Everton were beaten 1-2 by Manchester United at Goodison Park last night, a loss which brought their recent good run to a halt.
Coming into the match after a soild few months, many Everton supporters, including this one, were feeling more positive than we have for a long time. But of course, this club always seems to find a way to bring us down to reality with a bump.
Going into last night, the Toffees’ were undefeated in seven games, had won their last two and had the best defensive record in the Premier League as well.
Since the start of the season, while goals have been hard to come by, the Blues’ have shown much improved defensive solidity and shape and a strong resolve overall, making them a hard side to beat, for a change.
There has been a consistency in those performances too and the ability to keep on picking up points even when not playing that well.
Although, let’s be honest Everton have rode their luck quite a bit too with Jordan Pickford’s heroics (particularly in the Merseyside derby) and some desperate last-ditch defending at Southampton being needed to secure some of those points.
That luck ran out last night though with every mistake by the home team being punished and had the officials not ruled out two other United goals the scoreline would have looked even worse.
Those errors and a generally lacklustre first half performance cost the Blues’ the points and ended a decent run that had built some long-overdue confidence.
The question is, was this defeat just a temporary blip along the way, or has the past few weeks and months of relative improvement been something of a mirage?
It’s probably a bit of both.
Everton do look a much more settled, solid, compact and determined side than the one we saw so often in recent campaigns with genuine leaders now throughout the team.
Hopefully, all this means that last night’s result won’t trigger a collapse in confidence and form over the coming weeks. Too often in the past a bad day at the office and a frustrating defeat has led to a run of losses and a slide in form, such as we saw last season.
But I do think that the game at Goodison also underlined there is still a lot of work to do to make this Toffees’ team truly competitive in the Premier League.
Some of the old failings we’ve seen so many times returned with lots of misplaced passes and unecessary individual mistakes leading to easy possession and goals for an opposition that were much more clinical.
This sort of thing won’t go away overnight given past problems, especially as Frank Lampard tries to instill a more controlled style of play and encourages his players to keep the ball more.
But it’s something the coaching staff need to address as they have with the set-piece failings they inherited.
The other significant problem that the game underlined once more for me was that Everton still don’t have enough pace, creativity and goal threat to worry quality opponents.
Last night’s front three were largely annoymous for long periods with Anthony Gordon in particular having a very poor match at home again. He seemed more interested in arguing with Marcus Rashford.
I have been an advocate of sticking to a front three, whichever specific players are involved. However, perhaps Dominic Calvert-Lewin does need to come straight back into the starting eleven as his pace and physical presence did make a significant difference when he came on.
Hopefully, the club’s top brass are thinking of whether they can sign another forward in the January window because unless Calvert-Lewin starts to tear it up, I don’t think there’s enough quality up front to take this side as far as it otherwise might be able to go.
It’s not panic stations then obviously, but yesterday was a sobering reminder that if this Blues’ side has a collective off day like they will be severely punished by sides with better attacking talent.