Sunday 15 December 2019

Coleman misses sitter for 'fearful' Toffees as Guidolin enjoys dream start

Everton 1-2 Swansea City

Seamus Coleman: Late miss Photo: Reuters
Seamus Coleman: Late miss Photo: Reuters
Everton's Leighton Baines tries to skip past Swansea's Angel Rangel Photo: Reuters / Jason Cairnduff
Everton manager Roberto Martinez Photo: Reuters / Andrew Yates
Everton's Gerard Deulofeu (left) and Swansea City's Wayne Routledge battle for control of the ball Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Simon Hughes

Had it not been for Seamus Coleman's ghastly miss with the last kick of the match, Everton would have arrested a draw here, and maybe then the scorn would not have cascaded from the Goodison Park terraces like it did at the final whistle moments later.

Francesco Guidolin's debut as Swansea City's head coach could not have gone better: a first win over Everton in the Premier League era, and a robust performance to boot - one which just merited victory.

For Everton, though, who face Manchester City in the second leg of their League Cup semi-final on Wednesday, the outcome could probably not have been any worse.

Conceding two goals at home for a seventh time this season went some way to underlining why they occupy a place only in mid-table - a fact that audibly irritates the crowd, thus reinforcing the burden on Roberto Martínez.

The Spaniard must surely realise that City is a game that could define Everton's year if not his reign.

Everton will go to the Etihad with a depleted squad and more injuries were sustained here. Muhamed Besic and Kevin Mirallas exited within the opening half-hour and Martínez confirmed they would be unavailable to face City.

Playing away might suit Martínez and Everton. He admits that he must find a solution to the mood at Goodison, where Everton have won only three league games this season, all of them against opponents at a low - Chelsea, Aston Villa then Sunderland.

Martínez described Everton's play as "slow" and "pedestrian", especially in the first half, admitting to a lack of intensity, even "enjoyment".

"I don't think we've found it that easy this season to play at Goodison," he concluded, without really being able to offer a reason why.

By contrast, Guidolin later revealed the reason why he decided to leave Italy for South Wales, citing "the good atmosphere of Swansea", in spite of the club's position near the relegation zone.

A glance at Swansea's teamsheet revealed their most obvious problem: with no striker, who would score the goals?

And yet, Guidolin may have already discovered a solution. He was rewarded for using a midfield diamond - for positioning André Ayew in an unfamiliar pocket of space to the right of a front two - with the match-winner.

Everton struggled to regulate the movement of Gylfi Sigurdsson as a playmaker and the Icelander could have had more than one goal scored from the penalty spot.

A glance at Everton's teamsheet and their problem was laid bare as well: there is so much expectation on John Stones and Ramiro Funes Mori to replace Phil Jagielka and the departed Sylvain Distin. And behind them is a fading goalkeeper, Tim Howard.

In only the 17th minute, Stones, under no pressure, deemed it necessary to supply Howard with a backpass, which was executed too casually.

Howard was too flat-footed and square to react swiftly and, in bringing down Ayew, he gave Sigurdsson the chance to hoof the resulting penalty high into the net.

Everton equalised through Jack Cork's own goal, but Swansea were nevertheless leading at break.

Anxiety was spreading across the stadium in relation to the risks Everton were taking at the back, a consequence of conservative passages of play where the ball arrived at the same place it had started: with Stones.

It was Bryan Oviedo, however - a left-footer uneasy at right-back, and selected in the absence of Coleman, who was fit enough only to start on the bench - who surrendered possession in the build-up to Swansea's second.

Although Ashley Williams handled to start the move, Everton did not react quickly enough to the danger posed by Neil Taylor, whose cross found Ayew in space to sneak a shot past Howard, with a deflection from Stones proving decisive.

Martínez used another handball going unpunished - this time inside the Swansea box by Taylor - to highlight Everton's misfortune with big decisions.

There were also other goalscoring opportunities in the second half, when Everton were better - not least the one that fell to Coleman in the dying seconds only for Irishman to blaze the ball over the bar when he could have tapped it home.

Ultimately, though, Guidolin - who endearingly made it through the post-match press conference without really turning to his assistant Gabrielle Ambrosetti for interpretation - got it right.

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