Sunday 8 December 2019

There's a time to play and there's a time to secure the points

Roberto Martinez seemed to be suggesting Everton were too pure to run the clock down. Photo: Reuters
Roberto Martinez seemed to be suggesting Everton were too pure to run the clock down. Photo: Reuters

Stephen Hunt

When Ramiro Funes Mori gave Everton the lead in the last seconds of the game at Stamford Bridge last Saturday, most people would have expected his side to go on and win the game.

In the dressing rooms I've been in, there'd have been a lot of anger if points had been dropped from that position, especially if my side had already thrown away a two-goal lead.

In football there are times when it takes a shock to get you going. You know what you should be doing, but, like in life, that doesn't mean you're going to do it. But if you're leading 2-0 and a couple of minutes later it's 2-2, you feel things are slipping away from you. If you actually take the lead again, most players I've played with would consider it unforgivable to concede for a third time.

But Everton did concede again, in the final seconds of the 98th minute of the match, when seven minutes of injury-time were to be played.

Afterwards Roberto Martinez called for a change in how time is kept and criticised the officials for not spotting that John Terry was offside. He also said Everton weren't the kind of team to run the clock down. He seemed to be suggesting they were far too pure for that.

When I played for Reading, the key word was 'Growler'. If anyone shouted that, then we knew what to do. It might have been said in the final few minutes of a game, or it could be during a particularly tough spell, but when it was said our approach changed.

We would hit the ball into certain areas of the pitch, we would keep our shape and always have bodies around the ball. We had played our attacking football and now it was time for the points. The four in midfield would stay close together, the forwards would close everyone down and the back four would issue instructions and keep us close. The defenders would buzz off it. This was pure football too, pure, selfless football that means as much as anything else. Sometimes it might not have been pretty, but the win bonus in our bank accounts was attractive. This, after all, is professional football. The object is to win.

Maybe Martinez was simply protecting his players when he said what he said. Maybe in the dressing room he was furious and let it be known that no side of his should allow this to happen, but the problem is it happens a lot.

Everton are one of the best sides in England to watch. I know I'm going to enjoy the game when I watch them, but I reckon if you're playing them you think you might enjoy it too.

They have as talented a squad as anyone in the Premier League outside the top three. This season of all seasons they should be challenging for a Champions League place, but they're not. They're in the bottom half of the table, and I think the manager has to take responsibility for that.

Martinez has such a good image that I think it's getting lost that he isn't getting as much out of his players as he should. The players might look good individually but nothing does as much for a player's reputation as playing in a successful team: look at Jamie Vardy and Leicester.

Leicester don't have the same talent in their squad as Everton, but during the first half of the season, they knew how to do certain things that Everton would never do. They closed out the game if they could in the final 20, and Vardy made runs that Romelu Lukaku doesn't do in order to help his team get the three points.

Everton's football may be more pleasing than Leicester's when it comes off and they will always be pleasing to watch under Martinez, but if you're in the dressing room, that's not what football is about. It was amazing what would happen to us when the shout of 'Growler' went up. Our minds became more alert, every instinct was sharpened. It was a reminder of what the professional game is all about. It's about winning.

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