As those of us who lived through the 1970s can attest, a precipitous plunge from a dizzying height is unpleasant and corrosive.
It is difficult to clear the stench of failure as confidence disappears and efforts to turn fortunes around become increasingly difficult and, eventually, all but impossible. Gloom overwhelms supporters, envelops the people running the club and actively dissuades players from joining an atrophying enterprise.
While Town’s survival against the odds in the top flight was always likely to end, the nature of the drop is beginning to look ominously similar to that sepia tinged nightmare which sucked all the life out of the club for 8 years until Buxton; 1 point from 11 games, a numbing scarcity of goals and the absence of anything resembling normal fortune weighs very heavily on the shoulders of a squad short of the necessary quality to stage even a token revival.
In truth, the decline has been evident since Leicester away in the new year of 2018 – points against Stoke, and the epic performances at Manchester City and Chelsea saved us, but only because our momentum had provided a cushion in 2017. Over one year on, the decline shows no sign of being reversed and there is a real possibility that we are already too far gone to prevent a spiral of doom.
With the exhausted and disillusioned Wagner gone, another German has stepped in to the fray facing huge challenges.
Jan Siewert’s first game proved to be a pretty seamless transition. The announcement of the team highlighted the shallow pool of quality available, the almost certain dearth of goals in it and, without Mooy and Billing, a shortfall in creativity and nous.
Within 3 minutes, Everton took the lead when Davies was allowed to wander in to the box, untroubled by marking as Hogg stood by, square to Richarlison whose first shot was parried back to him to score.
The concession was not enough to stir the home side who played like strangers for 20 minutes and the Toffees looked capable of dismantling them at will. But for poor decision making in the final third – the scousers had confidence issues themselves – Town would have been buried long before half time.
Struggling to make any impression on a game slowly deteriorating, the hosts couldn’t even rely on stalwarts such as Schindler, who nearly gifted Everton a second with a terrible attempt at what was a straightforward pass intended for Zanka, or Hogg who was given a torrid time by Sigurdsson and the first attempt of any significance came just before half time when Mounié shanked a weak effort well wide.
Failing to land a punch on an Everton side which ran out of ideas about halfway through the half and the debilitating lack of innovation and thrust was all too familiar and the visitors adopted a comfortable cruise control perhaps induced by the stern refusal of their opponents to provide the home support with anything resembling hope.
The sum of the home team’s parts were decidedly less than the whole, not helped by the inclusion of the inexperienced Bacuna, who does display some encouraging attributes at times and Diakhaby, who remains, despite becoming a central figure in the events of the second half, horribly raw. The totem of the now widely disparaged, to put it mildly, summer transfer activity looks severely out of his depth and cruelly exposed. The new manager’s options were limited, however, with Mbenza ruled out of contention with injury.
The second half was following a similar pattern – sustained mediocrity from Town and unconvincing, if competent, dirge from the visitors – and it was easy to predict a now routine, deceptively narrow, home defeat until a very good through ball from Bacuna found Diakhaby alone and free to run at goal. Wether the young man would have scored a potentially confidence boosting goal became moot as Digné brought him down leaving the referee no option but to reach for his red card.
Mooy, on as a substitute and already making a positive difference despite inevitable rustiness, got the free kick on target with a decent effort but Pickford was equal to it, pulling off a spectacular looking routine save.
The Australian influence lifted the Terriers a little and with Everton’s deeply comfortable control disrupted with the loss of two left backs in quick succession – Digné had replaced Baines – hope reared its ugly head.
Town’s best chance fell to Kachunga. A poorly executed simple pass by Diakhaby to Mooy somehow rebounded back to the youngster who then produced a great piece of skill to get past a defender and deliver a perfect cross – the very definition of enigmatic over the course of a few seconds. There was little wrong with Kachunga’s header but Pickford pulled off a genuinely remarkable save to thwart him.
Admiration of the England keeper’s quality was tinged with the realisation that the save was just a further illustration of how immensely difficult it is to compete. For all their troubles – which appear pretty laughable from our perspective but, you know, relativity – Everton have been in the top flight since the 50s and can recruit at a high, if not the highest, level.
A point would have been earned, however, had the referee spotted a blatant pull on Kongolo’s shirt in the box in injury time. That he gave a free kick to Everton simply added insult. Again. There has been only limited outrage at another egregious decision going against us; it has now become normalised.
The painful process of reverting to the mean is now entrenched. The optimist can hope that the return of Mooy and Billing to midfield could spark some sort of inspiration which will help us achieve our last remaining goals; beating Derby’s record low points total, restoring a vestige of pride and building the foundations for a decent season in the Championship. They are hopes difficult to envision in the current fog of malaise.