Jan 022015

The parallels are uncannily similar. It is to be hoped that the outcome is not. Otherwise Roberto Martinez is three months from the end of his Everton tenure.

In the winter of 1996 an FA Cup winning manager who had steered Everton to a sixth placed finish the previous season saw his side talked of as “dark horses for the title.”

Sky TV’s Richard Keys asked that question after Joe Royle’s upwardly mobile outfit won 1-0 at Derby in mid-December. And no-one laughed.


The very next game the Blues were held 0-0 at home by Leeds, in a match which saw key man Andy Hinchcliffe tear his cruciate. The similarly influential Joe Parkinson limped out five days later at Middlesbrough, Everton lost six league games in a row – and Royle lost his job in March.

The FA Cup brought temporary respite, a third-round victory over Swindon followed up by a horror show at home to Bradford, as negative momentum accelerated like a rock falling off a cliff.

This season’s fall has been just as dramatic.

Everton finished fifth last season, have suffered injuries to key personnel since – and have just lost four in a row.

But that is merely the latest act in a longer term malaise.

Everton have lost six out of eight in the Premier League, they have been held at home by Hull City and lost a Europa League dead rubber to Krasnodar.

Read More: Greg O’Keeffe’s verdict on Hull 2 Everton 0

The only ray of sunshine in a dark, dark December was a home win against Queens Park Rangers, which ended with the home fans booing their skipper.

It’s a stunning turnaround from the record breaking 72-point haul of May, achieved by a return to the club’s cherished School of Science principles.

And maybe that’s where part of the problem lies.

Everton are playing too much football . They are starting to believe their own publicity.

According to the excellent analytical Everton website The Executioner’s Bong, Everton have made the second fewest tackles in the Premier League this season, they have made the second fewest interceptions and they have made the fourth fewest blocks.

But perhaps most tellingly of all, they press less than any side in the Premier League.

In summary, they are easy to play against.

Look back at clips of the most successful side in Everton’s history.

Trevor Steven, Paul Bracewell, Kevin Sheedy, Adrian Heath and Peter Reid shuttled the ball around as attractively as any Everton side in history.

But they were also in your face relentlessly. They never gave you a second’s peace in any area of the pitch.

They were horrible to play against.

Mike Walker is widely, and correctly, described as the worst Everton manager of modern times.

He had a romantic image of silky ball-players like Vinny Samways and Anders Limpar sliding through sparkling passes for international stars like Daniel Amokachi and Muller to race onto.

Except his side never had the ball long enough to make that dream come true, and when they weren’t in possession they weren’t set up to win it back quickly enough.

No-one feared a trip to Mike Walker’s Goodison.

When Joe Royle took over he immediately unleashed his Dogs of War.

They played football, too, more than they were ever given credit for. Just ask Spurs in a one-sided Elland Road semi-final.

But they were never soft touches.

Roberto needs rottweilers now as much as he needs pedigree performers.

It’s unfortunate that his snappiest terrier, the outstanding James McCarthy, has been hindered by injury for much of this season.

But it has to be a collective state of mind.

This current Everton side is easy on the eye in possession, but they’re not pressing hard enough to get it back.

They’re defending dreadfully, they’re making it easy to defend against – and even Hull City, a side with even more negative momentum than Everton prior to new Year’s Day, fancy their chances.

Steve Bruce’s side had won one match in 12 prior to January 1 and had scored one in five at home since early October.

Against Everton they scored two, were denied a stonewall penalty and caused numerous scares in the Everton six yard box.

They were allowed to play football.

Everton’s players still believe in their boss. “We’re massively behind him,” said skipper Phil Jagielka. “Things haven’t gone from hero to zero in the space of nine games.”

Jagielka is an honest pro and we have no reason to doubt him, so something else must be wrong.

Even when Everton have won matches this season they haven’t been as resolute, as rigid and as relentless as they were last term.

Nine games ago Everton were back to back victors against Wolfsburg and West Ham. Yet even those victories carried the whiff of good fortune.

Everton’s opening goal against the Hammers was clearly offside, while in Wolfsburg the Germans suffered a similar experience.

Everton rode their luck on those occasions, but their luck has subsequently run out.

Now they simply have to start making their own good fortune.

It was Gary Player who quipped “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Everton have to work their way through this worrying slide.

In-form West Ham and champions Manchester City are not fixtures a team low on confidence would choose to face next.

Then again, neither are games against sides likely to have the spring-in-their-step benefit of new managers – Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion.

And after that quartet of fixtures it’s the Goodison derby and then a trip to Chelsea.

Make no mistake, Everton could be embroiled in a relegation fight come mid-February unless results improve quickly.

That’s how it ended back in ‘96.

It’s up to Everton’s players to ensure there’s no repeat. By working their way back up the Premier League table.

Clearance sale on Everton kit.

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