This was a draw that was hard to put into context. Did we merely play a good Everton side at the wrong time, just as they were emerging from their annual poor start, or were we the victim of a European hangover?
I believe that this European hangover syndrome is something of fallacy. Yes, we’ve dropped points against Wigan and now Everton after playing in Europe in midweek, but we’ve also followed up our Champions League games with wins against Stoke, Wolves and Villa. We could have won this one also, but our momentum was lost after a baffling substitution.
I’ve always stood up against the anti-Harry brigade and have the greatest respect for the way our manager has turned our fortunes around, but where I find it hardest to support him is in his tactical decisions in big games and when making substitutions.
Crouch was having a terrible game against an Everton defence who knew that the best way to nullify him was to unbalance the gangly striker at every opportunity. I was expecting him to make way when Pavlyuchenko was brought on, but instead Harry opted to play the two together, despite the fact that they have never really shown signs of gelling as a partnership, as Pav doesn’t work hard enough to get into positions to feed off Crouch’s flicks.
What baffled me far more though was the way that our midfield was reshaped. Lennon didn’t have a great game and still seems to lack confidence. A year ago he was running towards the byline with the ball at every opportunity, while he now cuts inside without trying to beat his marker. Yet his presence on the right gave us a certain balance that was lost when he was taken off.
To make matters worse, Bale was moved over to the right, which completely nullified him. Bale also didn’t have the best game, as Everton doubled up on him, but this creates space for others to exploit. Out on the right he was no longer a threat, while Van der Vaart once again demonstrated that he has no intention of sticking to a wide position, leaving the left flank empty.
We weren’t creating much in the way of chances before the substitution, but at least we had a shape and a strategy. It clearly wasn’t going to be Crouch’s day and it would have made more sense to swap him with Pav. In terms of the midfield, if it needed refreshing (and Bale had every reason to feel jaded) why not bring Kranjcar on?
The plus points from this game was the fact that Van der Vaart helped himself to another goal and good performances from Kaboul and Modric. Everton are a decent team and will take results of our rivals this season, so I’m not too downbeat about this draw, but you just have to hope that we don’t come to regret these lost points at the end of the season.