Norwich City vs. Everton: 6 Things We Learned
Ten minutes of defensive instability saw Everton once again squander a lead late on and, in doing so, all but terminate their fading hopes of a fourth-place finish.
Facing a Norwich side without a win in 2013, the Toffees took a 39th-minute lead at Carrow Road through Leon Osman, in what was a turgid opening half.
Osman ghosted in unmarked to convert a typically precise Leighton Baines centre, and for a long period it seemed that goal would be enough to take the points.
However, as has been the case for the vast majority of the season, Everton were unable to build on their advantage and finish Norwich off.
The Toffees dropped deeper and deeper during the dying stages, inviting a late onslaught from their hosts, who duly obliged.
With barely five minutes left on the clock, Norwich equalised through Kei Kamara, before a last-second Grant Holt strike dramatically stole the points and sent Evertonians home deflated.
The result was harsh on the Toffees, who at least deserved a point, but once again they only have themselves to blame for some familiar late lapses.
Here are six Everton-related talking points to digest from this game.
Physical Strikers Continue to Prosper
For the umpteenth time this season, Everton were undone by physical forward play deep in and around their penalty area.
Having struggled to cope with Norwich’s direct approach all day, both late goals unsurprisingly followed aerial duels that the Toffees came off second best in.
Grant Holt, Luciano Becchio and Kei Kamara gave Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin constant problems in the air throughout the game, whether they won the ball or not.
If the trio of forwards did not win the initial header, they competed well enough to ensure the ball could only be cleared a short distance, giving their side every chance of retaining possession at the next exchange.
Both Everton centre-backs won just over half of their aerial duels between them, when both average around 75 percent through the season. Even when Jagielka and Distin were victorious in the air, Norwich were constantly first to the second ball.
As Everton dropped deeper during the final stages, that second ball dropped into increasingly dangerous areas and it became impossible for defenders to effectively clear their lines.
Growing Defensive Fragility
It’s become increasingly worrying just how fragile Everton look at the back when protecting a lead late on in games.
Back in 2005, the side David Moyes guided to fourth were renowned for grinding out low-scoring, 1-0 wins; but this squad seem a million miles away from showing that kind of mental resilience.
In fact, they have yet to win 1-0 all season.
There have now been five occasions this season when the Toffees have lost a lead in time added on, with Norwich (twice), Newcastle, Oldham and Fulham all striking late on to steal a result.
Considering one has to go all the way back to September to find an Everton league win by more than a one-goal margin, this is certainly a concerning trend.
The fact this Norwich side had only managed one goal in their previous six games, yet struck twice in the closing stages, further accentuates this issue.
Coleman’s Return a Small Positive
After such a demoralising defeat, it’s hard to direct too much attention towards the positives for Everton; however, Seamus Coleman’s individual performance deserves recognition.
Playing his first game back after injury, he was his side’s brightest player throughout the contest in both halves of the field.
He effectively marshalled the dangerous Wes Hoolahan in defence and gave his fellow Irish international a torrid time going forward.
Coleman was constantly available in attack and no Everton player took on more opponents (4) or sent in more crosses (6) than the Irishman.
There were occasions his final ball let him down, as it has before, but his return gave the Toffees a more balanced feel and was certainly a plus in this performance.
Mirallas a Strange Omission
As pleased as Evertonians were to see Seamus Coleman return to the starting lineup, the sight of Kevin Mirallas on the bench was confusing.
The Belgian has been badly missed during his lengthy injury troubles and it seems strange Moyes has kept him on the fringes of play after his recent return to fitness.
On the field he adds pace and flair that were two facets transparently absent from this Toffees performance.
With countless second-half opportunities to launch counter-attacks and break forward at speed, it was similarly surprising he remained on the bench until the closing stages.
Everton continually struggled to attack at pace and were hindered by their slow, predictable build-up play, something the Belgian’s influence may have been able to alter had he appeared for a longer period..
January Blues Still Lingering
It’s hard not to link Everton’s recent problems with their board's failure to strengthen the squad in January.
Of course, that did not cause Fellaini to allow Kamara in to score in this match, or keep Everton’s defenders flat-footed for Holt’s goal; however, it certainly seems to have dampened spirits around the club.
Given the momentum the arrival of Steven Pienaar, Nikica Jelavic and Darron Gibson added last January, 12 months on, it’s almost a total contrast of emotion.
Everton have now failed to win all four games since the transfer window closed, with three fixtures especially winnable on paper.
The sooner Moyes can coax a victory from his flagging side, and dispel the frustrating memories of January, the better.
Time to Focus on the FA Cup
This latest setback at Norwich has all but ended the Toffees' faint hopes of Champions League football next season.
In the final 11 games, Everton still have daunting trips to Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool and also welcome Manchester City to Goodison Park. In short, it's going to be a testing home straight.
Even the most ardent fan must admit it’s going to tough to eke out the 20-23 points required for fourth spot from those particular 11 games.
If there comes a time when Moyes needs to make a choice and rest personnel, the Toffees must now prioritise the FA Cup.
With favourable home ties looming against Oldham and—hopefully—Wigan, the club are within touching distance of a semifinal and a return date to Wembley.
Although they still currently retain sixth place in the league, which is (at the moment) enough for a Europa League berth, the FA Cup may be Everton’s most realistic avenue into Europe next season.
Everything must be done to maximise their chances of progression.