Everton: Counter Attacking Is Beautiful, But Are We Fit Enough?

Everton's unbeaten run was terminated by a lethal second half performance by Manchester City yesterday. However, the dodgy ref didn't help and the Toffees' brilliant first half points to a successful first season under Roberto Martinez.
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Business as usual then. Although not helped by one of the most bizarre refereeing performances I’ve witnessed, Everton were comfortably beaten by a City side with an embarrassment of riches. Many will write off Everton’s chances of elbowing their way into the top four, following this deeply uninspiring turnout, but it’s too early.

During the first half hour of this game, we looked the football equal of City. Our counterattacking and crisp, confident passing made our host’s defence look quite ordinary – it was a delight to watch and a touch surprising too. We hit them on the break at will and might have had a brace of goals before the half was over. It was surprising as I expected City to come out all guns blazing, after their midweek humiliation at the hands of Bayern. However, for the first 30 minutes at least, we easily matched them for poise and pace.

The early exchanges saw bursts of tidy football and several half chances. City’s impressive left-sided defender Kolarov headed one over the bar followed by a shot on goal. He’s good isn’t he? His speed and precision reminded me of Baines at his best. Lukaku might have scored earlier than he did when he almost got on the end of a ball that Joe Hart, looking like a blond baddie from The Dirty Dozen, did well to clear.

City had one or two more tries, before Lukaku worked his bit of peerless magic. A long ball was played through, the big man broke City’s offside trap, turned former blue Joleon Lescott inside out and squeezed it under the hapless Hart. It was a brilliant individual goal, the kind most strikers dream of scoring, as cheeky and fantastic as Ian Wright in his prime. I was still enjoying the majesty of the goal minutes after it passed. So much so, I barely registered City’s reply 90 seconds after it hit the back of the net. Negredo, whose face makes him look like he suffers from a profound case of permanent bad mood, was played through brilliantly by Yaya Toure and slipped it past Tim Howard in what looked a carbon copy of Lukaku’s goal. At this point it looked like we had a corker of a game on our hands – two teams with something to prove, playing high tempo attacking football. Everton continued to look dangerous by hitting City on the break, but we couldn’t add to Lukaku’s bit of magic and the energy visibly drained from our creative players. Kevin Mirallas, who was subbed in the second half, did look dangerous at times but he seems to have also been struggling with an old injury. After almost playing Lukaku through for a goal, his influence on the game quickly fizzled out.

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Argentina’s version of Clive Allen, Sergio Aguero, should’ve scored after a beautifully worked free kick that resembled a One Direction dance routine.

The half wore on and as Everton’s hold on the game loosened, so did ref Jon Moss’s grip on reality. He made so many bad decisions that a DVD of this match will probably form part of an FA training course in years to come.

He gave nothing when Lukaku was bundled over in the City box, yet deigned to hand the home side a penalty in the second half when Coleman basically knocked Zabaleta over with his breath. It was an extraordinary contradiction. He booked players for careless, not reckless, tackles and looked the other way when some threw their weight about.

His control on the game, or lack of it, was compounded in the 39th minute when Aguero stole in and hit a shot hard and low past Tim Howard to make it 2-1.

The 2nd half belonged completely to Manchester City, it was such a contrast with the first period. Everton offered little in the way of attacking ideas and their best performers were dreadful. Lukaku appeared unable to trap a bag of Blue Circle, all our attacks came to nothing when he got the ball. Ross Barkley wanted too much time on the ball and looked a little sluggish. He did create our best chance of the half however, with a fantastic defence-splitting pass that our striker couldn't reach.

City, on the other hand, with their megabucks attack-happy stars, looked like they might carve us open at will. A gulf in class and confidence opened up in the 2nd period and our fate was sealed by Aguero’s penalty.

How does the land lie for Everton, now that we’ve lost our unbeaten tag and looked so ordinary for most of this game? It was a proper head scratcher, how did a team that looked so good in the first half, look so commonplace in the second?

Perhaps there’s a fitness problem with some of our squad? Maybe they need to manage their energy levels more efficiently somehow. The current team’s flame burns less brightly towards the end of each game and Martinez needs to work on fixing it. Having said that, the counter attacking was a thrill to witness and it adds another weapon to our growing arsenal. Don’t write us off just yet.

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