Dec 212014

As the game at St Mary’s edged ever closer towards full-time, all eyes were fixed on the Everton manager who stood cross-armed by the touchline.

Everton trailed Southampton to painfully soft goals and found themselves badly struggling to break down a well organised defence.

Roberto Martinez, it was safe to assume, was going to make a change.

Twist. Shuffle his pack and roll the dice to try and find a way back into a match that was quickly running away from them.

But for the first time in nearly five years an Everton manager refused to use any of his permitted substitutions.

Everton supporters wearing blue Santa hats VIEW GALLERY  

Martinez decided the 11 players that started on the south coast and had underperformed would be the ones to see out the game to the bitter end.

On one of the most exasperating away days of the Catalan’s reign, the decision not to make a change baffled and angered an already weary set of travelling fans.

Simply, they could not understand why the manager had decided not to chance his arm.

Last season Martinez made a habit of changing the course of games with substitutions, but said he didn’t feel it necessary to bring on replacements in the hope of kick-starting Everton’s comeback this time.

Perhaps it is closer to the truth to suggest that he looked round at his bench and was uninspired.

With the Blues 2-0 down and with just 10 minutes remaining, Arouna Kone was being readied to come on but Southampton’s third went in and Martinez changed his mind.

Kone would’ve been making his first Premier League appearance in over a year and it takes a leap of faith to believe he could have made a difference in such a short space of time.

It appeared the only substitution Martinez had given serious thought to.

The three Everton defenders sat in the dugout were not going to light the blue touch paper on a comeback so late on in the game while the manager decided that Aiden McGeady and Steven Pienaar were not going to make a dent in Southampton either.

Injuries, of course, continue to deny the Everton manager of a full compliment and the impact of a fit Kevin Mirallas or the influence of James McCarthy would have helped significantly here.

But the question now is whether Martinez is ready to go through with shaking things up?

Whether is he willing to stray from his template like he did at times last season and whether he is preparing to make a move in the January transfer window?

In the short term at least, a recall for John Stones to the heart of Everton’s under-fire back four in time for the visit of Stoke City on Boxing Day would make sense, as would the inclusion of Mirallas and McCarthy if they are back to full fitness.

But what about longer term?

After suffering a sixth league defeat of the league season on a day labelled as ‘Panic Saturday’ should Everton be actively scouring the market in the New Year?

Glaringly, the Blues lacked pace on the flanks against Southampton.

Steven Naismith, a workaholic, will never shirk any challenge but his impact comes between the lines – not as a winger.

The same goes for Ross Barkley who, after his goalscoring heroics on Monday night as a holding midfielder, was asked to play wide on the left with Gareth Barry returning to the side after a one game ban.

Predictably his influence on the game was tapered.

Last season, the frustrating, pull-your-hair-out play of the on-loan Gerard Deulofeu would drive you round the bend, but it would also win Everton points.

Bursts of speed or ingenuity ensured the Blues got something at Arsenal, Sunderland and at home to Cardiff, among others, and as Everton’s play became increasingly pedestrian at St Mary’s it was the type of game that was screaming out for such a player.

In truth, there have been a number of games like this.

Deulofeu returned to Spain at the end of the season and Martinez replaced him by borrowing Christian Atsu from Chelsea.

Atsu, currently sidelined through injury and expected to head to the Africa Cup of Nations next month, has failed to make an impact.

Martinez this week said he has faith that the 22-year-old will come good but can Everton afford to let the January transfer window go by without injecting some pace and trickery into their squad in the hope Atsu will turn it around?

Maybe this is a change Martinez simply has to make.

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 Posted by at 7:42 pm

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