the cosh. There was no cohesion, no-one willing to take the game by the scruff of the neck and put in a strong challenge where it was needed, no-one prepared to lead by example. In short, it was woeful.
With such a lack of togetherness on the pitch, it was no surprise that goal-scoring opportunities were limited to half chances. Manager David Moyes, once more deprived of the injured Louis Saha, opted to start with Victor Anichebe up front instead of Jermaine Beckford. It was a move that backfired spectacularly. Anichebe on his day, can cause the opposition untold problems, as he proved in the second half against Liverpool, but sadly these days are increasingly few and far between. His selection yesterday was presumably based on the premise that he would use his size to bully the Bolton defence and hold up the ball, when in fact the striker struggled to do either. Granted the service he received was poor, but his touch was nowhere near Premiership standard and the histrionics of rolling around on the floor and remonstrating with the referee after every challenge an embarrassment. As if to make matters worse, if that was possible, his attitude just before his substitution, where he refused to track back and strolled around the pitch like a sulky teenager, was unforgivable.
Jermaine Beckford must be wondering what exactly he has to do to deserve a place in the starting line-up. Moyes’ dilemma is this; Beckford needs a strike partner. Saha provides the perfect foil, Anichebe so far hasn’t proved successful. Yet Beckford is a player growing in confidence, creating goal-scoring opportunities and finding the back of the net. Surely Moyes should be looking for ways to integrate him into the team, rather than relegating him to the bench in favour of Anichebe, whose goal-scoring record is far from admirable. While Saha remains sidelined, could Cahill provide the ammunition for Beckford? Surely it’s worth a try.
Moyes cut a disconsolate figure on the sidelines on Sunday. Questions have been raised about whether his reign at the club has reached its natural end. Certainly his team selection at times is baffling, but let’s not forget where he has taken the club during his reign on a shoestring budget. It may be that he has become disillusioned by the lack of investment in the team and he could hardly be blamed for that, but what will undoubtedly concern him more is the lack of effort shown by his players.
The FA Cup replay against Chelsea on Saturday now takes on massive significance. Moyes and the supporters will be demanding an improvement from the team. Chelsea are struggling for form and there is no reason to fear them. If Everton can play to their potential they have every chance of progressing to the next round. It is up to the players to show they have the necessary desire to get there.