Pat Nevin: Twists and turns to come

In trying to make sense of how the game between two of his former clubs panned out at the weekend, Pat Nevin recalls some draining experiences in his own career, as he writes in this week’s column…

The dominant display in the first half at Goodison always had a problem attached to it, a distinct lack of a bulging net.

I have watched enough of Everton to know that had we managed to score in that first half then they were perfectly capable of crumbling. The possession stats yet again looked stunning during the first 45. Eden hit the post, Pedro was inches offside before he lashed the ball into the net and Gonzalo Higuain had a good chance having been played through by Jorginho who himself had a decent shot on target.

The goal didn’t come however and the second half was torture from the first few seconds. It was as if Everton had been watching the England v Scotland rugby game the day before. The Toffees decided it would be a good idea to make a bit of an effort in the second half, just like the Scots did at Twickenham and that change of attitude was too much for the opponent, for most of the half anyway.

The first quarter of the second half really was quite insipid from Chelsea. There is always the chance that the opposition will have a period in the game when they have some control. It is almost always the case for a home team in the Premier League to have a purple patch, it just took too long to for us to react to their changes.

At 1-0 down there was still a chance if we could have riled each other, maybe exchanged a few harsh words and increased the tempo, but it was another one of those uninspired lulls we have had this season. Maybe there was a state of shock that we had let in another simple goal at a corner kick. It wasn’t quite as bad as the one shipped at Fulham the other week from a corner, but there was a real lack of making it difficult for Dominic Calvert-Lewin when the ball came in this time.

Even the penalty was painful to watch, Marcos Alonso didn’t deliberately make the foul, but like many left-footers from time immemorial, he went with his left foot when he should have tackled with his right foot. This is why the foul was committed. It all had the feeling of a slow painful descent after that and it is up to the coaching staff and the players to get together quickly to understand what happened.

Everton always play better in the second half at Goodison shooting into their favourite end. It was like that even when I played there and that wasn’t yesterday! Even against Liverpool last week they looked the more likely to score in the last quarter of the game than their great rivals. That’s what happens at Goodison but it cannot be an excuse for us however.

Was there a hangover from the trip to Kiev on Thursday? It sounds like an excuse but let’s be honest, it is not an uncommon complaint in the latter stages of this competition. How many teams have spoken of a Europa League weekend hangover after a long trip for a Thursday night game? There was every effort to try to rest players as only Kepa, Rudiger, Alonso and Kante started both games with Jorginho, Azpi and Pedro coming on as subs in Ukraine for what was a pretty easy and fun match to be involved in. 

The thing is it isn’t really the game that wipes you out as much as the travelling and the disrupted sleep patterns.

photo of Pat Nevin Pat Nevin

Yes, they get fabulously kitted-out planes there and back, not like the cramped conditions in my time when I would have to go back and forth midweek to the likes of Bulgaria when playing for Scotland. I would be in a cramped seat on a plane that was usually delayed in taking off until about 3am. We would rush to the airport but we still had to wait for the journalists to file their copy, there was no internet in those days! Some of the journalists would then actually smoke at the front of the plane during the flight back to Scotland! There would be no food organised to refuel us and if we got to bed at 7am back in Glasgow that morning we would be lucky.

So that was 7am on Thursday morning. The likes of myself, Stevie Clarke, David Speedie and Gordon Durie were still in the wrong country as we had to get back down south and there was a game to play on Saturday afternoon at 3pm. They still always used to play all the games at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon in those days, they didn’t move for internationals, so you just had to manage. Try getting your sleep, feeding and training schedule back to normal in that short time period of time!

The players now are pampered in comparison, but not in terms of the schedules. They play most midweeks in cups, European football, internationals or rearranged league games. You might be in a nice, reclining first-class seat but it isn’t easy to sleep with all that adrenalin coursing through your body after a game.

The Europa League is of course vital now with the Champions League place up for grabs, so Hazard, David Luiz and co. have to travel and sit on the bench just in case they are needed in an emergency.

Everton in comparison had eight days since their last match to prepare for this game and it might just be that this is part of the reason why our lads slumped in the second half. I say part of the reason because it isn’t the entire cause; the players and the staff know that and have said as much.

Read: Sarri explains what went wrong at Everton

It was among the most deflating experiences of the season so far. Oddly I found myself on more of a downer than I did after the 6-0 defeat to Man City! It was a great personal shame because I was on such a high after visiting and speaking to the Chelsea Belfast Supporters on the Friday night. Maybe it is because we are running out of games and indeed perfectly good chances of getting into the top four that it was such a body blow.

All we can hope for is a reaction similar to the one we got after that City game. As they say in football, we have to keep the likes of Spurs (one point in 12), Arsenal (doing okay as we speak) and Man Utd (lost two in a row now) honest. They are wobbling too if we are honest with ourselves.

There will be twists and turns to come yet for those fighting for the top-four spots. We just have to be ready to pounce again if and when the chance comes again.

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