Three Points: Everton stop the rot by salvaging draw vs. West Ham
LIVERPOOL, England -- Three quick thoughts on Everton and West Ham's 1-1 draw at Goodison Park in the FA Cup third round on Tuesday.
1. Everton seize a lifeline
Roberto Martinez has pulled off some remarkable acts of escapology in his time as a manager. His Wigan team took a mere 22 points from their first 29 games of the 2011-12 season, only to avoid relegation by winning seven of the last nine, including victories against Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United.
Compared to that, an injury-time equaliser rather pales into insignificance. In the context of this season, however, Romelu Lukaku's volley could be pivotal. Everton were on the brink of a fifth successive defeat. It would have been their poorest run for a decade and, with Manchester City visiting Goodison Park on Saturday, it seemed a run with the potential to get worse.
Instead, the rot has been stopped. The FA Cup helped Martinez get the Everton job. Wigan's improbable triumph in 2013 illustrated his ability to win big games, and, together with the Europa League, he still has two possible ways of ending Everton's 20-year wait for a trophy, even if they do have to negotiate a replay at Upton Park.
Celebrated in his superb debut season on Merseyside, Martinez was increasingly the subject of criticism. But pressure on the Spaniard was alleviated, courtesy of his costliest signing. Lukaku extended his excellent scoring record against West Ham by controlling Bryan Oviedo's cross and swiveling to hook it in.
It was a goal he merited. He had an earlier effort chalked off when he was judged to have pushed Aaron Cresswell. He looked livelier after a mini-break, when Martinez had named him on the bench in the previous two games.
Late goals tend to be signs of spirit, and while there have been questions about the unity of the Everton camp, they rallied when it mattered. They had begun the brighter, looking the more threatening side before the break.
Yet it was no surprise that Everton failed to keep a clean sheet. Their defensive record is dreadful, but understandable when the most reliable member of their rearguard, Phil Jagielka, made a hat trick of mistakes in the space of a few first-half minutes. None were punished.
Yet when Sylvain Distin lost James Collins, it came at a cost. West Ham's Welsh centre-back headed Morgan Amalfitano's corner in. At that stage, it appeared Everton might descend into crisis. Instead, Lukaku, for whom Martinez paid 28 million pounds, bought his manager some breathing space.
2. Downing wins duel with Barkley
They are opposites in many respects. Stewart Downing arrived at Liverpool for a supersized fee and saw his reputation diminish there. Ross Barkley has sprung to prominence on the other side of Stanley Park, with his valuation rising regularly.
Downing has grown accustomed to being unfashionable. Barkley, like many a rising star, acquires admirers who relish the emergence of players with potential. In a role reversal, the older Englishman is a winger who has been reinvented as a No. 10. The younger one prefers to play in the middle but has been shunted out to the flanks.
And, in the clearest difference, Downing is enjoying the finest campaign of his career whereas Barkley is struggling to replicate his form of last season. Their contrasting fortunes were evident.
Downing, a player who lost his self-belief during his debut year at Liverpool, exuded confidence. It was telling how often his teammates looked for him. He took advantage of his roving brief to deliver a couple of teasing crosses. He has taken a greater interest in goal scoring this season and had a shot Joel Robles touched over. A fierce effort took the deflection to bring the corner that resulted in Collins' goal.
While he was a central figure, Barkley was rather more marginalised. He spent much of the game on the wings, a particular gripe of Evertonians. There was one defence-splitting pass to Lukaku, who should have scored but angled his shot wide, and a sudden surge forward to threaten a late equaliser. On both occasions, he was nowhere the touchline. There is a lesson there.
3.Robles shows why Everton need a new keeper
It amounted to an inauspicious start when Joel Robles spilled a cross after 30 seconds. It was scarcely surprising, however; the Spaniard is especially fallible against the aerial ball. Thereafter, the relieved cheers whenever he caught anything bordered on the patronising. He made fine saves from Carl Jenkinson and Enner Valencia, albeit ones a top-flight goalkeeper ought to make.
It might be harsh to fault him for Collins' goal, but Robles is a keeper who does not command his penalty area, who invites 6-footers to attack the 6-yard box.
West Ham did, but Lukaku's leveler means Robles could yet get a second winner's medal in three seasons. Indeed, it remains one of the great wonders of the modern world that Wigan lifted the FA Cup with Robles in their side; excluding substitutes, it is hard to think of a less convincing goalkeeper who has finished on the winning side in the final of the world's oldest cup competition, even if he did mark the occasion with a fine save from Carlos Tevez. His presence was part of the unique element of Wigan's 2013 triumph. It encouraged his manager to take Robles with him to Goodison Park.
But even Martinez, who defended Robles long after others had given up on him, has admitted defeat by accepting he needs to sign a goalkeeper. The bigger question, when Tim Howard is fit, is whether the newcomer will understudy the American, who has not excelled this season, or replaces him.