Howard Kendall’s team were having similar problems until their 1984 League Cup run
27 January ~ Once again Everton have an under-fire manager, unhappy crowd and pivotal-looking League Cup run. The last time the club reached the final of this competition – in its Milk Cup days in 1984 – their run to a Wembley showpiece against Liverpool was the making of Howard Kendall’s youthful team. On the final day of 1983 Everton were 16th in the old First Division having been booed off by a Goodison Park crowd of 13,659 after a goalless draw with Coventry City.
At that stage of the 1983-84 season, Everton’s underperforming young players had won just three of 11 home league games. Within a few short months, though, after Adrian Heath had famously latched on to Kevin Brock’s back pass to save them from a quarter-final defeat at Oxford on a cold January night, they were at Wembley and produced a display in the final against Liverpool that provided the shot of self-belief needed to go on to great things.
Thirty-two years on, Everton are looking to reach a first League Cup final since then – and what would be another all-Merseyside affair – when they visit Manchester City tonight. Nobody is predicting the Blues will win the League in 16 months’ time – as happened with Kendall’s side – but the feeling among Evertonians is that Roberto Martínez needs a Wembley final every bit as much as Kendall did all those years ago. If not more.
It was Peter Reid, one of Everton’s mid-1980s heroes, who said last week that the current squad is the club’s best since his own heyday. Yet they sit 12th in a mediocre Premier League, have won just three of 12 home league games this term and their only league victories in the last four months have come against Sunderland, Aston Villa and Newcastle United.
The natives – more concerned with Everton’s dismal home form than John Stones’ development into the next Bobby Moore – had good reason to be restless during Sunday’s loss to Swansea because they see a squad showing no sign of learning from their repeated defensive mistakes. The more cynical-minded might go so far as to suggest a good team is being sacrificed on the altar of Martínez’s "philosophy". As Neville Southall, in his Paddy Power blog this week, said of the Goodison disquiet: “They don’t believe the manager has a plan B. Whether they go one goal up or one goal down Everton still keep attacking.”
What it means is that even when Everton have played well, they have found ways not to win games – the very opposite of what good sides so. One thing obviously lacking is a Reid type to shout at the other players and show them the nasty side of the game; instead they have a manager whose sugar-coating is at odds with not just his side’s results but the glass-half-empty mindset of so many Evertonians. “We know how close we are, we know how special we are in things we are doing well,” was Martínez’s typically upbeat message in this morning’s Liverpool Echo.
Tonight is the night to deliver on that talk of potential. Everton’s 2-1 lead is one source of hope for the 8,000-plus fans who will descend on the Etihad desperate to see their team’s 21-year wait for a trophy end. Another is that Martínez, while incapable of providing the consistency that David Moyes brought in terms of league performances, remains the man who won an FA Cup final with Wigan against City.
And Everton, for all those surrendered leads, have lost just one match this season on the road. They have looked a better team when not allowed to dominate possession, though they still needed a big break with a poor refereeing decision to draw at the Etihad a fortnight ago. Martínez could do with another slice of fortune tonight… his own Kevin Brock moment, as it were. Simon Hart