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McCarthy back but Toffees are still struggling

JAMES McCARTHY will be hoping the New Year begins better than this one ended for him after he conceded the penalty kick which gave Stoke City three points and heaped pressure on struggling Roberto Martinez.

A foul on Bojan and a successful conversion of the spot-kick by the same player put the tin hat on a miserable spell for Everton fans who have increasingly turned to catcalls and boos aimed at Martinez to make their displeasure known.

Traditionally seen as a patient and understanding club, the tide is turning rapidly for Martinez and this latest defeat means that the Toffees' faithful must now be looking nervously over their shoulders at the relegation zone instead of the top six where they expected to be.

All told, the last few months have been a bit of a write-off for McCarthy and his club.

He bailed out of the crunch Euro 2-16 qualifier against Scotland with a hamstring strain and the same injury has prevented him from playing any part in Everton's last half dozen fixtures.

It is no coincidence that the Toffees form has nose-dived in roughly the same time span. He is the engine Martinez has built his team around and and it is obvious that Everton cannot function properly without him.

No doubt Martinez was hoping that his return might spark some kind of revival given increasing disenchantment among fans and boos during the 3-1 win over QPR.

After a proper going over by Southampton last weekend, a festive fixture at home to Stoke provided the perfect backdrop for McCarthy to return with all guns blazing but it didn't quite turn out that way.

He lasted just 70 minutes and during that time gave Stoke the means to win the game.

For most Ireland fans, Martinez's difficulties won't attract very much sympathy. Rightly or wrongly, he is seen to be a major obstacle when it comes to international football and not many would lose sleep if he wasn't in control of the fate of McCarthy, Aiden McGeady, Seamus Coleman and Darron Gibson for too much longer.

INCONSISTENT

In an inconsistent season, the Toffees have now lost three times at home in the league and won only one of their last six top-flight games.

Martinez's men have slipped a place in the table to 12th, with Stoke - following only their second victory in seven matches - replacing them in 11th.

Hardy ideal from an Ireland's points of view. Martin O'Neill would prefer to see his best players fighting for Champions League football rather than against relegation.

Watching proceedings at Goodison Park was Roy Keane and no surprise there with Coleman, McCarthy, Jon Walters and Glenn Whelan on view although Marc WIlson didn't make it onto the pitch or McGeady off the bench.

Oh to be a fly on the wall if Keane and Martinez bumped into each other after the game. Did they exchange Christmas cards? Probably not.


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