Bah. Just as the Odense fiasco represented more than just another defeat, so too did last night’s pathetic exit from the FA Cup. Nobody’s pretending it’s easy to go to Everton and get a result – if it was we’d manage to get points there once in a while – but there’s something horribly wrong about these disjointed farces. It’s great when the team’s firing on all cylinders – we look terrific – but there is no middle ground. We’re almost always either useless or terrific. Why?
Martin Jol’s transition is not going to happen any more quickly because we’re fed up with it, but at some point there has to be a recognisable plan in the team. What on earth were they doing last night? Clint Dempsey hardly touched the ball. Bryan Ruiz might as well not have been there. AJ responded to his target man role with predictable ineffectiveness (just how dim is this tactic? Long goal kicks aimed at AJ? Is he merely following orders?). These are our game changers – shouldn’t we have a way to make them effective? Or even get them on the ball?
Increasingly it seems harsh to blame the players. They operate within a framework outlined by the coaching staff, and remain thoroughly unable to find space in dangerous areas. We have players who can see and exploit space when it is there, we just never create it. How many good saves were required of Tim Howard last night? Our goal came from a penalty kick.
At the other end Everton poured forward and at one point secured 87 consecutive corner kicks. They battered us aerially and of course scored that way twice: Landon Donovan whipped in two crosses, the first headed in by Stracqualursi (easily beating the recalled Aaron Hughes), the second (in the second half) by the towering Fellaini, who had cleverly isolated himself on Stephen Kelly well beyond the far post. Both headers dropped into the net not particularly quickly, and for the first at least (I’m not picking on him, honest) Stockdale surely should have been more nimble in getting something on the ball.
But again, it’s the context of the defeat as much as the result that is so frustrating. The big clubs are knocking each other out of the competition and once more it seems likely that some unfancied club will have a good run. It should have been us last year – that home defeat against Bolton! – and could have been again this time around. Everton away was a horrible draw, but we still might have done more.
It isn’t about effort. With a small pitch filled by 22 highly trained atheletes the potential for stalemates in various areas is high. This is what we saw a good deal of, and at times our players did look a little short on pizzazz. Again, though, I don’t know that it has much to do with effort, more a general and dispiriting rudderlessness in which the players are somehow expected to rise above this bizarre fogginess that surrounds so much of what they are trying to do.
Put it this way: we’re playing WBA in the week. What do you expect from Fulham then? A 4-0 win? A 2-1 defeat? Frankly it is impossible to guess.