Quarter of an hour to go in an absorbing game of football, and City, a goal down, are pressing eagerly for an equaliser, only for demented referee Paul Tierney to interpret a tackle by Tom Huddlestone that is clumsy, but no worse than that, as instead a straight red-card. Off troops Tom, dejected, up perk Everton, grateful, and a second goal against our depleted ten men follows shortly afterwards, compounded by two cruelly unnecessary additions to the scoreline in added time by burly Geordie frontman Lukaku.
Ah, the injustice!
NO NO NO.
No injustice. Sad to report.
True, the sending off was harsh and, who knows, maybe we’d’ve scratched our way to a point had Huddlestone been spared. But we played feebly yesterday. Shredded frequently in defence, despite the return of Curtis Davies having allowed Mr Silva to card his preferred trio of centre backs, second best from start to finish in midfield where N’Diaye was useless (again) and Markovic little better (again), and shorn of any threat up front where poor Hernandez was forced to skulk around on his own with not a scrap of service.
No, there was nothing absorbing about this game. Just as at Leicester two weeks ago, we were visibly the inferior side and had no evident idea about how to compensate for it, from start to finish. We played like a sullen and moody side destined for relegation. It’s a good job our home form has been so strong since Mr Silva’s arrival because make no mistake, we are going down if we play as meekly as this through April and May.
A grey and drizzly afternoon on Merseyside brings us a 5-4-1 (ish):
Rannochia Maguire Davies
Markovic N’Diaye Huddlestone Clucas
You might think that is asking a lot of the midfield if anything other than hanging on desperately is on the agenda. And you’d be right. Though we didn’t hang on, desperately or otherwise.
It only takes the home side 8 minutes to open the scoring. We are prised apart at the back with practised ease down our left as Robertson waves in vain for an imaginary offside, the ball is squared by Tom Davies, the breaking midfielder, to the back post where one Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who sounds as if he should be a showjumper, bundles the ball home gleefully from close range.
We manage a break of our own in response, and then another, but it leads only to a Markovic shot patted high over the bar. It’s poor fare, and we give the ball away repeatedly. That can’t be the plan, and although Everton are a decent pressing side, we’ve survived in much better style than this recently at Old Trafford, the Emirates and at Stamford Bridge. The cohesion and confidence of Silva 1.0 has gone woefully adrift. In truth, and depressingly, this looks like a Mike Phelan team today – worthy enough, but horribly limited and devoid of any flair or creativity.
In midfield Tom Davies, a floppy faired fop of a youth baited mercilessly in Hull over Christmas for his frailities and petulance, appears in the space of two or so months to have been converted into a mobile pass-and-give midfielder of immense promise. Burly Geordie frontman Lukaku is a menace, strong and willing, while even Ross Barkley, the very model of the modern footballer, all flash and cash and no application, looks better than ours.
Clucas has a sniff of goal on 37 but shoots too high, and the half drifts to a close with the one crumb of consolation lying in the fact we’re just the one goal behind.
Second half, and more shapeless broken play. What a poor match.
On 52 we win two corners in a row and Robertson’s delivery is atrocious for both of them. Our performance all afternoon summed up in one brief passage of play – sloppy, inattentive and just not good enough. Why do we insist on giving away possession? The support play for the man on the ball is poor, but so is the simple business of passing. N’Diaye? Hello? Mr N’Diaye? You’re getting paid for this, I believe.
Lukaku shoots over the bar on 54. A fast paced break soon after allows the burly Geordie frontman another opportunity, hurtling in at pace from the right, but this time Jak saves, tipping a fierce shot over the crossbar.
Grosicki gets his chance, replacing Davies as we switch to an orthodox back two in central defence, but the pattern changes little. On 72 Robertson, in an advanced position inside their box, stretches for a cross but can only divert the ball into the near-side side-netting. This is so very scrappy.
Then Huddlestone gets sent off.
It is harsh. It’s yellow at best. It is also a daft challenge. It invites the referee to make a mistake.
The ten men hang tough and dogged for all of three minutes, before Valencia sweeps through a static defence, exchanges passes with burly Geordie frontman Lukaku, which sets up Valencia for a too-easy finish past the exposed Jak.
Bah. 2-0. Done. Dusted.
Abel, entitled to feel thoroughly fed up at his wasted and solitary afternoon, comes off for Dio, Markovic is replaced by Elmo.
Ball boys and home fans slow the game down by refusing to return the ball when it leaves the pitch, and City players and fans protest at the mischief. We should be protesting at ourselves. In a sense, we are.
There are four added minutes at the end of the 90 and burly Geordie frontman Lukaku scores in the first and the fourth of them: the first courtesy of a defence that has given up and simply lets him run through the middle, the second the result of a quite brilliantly weighted and directed defensive-splitting crossfield ball by, err, Elabdellaoui.
Bah. We’ve had some bad ones at Goodison in the Premier League. 2-0 when Fellaini played exclusively with his elbows, unpunished throughout, a 5-1 horsing notable for a superb Tom Cairney strike and 89 minutes of tame surrender, and now this. Bah. We trudged damply downhill from the ground to Lime Street feeling pretty morose about our prospects of staying up this season.