Frank Lampard said some pretty disagreeable stuff on Sunday after his Everton side were stuffed by Crystal Palace in their FA Cup quarter-final. He complained about the scheduling of the fixture by broadcasters, as well as the disciplinary commission’s decision to uphold Allan’s three-game suspension. But the pile-on which has followed over him pointing fingers at his squad is completely misplaced.
Lampard has been the Everton manager for just 50 days. The Toffees have been the absolute epitome of inconsistency for 35 years. In the past six seasons alone, six different managers have been handed the job of turning around the club’s fortunes but they have all ended up coming to a similar roadblock.
The Eighties sheen of a big-club mentality wore off long ago. Time and again since their last league title in 1987 crowds have over-expected and squads have underperformed. Successive ownership groups have got matters big and small wrong. The new stadium project seemed to last about 20 years before ground was finally broken at Bramley-Moore Dock, and that saga was pretty endemic of Everton Football Club of late. They have fallen years behind, and there is no quick fix.
So when the former England midfielder was asked about the lack of resilience on display in Sunday’s 4-0 loss, he took the chance to deliver a few home truths about the nature of the fundamental long-term issues at play in a squad which has been built by multiple managers in endless guises over a number of seasons. And his words deserved to be given more credence.
“It’s a challenge because the issue of it has been here since quite a long time before I got here, and I don’t have a magic wand to get inside people’s heads and change resilience across a whole squad,” Lampard said. “That’s a work in progress. The difficult thing for us is that we don’t have a lot of time in terms of the league for us to do that.”
That lack of time in the league is a pressing issue. With just 25 points from 27 games, Everton remain just three points above the Premier League relegation zone with 11 games to play. Last Thursday’s crucial 1-0 win over Newcastle United following Allan’s sending-off has given them a little breathing room but there is still a long slog ahead. Moreover, those three points came from the kind of battling display that was lacking at Selhurst Park, only serving to underline the challenge Lampard has on his hands.
“When you see a lack of consistency – a resilient-looking team on Thursday and less so today – my job title is quite vast as a manager, but to get inside the heads and change that with a flick of a switch is not possible. We have to just keep working on that one, as frustrating as it is for me, as frustrating as it is for the 4,000 fans who travelled down and people watching, that’s one we have to fight against.”
Everton managers have been facing these same issues for years. No, decades. This is a supposedly huge club in the context of English football and yet they have finished in the top four just once in the Premier League era, have won nothing since the 1995 FA Cup and have blown more hot and cold than a faulty thermometer. Everton haven’t won things, they have gone down, they’ve just… been there.
“There’s only so much you can keep trying to butter someone up to give them confidence,” Lampard added on Sunday, and he’s spot on. “You’re playing at the cut-throat end of football here, this is a quarter-final to get to Wembley. If you haven’t got the confidence to play then you can flip it and say have you got the b*llocks to play – sorry, excuse me but that’s a football reality.
“We didn’t play that badly today and Palace didn’t play that well and won 4-0, because of a lack of confidence and a lack of what I just said.”
Lampard needs far more than seven weeks to get this squad performing to a level that Everton fans desire. He needs to see the same commitment from his players that they delivered on Thursday against Newcastle, not the complete concession that was their performance at Palace once they lost Andros Townsend to a serious knee injury and then fell behind to Marc Guehi’s goal.
They have games in hand on 18th-placed Watford but a largely unforgiving fixture list. A team which has conceded 14 goals in four consecutive away defeats still has to go to West Ham, Burnley, Liverpool, Leicester and Arsenal. And they will need exactly the commodity Lampard was asking for after Sunday’s debacle.
Anything less, and a storied club will be hanging over the precipice. If they do end a 68-year stay in the top flight, it won’t be the fault of the guy who arrived on 31 January, it will be because of all the issues that have been typical of Everton for as long as many can remember.
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