Back down to earth? You ‘betcha. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory may be a little unfair on the hosts, but as it turned out, this was an opportunity missed.
In short the first half was a ponderous affair. Everton looked tentative on the back of their hammering at rivals midweek. However, under Martinez they are slicker and hold their shape well. Indeed Villa hurdled an early scare as a McGeady effort breezed across Guzan to thump the post.
Villa, typically working on the counter, scored with our first shot. After a fine midfield hustle and tackle by Delph, Bacuna released Benteke, who slid Bacuna in down the right channel on goal. Young Bacuna finished well, and continues to impress in advanced positions.
We lead without really having done a great deal. Simple, but effective.
The worry and constant downfall is our failure to adapt our gameplan. Exactly whose fault this is, naturally, is a matter of some debate.
The blend of youth and average Joe’s all contribute, they all have individual attributes, but also collective naivety.
Everton’s equaliser demonstrates this well.
After a sustained period of pressure from the hosts Villa were beginning to look leggy and struggling to get an out ball.
The Everton move to score looked nice, but having reviewed it, it is unbelievable how many Villa players were in no mans land.
The much maligned Nathan Baker was a prime offender.
An initially well placed Baker lay at the heart of the defence, he got drawn by Naismith’s movement towards the ball, slightly deeper in field. This immediately left Vlaar wildly exposed.
Sure enough the ball was played in to the more advanced Pienaar, El Ahmadi being completely the wrong side, to flick into the path of the runner……Naismith. Baker meanwhile was spectating with the rest of us from his wander into no mans land, having long since misplaced his man.
Vlaar could only look a fool, stepping into the void left by Baker, only to be passed through like a mirage. Painful viewing.
It’s a repeating nightmare that baffles us as supporters. How is it that seemingly straightforward moves allude us again and again? Why are we always looking to recover our positions or making desperately about the final third? Baffling.
Villa were now rocking. We then hit the rocks with the withdrawal of Vlaar. For all his improved showings this season, the big Dutchman is all too frequently a sick note. Either way, we need reinforcements in the central defensive positions. But then, we’ve known this for how long?
And then the winner for the hosts; the inevitable winner.
Ciaran Clark. When oh when will he mature?
Challenging for a ball with Mirallas, Clark kicked the man and got nowhere near the ball. I’ve seen the challenge described as “needless”. I’d upgrade that to brainless. It was nonsensical, clumsy and at best, amateurish. International footballer? Vice captain of Aston Villa? I’ll leave you to ponder that.
And it cost us what would have been a hard earned point.
Mirallas stepped up and unleashed a stunning free kick to erupt Goodison Park. We left with nothing.
Lambert once more delivered his identikit media response to the defeat, the only noteworthy quote being in relation to fatigue. I do concede we looked leggy towards the end. Though we looked leggy from 70 minutes onwards midweek.
But, the squad Lambert has had over 18 months to assemble or mould in a fashion of his choosing is still threadbare. It is quite a worry to look at our bench and see the faces that creep into contention when just 1 or 2 regulars are absent.
There was no scope for rotation of players within the game to adapt or swap like for like. I mean this in a quality sense rather than positionally.
This naturally means that we have no chance of anything resembling squad rotation. I’m not advocate of such a system en masse, as employed by the likes of Benitez, but, it’s essential to have capacity to sustain necessary changes.
I’d reference Vlaar, who carried a hamstring through the Albion derby from early in the first half, visibly struggling. He played for as long as physically possible at Everton. Why? Because Clark and Baker are atrocious and wouldn’t be trusted to marshall a mascot onto the field by themselves. Lambert cannot say this of course, but their pictures must adorn his personal dartboard.
Whether the blame lies at Lambert’s or Lerner’s door, it’s a small investment in peripheral figures that can see out fixtures rather than those that are merely there to make up the numbers. We are all supporters of our great club, but watching Albrighton and Tonev appear at the touchline told us, and the opposition, everything we already knew. Game over.
Up next, a real opportunity to put some daylight between us and the bottom three; West Ham (h).