By Ell Bretland
Proud is how Ronald Koeman felt after Everton’s 3-1 defeat by Liverpool.
Another abject, gutless performance at Anfield and the wait for a victory on our rivals’ turf will enter a 19th year. But the Everton boss felt proud.
In the stands and in pubs and homes across Merseyside, Evertonians were not proud. Embarrassed, let down, frustrated. Yes. Proud? Certainly not.
This was another example of ‘plucky, little Everton’. To claim pride in defeat against a rival only a few places above us in the table belittles everybody connected with the club, Koeman included.
‘Proud’, implies Everton gave it a right good go against a far superior side. Nothing in that statement is true.
We crumbled and wilted against a good Liverpool team. A decent side who didn’t have to play that well to get the win. Not a great team. A side who are certainly beatable.
For me, many of the words said by those associated with Everton Football Club during this Merseyside derby weekend were as difficult to stomach as the three goals we gifted Liverpool.
Besides Koeman’s correct call that Everton had nothing to fear against the Reds, much of the talk surrounding this derby clearly highlighted why we have failed to win at their place this century. It’s a mental block, it’s all in the head, psychological.
Reds and Blues have very different outlooks which are ultimately reflected in scorelines and silverware.
While we mock them for their ‘This is our year’ shouts, Liverpool fans have a confidence and arrogance which, while sometimes bordering on delusion, often sees them come out on top.
Meanwhile, over on the blue half of Merseyside, most Evertonians spoke of their angst ahead of the game. Most Evertonians didn’t expect us to win. Most accepted that we would likely lose the game in controversial circumstances via a dodgy penalty or deflection.
Of course, after many failures down the years, your mindset will be affected and negativity and pessimism will creep in. It’s human nature.
However, while Liverpool fans may have been wary too ahead of the game, would they outwardly show it? No. With knowing smirks on their faces, they insisted ‘mentally weak’ Everton would be leaving Anfield with nothing. Again. And yes, they were proved right. Again.
Why though? Liverpool have won one trophy in the last decade – triumphing in the 2012 League Cup final against Championship Cardiff.
Why should they show all this bravado when they’re not exactly world-beaters themselves?
‘We act confident and say these things because we’ve seen what a barren run has done to the Evertonian mindset. We don’t want to become that,’ said one Red colleague shortly after Liverpool’s win at Goodison Park in December.
It’s true. You have to fake it before you make it.
If Everton aren’t expected to win at Anfield by their own fans, the chances of the team actually pulling off a victory dwindle further before any injury crisis or drop in performance on the day.
The more pragmatic of us predicted a score draw on Saturday. Is that really the height of our expectations? We should have all been brimming with confidence after losing only once in 2017 and predicting wins by varying margins.
The mentality we have going to Anfield is the same for vital cup matches. Roberto Martinez said in 2013: ‘When I arrived at the club I felt like we didn’t want to show off our history; it was a bit like “We’re not allowed to win trophies now, that’s for other football clubs”.
The former Everton boss sensed that feeling immediately after joining, that is the vibe we give off and it was apparent to an outsider straight away. Players must feel it too and soon, it immerses everyone involved with the club – fans, staff, those on the pitch. There’s an expectancy that things will go wrong eventually, thus ending any chance of success.
At times, it almost feels like we currently associate bad luck and failure with Everton as much as we do Prince Rupert’s Tower, Goodison Park and the colour blue – as though falling short is part of our DNA.
Some have claimed we have to be patient as the good times are on their way back to L4.
Yes, Everton are on an upward trajectory and it feels like something really good is brewing at the club. Maybe we won’t have to wait too long to beat Liverpool away from home.
However, you can’t have patience after waiting 18 years for a win at Anfield and 22 for a trophy. We’ve waited long enough.
Being patient means not demanding the very best as bare minimum. If we don’t demand the best, future Everton teams will unwittingly allow this dreadful run to continue.
Not demanding and putting annual losses down to ‘typical Everton’ means the fanbase ultimately accepts it. It’s a defeatist attitude and approach.
Your star men like Romelu Lukaku will continue to go missing in the biggest games of the season because the pressure is just not there like it is at other top clubs.
Will our best players be that fussed by another D or L in the form column for our trips to Anfield when the fansbase is anticipating another defeat anyway? When did we last make the short trip across Stanley Park in confident mood?
Another fan, meanwhile, claimed after the final whistle that we can’t compete financially against the sides currently above us so shouldn’t complain about Saturday’s defeat too much. So should we just pack up and go home? What’s the point? Why not gift the top six teams six points each next season and just play the remaining 26 fixtures?
Why limit yourself and put Everton under an imaginary glass ceiling? Putting yourself below other clubs serves no purpose.
That attitude is why we have not beaten Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea away from home this century. That attitude has played its part in us winning just twice at Old Trafford since 1992 and only three times at White Hart Lane.
It’s always the same when we travel to any side perceived to be better or above us in the table.
Defeats are understandable when you have been outplayed but all too often we have been beaten before a ball is kicked due to our own shortcomings in actually believing we can win.
Crystal Palace won at Stamford Bridge this weekend while Southampton and Norwich claimed victory at Old Trafford last season. Championship strugglers Wolves beat Liverpool in the FA Cup only months ago. Watford won at the Emirates in January. It is doable. Teams far inferior to Everton have managed it.
At Anfield on Saturday, we only started to play and have a go when it seemed the game was over, almost paralysed by fear when the match and result was still in our control.
Our senior players, it seems, have grown so accustomed to failing at Anfield, that any fire they had to beat Liverpool has been extinguished.
Leighton Baines, an Everton hero of mine, and Phil Jagielka have been two immense pros for this club and have played a major role in our consistent pushes for Europe. It will be a shame should they leave Goodison without tasting real success wearing the royal blue.
However, some comments leading up to the match, and immediately after, left a lot to be desired from two players tasked with leading and inspiring this current Everton team.
At a fan event this week, when asked what he would do should he score a penalty at Anfield, Baines nonchalantly gave a fairly non-committal response, basically saying he wasn’t too big on celebrations and wasn’t really sure. Fair enough.
A day later, Jagielka told Ian Snodin that following his rocket against Liverpool, he felt ‘numb’ and ‘went to a place of no emotion’, suggesting he was shocked to score, that Everton were not meant to score at Anfield.
Of course, the pressure is immense in these matches and you have to be supremely focused. However, away from the pitch, those comments and reflections on huge moments in a Merseyside derby don’t really inspire do they? Where is the passion? How do they show anything less than euphoria when asked about such special, defining moments in their careers?
As supporters you want your leading players to share the same passion as you. We want a rallying cry from those lucky enough to wear the badge and go into battle on our behalf.
Now remember, Jagielka is the captain, the voice of the club; his first response when asked his thoughts on the game: ‘Erm, especially in the first half, it was quite an exciting derby.’
Really? Perhaps for the neutrals watching but for us Evertonians the excitement lasted all of three minutes following Matthew Pennington’s goal before Liverpool regained their lead.
Is that really the first thing that comes into the mind of the skipper following another Anfield defeat in which the team failed to deliver? That it was an exciting match?
Based on this, do you really see Baines and Jagielka being able to get their team-mates pumped up for a derby? I don’t. They barely seem up for it themselves.
We need leaders who inspire and rally. Tim Cahill. Duncan Ferguson. They were always up for it. They got the fans excited with their mantras and battling performances against the enemy in red.
As for Koeman, he has come in and, based on his post-match comments, appears to have caught the bug in accepting Everton just aren’t meant to win certain games.
Jamie Carragher got it spot on when he said: ‘If you’re an Everton manager coming to Anfield and you’re happy losing 3-1 and the way you perform, again, that just says to me they’ve got a massive problem psychologically by coming here expecting to get beat.’
A former Liverpool player and Sky Sports pundit seeing and saying it as it is. It makes certain viewpoints from those on the side of Everton even more maddening.
Koeman lifted the European Cup with Barcelona. He is a winner. He will never have been proud of a 3-1 defeat in his entire life. Never. So why now as Everton manager?
We have nobody that believes in the team and with each defeat, that belief shrinks further still among the fanbase. This is a problem ingrained into the club.
Soon, we will sign better players to vastly improve the squad but until the mentality changes, victories at Anfield will continue to evade us. Lifting silverware, more importantly, will also be too great a challenge with this current mindset.
As one fellow Blue said: ‘Brazil ’70 could turn up and still get done at Anfield if they were wearing Everton kits’. That feels very true right now. It sums up our current way of thinking; that no matter what, we will always end up failing when it really matters.
EVertonians have a key role in hauling this great club back to the top. We must now demand to win rather than expect to lose.