Everton 3 - West Bromwich Albion 0
Despite the post-match interview spin - this was a real stinker of a performance. Up there with our worst this season and probably our most passive. It's difficult to recall a game where tactically we tried harder to not win. And remember this - we are safe, we have nothing to lose in these remaining games.
The starting lineup was a worry - I thought Pulis had changed too many players and it looked negative which was sadly borne out in the game.
We didn't start all that well - our midfield 3 really struggled to keep the ball and it became apparent it was Fletcher not Livermore playing the advanced supporting role. The problem with this is he doesn't have the legs to do it, the skill to go past people, the eye for a forward pass or any real goal threat.
I think I'm right in saying every time we've tried him there we've not been able to win and have in fact lost to Championship sides in the cup. Would we win a game in the championship with HRK up front on his own with Fletcher in the hole behind him? I'm not sure we would.
Before long we'd resorted to sitting deep, booming it long and not really doing anything. Everton in contrast tried to be patient, brave on the ball and play it through the pitch.
We had a couple of fleeting moments in the first half and a decent shout for a penalty out of nothing really - Williams going to ground on HRK from behind, possibly out of boredom.
Chadli rarely got on the ball and when he did there was little option on. McClean was full of effort but empty of quality.
We defended quite well in general and Foster didn't really have too much to do on the whole.
It looked like we might dull our way to halftime as part of the gameplan but a break on the edge of our area left a free shot on despite us playing three holding midfielders with Foster spilling the shot for a tap-in.
TP didn't look bothered - one goal is nothing with our gameplan. You don't blink. However Lukaka was allowed to "fanny about" for what felt like five minutes before drawing Evans and McAuley out and Livermore failed to do the basics in getting his body across Schneiderlin who finished easily and demonstrated probably what the extra 14 million pounds and 30k a week gets you.
I'd like to say there is much else to report but Pulis left it until 75 MINUTES before making a change, and seemed to then stagger his subs so as to both waste time and allow his players the minimum amount of game time to get up to speed with the match. None of them really ever got going apart from a couple of occassions when Brunt and Mozza at least passed to a blue and white shirt and Everton scored a simple 3rd when Nyom covering for McAuley, who isn't good in the air, allowed Lukaku an easy unchallenged nod in. 2-0 down, being outplayed, already safe and nothing to lose and he waits until the 75th minute to make a sub.
I don't want to be negative but this was back to the very worst of TP - we are missing McPhillips for sure but I don't think it justifies a total change in tactics from the high pressing, high energy aggressive style which returned us the dividend of early safety. If last week was just an off day, surely the players deserved another 45 to put the Palace wrong right? Maybe just take Rondon out of the firing line? And I repeat, we have nothing to lose this season now, we might has well have a go when the game looks lost. I'm a realist, Everton are a better side than us with better players and a bigger budget but I do expect us to at least have a go.
Put the new contract talks on hold? Pulis seems to work better when he's under pressure for results himself.
Post 40-points Match 2: Looking at the players waiting in/on the wings?
In the wake of the home defeat by bottom three side Crystal Palace, Pulis decided to add an extra defensive midfield player to counter the extra threat in the away game at seventh placed Everton, with Morrison's central creative capabilities ditched in favour or Yacob's destroyer ones. Pulis made two other changes, both of which, HRK for Rondon in the isolated runner up front role and McClean for Brunt out at wide-left-mid, seemed, on the surface, to be like-for-like swaps, although in the pre-match interview, the manager suggested that he was going with a winger, McClean, whereas he'd normally be playing with two central midfielders out wide, so presumably he had forgotten Brunt's pedigree when purchased.
Despite the three-man shield in front of our back-four, some intricate play on the edge of the Albion area saw Lukaku's effort beat Foster but slide wide around the quarter-hour mark, whilst, two minutes later, a Dawson cross saw Fletcher get a header on target, although it didn't trouble the keeper.
Albion's likelihood of scoring from set pieces, or crosses into the box, was brought further into question around the half-hour mark when the initial corner kick and subsequent follow-up cross were easily dealt with by the Everton back-line, which, when added to the stat about us not having kept an away clean sheet since Palace at the start of the season, suggested that getting anything from this one was going to be a tough ask.
On 37 minutes, Chadli, our one nominal central creative midfielder on the pitch, albeit one being asked to do the job of a wideman, got off a shot that the Everton keeper thought needed touching around the post, although once again, Albion failed to trouble their hosts from the resulting set-piece, and indeed the clearing of the lines would end up with Barkley getting enough room on the edge of our box to shoot with enough power to see Foster only able to spill the ball forwards, to which Maralles would be the quickest to react and give the home side the lead, poking past Foster from six-yards.
For the remainder of the half, Albion did seem to have stayed in the game and kept things tight enough to have walked off with just the one-goal deficit, however, another piece of sharp passing in and around our three-man central shield and back-line would see Lukaku play Schneiderlin into the box, and one defensive midfield target Albion failed to bring in would display enough fleetness of foot to get ahead of one defensive midfield target they did, Livermore, and so get off a shot that beat Foster to put the home side two-up at the break.
Pulis continued, after that break, with that same 451, and whilst Chadli would do all his own work in making space for a shot around the 50-minute mark, once again, Albion worryingly offered no threat from the resultant set-piece: not even sure if our captain bothered trying to impede the 'keeper as he would usually do.
With just 15 minutes left in which to score two goals just to get a point, Pulis finally made some changes, although in merely revoking his starting XI's like-for-like swaps, bringing on Rondon for HRK and Brunt for McClean, it hardly smacked of a manager who had much /idea as to how/desire/ "to really go for it", although five minutes later, when his other starting XI change, Morrison for Yacob, was annulled, at least Pulis could lay claim to having sacrificed a defensive player for an attacking one for the cause.
Two minutes after that tactical switch though, Everton would put the game to bed, as Lukaku was left free to jump between two Albion defenders on the edge of our six-yard-box, and so direct a cross from Barkley - who had another three Albion defenders in close attendance on the opposite side of our eighteen-yard-box but still not attending closely enough to prevent him getting the ball away - back where it had come from, across Foster and into the net for three-nil, and it could have ended four-nil, had not Lukaku's extra-time strike, having beaten Foster, not hit the post.
Given that this may simply have been a post-forty-points game, in which Pulis was looking to try out those usually on the bench, then McClean and HRK certainly offered no less than the usual suspects, although Brunt's set-piece deliveries might have been better than what we got, however, can anyone really judge a lone striker in a Tony Pulis side on anything other than their defensive contribution, in which case HRK certainly spent as much time as Rondon normally does on our goal-side of the centre circle, so job done by him I guess.
Where Pulis really got this one horribly wrong was in believing that three defensive midfield players, none of whom have shown much creative offensive capability in prior games, would somehow be able to make up for the withdrawal of Morrison, let alone that going with three non-creative central midfielders leaving Chadli, Mozza's only(?) understudy for the central creative role, out on the flanks. Indeed, if this was just a post-forty-points "trial" match, why not try out some natural positions and give Chadli a run through the middle and Leko a start out wide, whilst still keeping the token open-play offensive threat of his 4231/4411?
Did it really matter though? Albion remain in 8th place, having achieved 40 points and, just like the Grand Old Duke of York, can go neither up nor down, even with performances that go neither up nor down, in terms of results anyway, for a few more games yet.
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