It says much about Everton's level of performance this year that a 1-1 away draw at West Brom on Monday night was perceived as a disappointment. But, these are lofty times for fifth-placed Everton and expectations have risen.
Roberto Martinez's side looked tired on this occasion, struggling to up the tempo against dogged opponents playing their first match under a new manager. The lively Matej Vydra also was a constant menace running the channels.
Per Whoscored, the Toffees' 50 percent of possession on the night was considerably down on the average of 55.6 percent for the season as a whole. Too often, distribution was aimless and West Brom's suffocating tactics worked with brilliant effect.
It was a night when, for long periods, the absence of Ross Barkley was keenly felt—not to mention Steven Pienaar and Gerard Deulofeu.
Everton's solitary goal of the evening came courtesy of Kevin Mirallas, with a surging run into the area paying off after a flick-on from striker Romelu Lukaku. It was a run that, sadly, was an all too rare moment of dynamism over the 90 minutes.
Mirallas was used central by Martinez in an attempt to make up for Barkley's absence, but was left ploughing a lone furrow in an often static attack.
Lukaku looked fatigued, Bryan Oviedo was tentative in his makeshift role on the right wing, while Leon Osman was unusually poor from the left side of the attack. With Ireland's Aidan McGeady having only recently arrived, there was little alternative on this occasion.
It is a performance that cannot afford to be repeated too often if Everton are to continue to challenge for a Champions League spot next season. With Barkley set to spend the next five weeks on the sidelines, per BBC Sport, a solution must be found.
Martinez has acted quickly to add to his squad this month. McGeady has arrived and should soon be in position to influence proceedings from the flanks, while the club confirmed on Tuesday evening that Ivorian striker Lacina Traore has been granted a work permit ahead of a potential loan deal.
Traore should ease the strain on Lukaku, which has begin to show in recent weeks. However, it is McGeady who has a major role to play.
Mirallas is a different player to Barkley and plays closer to the central striker, meaning that there will need to be alterations to the team's style of play to maintain the midfield balance that has served the side well this season.
Either Mirallas must be prepared to drop deeper and interact more with the midfield or there must be greater contribution from wide midfield.
The logic behind using Osman from the left is clear. He can drift infield and help create the overloads that Everton's game is built upon, but there must be incision from the other flank. On this occasion, Oviedo was not up to the task.
It will take a couple of games for Martinez to see his adjustments come to fruition, while any further recruits will be a big bonus for a relatively small squad that will surely tire later in the campaign.
What the club have achieved on a budget much smaller than the majority of their rivals in the top half of the league has been sensational, and, regardless of what occurs in the remainder of the campaign, Martinez will be greatly praised for his success.
It would be a great shame, though, if the season were to peter out into a whimper. However, the Spaniard has shown his ability to get the best out of a small squad late in a campaign many times in his spell at Wigan, and there is no reason to think he cannot adapt his team to cope with the challenges ahead.
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