Everton FC must find a settled back four quickly or face more defensive misery, says former captain Kevin Ratcliffe.
But the title-winning skipper says Blues boss Roberto Martinez must target a new centre-half signing this month to help shore up the Premier League’s joint second worst back four.
Everton have shipped 35 goals this season just four less than in the whole of the previous campaign when they challenged for a top four finish.
But a torrid run of form, which has seen them concede nine goals in the last four games, has Martinez’s side just four points outside of the relegation zone.
Phil Jagielka of Everton looks dejected
Ratcliffe understands that the Everton manager has been hampered by injuries to his centre-halves this season but insists a regular pairing in the heart of the defence is essential if they are going to arrest their alarming slump.
“The problem is that the defence is never the same,” said Ratcliffe.
“There inconsistency with the selection and though sometimes that is down to who is available, there is no continuity.
“You are trying to get an understanding between your centre-halves but Everton are playing a different partnership every week.
“The lads don’t get to know each other’s game and although you can do so much in training, it is never the same.”
Ratcliffe says the profile of Everton’s defence is wrong with players at either end of their careers.
“There was always going to be a problem when you look at the ages of the defenders in the squad,” added the European Cup Winners’ Cup-winning captain.
“How many games are you going to get out of them?
“This issue hasn’t just come about, you could see it last season and you had to question whether Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin would be able to play together for 90% of the season.
“The teams in the Premier League who have good defences have a regular centre-back pairing right through the season.
“The reason why Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool have had problems is because they’ve not had a settled back four.
“Antolin Alcaraz, Distin and Jagielka are not getting any younger and how many games are you going to get out of them?
“Everton need a defender with experience but one who is younger than those lads.”
Everton looks dejected as Newcastle United score the second goal at St. James’ Park
Critics of Martinez use the Catalan’s poor defensive record at Wigan Athletic – where they shipped 275 league goals in his four seasons in charge – as a stick to beat him with.
The Catalan oversaw Everton being the third meanest defence in the Premier League last season and in his two full seasons at Swansea City his side an average of 0.91 and 1.09 goals per game.
Ratcliffe says he now needs to prove he can organise a back four once again.
“Martinez conceded loads of goals when at Wigan and it is something he has got to improve on,” he added.
“He has better players here at Everton but one of the other problems this season is they aren’t scoring as many goals, especially in this run they are on.
“Scoring goals takes the pressure off the defence.
“We are not taking games to the opposition like we did last year, we are looking a little laboured on the ball and that type of football is easy to defend against.
“Teams just get bodies behind the ball and it great having all the possession but we are not turning teams and hurting them.
“It is a lot easier to defend when you are in a run of winning games.”
Arouna Kone with Steven Naismith
Ratcliffe added: “They need to buy a centre-half in January but what is out there?
“And you have to be very, very choosey because it has to be better than what they’ve already got.
“Everton are pinning their hopes of John Stones but how many lads at the age of 20 are playing Premier League football at centre-half?
“You don’t get that. He is still learning the game and he has got to improve as a defender.
“We all know what he can do on the ball and he is a good prospect but as a defender he can improve.”