London called, Everton declined
Blackburn 2008, Brentford 2010, Leeds 2012, Fulham 2013, Norwich 2016, Southampton 2018. It’s fair to say that Everton hasn’t had the best time in the League Cup in the years gone by. A tournament that The Reds and City couldn’t be less arsed about, yet somehow end up playing each other in the final every other year. The only positive to them getting knocked out in the early rounds is that we’re treated to a League One side going all out and causing upsets. (See Bradford 2013.) so there is some good to the Carabao Cup, the English competition which is subsequently owned by a Thai rockstar.
The narrow win at Huddersfield a few weeks ago was proof that our squad was really thin. Since then, 3 of our key players had picked up injuries and were ruled out of the Burnley game which obviously didn’t matter in the end (how boss were those 7 minutes?) But we knew they’d be out for our next game in the cup. I wasn’t worried though, because my trust in Benitez was growing by the game. His tactical changes against Southampton and Burnley were spot on, so you’d have thought he’d be able to outwit Mark Warburton.
Our God-awful decade of playing in the League Cup didn’t come into my mind for the whole trip. I’d found a train ticket for £19 return from Crewe, I had me shorts on, it was 22 degrees in London and I was on an away day with me dad, uncle and cousin for the first time in a very long time. So regardless of the result, I knew it’d be a boss day/night out.
We spent half of the journey down debating where to go for a beer beforehand, which is the norm when you go down to the capital because there’s a pub every quarter of a mile. What’s more, Carling, Fosters, Carlsberg and Budweiser are nowhere to be seen. The budget beer, and I say that lightly, is Camden Hells or Heineken.
We settled on Shoreditch, so we checked into the £3-a-night hotel (Tesco Clubcard playing a massive role), jumped on the tube and went for a pint and chatted about everything other than Everton. We weren’t letting them ruin our day before they would actually ruin our day.
Shepherd’s Bush is the closest station to the ground and when we got there, there were two pubs dedicated solely to away fans, which I’ve never seen before, but it’s easily one of the best ideas I’ve ever seen. It might happen everywhere and I’ve just never noticed it, but from my experiences of following us all over the UK, it’s the first time I’ve ever been in a pub full of Evertonians, half a mile from the home team’s stadium.
I think the less said about the game, the better. But I’ll say a few words. Like I said before, the squad is scarily thin. Those injuries to Calvert-Lewin, Pickford and Richarlison have taken us from a threat going forward, to not even being able to go forward. If you’d have told me last year that we’d be relying on a 30-year-old and £1.7m rated winger to take us forward, having just watched James Rodriguez score and assist in a 5-2 pummelling of West Brom, I’d have laughed at you. But here we are. Full credit to Townsend and Gray, they’ve been brilliant since the day they signed, but we can’t expect them to keep it up for 38+ games a season.
QPR looked decent as much as Everton’s midfield looked malnourished as much as Rondon looked unfit, and took the lead twice in the game courtesy of Charlie Austin, which couldn’t surprise me more if it tried. Digne finished off a well-worked move in the first half, and Towsend finished off the scruffiest corner I’ve ever seen. But it worked.
Penalties it was then. We all knew how this was ending up. The first 14 penalties were scored, other than Godrey’s but the keeper was closer to the ball than his line, so instead converted the retake. Up stepped Tom Davies, who hadn’t had the best game of his career, but was slowly turning it into one of his usual performances. Me and Griff saw him strolling up and he looked more nervous than 3,000 of us behind the goal, so we walked to the exits so as to get out quickly as soon as the keeper saved it. The Scouse Pirlo stepped up, missed, Everton were out, but more importantly, so was I.
Walking back to the station I overheard two Scousers analysing the game and the best and best line was, “Davies offers *5-second pause* nothing.” I got chatting to them and one of the lads said he followed me on Twitter and went on to say “You’re the one with the big, scruffy dog who does mad things.” Cheered me up no end, to know that my dog is more popular in the world of Everton Twitter than I am. He deserves fame and attention.
I couldn’t get over how dead London was after the game. We knew it was 11 pm on a Tuesday night, but there’s more life in my local on a weeknight than there is in Central London. We found somewhere and the girl behind the bar kept giving me cousin free ale, so that, Bruce (my dog), and seeing a fox walking around the misty streets at midnight was the highlight of the trip, and once again, Everton failed to add to it.
I’ve never seen us win a trophy. I was born 3 years after 1995, so I, and so many others, have gotten all too used to Everton shitting themselves in cup competitions. Since we last won a trophy, Swansea, Birmingham, Portsmouth, Wigan and Middlesbrough have all won major finals. It’s all a bit draining watching Everton do the same thing every season; finish between 7th-11th, get knocked out of The League Cup in the 3rd round and go out of the FA Cup in the 5th. Makes you wonder whether we’ll ever win anything again because as much as the board, the players and the staff go on about ambition, winning trophies and getting to Europe, it’s not very evident that they’re even trying.
We might have the ambition, but we’re miles off having the players and the players are miles off having the fight and the mindset to get us out of this 26-year slump.