Thin squad could draw Everton into relegation battle

After the extremely fortuitous win at Blackburn on Saturday, goalkeeper Tim Howard could not contain his relief in his side picking up their first win of the season after surviving two missed penalties and numerous chances created by the home side which included two denials by the woodwork. The win which the American described as “that bit of luck” was secured by a late Mikel Arteta penalty, awarded harshly by referee Mike Dean, and he went on to say something rather foreboding for what Everton fans can expect this season. “I remember two years ago we were winning games late all the time. It’s important for us to keep that going. That’s what the Premier League is about, keeping yourself in the game”.

This is a rather significant statement, for Howard is arguably submissively admitting this Everton team will have to settle for smash and grab victories and utilise a heavy reliance on luck in order to amass the amount of points needed to be safe in the Premier League. You can take from this quote that Howard is aware of the flaws of the side and has lowered his sights to a more reasonable expectation of grinding out the odd result here and there. This is no longer a side capable of administering shows of superiority to teams like Blackburn; it is a team that now has to turn to uncanny bouts of luck in order to triumph over relegation fodder and the goalkeeper knows it.

Everyone at Everton, most notably David Moyes, will be mightily relieved in leaving Lancashire with a win after experiencing the first exhibits of their obligatory slow starts to the season with a 1-0 defeat at home to QPR last weekend, but is the unconvincing way the win was earned having been completely outplayed by a team many had tipped to be prime candidates for the drop. Another poor start has caused the manager to face questions over the lack of address to his worryingly thin squad. Ross Barkley has had to be fast-tracked into the squad at the tender age of seventeen to boost numbers and it was his inexperience that played a part in giving Blackburn the first of the two penalties on Saturday. His promotion follows that of Seamus Coleman, the twenty two year old right-back who broke into the side two years ago. The Irishman’s talent is undoubted after managing nomination for PFA Young Player of the Year award last season but it is Moyes’ penchant for giving youth a chance that typifies the sparse situation Everton are in.

Following the early indulgence in the transfer market with the club record-breaking purchases of James Beattie, Andy Johnson, Yakubu Aiyigbeni and Marouane Fellaini, all being made in successive years, there seems to be a reluctance to grant Moyes with the necessary funds. Since the captures of Sylvian Distin and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov back in 2009, the outlay on incomers has been minimal. 21 year old French striker Magaye Gueye arrived last summer for a fee in excess of £1 million but has struggled to make a breakthrough, waiting until April to tally five appearances while the likes of Apostolos Vellios, Anton Peterlin and Skrodan Mustafi have all failed to forge an impact after being discovered by an extensive scouting network in place at Goodison Park.

 As the ties have been drawn tighter on the blue finances on Merseyside, Moyes has had to make do with free transfers and loan deals, Louis Saha and Jermaine Beckford being two examples of success in the non-fee market but attracting players has been mostly frustrating for the Scottish manager, this summer the only arrival so far has been the loan of seventeen year old Eric Dier, despite the departures of James Vaughan and Joseph Yobo, the latter’s protracted move to Fenerbache being a blow to an already depleted defensive unit. The loss of Stephen Pienaar in January has not been rectified either, the creative trickery and industry of the South African being notable upon its absence at Goodison.

Transfer activity has been a major nuisance and there would have been particularly annoyance at the exit of Dan Gosling as a result of a mix up in contract talks which led to Everton receiving no monetary funds for his move to Newcastle. It was argued Everton would have been entitled up to £4 million in compensation due to the player’s age being in infancy of 24, but a contract had failed to be offered in writing and Gosling was allowed to negotiate his farewell without problem, much to the dismay of his parent club who had lost a promising youngster for nothing, money that would have been of mass significance amongst the drying-up of transfer funds in recent years.

Against a backdrop of hindrance and vexation in the art of attempting to attract players to Merseyside, Moyes has triumphed in keeping his most valuable assets intact. Phil Jagielka and Mikel Arteta remain notwithstanding being heavily linked elsewhere while Leighton Baines also stays despite a very impressive last season in which he totalled eleven assists, ending as the league’s most productive defender. The core of the squad is solid; Distin and Jagielka provide a strong base, supplemented by the versatility of John Heitinga and Phil Neville. Tim Cahill, a regular contributor of goals from midfield having scored 54 in a seven year career, spearheads the duo of Arteta and Fellaini, a combination equal to most midfields in the Premier League when on form. Yakubu returns from a successful loan spell with Leicester in which he netted eleven goals and will join with Louis Saha and Jermaine Beckford in attack, the latter will be hoping to build on his eight goals in his first year of top flight football. The talented Jack Rodwell and Leon Osman make up the components of a strong looking team which is let down by the inadequacies of depth.

Based on the ability of their players, it is difficult to say Everton will be contenders for relegation, but their performance at Blackburn suggests they will have to improve dramatically for them to pull clear of the drop zone. Everton are notoriously slow starters, the second half of the last two seasons combined would have them finishing second, and this is what the supporting majority will put it down to as nothing more, but the sluggishness is there, the goalkeeper knows it and so does the manager behind the bullish façade he attempted post match at Ewood. Moyes is a master of being resourceful and he will have to do it once again here if Everton are to improve.

Adam Gray @MonkeyLunch21

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