Recent performances suggest Everton’s honeymoon may be over

Roberto Martinez’s reign at Everton is losing its lustre, writes Richard Jolly.
Roberto Martinez has run into hard times after a successful start at Everton. Mark Runnacles / Getty Images
Roberto Martinez has run into hard times after a successful start at Everton. Mark Runnacles / Getty Images

Defeat at Hull City had left Everton 15th in the Premier League.

In a stark warning, their manager conceded that a team that had reached new heights the previous season were not too good to go down.

But that is not a glimpse into the immediate future; it is a case of rewinding to November 2009.

David Moyes used doom and gloom as a motivational tool, and it rallied his FA Cup finalists to end the season in eighth, 31 points clear of the bottom three.

It is safe to say many an Evertonian would settle for a repeat.

Their club had many poor runs under Moyes, but he consigned the days of boom and bust to the past as Everton finished in the top eight in each of his final seven seasons.

It is also probable that, whatever happens at the KC Stadium on Thursday, Roberto Martinez will not consider demotion a possibility – his innate optimism precludes such admissions.

It was Martinez’s boldness that led to the club-record £28 million (Dh160.1m) signing of Romelu Lukaku.

His ambition, which is especially apparent in his progressive style of play, helped propel Everton to fifth place last season, with a club-best 72 Premier League points.

They feel distant days, and the more pessimistic Evertonians may recall that Martinez was relegated as recently as 2013.

Back then, his ability to see the positives and colossal wells of self-belief meant he expected to stay up when Wigan needed six points from their last two games and had to visit Arsenal.

It would be an extraordinary fall from grace if he were to repeat that result, although given the players Everton possess, it is extremely unlikely.

Nevertheless, if his success in his first season at Goodison Park was reflected in the way memories of Wigan’s failings vanished, they are being brought to mind again.

Certain unwanted similarities exist. His time at the DW Stadium included long losing runs, spells when home wins were conspicuous by their absence and periods when passing between the penalty areas was rendered irrelevant by deficiencies at either end of the field.

In particular, Wigan often had a poor defensive record.

At Everton, individual errors are occurring more often, and only QPR have conceded more goals.

The two weakest members of Martinez’s back line are his former Wigan charges: centre-back Antolin Alcaraz and goalkeeper Joel Robles who, with Tim Howard ruled out for six weeks, could have an extended spell between the posts.

Alcaraz is doubly significant. Martinez made an old team older still by recruiting the Paraguayan, along with Gareth Barry and Samuel Eto’o.

They are reasons why Everton lack pace and intensity, which results in their passing at times being ponderous and ­ineffective.

As at Wigan, it is incorrect to suggest fans have bought into Martinez’s purist philosophy.

They have savoured wins, especially his handy habit of defeating elite opposition, but sterile displays brought grumbles from supporters accustomed to seeing the ball go forward quicker.

Barry has come to be a cause and a symptom of Everton’s problems.

Excellent last season when he dovetailed beautifully with James McCarthy, the veteran is labouring now. It is a moot point if he deserves his place in the team, but he seems an automatic choice.

Whereas Martinez displayed a golden touch, both with team selections and substitutions, in his debut year at Goodison, it has deserted him.

Experimental decisions have backfired – when players are played out of position, such as Ross Barkley on the left wing, they generally underperform.

Everton have been unlucky. Opponents should have had a player sent off in the first half in each of their past two defeats but Stoke City’s Jonathan Walters and Newcastle United’s Papiss Cisse stayed on the field.

They could be without seven players at Hull on Thursday, including the pivotal pair of McCarthy and Phil Jagielka, and injuries have been a constant.

The sense is that Martinez has put too much emphasis on the Europa League, which could provide a CV-enhancing achievement, to the detriment of their domestic form.

It is part of his idealism, but the more pragmatic Moyes never made that mistake. The Premier League came first for him.

sports@thenational.ae

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Published: December 31, 2014 04:00 AM

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