Everton: Have We Squandered Our Best Chance Of Silverware Under Moyes?

Despite taking to the pitch with their strongest team, Everton still lacked creativity and killer-instinct in the crucial final stages of yesterday's match.
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Despite taking to the pitch with their strongest team, Everton still lacked creativity and killer-instinct in the crucial final stages of yesterday's match.

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If Everton’s players had ever wondered what it feels like to play against Everton, then they had their curiosity sated in Saturday’s game against Sunderland.

Adapting to limited resources, under David Moyes Everton have excelled at closing opponents down, a tactic that has worked to stunning effect during 2012 (derby mauling aside).

It’s a template that Sunderland adopted wholeheartedly for much of the game yesterday; an approach that has deservedly earned them a replay at the Stadium of Light.

Going into the game it was Everton who were the most fancied. The team’s form since the new-year has been a joy to behold and along the way we have taken our fair share of big scalps. The midweek upset against the Shite has been the only blip; and even that can be explained away by the absence of the majority of our key players.

The Everton side that took to the pitch was one of our strongest and in light of this, and the fact the FA is pretty much all we have to play for now, the team should have dominated from the off. And yet it was Sunderland who emerged as the side most likely to score.

For the first quarter-of-an-hour they attacked Everton with a sense of urgency that seemed to temporarily stun the home-side. It was an approach that, initially at least, seemed to suggest that Sunderland had come to do more than simply contain the opposition.

It was of little surprise then that the away team took the lead. Expecting a cross from a free-kick outside the box, Everton were slow to react when Sunderland played the ball infield instead, and Phil Bardsley scored his first goal of the season with a powerfully drilled shot that found its way through a sea of players into the bottom corner of the net. Although Tim Howard had his vision blocked, this takes nothing away from the strike which would likely have gone in view obscured or not.

As though roused from their slumber, the goal seemed to goad Everton into action. Sustained pressure eventually resulted in a goal mid-way through the first half. From one perspective you could view it as a jammy equalizer. Jelavic’s header from a Leighton Baines cross was likely heading wide before Cahill interrupted its flight with his head, guiding the ball goalward past the helpless Mignolet.

If Everton’s players had ever wondered what it feels like to play against Everton, then they had their curiosity sated in Saturday’s game against Sunderland.

But from another (more partisan) perspective you could say that Cahill deliberately put himself in the right place at the right time and reacted with incredible speed to Jelavic’s flick-on. Had a more recognised centre-forward done this then the second perspective would be viewed as the most likely. But Cahill suffers from his role of temporary centre-forward and so is not seen to possess the same killer-instinct of someone like Van Persie or Rooney.

At 1-1, and with both teams frenetically chasing around the pitch, the game promised much. But at this point Sunderland seemed to morph into their opposition and for the remainder of the match their display became an exercise in containment.

Everton dominated possession from then on, specifically during the second half during which Sunderland were consistently under the cosh.  It’s to Everton’s detriment then that they were so unable to make the most of their dominance.

Although there were certainly moments when we came close. The most frustrating of which was the double save that Mignolet made from first Heitinga and then Jelavic, one that effectively kept Sunderland in the competition.

For much of this season a continued criticism of Everton by both fans and pundits alike has been an absence of both creativity and a killer-instinct in the final third. And this was apparent again yesterday.

There is no doubt that Everton have players with vision and flair. Drenthe in particular is one who looks dangerous whenever he has the ball. But he remains a player with potential and is a long way from the finished product.

There is no doubt that Everton have players with vision and flair.

The truth is that we miss Arteta. The hole that he has left has not been filled and because of this the team seems to be reliant on crosses, corners and free-kicks as methods to manufacture chances. Playing people in behind the opposition’s back four or sliding a sneaky ball into the penalty box simply don’t feature in Everton’s arsenal.

And this formulaic style of play is not helped by our lack of fire-power up-front. Jelavic is certainly a more welcome prospect than the hapless Saha. His work rate is more impressive, he seems better on the ball and though his prowess in the air is more suited to Everton’s style of play. But on the evidence of yesterday’s performance, whether he is the man to remedy our inability to score is still open to debate.

This inability to turn possession into goals could ultimately cost the team dear. Sunderland, as illustrated in the opening fifteen minutes of the game are a dangerous side going forward. They also proved that they are more than capable of containing Everton. With home advantage they represent a difficult prospect and are likely the favourites to progress to the semi-finals.

All Evertonians knew that this was going to be a tricky season. A lack of money, a small squad and need to sell players was never going to result in us winning the league. Having said that, when you look at who is left in the FA Cup there is a belief that Everton could beat any of them and redeem this most disappointing of seasons with some silverware.

For everything he has done for the club David Moyes deserves to win something. I only hope that in failing to kill off Sunderland when the chance was presented, we haven’t squandered our best opportunity to provide him with the trophy he so richly deserves.

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