Never before, he said, had he been more annoyed after a game. It is some statement, given the Scot is fast approaching 11 years in the Goodison Park hotseat, but this defeat will have hurt. A lot. It was the kind of afternoon Everton have been looking to leave behind, the kind of defeat they simply don’t suffer any more. Or so they thought. The Blues’ start to the campaign has been an impressive one, both in terms of results and performances. Always a resilient outfit under Moyes, this season Everton have born the hallmarks of a genuinely top-level side; packed with match-winners, and able to pick up points through suffocating, controlled displays. Last week’s comeback victory over Sunderland, a triumph of patience and cold, clinical finishing, served only to underline the Blues’ progress, extending their unbeaten Premier League run to eight games in the process.
But if Everton fans have learnt one thing over the years, it is that optimism is always best served cautiously. That eight-game run contained only one clean sheet, whilst in each of the last six matches prior to this they had conceded first. Defensive reliability, for so long a given with Moyes’s sides, has been compromised by the development of a more attacking outlook. Everton have been relying on their forwards to dig them out of self-made holes over the past few weeks. And, no matter how good those attackers are – and Everton’s are – they cannot do so every week. And when they have an off day, as they did here, then the consequences are inevitable.
Make no mistake, Everton can have few real complaints here. They can point to two strong first-half penalty appeals which were waved away by referee Martin Atkinson – his popularity amongst Blues fans continues to rocket – but the reality is that this was a self-inflicted loss, against a side that should not have been given the chance to beat them. Reading were, before kick-off, one of only two sides without a Premier League win this season, and for 45 minutes it was plain to see why. Brian McDermott’s men were abject, unable to pass the ball accurately, too slow to win it back and petrified by anything played into their defensive third. Everton were able to control the game at a canter.