Everton: Fellaini's Stupidity Against Stoke City Could Cost Us Europe
Wouldn’t the league be more exciting if clubs were awarded two-points for a draw? It’s not that I’m biased or anything. The fact that Everton have drawn so many games this season has absolutely no bearing on the way that I feel. I just think it would make the league more exciting - and coincidently benefit teams that can’t manage a win in the process.
The past few months have been a frustrating time for Evertonians. Despite dominating many of the teams that we have faced, the club has been unable to turn advantage into victory. Although happy at being amidst the higher echelons of the league, there is a feeling that had the team been possessed a more pronounced killer instinct over recent games there is every chance that Everton would have drawn less games and could therefore have topped the table.
But this can’t be said about yesterday’s game. For once, I can honestly say that we were lucky to emerge from this with anything at all.
Some Evertonians would be forgiven for thinking that getting Spurs, Arsenal and City out of the way in recent weeks represented the end of our tough patch in the fixture list. But Stoke away was always going to be a tricky fixture. And this isn’t down to the fact that, as some pundits like to claim, the home-side plays it negative - kicking it long, getting excessively physical, sticking men behind the ball. But rather because Stoke, specifically at home, know how to play. They might not have the talent of a team like City or United, but the Potters have the players and approach to thwart any side they come across. Tony Pulis is tactically astute and this is arguably why the club haven’t lost at home in fourteen months.
So the game was always going to be a challenge. All the more reason then, for Everton to put in the kind of performance that has characterised the team’s season so far. But rather than do this, what the fans were to treated instead was an Everton performance more reminiscent of the Walter Smith or the Howard Kendall - versions .2 and .3 - years; the kind of limp, uncommitted showing that leaves you feeling flat.
Maybe I’ve been spoilt by what has happened since August. During this campaign Everton have been on-fire, in a good-way. We’ve been playing a style of football that’s been absent from Goodison for years; fast, attacking and creative. And so, it’s possible that the side weren’t that flat yesterday and that it’s only by comparison to our recent performances that they seemed so poor. But I doubt it. I’ve seen enough disappointing Everton performances over the years to recognise that unique sense of laboured desperation.
In light of such a poor performance, we owe the fact that we left Staffordshire with a point to two factors. The most obvious is the own goal gifted to the side by Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross. Everton have had a lot of bad-luck this season - hitting the post more than most, the loss of key players for lengthy periods and some terrible refereeing decisions - and so it’s nice that good fortune smiled upon us for a change.
And it was just as well because it wasn’t like we were going to score our own goals. Despite creating a few chances, Everton continued to lack any predatory instinct in front of goal. Miss of the day arguably goes to Leon Osman, who somehow managed to put a golden opportunity wide, when it seemed easier to score than miss. David Moyes wasn’t the only one with his head in his hands following this further example of his side’s wanton profligacy.
Aside from Stoke’s kind gift of a complementary goal, the other factor contributing to Everton leaving with a point was the inability of any official to witness the obvious headbutt inflicted on Shawcross by Marouane Fellaini. Although we could probably claim that around 80% of the impact came in the form of afro and therefore couldn’t have been that harmful, it was still unquestionably a red-card offence and one that could have turned the game in Stoke’s favour had the culprit been sent-off.
At the point in the match when it happened, Stoke were gathering momentum and it’s likely that the absence of one of Everton’s key players, someone who does much to occupy the minds of opposition players and managers alike, would only have added to this. Stoke fans can feel justifiably disgruntled that Fellaini was allowed to stay on the pitch.
Although we got lucky yesterday, I doubt Everton’s luck will hold-out over the coming days. Clear television evidence and a contrite admission by the player himself mean the authorities will likely issue a lengthy ban to Fellaini some point soon. So far this season his form has been integral to the team’s impressive performances. While we are far from a ‘one-man team’, much of what we do flows through Fellaini and so his absence over the Christmas period will be keenly felt.
I think the most disappointing aspect of this affair is its complete pointlessness. There was absolutely no reason for Fellaini to do what he did. This was an unprovoked attack on a fellow professional. Although it looked like the Belgian had begun to mature this season, when events like this happen you begin to wonder whether that is really the case. This kind of abject stupidity is what you’d expect of a younger player or from those handful of volatile arseholes who always seem to be on the cusp of going-Hulk and viciously attacking an opponent.
Whatever his motivation, Fellaini’s decision to headbutt Shawcross could well prove pivotal to Everton’s season. A lengthy ban will rob the club of one of its most potent assets and might, in the long-run, cost us that all important top-four position.