Although the drive up to Liverpool is shorter than the trip for a home match for us, it always seems a pain getting across the country so we were making an early start. As I was rummaging through the kitchen drawers early on Saturday morning I thought I had had a really good idea. It turned out I had simply found a light bulb.
What was a good idea was our decision to spend the morning looking around the city. A trip to Merseyside would not be complete without a visit to the city’s Museum of Self Pity, which was opened by Boris Johnson in 2004. We spent an interesting morning there but only covered the “It isn’t our fault” display. We had hoped to have time to go into the “We’ve got a great sense of humour (it’s born out of adversity)” room – maybe next time. If you are visiting Liverpool I would urge you pay it a visit. Just ask anyone how to get to the Museum of Self Pity and I’m sure any scouser will tell you where to go.
Come lunchtime and we drank as usual at the Arkles, one of my favourite pre-match pubs. This is right next to the Anfield ground that was once Everton’s home (Liverpool FC was an artificial construct to have someone play at the ground once Everton moved out). As we walked across Stanley Park in the heart of the city to Goodison on the other side of the park I couldn’t help be bemused as to why Everton supporters voted to move out of the central city of Liverpool to Kirby. It would be worse than when we were considering moving out of central Sunderland to Washington. I hated that idea because we seemed to be abandoning our traditional home (I think the SoL is an even better location than Roker). But for Everton, they are not just abandoning their home – they are surrendering it to their rivals, who are going to rub salt in their wounds by moving onto the no man’s land of Stanley Park to build their new stadium. Ah well, not our problem I suppose.
The talk in the pub had been fairly upbeat. The return of Deano and Carlos had supporters thinking that perhaps our points return (which is awful) might catch up with our performances (which, while not exactly exhilarating, have not been that bad). As we walked across Stanley Park the text with the team came through. It looked like Deano was playing at right back! More of a shock was to come when we took our seats. We were playing 4-4-2. The formation was a mild surprise but amazingly we had Etuhu and Yorke in central midfield. I don’t think a single supporter would have put them down as the pair in a two man midfield. One can’t move and the other can’t pass.
This formation also meant that our right side consisted of Deano and Carlos – two players back after a very long injury break (basically all season). It is one thing to throw a player in; it is another to have two of them like that having to rely on one another. The left side was even worse. For reasons I can’t fathom Harte was preferred to Collins. Ian Harte for crying out loud! In front of him was Grant Leadbitter. Now Grant is a canny central midfielder and tries his best when pushed out wide but he is no winger – even less a left winger.
Up front Chopra was about to show (surely beyond all reasonable doubt) why he is a good Championship player and should stick to playing there. The biggest worry with his partner Jones is whether he will be lured away come January.
The first few minutes there wasn’t much of a hint as to what was to come. And then, wham. we were two-nil down. I’d like to say it was like a hot knife through butter. But frankly Everton weren’t looking that good at that stage – it was more like a lukewarm knife though butter, but lukewarm was all that was needed.
We spent the rest of the half looking confused and concerned. But as time went on the stupid sense of optimism that keeps you turning up year in, year out became a tentative feeling at the back of my head. But then, wallop, we were three nil down just before half-time. To torture us even more we got a goal in first half injury time so that we could spend 15 minutes saying “well, a two goal deficit can be pulled back”.
Second half we moved more to the team that I’d have expected to start. Yorke and Etuhu both went off so Deano and Leadbitter moved to central midfield with Collins and Wallace taking the left side (Harte went over to the right). To give us some small credit we did take the game to them looking to get back in. But pressing forward meant that if we couldn’t get goals we’d always be likely to concede. We weren’t helped by the fact that McShane had been having probably his most headless performance in an SAFC shirt. Once the fourth went in, quarter of an hour in, even the small sense of optimism at the back of the mind had the decency to shut up. Mind you a minute later Chopra managed to hit a ball wide from inside the six yard box directly in front of an open goal to increase the size of the anti-Chopra contingent significantly. He was laughably replaced by some fat bloke who was claiming to be Andy Cole.
The remaining three Everton goals were simply there for humiliation purposes and served no other useful function.
This game was lost the minute Keane put the team sheet and formation up on the dressing room wall. We are short of quality players; we are short of leaders; we are short of organisers at the back. But there is no way we should be turning in performances like this.
I certainly don’t think I personally am anywhere near the “we’re doomed” point that I was at about the same stage of the season last time in the Prem (after the Portsmouth/Villa/Brum home defeats). But it is all getting very worrying. I know every single person commenting on the game is going to say it – but next week’s match against Derby is the real “must win” game.
John aka Herts