The third round of the Carabao Cup saw the Blues face off with Premier League strugglers Southampton. A mixed performance, a late goal and a penalty shootout later, Everton finds themselves out of the reckoning for this trophy at the early stages yet again. Is it just never meant to be for us in this competition?
When the draw was announced a month ago another home fixture against Southampton, who look almost certain to be locked in a relegation dog-fight all season long, was the best match-up anyone could hope for.
The Saints rocked up to this game on the back of some woeful performances. In the Premier League campaign so far they’ve won only once, lost four (one of those to us) and drawn twice. We saw it for ourselves when we last played and defeated them barely a month ago, the South Coasters lack any real quality in the midfield and aren’t blessed with much up front in terms of proven goalscorers.
The Blues in contrast came into this on the back of our best result and performance of the season. With a second win in the books, Tosun off the mark and Sigurdsson finally showing us his best from, the mood around Goodison was at its highest since season officially got underway. Three days is all that it lasted for.
Marco Silva, as most expected, rotated the side to give several players on the fringes their first substantial game time in several weeks. Baines, Dowell and Lookman were all handed starts, ideal opportunities to remind everyone of their quality, whilst Tosun was also preferred over Calvert-Lewin in the hope of building on his confidence-boosting goal from the weekend.
The other changes were all to be expected, Stekelenburg in between the sticks, Schneiderlin recalled to midfield and Bernard over on the left. Though most would have felt more comfortable with the likes of Pickford, Walcott and Richarlison remaining in the line-up, the starting eleven that was put out should have had more than enough fire power to power past the Mark Hughes’ band of merry men.
The game started simply enough, the Blues controlled possession and knocked the ball around seemingly with more confidence than we’ve seen in most games so far, there was no sense of nerves and the atmosphere was mostly pleasant
Bernard, in his first start ever for the club, looked lively and showcased some very impressive flicks of skill and dribbling ability. His link-up play with Baines, especially in the opening half-hour, was a joy to behold and brought back memories of Leighton’s exceptional partnership with Steven Pienaar in years gone by.
Tom Davies meanwhile, captaining the team once again, continued his upswing in form and worked well with Morgan Schneiderlin. Both used the ball well and won vital tackles to keep their opponents in check throughout the first half. It’s not often Everton are able to win midfield battles without Idrissa Gana Gueye but this was one such occasion when his absence wasn’t all that noticeable. The local lad and the Frenchman looked more than comfortable working together and weren’t put on the back foot at all.
However, the right side in contrast to the left and centre looked completely out of sync as Lookman and Kenny didn’t seem to be communicating. Both lost the ball cheaply on a few occasions and delivered few crosses for Tosun to feed off.
Ademola to his credit, who has barely featured this season apparently due his attitude, did look eager to be involved but too often was he caught in two minds and swarmed by the opposition. Last night was a big chance for him to remind the Evertonian faithful, who have largely backed him during this stroppy period, that he is a player of quality who deserves a crack at the first team.
Despite a few bright spots and one clear chance at goal, created by a delightful chip from Bernard, he largely failed to press his claims before being hauled off around the hour mark for Richarlison.
Kieron Dowell lasted only the first half before not emerging for the second. Another young Englishman who hopes to establish himself, our no. 28 had the worst evening of any player on the pitch. Though he wasn’t exactly terrible, nor was he responsible for anything that merited any genuine anger, he simply was never in the game at all.
The role of a number ten in any side is to be the heartbeat of the team’s creativity, the person who sees most of the ball and gets opposition sweating. Dowell never worried any Southampton player at any stage, painfully anonymous in a 45 minutes of football were Everton probed and prodded but couldn’t find the killer final ball.
All of this occurring on a night when Nikola Vlasic, Dowell’s chief rival for the long-term position he occupies, was scoring a winning goal past Real Madrid in the Champions League for his loan club. Evertonians could be forgiven for throwing their hands up in frustration.
The Blues paid the price for their inability to make their dominance count when the Saints worked the ball into the box for Danny Ings, who dispatched his one and only chance past a hapless Stekelenburg. 1-0 down at half time, in a game we’d seldom given them a kick in, at the hands of a player who has now scored 4 of his last 9 goals since his anterior cruciate ligament injury in 2015 against us.
Niasse entered the fray in place of Dowell to begin the second half as the manager elected to change to a 4-4-2. An equaliser remained out of reach however as the Blues best attacking threats, Bernard and Tosun, started to tire and slowly fade out. Richarlison was introduced in place of Lookman but made little impact in the 30 or so minutes he was given, except for controversial moment when he went over in the area and appealed for a penalty. Referee Chris Kavanagh waved his away the appeals didn’t change his mind even after the use of VAR.
With the game fast slipping away and with nothing working Silva sent on Walcott in the 79th as a last roll of the dice. It worked, as in the 86th the equaliser finally came, Niasse successfully found Theo during a rare break up the pitch and the late substitute expertly finished past goalkeeper Angus Gunn to a fierce roar from the previously exasperated crowd.
A winner could not be found in the little time remaining and so when the final whistle went, Goodison braced itself for the sight of a penalty shootout to decide whom would progress.
Everton won the toss and choose to go first at the Gwladys Street End and ye old faithful Baines successfully lashed his home off the under the side of the bar. Ings went first for them and, despite the best efforts of the crowd to unnerve him, coolly sent Stekelenburg the wrong way. Tosun took our second and rammed his into the bottom right corner, a confident finish after a frustrating evening for Turk. Steven Davis went next and put his away too. Then up came Richarlison.
The Brazilian has had a mixed start to his Everton career so far. In the opening weeks he’s showed flashes of being a world class player, scored a few goals and even been called up to the Brazil national squad. Couple that though with the indiscipline he showed against Bournemouth, getting himself needlessly red-carded and then missing three vital games.
Now on this night, taking the vital 3rd penalty for his side in a shootout, he approached the spot with a ridiculously over-the-top stuttering run and…. ballooned his kick high over the bar. A very poor piece of judgement from him yet again.
The £50m signing clearly has tonnes of ability and a good attitude when it comes to rolling his sleeves up and getting stuck in but Evertonians will want bad habits like that, the desperate need to show off, stamped out quickly.
Højbjerg made it 3 from 3 to put the Saints ahead before Kurt Zouma, who had another assured performance at the back, almost burst the net with his powerful drive right down the middle.Stekelenburg then made his contribution with strong stop to his bottom left corner to draw Everton level.
For the fifth kick up came Theo Walcott to send his night spiralling downward by failing to convert, his effort almost a mirror copy of Matt Targett’s moments before.
Cedric stepped up and unfortunately tucked his effort away neatly to send his side through and Everton out. Supporters poured out o the ground despondently with all the good feeling from the weekend now completely sucked away. Yet another League Cup campaign that has ended in extremely frustrating fashion. Our best chance at silverware and route back into Europe feels like it’s just been carelessly thrown away, just like it is every year no matter whom the manager is.
Silva will have to learn from last night’s experience because clearly he did not value winning this trophy as a priority. His exact quote after winning in the previous round against Rotherham was;
“It’s a Wednesday evening, our first League Cup match and more than 31,000 came to support us,” he said, as if in disbelief.
It may sound harsh, but this small one-liner to me let slip that he was shocked to see just how much supporters cared about this competition, how eager fans were to turn out and see us in what was only a 2nd round match. There was a similar amount of supporters there last night too and they’ll probably be that number again next year.
Evertonians do care, we are desperate to win anything to end our miserable trophy drought. Every season we have the same old discussions, about fielding our strongest team from the early rounds, about not showing any carelessness, about not treating this competition as glorified night friendlies.
All we can do is move on from this and focus on the weekend, 3 points away at Leicester will no doubt ease the sting we all currently feel. For once though, just once in our lifetime, wouldn’t it be great if the club finally got its act together and landed this elusive trophy? Hopefully one day but alas, not this year.