THE commonly held belief around the Premier League is that Everton FC are too good to go down.
But the brutal truth is that they are not.
And after tonight’s confidence-starved performance at Stoke City sent them deeper into a losing run of games, the evidence is stacking up that the Blues are in for a serious fight between now and the end of the season to retain their Premier League status.
Where last term Everton would respond to setbacks with displays full of swagger, style and gritted teeth now they lack any form of self-belief, conviction and seem to fall further into a malaise.
Roberto Martinez assured us that his players had the character to handle this situation and allay fears of the club being dragged into the relegation mire – they need to show it and fast because there was precious little of it here.
The travelling Evertonians deserved better than this.
Their support before, during and after the game was too good for this pitiful performance.
The fans’ patience with the players and the manager are wearing very thin as time runs out on a season that is hurtling in the wrong direction – for some their patience has gone.
They have seen enough of this sorry league campaign and are demanding change but now is the time for Everton and Martinez to prove them wrong.
But tonight, March 4, has to be the lowest point the Blues fall to this season. They simply cannot sink any lower.
This desperately poor defeat has to be the moment in the campaign when the rot stops, the players and manager hold clear-the-air talks, buck up their ideas and fight for the club.
Make no mistake, many of this squad are playing for their futures at Everton and as they get together during their free weekend some frank words needs to be exchanged. Nobody can hold back. Now is not the time to be considerate of each other’s feelings.
Martinez, too, must remind us why he became adored in these parts and why the Blues felt compelled to offer him a new contract after his first season in charge.
The Catalan is the type of forward thinking manager that has the ability to take Everton places but for now he simply has to concentrate on keeping them up.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez walks off dejected after the Barclays Premier League match at the Britannia Stadium.
Martinez must also find a way of passing on his boundless, relentless confidence and optimism to his squad because defeat at Stoke, their 12th in the league this season, lacked anything of the sort.
The warning signs were there when the players trudged off with heads bowed at half-time.
Perhaps harshly, they were 1-0 down to Victor Moses’ header but too many of them looked sorry for themselves as they walked down the tunnel and their fragile belief soon began to unravel.
The away supporters tried to rally the players and roared them in at the break and though Everton’s second-half performance was improved, the honest assessment is that they never looked like scoring.
The Blues had five shots on target but just Luke Garbutt’s late free-kick forced Asmir Begovic into a meaningful save.
And so forget Dynamo Kiev next Thursday at Goodison in the last 16 of the Europa League.
Everton’s biggest game of the season arrives on the Sunday when Newcastle United come to town.
By that point, they need to have figured out how to arrest this alarming slide.
Martinez needs to set his team up with width and urge them to attack, be bold and brave because this is no time for timid performances.
There have been far too many of them, not least here and a relegation scrap will devour those without the stomach for the fight.
Last season, Everton romped to a club record points total in the Premier League on the way to finishing fifth but now they hold a record of a different kind.
After 28 games of the season, this same crop of Blues hold the least number of points of any Everton side in the modern era.
That is how far they have fallen. But now they have to stop themselves from falling any further.
The stark and simple truth is that Everton are not too good to go down.