It was generous of Everton to hand their travelling supporters blue-and-white scarves carrying the legend “School of Science” before this game. Given the tactical shambles those unfortunate supporters were subsequently forced to endure as a result of manager Roberto Martinez’s selection of Gareth Barry on the left side of a three-man defence, it was also ludicrously inappropriate.
Everton’s fourth consecutive league defeat, and their fifth in six games, looked a certainty from the moment Barry clumsily fouled Hull City striker Abel Hernandez six inches inside his own penalty area in the third minute. He got away with that one, because referee Kevin Friend inexplicably decided contact had been made outside the box, but, with Sylvain Distin watching stony-faced from the bench, Barry was a liability, in the first half in particular.
Time and again Hernandez, or his partner Nikica Jelavic, left the former England midfielder floundering as they exploited the space around him. True, it was Leighton Baines who was outjumped by Ahmed Elmohamady when the Egypt international headed in Liam Rosenior’s cross to put Hull ahead, but there was something ridiculous in the sight of Barry standing, arm forlornly raised, after Jelavic, from a yard onside, ran past him and lifted the ball over Jose Robles for Hull’s second, shortly before half-time.
Everton had their moments too, of course, and a few more in the second period, when Bryan Oviedo, brought on for Muhamed Besic, was more aware and industrious in giving Barry some sort of cover at the back.
It was also true, however, that Hull, themselves badly in need of a win, were happy enough to be solid at the back and try to hit the visitors on the break. Ross Barkley beat two men before forcing City’s goalkeeper Allan McGregor to make an outstanding close-range save, but otherwise Everton looked a thoroughly confused and disheartened bunch.
Even allowing for the host of injuries depriving Martinez of players including Tim Howard, Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert, James McCarthy and Steven Pienaar, the manager is struggling.
“It’s very clear, we need to open up the competition for places,” said the Spaniard, promising to make changes for Everton’s next game, in the FA Cup at home to West Ham next Tuesday.
“You can imagine everyone is going to have an opportunity. We need to enjoy the FA Cup, get back the enjoyment in our play, and get a positive result really quickly.”
Tactics, he insisted, had not been to blame for the performance. “We knew Hull would play with two strikers and I felt we could beat the line of pressure quite easy with a back three and having players in the way. We’re a team that’s very, very flexible tactically, but once their first goal went in we looked a completely different side.”
It was not a victory without cost for Hull, who lost Liam Rosenior, Andrew Robertson and Gaston Ramirez to injury.
“It was our best performance of the season, we deserved to win by a country mile,” said manager Steve Bruce, before admitting the Tigers were interested in bringing in the former Spurs striker Jermain Defoe. Whether they can afford him, said Bruce, is another matter altogether.Reuse content