Martinez must fix sinking Everton ship
WEST BROM 0
Nice guys finish last. Just ask Roberto Martinez and Leighton Baines.
Both men were left with footprints on their faces yesterday morning (Singapore time). Kevin Mirallas walked all over them.
When the Everton midfielder snatched the ball to take the penalty, he did more than snatch a draw from the jaws of victory at Goodison Park.
He revealed a maligned manager struggling to keep a grip on his crumbling club.
The Toffees' terrible home performance in the 0-0 draw against West Brom was symptomatic of the failings that manager Martinez has neglected to address.
Built in their manager's image, Everton are puppy dogs, over-eager and easy to please. They neither bark nor bite. They roll over and wait for their tummies to be tickled.
Martinez had his moment to deal with the malaise in the press conference. He had to savage Mirallas. He had to castigate the behaviour of his belligerent Belgian. He had to put down the rebel.
But Martinez withdrew. He shied away from a controversy that epitomised his disintegrating dressing room.
The Spaniard insisted that Mirallas was substituted at half-time because of a hamstring injury, rather than his penalty miss, convincing no one. In trying to fool others, he fooled only himself.
Mirallas' behaviour was inexcusable, indefensible in a team sport.
He grabbed the ball from Baines and missed the subsequent penalty.
Baines had previously scored 15 out of 16 from the spot. He was Everton's designated penalty taker. He was Martinez's designated penalty-taker.
But Mirallas defied his teammates, his manager and the unwritten code of conduct that exists within all professional dressing rooms.
He humiliated both Baines and Martinez and wrote his own exit visa.
Mirallas will get what he wants, a transfer, but his petty antics ripped off the flaky scab to expose the poisonous atmosphere within the club. The Toffees are tired, timid and running out of ideas.
Dissent was already in the air. Mirallas' open revolt may spark Martinez's eventual downfall if he doesn't address the growing dissatisfaction.
Pre-season contenders for Champions League qualification, Everton have only one victory in 13 matches with tricky fixtures against Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal to come. They are just four points above the relegation zone.
The exhausting 9-8 penalty shoot-out defeat by West Ham in the FA Cup took its toll, mentally and psychologically, but the wheels were already coming off the Martinez vehicle that travels in only one direction.
His laudable principle of putting beauty before a parked bus paid off handsomely last season but, as rivals strengthened, Martinez merely solidified.
Turning loan signings Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku into permanent deals was a statement of intent - but only if they were bolstered with further additions.
Instead, Everton fell behind their free-spending rivals.
Still, a lack of finances is not the Toffees' greatest failing. The club have successfully navigated the minefield between the Premier League's princes and paupers for years through a prudent fiscal strategy.
If anything, this season marked a departure from their traditional stinginess, splurging instead on Barry and Lukaku.
Everton's bigger problems are tactical and temperamental. Martinez's men are neither varied nor feared.
His loyalty to a 4-2-3-1 formation depends on the industry and invention of the two men sitting pretty in front of the back four. Barry still fetches, but hasn't carried the ball quite as successfully this time around.
When his partner, Muhamed Besic, was taken off against West Brom, the home crowd finally turned on their manager, booing the decision.
Besic makes up for Barry's lack of pace and provides a solitary spark in a side short of ideas.
Consistency remains a real concern for Ross Barkley and Mirallas' mind is clearly elsewhere. Flair is in short supply at Goodison.
All of which leaves Lukaku a little lost. He's isolated from his teammates' plodding play and left with enough time to ponder his pre-season decision to stay rather than quit while he was ahead.
But he endures. He tolerates the drift towards mediocrity like a polite guest at a terrible party. That's the Everton way.
They are courteous and accommodating, sharing penalties and points with anyone tough enough to take them.
The only Everton employee who displayed any gumption was Mirallas and he's a rebel with a transfer cause.
He was selfish, arrogant and unapologetically committed to victory.
The Goodison faithful can only hope his condition is contagious.
Mirallas paid the penalty for being too confident. Everton continue to pay the price for not being confident at all.
"If (Kevin Mirallas) has done what I think he’s done, go against team orders, manager orders, and selfishly taken the ball, it’s one of the most despicable breaches of team orders you can possibly have. You do not do that at any cost."
- Former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville
"Craig Bellamy did it once at Liverpool, missed a penalty, and Rafael Benitez actually fined him after the game. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve been playing, you don’t take the penalty off the (designated) taker."
- Former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher on Mirallas
'No issue with Mirallas' miss'
Everton manager Roberto Martinez insists there is no disharmony within the squad despite an obvious disagreement over who should take a penalty against West Brom yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Kevin Mirallas stepped up ahead of regular spot-kick specialist Leighton Baines, who has missed just one of the 16 he has taken, but the Belgian's shot hit the outside of the post.
It was Everton's best, if not only chance, a minute before half-time and the misery was completed for Mirallas when he was substituted at the interval with what Martinez said was a problematic hamstring.
However, the sight of Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku appearing to try to tell Mirallas to hand the ball over to Baines did not look harmonious and England assistant coach and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville condemned the Belgian.
"What he's done there at 0-0, taking it off the major penalty-taker, which is what it looks like has happened, is a despicable breach of team spirit," Neville said. "To go against team orders, you do not do that."
But Martinez said there was no falling-out.
"Not really. If Leighton Baines is the one who wants to take the penalty, he will take it," Martinez said.
"He is the No. 1 penalty-taker but, if it had been the other way around and Leighton says 'no', the issue would be why Kevin was not allowed to take the penalty.
"We are a team that are very together. I expect a few players to be able to take penalties and convert them.
"Leighton was quite happy to let him take it because Kevin felt confident and right in that moment. There is no big issue in that.
"It became an issue because he couldn't find the back of the net."
Martinez said Mirallas' hamstring became a problem during the break and that was why he could not continue.
"When he gets into half-time and the body temperature changes, he felt his hamstring was starting to give him a bit of a problem," Martinez said.
"He has been carrying a problem and that is why he didn't start against Manchester City and West Ham.
"He felt 100 per cent but, at half-time, he felt that hamstring was starting to give him a bit of a problem and he wasn't 100 per cent to start the second half." - PA Sport.
Everton fans set for rocky role
BIG SCREEN APPEAL: Sylvester Stallone (above) appearing on the giant screen at Goodison Park to announce the filming for his movie but it could not lift the Toffees (in blue) to get a win against West Brom. PHOTO: REUTERS
Evergreen Sylvester Stallone has banked on Everton fans to provide him with a knockout scene for his latest film.
The Hollywood star delivered a TV message on the big screens at Goodison Park during the half-time interval of yesterday morning's (Singapore time) goalless draw with West Brom, stirring up the crowd before filming took place for his latest outing in the famous Rocky boxing franchise.
The 68-year-old was filming crowd scenes for spin-off picture "Creed" in which he trains the grandson of Apollo Creed - the fighter with whom the Philadelphia brawler clashed in the first two Rocky films.
Stallone, wearing a Toffees shirt, introduced the film and asked the crowd to go wild - they might have needed some encouragement having seen their team miss a penalty in the last minute of the first half.
In the movie, Rocky's pupil - Adonis Creed - will fight against Pretty Boy Porter, who is played by actual British boxer Tony Bellew. That is where Everton fans came into the equation.
Bellew, a lifelong Everton fan, used his connections with the club to book Stallone a slot on the big screens.
This was not the first time Stallone had made an "appearance" at Goodison Park. The actor, who was nominated for an Oscar for the first Rocky film, paid a visit to the stadium eight years ago to watch the team face Reading and was presented to the supporters before kick-off while wearing a Toffees scarf.
Although he has been eligible for a bus pass for three years, Stallone has shown no sign that he wants to quit Hollywood any time soon.
The American is also set to return in a fifth outing as Rambo.
- PA Sport.