Everton Football Manager 2018 Series: Episode 4

October. The month of colourful leaf shedding, the sugar-laden holiday of Halloween and the time of year that I celebrate my birthday.

Would Everton, then, hand me a four-week celebration to savour or make me so mad that I spend it drunk and crying about why we’re so guff?

A visit to Wembley – the temporary home of Tottenham Hotspur – could show whether the latter would prove to be binge-drink inducing. I was expecting the worst:everton19In the words of Ron Burgundy: ‘By the beard of Zeus!’

I don’t know how they did it, or what I said, or what we collectively did, but somehow we were celebrating a first away victory in the Premier League at one of the best teams around.

Even more impressively the lads came from behind to win, with Cenk Tosun in particularly fine form as he nabbed another brace to continue his decent start. Hip hip and, dare I say it, hooray.

With that result in the bag, the FM gods would, by the powers of balance, decide to hand us a shock home defeat to newly-promoted Huddersfield off the back of that surprise triumph:everton20Huh. I guess they’d all been partying the night before and were too hungover to intervene.

The customary ‘rocket at half-time’ team talk at the interval thanks to an underwhelming first 45 performance and, the good lads that they are, elected to smash the Terriers and leave them with their tails very firmly tucked between their legs.

A home tie against Sparta Prague in the Europa League followed those two domestic clashes, and another win would do very nicely indeed:everton21It’s a relatively easy thing to state, but it’s pleasing to see us rack up three successive wins. It was a deserved victory and, coupled with our earlier results, had us sitting nicely in second place in our group.

A potentially tricky trip to Turf Moor to face Burnley was next up. Given how well we’d done against Spurs, had we finally turned a corner with regards to our away form?

In a word, no:everton22It was to be expected. We’re not the tallest team in the Premier League and, in Chris Wood, Burnley have a powerful striker who dines on whipped crosses into the box. That’s something to bear in mind for next time we play the Clarets.

Those are the kinds of matches that will put paid to our hopes of finishing as high as possible in the top flight and, with a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park fast approaching, those two dropped points could be something that bites us on the arse.

Could I become the first Everton boss in almost eight years to lead the Toffees to victory over them lot across the park? I guess there’s only one way to find out:everton23I’m not sure what’s more incredible. That we actually beat Liverpool, that ‘Mr Snake’ himself Mo Besic scored his first ever goal for us or that it proved to be the winning strike in a Merseyside derby.

Theo Walcott got us off to a storming finish inside 30 seconds – the best way to start any game, let alone against your rivals – and, while Daniel Sturridge’s late goal led to some squeaky bum time, Besic’s maiden Everton goal proved to be the difference.

I take it all back, Mo, play as many games as you damn well like from now on.

Unbeaten in five matches and fourth in the league standings, October seemed to finally be a turning point in our season.

Next time: Into the crunch domestically and continentally…

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Everton Football Manager 2018 Series: Episode 3

The long summer days of August make way for Autumnal winds in September, or Fall if you’re of an American disposition.

There could be a hilarious joke about ‘falling’ down the league table here, given how wildly inconsistent we’ve been this season, but things have actually appeared to be looking up.

With the international break providing a much needed break for those not in action for their countries, a return to action against Manchester United was the perfect setting to get domestic proceedings back underway he said through gritted teeth:everton13And that, ladies and gents, is how frustrating we are on the road. Luke Shaw’s sending off just minutes after Anthony Martial’s opener gave us huge hope of actually winning a match outside Merseyside but, no, we fell further behind instead.

Matters were further compounded when Muhamed Besic received his own marching orders, because 10 vs 11 wasn’t annoying as it seemed  and, after yet another blast in the dressing room at half-time, an improved showing saw Davy Klaassen grab a consolation.

Not content with serving up a ‘early bath’ performance at Old Trafford, Besic had also elected to induce a changing room mutiny when he was dropped from our 25-man Europa League squad in favour of loan signing Daley Blind.

What? I didn’t mention that? Well, we’ve got Blind on loan for the season as Garbutt’s, well, garbage and Baines needs cover.

Despite being told it was necessary to cull a midfielder for much-needed defensive cover, the Bosnian threw a wobbly not unlike that of a child being denied its favourite bedtime story for the fifth night in succession.

Editor’s note: This is where that conversation with Besic would have gone if Tom had elected to, you know, print screen it before – well, this would spoil things now wouldn’t it?

Given that Besic wasn’t too influential in the dressing room, I was informed by my assistant that it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. He was wrong.

Editor’s note 2: And here. Sort it out Tom, for goodness sake!

With morale down among my stars and a revolt just two months into my reign, it wasn’t a surprise to see us stupidly throw away a 2-0 lead away to Rosenborg in our first Europa League group game days later:everton14Two late goals from Yann-Erik de Lanlay robbed us of all three points and Besic any opportunity to feature for us for a loooooong time to come. The dickhead.

Four games without a victory and a home encounter with recently-promoted Brighton offered a huge potential banana skin to us. How would we fare with almost everyone against me thanks to Besic-gate?everton15It was crap, we were crap, but a vital win was picked up thanks to Sandro’s solitary strike. Bless you, you wonderful Spaniard.

A tricky Carabao Cup home contest against Arsenal was thrown up three days later and, with injuries starting to mount and the games coming fast again, the chance to play some fringe players wasn’t to be passed up. Hopefully they could do the deed and send us into the fourth round:everton16Eh, there’s always next year. And at least Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored his first of the season…

One win in six. Ugh. But, with two more home matches to come against ‘easier’ opposition, we had a grand chance to get some positivity rolling. Crystal Palace were up first:

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Keane as mustard! Hahaha…haha…ha.

Much like Brighton it wasn’t pretty, but Michael Keane’s first Everton goal proved to be the difference. Coupled with yet another home league clean sheet and we were looking good at home. If you forget that Arsenal loss. Ahem.

It was time to round September out with a Goodison meeting against Lokomotiv Moscow in the Europa League. We need a win here. Nothing else will do:everton18That’s more like it. Tosun and a Walcott brace – though it should have been a hat-trick – in a commanding display not seen since Norrkoping. Back-to-back wins again and things were looking rosy ahead of *gulp* an away trip to Spurs…

Next time: Obscene October has Evertonians dreaming of success?!

Everton Football Manager 2018 Series: Episode 2

It’s all come down to this. Pre-season preparations done and dusted, squad assessed, a couple of decent Europa League matches to get us to speed and the bread and butter of the season is ready to get underway.

The start of a new Premier League campaign is always a fun-filled romp of hopes and expectations either beginning in scintillating style or being dashed within 90 minutes of a new term.

You don’t need me to tell you, then, which one Everton chose to kick off the season with an away trip to Southampton:everton8Standard Everton. Just when you expect them to deliver and usher in a new dawn they go and toss your dreams aside like that time in secondary school when a teacher laughed at me for wanting to take up medicine. But I digress.

To be fair to the hosts, they completely deserved it. Two assists for Cedric setting up goals for Charlie Austin and Steven Davis, a display to forget for Leighton Baines’ stand in – in the form of Luke Garbutt – and a curious case of Wayne Rooney being played on the right wing. Yeah, I don’t why either.

What better way to brush aside that huge disappointment, then, with our Europa League Play-off round first leg clash with IFK Norrkoping:

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Norr-koping chance of us throwing this one away, am I right?

Hat-trick heroics from Cenk Tosun and a maiden goal for talented winger Nikola Vlasic and the tie is as good as over. Supposing we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot a la Odd…

Only three days had passed – and that was something we may have to get used to – before we entertained former Blues boss David Moyes and his merry band of West Ham stars at Goodison Park. It seemed our home form would be key to enjoying a decent season, so it was imperative to get points on the board and truly put that sloppy Saints display to bed:everton10A laboured first-half performance gave way to a much improved second 45 showing after a rocket was shoved where the sun doesn’t shine, with Gylfi Sigurdsson’s first Blues strike and an own goal from Aaron Cresswell sealing a first league win of this gaffer’s reign.

There’s no let up in the number of fixtures, and no time to rest on our laurels, with an away trip to try and prevent Norrkoping from pulling off – stop sniggering at the back – a shock come from behind victory, however, but how did we fare given we’d lost our other two away games so far this campaign?everton11Hmm. It wasn’t vintage by any stretch, but Sandro’s goal just before half-time really put us in the driving seat before they nabbed a late consolation. I’m getting the feeling that our trips away from Goodison may become something of an issue.

Maybe it’s because I’m an Evertonian and I’ve been taught to expect the worst. Or just because we generally are guff on the road:

everton12Yep, it’s definitely an issue. Le sigh.

Next time: Ordering a main course of a rack of wins, and discontent in the changing room…

Everton Football Manager 2018 Series: Episode 1

Pre-season. The time of year when hopes and expectations are renewed among fans and players alike. Until the inevitable sorry start leads to pessimism, obviously.

With two Europa League qualifying rounds to navigate ahead of even booking our place in the group stages, the 2017/18 pre-season campaign was wrought with friendly encounters interspersed with those competitive fixtures – which is always nice when your team doesn’t have a clue how you expect them to play.

Thankfully, a few fitness-driven matches were to come before a showdown with Norwegian outfit Odd saw us perfectly primed to face off against even opposition. Shit joke, don’t care.

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Look at that lovely green patch ended by that horrible red colour. I never liked red.

A drab defeat to Argentine Primera Division club Tigre being the only blot on an otherwise solid start, then. Time to take on Odd.

Thankfully, we were drawn at home for the second leg, so a lovely easy victory, with a couple of crucial away goals, would be the perfect way to start off my reign in L4 with my beloved Blues, wouldn’t it?

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Club captain Phil Jagielka with his best Titus Brambell impression there, the utter pillock

You stupid bastards.

3-0 down after 47 minutes and I was raging. We hadn’t even been that bad and, like a Slaven Bilic West Ham side caught in European headlights, we were staring into the ‘third round exit’ abyss.

On came Ademola Lookman and Sandro who, presumably because Odd thought they’d done enough, gave us a sliver of hope of progression with a goal apiece to set up the return fixture nicely. The lads weren’t getting off that easily, however, and a stern telling off had them well aware of what was expected next time out.

A 4-0 friendly thumping of Hungarian team FC Ludogorets got us back on track before the return leg of our third qualifying round tie against Odd. Surely we couldn’t mess this up?

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A sea of Blue as far as the eye can see

You’d be right, we didn’t. A pulverising display of attacking verve – not seen since my protein pancake mix was decimated by my Nutribullet last week – was much deserved and sent us into the next round, with a Sandro hat-trick and Theo Walcott goal on their home debuts doing the deeds.

It wasn’t all good news as Leighton Baines and Walcott both succumbed to ankle problems, but we were through. Huzzah and hooray!

Transfer wise, not much had happened by comparison. Jonjoe Kenny and Shani Tarashaj were packed off on loan to earn them regular minutes – the latter laughably suggesting he should have stayed and fought for a first-team place, bless ‘im – while Saint Etienne opted to give Oumar Niasse some regular football with the caveat that we’d haul him back here if our strikers ever became short of a leg or two.

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Nice that Saint-Etienne decided to pay us Theo Walcott’s weekly wage for the privilege of temporarily taking Niasse

A slender 2-1 home win over Turkish side Akhmat set us up perfectly for an opening day trip to the south coast to face Southampton… or so I thought.

Next time: The proper season starts, and transfers galore! Maybe…