On Monday night, the Goodison Park crowd roared as a couple of excitable figures on the field put in an effervescent effort. It was a noise befitting of the old stadium’s revered atmosphere and arguably the loudest din to emit from the fans in attendance in what’s been an unrelentingly moribund season for Everton.
But the ovation conjured by the Evertonains was not reserved for their team; it was during half-time for the filming of the latest facet in a long overrun film series (Rocky, starring Sylvester Stallone). The excitable figures? Director and producer, most probably.
As for the Everton team, the fans were not quite so vocally appreciative. Admittedly, not without justification, as a side that looked to be slowly turning a corner were comprehensively nullified by some rudimentary Tony Pulis-isms. For all the poor days the Toffees have endured in a campaign to file away in perpetuity, the Goodison Park airspace was laced with an especially toxic tinge.
Kevin Mirallas’ selfish penalty faux pas did little to satiate a fanbase desperate to see a side united. It’s a positive that he’s feeling confident and wants to score goals, but to take the ball off a set-piece specialist like Leighton Baines—with the score at 0-0 against a dogged defensive side and with Everton searching for their first victory in eight games, no less—despite his teammates’ protestations represented harrowingly poor judgement from the winger.
But while the Belgian’s apparent breach of team directives is quite simply unforgivable—something that will surely stoke stories about a potential move away from the club—the subsequent discussions about the incident have detracted from the rest of the detrimental goings on at the club.
It’s gotten to a point where going to watch Everton at home is an unsettling experience and faced with a West Bromwich Albion side that were unashamedly content with bunkering in for a draw, frustration quickly poured out from the terraces.
In truth, the tactics employed by the Baggies were not too dissimilar to what many sides implemented at Goodison last season, but with the Toffees sitting just six points clear of the league’s bottom side, patience and understanding has been replaced by blind panic amidst the fans.
Of course, the performances on the field have been the trigger of the angst in the stands and the players have a duty to expedite the route back towards a more placated Goodison Park. But the supporters—as difficult as it is to criticise those who have paid extortionate amount to watch the dirge served up this season—are not helping matters.
Ross Barkley is a player that’ll certainly testify to that. The midfielder is currently enduring a difficult run of form—something that is to be expected of any young midfielder of his capricious playing style—but a coalescence of raw vexation and poor results have seen a lot of fans turn on the 21-year-old; the consequential stick—scrap that, volleys of abusive invective—that came his way during the clash with West Brom was some of the worst I’ve witnessed as a match-going Evertonian.
It’s really, really sad to see and no matter how poorly he’s playing, it’s got to stop. A lad who has been touted for great things is being implored to take on an entire team by the supporters and when he looks to take chances, he’s castigated with just as much clout if it doesn’t come off.
Every touch of the ball he has is greeted with murmurs of apprehension and at this juncture, Barkley is a mere shadow of the brash young talent that was bristling with mercurial vim last season. He looks absolutely terrified to flourish in front of his own supporters, his own local people!
It’s all well and good lambasting the players and the manager, but it’s going to to take a collective effort to haul Everton out of the mire, meaning the fans also have to play their part.
One of hallmarks of recent positive displays against West Ham United (twice) and Manchester City has been a clear unanimity between the aforementioned facets of the football club. But it’s a precarious balancing act after such a desperate run of results, one that was hopelessly skewed again during the stalemate against the Baggies.
Roberto Martinez must be the primary catalyst for positive change, though. With no game for 12 days—sadly, something most Evertonians are delighted about—the manager will take the players away for warm weather training, with a horrid run of fixtures to face upon their return. Indeed, a trip to a replenished Crystal Palace outfit is followed by a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park and subsequent trips to Stamford Bridge and the Emirates stadium to follow in the three games after.
With that ominous fixture list to come and with the club perched just four points clear of the relegation zone at the moment, all recent tangible factors—one win in 13 games, having failed to beat teams like West Brom, Hull City, Stoke City and Swansea City at home—point towards a relegation scrap for the Toffees.
Too good to go down? Perhaps on paper. But the seriousness of the predicament is something that doesn’t seem to have quite dawned on the players or the manager as of yet; make no mistake, at this juncture Everton are a team that’s sleepwalking towards the bottom three places.
With those fixtures to come, the significance of the Toffees’ situation could be brought into stark focus sooner rather than later.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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