The Executioner’s Bong – An Obituary Notice

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Dear Readers,

I’ve enjoyed writing The Bong for the past five years, however I’ve decided it’s time to call it a day.

As per most of my posts to date, here’s a protracted epitaph when a couple of sentences would suffice.

 As the title of the blog suggests, the objective was never particularly serious or commercial, more so a recipe of cynicism, tactics, sneering and cavalier punctuation, and bizarrely it seemed to strike a chord with a wing of the toffee fanbase.

Whether it be character assassinations, sopranos simile’s or haphazard tactical ponderings, it’s been fun writing.

I’ve equally enjoyed interacting with fellow toffees via the blog, and speaking to them via Twitter, or in person in pubs and at the match. This been marvellous, which is remarkable given that I’m a very miserable man who generally avoids social interaction at all costs. I’ve been called all sorts along the way, like, (best one being “pseudo intellectual bullshitter”) but on the whole its been ace.

Sometimes things just run their course, though, and I think it’s time to put the plug in the jug.

Thanks again to all those who have supported and constructively interacted, and to those who’ve given me exposure to greater audiences along the way. In truth I’d probably have kiboshed it a year or so ago if it wasn’t for the positivity you’ve all thrown my way, so thanks lids.

All the best


Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 3-1 Chelsea

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Teams and Tactics

Roberto Martinez resisted the temptation to put a fast winger onto ageing baldy Branislav Ivanovic down Chelsea’s problem right side,  instead opting for the grafting skill set of Mohammed Besic in Tom Cleverley’s left midfield spot.

Chelsea restored Terry to the visitor’s rickety defence whilst there was also a start for Mikel, presumably to ‘bolster’ midfield, whatever that means.

First half

Martinez previously selected Besic on the left against Liverpool away last season, but he was largely ineffectual and rarely crossed the half way line, thus on paper this appeared perhaps a tad cautious from RM. The plan seemed to be to stay in the game as long as possible and then bomb on after break with the plethora of attacking options we had on the bench.

The result was something completely different, as Everton stuck up their middle finger to all concerned with a swashbuckling, high energy opening half hour against the Champions.

The unfortunate Besic’s cameo ended in woe –  as it did 12 months ago against the same opponent-  this time pulling up with a hamstring injury after a collision with Zouma. Martinez opted for the only snide for snide replacement open to him, with Naismith joining the action down the left flank, and it was down this channel that a lot of the damage was done.

The strategy was to play with a ‘low block’ inviting Chelsea to push us high up, meaning spaces behind Terry co were aplenty when we won the ball back.

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Gareth Barry continued his run of covering more distance than any of his colleagues in every league game this season.

Much maligned midfielder Gareth Barry won the most tackles and blocks for us, and his endeavour off the ball was instrumental in coordinating pressure in the Toffee engine room. On the ball, his pass through the inside left channel to Lukaku was our most frequent pass combination of the game, and often the trigger for rapid counter attacks.

Firstly a slick 9 man, 19 pass move, which started with Tim Howard ended with Naismith, opened the scoring. Brendan Galloway’s role was crucial here, interchanging passes with the Scot before whipping in a lovely cross that his teammate superbly dispatched with his head, aided and abetted by Zouma and Matic politely ignoring his run.

Naismith Treble - Goal #1

Naismith Treble – Goal #1

Before you could say THIS ONES FOR YOU MATT LAW, it was two-zip, and again it was Naismith. This time Lukaku interchanged passes with Kone down our right flank, set Barkley free who teed up Naismith to expertly drill home from 20 yards.

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Naismith Treble – Goal #2

In between goal number two Kone and McCarthy could have done more damage, with Begovic saving smartly from both to keep the score respectable.

Chelsea ended the half in the ascendancy, however, and Matic plundered an absolute shalacker to half the arrears on 36 minutes, meaning there was still  plenty of work for us to do after the break.

Second half

Rather than retreat further, Everton’s backline actually moved up 10 yards to form a ‘medium block’ after the break, with Naismith and Kone tucking in well from the flanks to help compress the middle of the park.

Chelsea’s swell of possession grew, but it was largely in non-threatening areas. Indeed, barring a flurry of corners they rarely opened us up, with Howard having his quietest afternoon of the season.

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The final act of Naismith’s three card trick was again instigated by the burgeoning Barkley.Credit to the youngster here, he created more chances and won more fouls than anyone on the pitch – it was a display of the highest order.

This time he was the architect of a scintillating 7 man move, and in doing so collected his 2nd assist of the day and 3rd of the season. After some great work down the left,  Barkley rejoined the move on the opposite flank, then played an ace one two with Lennon before teeing up Naismith for the coup de grace.

It was only the sixth ever hatrick  from a top flight sub since football was invented in 1992, and the first scored by an Everton player against Chelsea since Dixie.

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Naismith Treble – Goal #3

The Scot’s finishing was sublime, but equally so was his trademark work rate and snide factor off the ball, with a game high of six fouls underlining his status as the game’s chief-groc, ahead of benchmark piss boiling reptile Diego Costa.

 In Conclusion…

This was a richly deserved win for the mighty Toffemen, and there was some real stand out displays from Martinez young pups, notably from Galloway, Barkley and Stones, however this display and the goals we scored was all about the collective.

Credit to Martinez, too. You could argue that he got it wrong by not starting Naismith, but ultimately we’ll never know what would have happened if Besic wouldn’t have gone off. In a nutshell he got his gameplan bang on. Bravo!


Tactical Deconstruction: Spurs 0-0 Everton

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It’d be a fair assumption to say that RM’s pants have been pulled down in his last 3 tussles with opposite number Pochettino. In each contest the Toffees have lost, but it’s been the manner of defeat which has been more emphatic than the 1-5 aggregate scoreline to Spurs would suggest. Shots wise, we were out-gunned 45-28 over the 3 games, and on the ball Spurs had more effective possession, creating a stack more chances in open play (36 v 22). It’s been a similar tale of woe off the ball, with Spurs intercepting play 64 times to our 24.

In short, we needed to up our game here to have any chance of getting a result.

Teams and Tactics

There was just the solitary change for us, with Bryan Oviedo returning in place of the injured Galloway at left back. Spurs started with Mason playing off Kane, with rather narrow looking support coming from Chadli on the left and Dembele on the right. Both sides were pretty much 4-2-3-1.

First Half

The first ten minutes was all about Everton, with Kone the focal point of attacks as we collectively squeezed Spurs deep into their own half. The main out ball for this pressure was a direct one, from Howard to Kone, and the Ivorian was our star turn in this half, winning his keeper’s long kick outs to the right flank, holding up play and then linking with on rushing midfielders.

Despite our early dominance, Spurs grew into the game and had the best chance of the half after Oviedo was outmuscled on the edge of the Spurs box. The impressive Mason was first to the loose ball, and pinged a cracking ball over the top of our backline for an offside looking Harry Kane to run onto. Luckily for us,  the forward’s finishing has given off a more potent gust than his Lynx Africa sprayed boxies this campaign, and he again fluffed his lines badly, making a shocking first touch which enabled Howard to close the angle and make a smart save.

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Our only effort on target in the first half came from Cleverley after an error from Walker allowed him a 1v1 opportunity at Lloris that the keeper repelled fairly easily. Cleverley went off soon after with what appears a bad ligament injury, and was replaced by Kevin Mirallas.

The first half was following a similar pattern to previous RM v MP games, with Spurs creating 9-2 chances in open play and off the ball regaining possession double the amount we did 28-14.

In general one of the main reasons we’ve struggled against Pochettino is that his midfield has youth and legs aplenty; they can get in position well and all defend and control the space – at least defensively – really well. This means that invariably passing angles through midfield are blocked off meaning it was difficult for Barry and co to thread balls into Barkley.

As the half ended we were again controlling the ball, albeit failing to get in behind a deep Spurs backline.

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Second Half

Shortly after the interval Spurs were forced into a change when Dembele suffered another bad-looking knock. Pochettino moved Mason  out to the right, and Alli central. The two injuries either side of half time probably benefited Spurs more than us, as without Cleverley we lost some control in the middle of the park with Mirallas – set pieces aside – hardly touching the ball. In contrast Alli gave Spurs a bit more penetration and zip to their attacking play.

On the hour mark Spurs really started to turn up the gas with their share of possession shooting up to 70%, thus triggering a flurry of chances for the home side.

The much maligned Barry, already on his customary yellow, was really creaking at this moment, with he and McCarthy struggling in the face of a high energy, free fowling, midfield pressure triangle from Spurs. The home side were making gains down our right side, and in particular through Chadli, who created the most chance in the game.

Firstly, after a gaffe from Barry, Mason forced Howard into a point-blank  stop. Then, Before you could say STITCH THAT MOWEEINIO YA SEAT SNIFFING QUEG, Spurs had another chance, with Alli  firing a wayward effort after Jagielka and Barry had failed to clear their lines.

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Whilst he struggled at times, Barry still recorded the most distance covered of any player on the pitch, maintaining his 100% record this season.

Credit to Martinez here, as he made a change which took the sting completely out of Spurs.

Lukaku had for the most part toiled and spent most of the second period berating the service being played into him down the right, so it wasn’t  a big surprise when the more industrious Nasimith replaced him.

The ex-Rangers man was only on the field for a short period of time, but his niggling, snide factor enabled us to win 3 free kicks (Lukaku had won 0 before going off) in the Spurs half and stemmed the tide which had been building before he entered the field.

The Toffees could have even have nicked it late on, when Kone diverted Oviedo’s cross inches wide of Lloris’ goal.

In Conclusion

Few would argue that Spurs created the better chances, and the game in general followed the usual Martinez/Pochettino flow, but fortunately not the usual end result.

It’s a really useful point for us at a ground we have struggled to get anything from in recent years, although our lack of attacking thrust, now shorn of the impressive Cleverley, will give Martinez a few headaches ahead of the looming transfer deadline.


Tactical Deconstruction: Everton 0-2 Man City

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Teams and Tactics

There was no personnel changes and one positional change for the home side. Perhaps wary of the threat City carry down the left, Cleverley swapped flanks with Kone, seemingly with a brief to stub out Kolorov and anyone else drifting into his corridor of uncertainty. It was pretty much a flat 4-5-1 with Barkley the closest support to Lukaku. The Citizens were also unchanged from last week’s demolition of Chelsea, lining up in a 4-2-3-1.

 First Half

The approach from Martinez was less direct than last week’s South Coast beano, presumably due to the physical advantage City had on us with Kompany and co. Rather than last week when Howard tried to get the ball forward as quickly as possible with his kick-outs to Lukaku, the preference here was to slowly develop play out from the back, notably down the right flank with Coleman via Stones and McCarthy.

The approach yielded mixed results.

Adversely it meant that often the service into Lukaku was slower, and for the most part the Belgian was well contained by his marker, the much maligned Mangala.

Arguably our most threatening moment of the half came when Howard decided to lump one, hoofing a first time punt towards Lukaku, His flick allowed Cleverley to arrow in on goal, only for his enterprising surge into City’s final third to be halted illegally by Fernandinho, who was doing a good job of covering his back four and his fullbacks in particular. From the resulting free kick Lukaku skimmed the bar which, along with his disallowed goal, were our closest calls of the half.

It was certainly more of a submissive home display than usual, focused on retaining shape and making it hard for City to play through us.

In the first half it worked to a point in that we were competitive and still in the game at 0-0, although by then our visitors had carved out enough clear-cut chances to be at least one up. The stand out chance ended in Howard making a smart save from Aguero after Silva had drifted over to our left side to combine well with the tireless Navas. This chance was a result of City’s focus down their right, with  inexperienced third choice left back Galloway not exactly being ably supported by Kone. As good as the Ivorian was in our opening two games, here he was more of a liability from a defensive standpoint, and one bizarre dribble 20 yards from his own goal could have cost us dearly.

Barry recorded the most distance covered for the third game on the spin

Barry recorded the most distance covered for the third game on the spin

Second Half

After the break Silva ominously began to drift more and more to our left flank and influence the contest both on and off the ball. His focus was to exploit the spaces vacated by marauding surges from Coleman  in order to create overloads with Sterling/Kolorov.

With the after-taste of the half time mellowbirds still fresh in Howard’s mouth, Silva had already struck the American’s post with a stinging drive.

The imperious Spanish schemer is well-known for his majestic jinking, but his Machiavellian off the ball game management (cheating in English) regularly goes unnoticed. If you’re unsure, watch the game back and see his full repertoire of snidey pulls, off the ball blocks and one particular tug (ooh err) on young Barkley. As a fellow snide – minus the football ability – this should be applauded.

Anyway, back to the game, and here’s where the wheels sadly came off for the tricky blues.

Unsurprisingly, Silva’s two most frequent pass combinations were to City’s wingers – to Sterling (14) and Navas (10) times respectively. You know what the threat is with this cat, but dealing with it is an altogether different proposal.

The first goal came after Barkley threaded a pass to McCarthy 20 yards from City’s goal. The Irishman’s  touch was heavy, and this allowed City to regain possession and break down our right flank. Silva played a nice one two with Sterling who then threaded a splendid pass through a poor defensive line -with Jagielka playing the Kolorov onside –  and the Serbian duly broke the deadlock.

It was a moment of woe for Tim Howard,  criminally beaten on his near post when presumably expecting a pull-back by Kolorov rather than a shot. Given that we’d created minimal in City’s danger zones, the goal felt like a terminal blow.

Martinez made changes to the shape and personnel, but apart from a Barry header there was limited tangible outputs.

With the game now stretched, another Silva inspired counter attack  led to Navas stinging Howard’s gloves with a fizzing drive which the keeper repelled into touch. From the resulting throw, Nasri played a one two with the otherwise well shackled Toure, before deftly lobbing the keeper sooner than you could say JUST STARFISH HIM YOU PILLOCK. The keeper had a decent game, but it was completely undermined by these two gaffes.


Few would have any complaints that City deserved the win, in what was an impressive display by the season’s early pacesetters.

Martinez always seems to be caught between two stools with City; he’ll be cautious whilst never going Moyes uncut, and instead he’ll try to create and give them a game. The result is that we aren’t tight enough defensively and at the other end lack the numbers / craft to open City up.

It wasn’t a bad display, though, and positives included the displays of Barkley and Cleverley, however in general there was a lack of cutting edge as was shown by the shots on target count, which was 1-9 in City’s favour.

Luckily we won’t have to play sides of this quality every week, and attention will now turn to recruitment and trying to plug a couple of glaring gaps in our attacking arsenal before the visit to Spurs.


Tactical Deconstruction: Southampton 0-3 Everton

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After the doom and gloom of last week and the ensuing hysteria this week, Everton brushed aside their troubles to deliver a pretty much faultless spanking of Southampton.


Roberto Martinez made 1 change from last week’s line-up, with Arouna Kone coming in for Kevin Mirallas. On first inspection Kone was deployed as a right-sided forward in a multi layered 4-1-2-2-1 type setup. Yep, that formation probably doesn’t exist. Setup wise, Barry was deployed more centrally in front of Stones & Jagielka, McCarthy was towards his right with Cleverley hugging the touch-line a bit more on the left. In front of them Barkley (inside left) and Kone (inside right) played as narrow support behind Lukaku. Martinez was banging on about lines of passing on MNF this week, so you get the picture.

The Saints made one change,  with Shane Long attempting to break the most goals scored against Everton for different mediocre clubs record, from the left of midfield in a 4-2-3-1 ish setup.

First Half

One of the most obvious tweaks to our approach based on the evidence of the opening couple of games of the new season is how we’ve gone from back to front a lot more quickly than we did on average last season. Indeed, we’ve attempted more long passes than any side in the league apart from West Ham, and made the most accurate (66).

The usual tactic when Howard gets the ball is for the centre backs to split and for Barry to come in between and receive the ball to link play to the midfield/forwards. Yesterday this rarely happened with Howard opting to go direct, straight into Lukaku (albeit  with haphazard results). The ‘Big Belgian’ would then look to link play with Barkley  – which he did brilliantly – with the Lukaku-Barkley pass  our most frequent of the game.

For the first half this was the main outball, with Barkley then able to make short, forward passes into the feet of midfield runners Cleverley and McCarthy. He did this superbly, albeit the spaces between Southampton’s defensive and midfield lines were wider than Sammy Lee’s head.

Martinez is often criticised for advocating sterile possession in our own half, but here our play was predominately in the danger zones, and we posed a genuine threat every time we broke forward in numbers.

Barkley in particular was in the mood, and had more touches and passes than anyone on the pitch, and crucially more of his passes came in the Saints half than any other Everton player. He was also involved in both our first half goals, both of which, like him, were ace.

The opening gambit came from a goal straight out of the mythical counter attacking manual. Southampton will probably reflect that they should have had 2 rather than just the 1 man on the edge of our box when their corner comes in, but what ensued was sublime from Everton. As the ball broke loose, Barkley marauded, fed Kone down the right, and the Ivorian’s sublime, pin point cross was deftly despatched by the head of Lukaku. The sight of Cleverley and Galloway both busting a gut to get on the end of Kone’s cross was testament to the numbers and desire we put into such transitions of play.

After Barkley then missed a sitter after being put in from Lukaku, the resurgent youth then returned the favour by expertly slotting in the Belgian, whose crisp shot was swept into the net first time. Lukaku actually won the ball back at the start of this move in his own half, and it was typical of the pressure game we were sticking up the Saints at this point of the game.

The term unplayable is banded about haphazardly, usually by morons like Robbie Savage, but in this instance it was on the money;  Lukaku’s pace and power to gallop into the wide meadow of Southampton’s defence, allied to some ruthless finishing, was a joy to watch.

Second Half

Southampton changed things at half time with Romeu coming on for Tadic, presumably to get a bit more control in the  middle of the park where the battle had been emphatically lost. Romeu was tasked with adding some bite and retention to the centre of midfield alongside Wanyama with Davis a bit more advanced. Mane moved to the right and Long swapped over to the left.

The result gave Southampton more control in the middle of the park, but our defensive operation was so resolute that it was rendered futile.

Martinez re-shuffled the midfield and went to a  4-3-1-2 after the break with Cleverley forming part of a flatter midfield 3 (on the right side) with Barry left and McCarthy central meaning it was a 3v3 in the centre of the park.

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Barry covered the most distance for Everton for the second game on the spin.

With the middle ground compact, Saints were forced down our left flank and resorted to pumping in an avalanche of crosses (39) into our box. Whilst we dealt with such situations abjectly in the corresponding fixture last season, this time we held firm with the backline and Stones, or Chelsea target John Stones as he is now known, repelling the aerial onslaught of groc-chic Pelle superbly.

With the game fizzling out somewhat due to this midfield stand-off, the superb Barkley was to have the final say with a wonderful right footed strike following good work from Lukaku and Coleman. The big question mark over Barkley last season was his poor yield little of assists / goals for someone playing at the sharp end, so to follow-up his goal last week with his first goal/assist combo in the same game was a real sign of progression.

Last word

The control of the game and counter attacking threat Everton carried in the first half was too much for Southampton, and likewise our rigidity and shape nullified our hosts and shut the game down after the break. The performance of Barkley was the most eye-catching, and his link up with Lukaku will give Evertonians a huge shot in the arm of what could be in store for the rest of the season.


Everton 2-2 Watford: We’re gonna fume in a minute

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A hangover and a burnt head were the only tangible outputs to be taken from Roberto Martinez not-so-new-look Everton’s customary 2-2 opening day draw.

Team News

The big pre-match news was regarding Leighton Baines, and the ‘hammer blow’ that our key creative outlet will miss the start of the new season due to injury. In his place Martinez opted for centre back Brendan Galloway rather than the like for like width of Bryan Oviedo, with the backline otherwise as you’d expect.

In midfield, as per most of last season, we were again without our principal ‘3 wise men’ with Gibson and Pienaar injured and Osman only fit enough for the bench. This meant that responsibility for curing the creative void rested with debutant Tom Cleverley in the left-sided midfield spot, although he often shifted inside to enable us to go from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3. Messrs Barkley and Mirallas made up the numbers as the more advanced support to Lukaku.

Six of Watford’s nine summer buys were defensive minded players, and new boss Flores approach appeared a tad more conservative  to the gung-ho approach that secured promotion last season. The Spaniard setup in a 4-4-1-1 with Deeney supported by journeyman schemer Jurado.

First Half

The opening credits to the 2015/16 season were nothing short of a total shambles as the chosen ones endured 45 minutes of utter woe, and were lucky to still be in the game by the interval.

Its difficult to know where to start with this latest mess, but one of the major subjects of irritation was the sluggish passing from back to front, and the non existent service trickling through to a half-fit Lukaku.

The absence of Baines was certainly not helpful here; the left back offers our best outlet of service on the ball from defence  into the forwards, usually providing double figures per game for passes into Lukaku. His replacement Galloway did nothing wrong, but as an inexperienced centre back it isn’t really in his nature to ping angled passes into the attacking players, or for that matter to steam forward and offer width to the attack, and this was underlined by the fact that he made no passes into Lukaku in  the 60 minutes he was on the pitch. With Coleman intent on dribbling the ball out of play on the other flank, there was precious little in terms of output from the backline to support midfield and attack.

This was in stark contrast to the way Watford used Deeney at the other end of the pitch.

The supply line for the Hornet’s chief groc came from the impressive Holebas at left back, and from the gargantuan deliveries from Gomes in goal, who combined to play 20+ passes into the big forward. Deeney was then able to link play with the likes of Jurado and Anya, with Watford making significant gains down our right flank early on.

Before the break Watford’s greater purpose and penetration was rewarded with the opening goal, as Layun pinged home after Jagielka’s rash clearance from Jurado’s cross.

The 1-0 half time lead was the least Watford deserved, and with their disciplined, rigid two banks of four keeping us firmly at arm’s length it was clear that changes were needed if we were to get back into the game.

Second Half

The second half started in a similar manner, with Watford holding firm and any forward momentum for us being checked by Lukaku’s poorly timed runs, leading to a flurry of offside calls in our opponent’s favour. The forward only really had one sniff of goal all afternoon, but failed to move his feet quickly enough after an excellent centre from Barkley shortly after the break.

In response, Martinez rolled the dice and to his credit the changes made helped galvanise Everton to get back into the game in what was – at least in an attacking sense – a much improved second half display.

The Catalan’s key switch was to introduce Arouna Kone, who came on to replace Brendan Galloway. The resulting reshuffle meant that Gareth Barry switched to left back and Ross Barkley dropped deeper, allowing the Ivorian to join Lukaku and Mirallas as the attacking triumvirate.

Barry’s lack of speed is obvious, but his move to left back increased the quality of pass from the backline, and enabled us to get the ball forward quicker to Lukaku, who looked more of a threat with Kone now supporting him.

The much maligned ex Wigan ‘hitman’ isn’t anywhere near as bad as people make out, but its unquestionable that he has struggled to make any real impression since signing 2 summers ago.

Here, however, his impact was immediate.

Firstly he could – and probably should – have dispatched a header after a superb, pin-point cross from Cleverley down the right flank.

After more good work from Cleverley, this time to pick the odious Behrami’s pocket,  Coleman swung one in for Kone to contest. The sub controlled well was able to play a nice cushioned pass onto the right boot of Barkley, whose fourth shot of the game was emphatically dispatched, driving the ball high into Gomes net.

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Rather than turn the screw on our now stuttering opponent, another defensive gaffe, this time from Stones, was to put us right back to square one. After Gomes thundered a trademark massive throw downfield, Deeney was able to link with Ighalo who then cooly sidestepped rash lunges from both Stones and Jagielka to drive home from 20 yards.

Watford’s display had been excellent, and was only blighted by their west brom-lite ‘were gonna bounce in a minute’ bantz fest in the stands, an early shot across the bow to Villa in the funster stakes.

Sadly for the Hornet’s jesters there would be a sting in the tail, and, before you could say fuckoffeverton, the swaggering Kone would have the last laugh. After another good long pass from Barry down the left,  the weary Lukaku was able to tee-up his strike partner for a splendid right footed, angled finish past Gomes outstretched right arm.

'Were gonna buy Aldi trainers in a minute'

‘Were gonna buy Aldi trainers in a minute’

Last word

Many will look at this campaign as the true barometer of Martinez. Is he the tactical messiah of his first season or the muddled mess of the last campaign? The answer probably lies somewhere in between, and this game did little to confirm or dispel  either argument.

Starting Galloway was a weird call for me, particularly given that we had no real out-and-out winger on the pitch to provide width to attacks, something that will hopefully be remedied by the return of Deulofeu and, possibly, Lennon.

At the back we looked ragged and slow in possession, in midfield McCarthy was clearly rattled by arch-snide Behrami, and upfront Lukaku was well shackled by Prodl and Cathcart for the most part until Kone came on.

Martinez did show that he can influence games from the bench with his changes, however, and he will be hopeful that new blood, allied to the resurgence from Barkley/Kone and the enterprising display of Cleverley, can help us swiftly move on from this disappointing encounter.


Here Comes The Sun

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With our season shuffling towards it’s sorry close thoughts begin to turn towards the summer and potential ins and outs at L4.

Last season’s summer was widely regarded as a shambles, with a flip-flop themed pre season combined with suspect recruitment meaning we started the campaign in a weaker state than the previous one.

The only new additions to the squad 12 months ago were Atsu and Besic, with neither making any tangible impact on the field this season. Whilst Besic could do a job further down the line, Atsu was a half-baked tk maxx acquisition, and never an Everton player in a million years. In contrast the 4 sides directly above us in the table each invested in effective personnel that have enabled them to leapfrog us in the table.

This, combined with some of the other duds Martinez has brought in like Kone, Alcaraz and McGeady doesn’t really give the Catalan much room to manoeuvre this time round, and he needs to prove he can eek out value in the market with his low-mid range purchases. His big investments in terms of Lukaku, Barry (wages) and McCarthy have all been hits, but the rest have neither provided value nor represented any potential future profit in terms of sell on fees etc.

Granted Moyes wasn’t flawless in his recruitment, but being a frugal Scottish mingebag was undoubtedly a key factor in his impressive transfer strike rate, which, barring a couple of exceptions, was very good. Martinez record against his peers this season in terms of points per £ spent on fees/wages puts him 14th /20, so he needs to up his game.

The positive for Martinez is that he has a ‘unique opportunity’ to shape a new, younger squad according to how he wants to play.

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Who could go ….but probably won’t

Mass clear outs are always mooted, usually after either a bad result or 6 pints of foreign lager – or both. The truth is that such clearouts rarely materialise unless there has been a seismic change in the clubs fortunes i.e relegation, promotion or a takeover.

The consensus this season is that Howard has been absolute crud, and statistically the data shows that he’s been the most error prone keeper in the league. This, combined with poor handling of his area and his off field situation,  indicates that a change is needed. Personally I don’t see this happening for another 12 months.

Unwanted Speculation will also focus on the futures of key forward duo Lukaku and Mirallas.

Lukaku’s had a decent season in front of goal and is probably the best forward we’ve had for a quarter of a century, but none of the top clubs really fancied him 12 months ago and you could argue little has changed despite the goals he’s plundered in the Europa. He’s currently without a league goal from open play in 16 hours, and a move to another English Champions League side seems unlikely meaning any move would probably be abroad and a likely pay drop given the current position re tv money. Mirallas looks more certain than ever to stay, with his agents search for a Champions League suitor providing fruitless. Mirallas is inconsistent (and a tit) but unlike most of our roster he can finish 1v1, so he’s worth keeping on the payroll.

The hope is that James McCarthy will accept a comparatively modest upgrade on his terms to parity with the likes of Barry and Pienaar on £60k per week, a 50% increase on his current terms. The worry is that he’ll look across the park at Liverpool’s recent renewal of the services of Jordan ‘Hendo’ Henderson – amazingly at a cost to ‘dem yanks’ of £26m over 5 seasons with a £100k weekly wage. It’s a huge outlay on a relatively mediocre runner, and a player with arguably less in his locker than McCarthy.

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Where do we need to strengthen then?

Generally speaking the wing back and defensive midfield spots look healthy enough, and wouldn’t be areas we need to urgently prioritise.

Our goals per game this season has gone down to 1.2, the worst since Moyes nadir of 05/06. A look at the data will indicate this isn’t down to missed chances, it’s down to chances not being created; our chances created per game this season is 9 per game, which is 28% down on Moyes final season at the club.

The protracted demise of Pienaar and, to a lesser extent, Osman make a cunning, attacking midfielder who can operate wide and come in off the flank to influence things centrally, with youth on his side and an end product, our number one priority.

At the back our woes pre-new year focused on Howard’s prolific errors, combined with the unravelling of Distin. These problems have generally gone away since Stones return and Martinez shift to a more defensive approach in 2016, but you could argue the continued lack of equilibrium between defence and attack means he hasn’t really fixed the problem completely. From what I’ve seen so far there is no way the physically slight Besic is remotely close to being trusted further back, so we need a new centre half sharpish.

This interview with Moyes in the Guardian recently talked about how he wanted to get his recruitment network setup at Sociedad, and you’d hope that by now Martinez would have his infrastructure in place. The age of the squad – the 5th oldest in the league – is something which needs to be addressed as a priority, as is the mentality of the people he brings into the club. I’d argue most of his recruits haven’t had the right mentality, and that this has been a contributory factor as to why we find ourselves marooned in the middle of the table, comfortably at arm’s length to the likes of Stoke and Swansea.

There’s no sense of entitlement here, but finishing way adrift of these stellar names is not good enough.

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Who will definitely go then…

Distin and Alcaraz contract’s are both up and the duo look shoe ins to be sent to the glue factory in the coming weeks.

Luke Garbutt could well be on his way out despite Everton trying to avoid losing him on a free. To stay presumably he’d need to be given some assurances, which means Oviedo is probably on the endangered species list. If he’s actually any better than Oviedo is hard to determine. Yes he can take a good corner but defensively I’ve not seen conclusive evidence that he’s good enough to start crying over should he fuck off.

The likely departures of Distin, Garbutt/Oviedo, Alcaraz and the loan conclusions of Atsu and Lennon will this leave us five players light from this season’s squad, so in theory we need 6 to strengthen the ranks numbers wise.

The money saved in wages from Distin (60k p/w), Alcaraz £25k p/w)plus and one of either Garbutt/Oviedo – both on comparably lower wages – will be around £5.2m annually. McCarthy’s proposed new deal would eat into this by around £1.5m, so overall this would leave around £3.7m in the wages pot, the equivalent to £70k per week, i.e. not even a full Jordan Henderson.

Who is coming back ? ….and who could be bumped up?

A sift through our youth ranks will show that Hallam Hope struggled at Sheffield Wednesday, albeit he didn’t get on much and when he did he was deployed in midfield. Given he’s dropped down to League One again I’d strongly doubt he’s got a future with us. The same could be said about John Lundstram who endured an unspectacular loan at Blackpool, whilst Chris Long has had a more fruitful spell at the top end of the Championship with Brentford, scoring key goals and appearing the most likely to step up from the youth pool next season.

The nucleus of the u21 squad this season – aside from those on loan – have been defenders Galloway (centre back) Kenny (predominantly right back but can also play centre back/mid), Ledson in centre mid and Henen further forward, albeit the Belgian is only on loan at the moment. Whilst all four remain decent prospects – along with George Green – the likely outcome next season for all 5 will be loans – hopefully to Championship clubs – to get them closer to the first team for 06/07.

Who could come in?

Based on the above requirements I think 3-4 players will come in; a centre back (preferably left footed) with the experience of playing in a top flight league, a right-sided winger with pace and an intelligent attacking midfield player. Another quick, powerful forward player who can run in behind and put pressure on Lukaku would be good too, given that neither Kone or Naismith are capable.

To finish this protracted ramble I’ve had a look at our requirements , taken a look at what’s out there, analysed credible non itk links and put together the following shortlist of 5-6 players for each problem position.

Centre Back

At the top end of the spectrum, Real Sociedad’s Inigo Martinez is valued at £10m, although expect that figure to jump up if as expected creepy brenny and his seat sniffing gegs in. The 23 year old left-sided centre back is a bit like Cannavaro like in terms of stature –  he isn’t the biggest but will bring the ball out of play, can switch play effectively via a diagonal and doesn’t go to ground easily in the tackle.

Kara Mbodj is a different proposition altogether, the 6ft 3″ right footed Senegalese centre back is more physical, and can also slot into defensive midfield if required. Valued at£4m, he’s also the subject of interested from West Ham and Celtic. Mbodj is currently deployed at Genk but has spent previous time spent in the Norwegian top flight. Cameroon defender Nicolas N’koulou has enjoyed a very good season in ligue 1 but without European competition to offer , plus an obstructive £11m fee,  it’d be difficult to see us nabbing him.

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At a more economical £6m, the 20 year old Brazilian Doria is a competent left-sided centre half. Also owned by Marseille but currently on loan at Sao Paulo, he would be a decent balance to the right footed Stones. At the value end of the market, Bremen defender Jannik Vestergaard (market value £3m) has been ‘mooted’ by various ‘media outlets’ recently.The Dane would bring the height we lack in the squad although his major flaw is that he’s not as fluid on the ball as Martinez would like. At the netto end of the line is the 6ft 4 Filip Helander – a 22-year-old tall, Swedish left footed centre back currently plying his trade in Malmo. Helander would command a more economical fee of £2m, but would be something of a punt given his limited experience

Creative Midfielder

This is the top priority for me, and the options are aplenty. Eintracht ‘s 19 year old midfielder Mark Stendera (market value £4m) has 5 assists to his name this season, is versatile and can make things happen. Tom Cleverley – up to a month ago universally hated by his own fans more than Mick Quinn presumably hates himself – seems to be ‘first pick’ for this slot, and is nowhere near as bad as he’s made out. He’s also on a free which gives us a greater mandate to strengthen other positions.

New Picture (87)Sergio Canalas is a long-standing target for us. A left footed, attacking midfielder, like Inigo Martinez he is also currently plying his trade under former boss David Moyes at Sociedad. He’s previously played for Santander, Real Madrid and Valencia and is available for around £5m.

Dennis Praet, Anderlecht’s Belgian attacking midfielder, can ‘do a job’ on the left or right, and has 7 assists to his name this season. He’s still a relative pup at just 20 and his fee of £7m combined with low wages should make him affordable even to kenwrong.

The last name on my list is the Croatian Alen Halilovic, who can operate at number 10 or on the left of midfield. Halilovic is a mercurial talent; he’s slight and cunning, and is similar to Ossie and Pienaar in build and grace. Currently at Barca’s b team, the 18-year-old ex Zagreb playmaker hasn’t made a massive impact in Spain’s second tier yet, so it would seem a reach to pin much hope on him hitting the ground running at L4.


In terms of the wing role, the clamour for Aaron Lennon to be recruited full-time seems to be shared by Martinez. Lennon’s pace is still good although not what it was a few years ago and will continue to fade given he’s now 28. He does deliver a shift defensively, though, putting our other wingers to shame in this respect, and his forward forays have yielded decent returns so far. I just don’t see him scoring many, and maybe he will bag 3-4 assists per season on top of this, which, in context of the lack of end product we have received from our attacking midfielders this season, we can ill afford. He’s certainly worth no more than £6m and I think personally there are younger, better value alternatives out there.Lennon is certainly more of a credible short term option than, say, Gerard Deulofeu, whose name is likely to be on many fans wish lists, although for me it’s a no.

A more tried and tested ex Premier League player is Nani, a two footed elegant, if often frustrating, winger, who would cost brewstees at £14m.

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The £14m rated (but out of contract) Ukrainian flyer Yevhen Konoplyanko has been mooted, and he is certainly on the move from current club Dnipro this summer. I like this cat. He’s quick, can dribble, is two footed, versatile and there’s end product to his game. He’s certainly more Kanchelskis than Billy. Plus there is a big hunger to succeed. Never underestimate the power of desperation. Sadly he’s supposedly Spurs first choice wing option this summer – ahead of Mirallas – plus creepy b-rod is rooting through his bins, so it will be tough to get him in.

Braga’s £7m rated 21-year-old Rafa Silva is right footed but plays mostly off the left wing, and is another option that shouldn’t be discounted. The knee jerk would be the toffee tormentor Yannick Bolasie who should cost no more than £6m. He’s been more consistent this season and has been directly involved in 10 goals for Palace. Man United’s Adnan Januzaj could potentially do either of the midfield roles were after. I’m not sold on him personally;  he seems a player of dubious moral fibre with his on field theatrics, plus his feud with Mirallas won’t do much good for dressing room cohesion at Finch Farm.


The departure of Samuel Eto’o wasn’t filled last season and you’d think it would need plugging this summer. The 19 year old Obbi Oulare is a big youth, standing 6ft 5″ he currently operates in the Belgian league with Club Brugge. His goal ratio this season is 1 in 4 and he’s valued at around £3-4m. Oulare is decent with his back to goal,has good technique and a decent turn of pace.

At the top of my list is Breel Embolo, a powerful 18-year-old who is technically strong and decisive in front of goal. The right footed striker is currently plying his trade at Basle where he is the club’s top scorer. He has explosive pace and is a composed finisher, averaging a goal every other league game this season. He can also ‘do a job’ on the wing should it be needed. The only fly in the ointment is that other clubs including Juventus have supposedly shown an interest.

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Youseff el Arabi is a Moroccan striker standing 6ft. Predominantly a 1 in 3 man, this 28 year old right footer has played in France and Spain’s top flights so has decent pedigree. He can play as a 9 or a 10. If Martinez is going like for like, namely a has-been experienced international forward who can play up top or as a second striker, Argentine Javier Saviola – on a free at the end of season from Verona – is your man. But given what we’ve already noted regarding our dads army squad you’d hope not. Exx Partizan Belgrade ‘hit man” Alexsander Mitrovic could provide value at £8m. The Serb forward is a right footed striker with 14 goals to his name this season, making him the top scorer in the Jupiler League. Finally, our pre season tormentor last season, Celta Vigo’s tricky Nolito, would command a fee of around £6m. The 28 year old left wing / forward has impressively contributed 12 goals and 11 assists in la liga this season.

Thats all for now folks, enjoy the summer.