Groundhog Day at Goodison

The opening of a new season brings with it a wave of hope and expectation, with supporters around the world clinging to the belief that things will be different this time around, that lessons of the past will have been heeded and that their chosen troops are ready to deliver a campaign packed with thrills, spills and, ultimately, success – however that may be judged.

For Everton, though, just one game into the 2015/16 quest, it is impossible to escape the sense of déjà vu sweeping over Goodison Park.

It may be a new year, a new season and a new chapter in the club’s history, but there is a slightly uncomfortable feeling that the Toffees have been here before – with the club stuck in a sporting version of Groundhog Day, with Roberto Martinez filling the shoes of leading man Bill Murray before him.

Hopefully this Premier League production will provide a happy ending – but this is not Hollywood, this is the unforgiving world of professional football and there may not be an Andie MacDowall to snap Martinez and co out of an unfortunate loop.

Everton must continue to believe that there will be, though, and persevere in their efforts to get things right on the field, buck recent trends and pave the way for what will turn out to be a productive season in the long run.

The first step on that path needs to be taken at St Mary’s Stadium on Saturday.

With the Toffees finding themselves stuck in two ruts – one quite bizarre and the other rather alarming – this weekend presents the perfect opportunity in which to shake the shackles and start righting a few wrongs.

Arouna Kone’s leveller against Watford on the opening day may have offered Martinez’s men a crumb of comfort on a testing afternoon, but his effort only served to continue a run of results that will have bemused along with interested observers from afar, but have them ready to react next term.

Everton will have to wait 12 months before getting the chance to break a run of three successive 2-2 draws in their opening fixture – with Norwich City, Leicester City and now Watford having held them in four-goal encounters that will have left Martinez scratching his head as to how this keeps on happening.

The opportunity to break the other trend currently following the Merseyside outfit around like a bad smell rests solely in his hands, though, with a meeting with Southampton presenting the next blank box to be ticked.

By the time they take to the field on the south coast, Everton will have gone close to three years since lasting tasting success in a Premier League fixture staged in the month of August.

That is a remarkable record when you consider what the club have achieved in that time, but one that they will not be proud of and one that has them firmly wedged in the aforementioned Groundhog Day cycle.

You have to go back to August 25 2012 to find the last time a three-point haul was collected in the eighth month of the calendar year, with six games having come and gone without reward in that time.

To further emphasise the point, back in those heady days of 2012, Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic were among the goals as Aston Villa were swept aside 3-1 on the road, while David Moyes was still in the dugout and overseeing an opening to the campaign which delivered just one defeat in 11 fixtures out of the starting gates.

Since then – without wanting to dredge up the past too much – the Toffees have collected five points in the respective first months of a campaign. Hardly an awful return, with just a solitary defeat suffered, but one that highlights how the club have been stumbling out of the blocks rather than hitting their stride from the off.

In 2013/14, following the customary 2-2 draw to get things going with Norwich, Everton were held by West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City – with those two outings delivering no goals. Admittedly things got considerably better from there, as a top-four challenge fell narrowly short, but it was hardly the most inspiring of starts.

A year down the line and, after surrendering a lead on two occasions against newly-promoted Leicester, the Toffees followed that up by going one better in their next outing – throwing away a two-goal cushion to be held at home by Arsenal.

A testing August in 2014 was then completed by a 6-3 hammering at the hands of champions-elect Chelsea, with those early struggles setting the tone for what was to follow as the club toiled their way towards an 11th-placed finish.

In order to avoid a repeat this time around, with Premier League betting exchanges such as those at Betfair still rating the Toffees as odds-on to secure a top-half finish, Martinez needs to find a way of breaking his duck for the club when it comes to generating positive results at this time of year.

An early start to the current campaign should, in theory, play into Everton’s hands, with August bringing with it four fixtures before attention turns to country commitments during the first international break.

One of those is already consigned to the history books, meaning that there are three more bites of the cherry to be had.

The fixture computer could have been a lot kinder to the Toffees, with it difficult to predict with any kind of certainty where a win may come from over the coming weeks, but the challenge needs to be faced one step at a time.

That puts Southampton in the firing line – but you have to turn the clock back to April 2002 to find the last time an Everton side left the home of the Saints with the spoils, with that result one of only two successes to have been enjoyed on the south coast during the Premier League era.

That does not bode well, but neither does the thought of heading into a home clash with title favourites Manchester City with no wins on the board – with a trip to Tottenham Hotspur to follow.

A quick scan further down the fixture list suggests that establishing momentum is going to be key, with Chelsea tackled immediately after the first break, while October – after the second – brings with it meetings with Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal.

While it is still very early days and one result – one which was not that bad when you consider that Martinez’s men trailed on two occasions and had just four minutes left on the clock when they levelled – should not be offered up as a marker or a sign of things to come, it is clear that the Toffees are in need of shaking a troublesome monkey from their back.

If they can return to winning ways in their next outing, life will suddenly look a lot rosier – with four points on the board from a two-game unbeaten start and the promise of more to come.

If, however, they are unable to burst their way through the mental and physical barrier being presented to them by fixtures in August, then Goodison Park will be an uncomfortable place to be during the international break and any hope of luring Ms MacDowall to Merseyside to break the spell may well have disappeared.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons