The Blues continue to waste chances, continue to pay dearly for it, and continue to defend set-pieces like they’re wearing blindfolds. Even more worrying is the question – when does a blip become an alarming sign that this season is Everton’s usual Premier League fate in reverse? Instead of starting poorly and improving in the winter, the Blues are hinting at the opposite. From blowing away opponents with scintillating attacking football they suddenly seem incapable of going the distance.
It’s as frustrating as it is difficult to pinpoint why. Even without a clutch of key men David Moyes’s side still played some slick football in the opening half against Norwich City, but yet again they were made to rue not taking their chances. It doesn’t help that Nikica Jelavic currently lacks both efficient service and the cold-eyed assuredness in front of goal which quickly made him a cult hero for the blue half of Merseyside last season. Before this latest draw which felt like a defeat, Moyes spoke about the necessity of Everton getting the balance right; the necessity to put games to bed while remaining resolute at the back.
His words might have fallen on deaf ears, however, because once again his side managed to do neither. Granted, the Blues’ boss had been forced to re-jig his back line, with injury to Seamus Coleman prompting Sylvain Distin’s return to partner John Heitinga, and saw Phil Jagielka deployed at right back. But nevertheless they coped with the threat of Grant Holt & Co for 89 minutes before both Tim Howard and Heitinga conspired to allow Sebastien Bassong to head in the equaliser. Howard will regret not coming to punch Javier Garrido’s free kick and Heitinga will wince at the replays which show him lose the Canaries’ French defender.
Whether Mike Jones will wince at the replays of the non-foul from Leighton Baines for which he awarded the decisive set-piece depends on his conscience, but coming from the official who haplessly disallowed Everton two legitimate goals against Newcastle at Goodison in September, it was perhaps predictable.
It’s not just weekly inept officials which are hurting Everton though. Injuries are also taking their toll on the Blues small squad, and the absence of Marouane Fellaini, and Kevin Mirallas in particular was telling. Even so there were no signs of disjointed jitters in the first-half. The hosts quickly carved out the game’s first chance when Leon Osman turned smartly and flashed a left-footed shot just wide of John Ruddy’s post.