Or perhaps it was the frustrating tactics of the opposition, another side gilded with the La Liga approach courtesy of their manager who formerly plied his tried at Mallorca Whatever the reason Everton weren’t quite themselves on Saturday, the outcome which saw them fail to claw back ground on fourth-placed Spurs at least put one or two things into clearer focus. David Moyes cannot afford to fail in his mission to add another forward to his ranks this month, and the return to fitness of game-changer Kevin Mirallas cannot come quickly enough. When Everton’s fearsome left-sided axis has an off-day, as it did with Leighton Baines playing his third game while carrying an ankle injury and Steven Pienaar smothered by Swansea fielding two defenders down their right flank, their attacking impetus withers.
Of course the Blues magic formula is an ability to mix it – pass with the best of them but aim it long when required – and even that floundered thanks largely to the excellence of the visitors’ defence. Michael Laudrup raised an eyebrow and smirked when asked about the Spain manager’s attendance at Goodison, presumably to get a close look at his bargain of the season buy Michu.
“If Del Bosque had called me before, I could have told him this maybe wasn’t the best game to see him,” he admitted afterwards.
The Dane was thrilled with a share of the spoils, which seemed to be his over-riding intent given the uncharacteristic way his team played. Everton FC v Swansea City at Goodison Park. Pics James Maloney Jan 13 2013 View Moyes too tried to change things subtly, an entirely understandable approach given that his previous template for beating the Welsh side had become transparent. But while Everton’s lack of non-stop pressing may well have been deliberate, it’s unlikely their manager instructed them to entirely abandon the tactic in crucial areas. That could well have been the impact of a gruelling Christmas schedule on a small squad, with tired legs and bandaged-up limbs finally taking their toll on energy levels.
Before anyone gets too carried away about this goal-less stalemate it’s also worth bearing in mind that such frugal days are a rarity for this Everton. They have broken the Premier League record for scoring and conceding in 16 consecutive games this season, and the draw with Swansea was the first 0-0 at Goodison in more than two years. Everton undoubtedly lacked spark in the final third as they wasted chance after chance from set pieces, but generally it’s not an accusation which can be levelled against them often this term. Nikica Jelavic’s indifferent form, if not work-rate, continues. The Croatian was unable to capitalise on two early chances, particularly when his header was cleared off the line by Dwight Tiendalli. The pivotal moment came when the ever-impressive Swansea keeper Michel Vorm got a crucial hand to Victor Anichebe’s header.
Vorm’s glove took the sting out of the goalbound effort and Ashley Williams’ clearance suggested it was not going to be Everton’s day in front of goal. It wasn’t the visitors’ either in that respect, when more goalkeeping excellence from Tim Howard saw the USA international tip Michu’s deft lob onto the bar. Then lovely skill from Seamus Coleman, who is growing in confidence by the week, saw the defender trick his way past Kemy Agustien and Ben Davies before steering a pass across goal which Marouane Fellaini was only able to fire straight at Vorm. The misses continued. Baines aimed an adroit cross into the area and 10th anniversary man Leon Osman rose highest but will have been disappointed not to have hit the target from eight yards. Then Sylvain Distin climbed above Chico Flores but sent his powerful header over the bar from Baines’ corner.
Swansea remained a potent threat on the counter attack, but when it came time to change things Moyes decided to up the ante. Phil Neville was swopped for Steven Naismith, with Anichebe moving up to partner Jelavic and the Scot filling in on the right flank. Again Everton missed a clear-cut opportunity when the unmarked Jagielka headed over from another pin-point Baines corner, and the unnerving sense grew that maybe Everton would pay for such wastefulness. But the home back four was in resilient mode too, and recorded their first clean sheet since the corresponding fixture in South Wales back in September.
That was some consolation, even if the overall suspicion is that Spurs currently have more attacking firepower to unlock stubborn defences like Swansea’s – although Andre Villas-Boas’ men couldn’t overcome QPR on Saturday either. There remains plenty of mileage left in this season however, and Everton are still sitting pretty in the mix for the top four. They might have strolled at times in this encounter, but if they can get back into their stride quickly it may be difficult to knock them out of it.