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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.