Around this time last year, draws weren’t necessarily a bad thing. Everton were just beginning to emerge from a pretty dire start to the season and getting any points on the board was welcome. There was a sense of grim satisfaction derived from the results that we ground out of opponents too. It might not have been pretty but for a team without much attacking potency or creativity, it was the best that Evertonians could hope for.
The same thing can’t be said this season. Everton are one of the most creative teams in the Premiership, conjuring up more chances per game that many other ‘bigger’ clubs. We’ve also dominated sides across the league, handling the likes of Manchester United or Manchester City with as much ease as we’ve managed the likes of Villa or Sunderland.
But despite thwarting the attacking potential of our opponents and creating chances by the bucket-load, what the Toffees seem unable to do is convert all of this into goals and wins. The club has drawn a depressing amount of games this season. We’re only half way through the current campaign and so far we’ve chalked up ten draws, more than anyone else in the top eight. And in most of these games it’s the case that Everton should have gone home with all three points. Time and again we’ve failed to press home our advantage and left instead with a single, disappointing point.
And this was the same tale yesterday. Everton - Swansea is a fixture that you would expect the home side to win. Swansea are by no means a poor side. Under Laudrup, they’ve successfully defied expectations that this would be a difficult campaign and illustrated that last season’s success was as much about the players and the club’s philosophy as it was about the dubious talents of their previous manager. But despite this, they’re still a club that a team like Everton would be expected to beat at home, specifically taking into account our form this season.
Yet despite battering Swansea yesterday, laying siege to their goal and restricting their own opportunities to a solitary Michu shot, the hosts were unable to turn dominance into victory. We were guilty of profligacy for the umpteenth time this season, squandering chance upon chance and letting the Swans off the hook.
Although there were plenty of players who missed decent opportunities, such as Phil Jagielka, Leon Osman and Marouane Fellaini, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that if Everton possessed a natural goalscorer, such as the witless, cheating f**k that plies his trade across ‘the park’, then the shortcomings of our midfielders and defenders would be less damaging.
He might be loved by the Goodison faithful, work like a dog throughout the game and never let his head drop, but Nikica Jelavic has not, so far at least, turned out to be the ‘free-scoring goalscorer’ we thought he could be. All that tantalising promise from last year, when it looked as though Everton had finally found the answer to the problem that had dogged us for years, namely our need for a natural goal-scorer, seems to have evaporated. Jelly is a good player and works hard for the team but to be honest, I would rather have a lazy-arse who scores over a grafter that doesn’t.
The absence of someone who can turn our dominance into goals, is the only ingredient that Everton are really missing at the moment. Across the rest of the side we’re packed with quality, creating the best team that Moyes has put together and also the best to grace Goodison Park for a generation.
Although the return of Kevin Mirallas at some point in the near future might do something to redress our lack of attacking potency, a strong case still exists for the signing of someone to support Jelavic up-front and take the strain until the Croatian’s form returns. Despite his obvious enthusiasm and occasional flashes of genuine threat this season, Victor Anichibe is probably not the man for this job. He’s at best a squad-man, someone to bring on for the last ten minutes if things aren’t going Everton’s way. He’s not really the person that Evertonians should be placing their faith in if they want the team to finish in the top-four.
Whether we have the funds to sign someone possessed of the quality to start turning our chances into goals is another question. For a club of our limited resources, taking a punt on a quality striker, one who likely won’t come cheap, is always going to be a massive gamble. We’re not Liverpool; there is no bottomless pot of money to piss away on idle fancies. What resources we do have need to be managed carefully and there are other areas of the team where replacements will need to be found in the coming years.
Some of our players are starting to reach the point in their careers where age is becoming an issue and it’s clear that Everton will soon need to be on the lookout for a new keeper and someone to play at centre-half. Moyes might be adept at finding a bargain, but quality players to fill these roles are still going to eat into what little cash he has available.
What Moyes and Everton face is a quandary unique amongst those who are genuinely challenging for a Champions League place, the need to judge our aspirations against our budgetary constraints. If other managers need a forward, they just go and buy one (or two). Moyes, by contrast, has to assess whether such a purchase will damage our long-term ability to compete by reducing what cash is available for other positions in the team.
What seems clear is that, short of Jelavic rediscovering the form that he possessed last season, it’s looking less and less likely that Everton are going to be able to secure that much coveted position in the top four. Other teams around us, such as Chelsea and Spurs (and even Liverpool) are finding form, incrementally chipping away at the points advantage we once held. It was always going to be a big ask for a club like Everton to smash their way into the millionaires club but it would have been good for us, and for football, proving for once that money isn’t as important in the game as everyone likes to believe.