Everton exited the FA Cup last night, losing their third round replay 9-8 on penalties against West Ham at the Boleyn Ground, after a 2-2 draw in normal and extra-time.
It was a pulsating game that could have gone either way, but in the end it was the Irons keeper Adrian who scored the winning penalty, after opposite number Joel Robles had smashed his spot-kick against the bar.
The visitors went down to ten men on 56 minutes, as winger Aiden McGeady was shown a red card for a second bookable offence.
The Republic of Ireland’s stars tackle was a silly one to pick-up his second booking of the game.
In truth Everton looked far better without the Irish winger and Roberto Martinez’s team very rarely looked like they were down to ten men. For the Merseysider’s to equalise in normal time and take the lead in extra time showed the spirit within the team.
The Everton player’s spirit and determination has been questioned this season, as the Toffees have endured a poor Premier League campaign. Some have even questioned whether Martinez has lost the dressing room.
However, the Toffees performance in the last hour of this tie showed just how good the spirit is in the Everton camp, even when they were not playing with their full complement of full players.
These sorts of cup ties often give players who are much-maligned a chance to prove to be heroes. Everton’s Spanish keeper Joel Robles has produced some very unconvincing displays for the Toffees since his arrival in the summer of 2013.
The back-up to Tim Howard could not be faulted last night. The former-Wigan keeper missed the decisive penalty kick, but had produced a very solid display in normal and extra time and made saves that kept the Merseysider’s in the tie.
Many Evertonians had questioned whether he was good enough for the top level. His display against the Irons may just go some way to convincing Everton fans that he does have a future at the club. To be fair he had produced a far more convincing in the Toffees previous game against Manchester City, than he had in previous appearances.
Everton’s Belgium winger Kevin Mirallas came on midway through the second half and made a major impact on his team. Not only did he scored the equaliser with a fantastic free-kick on 82 minutes, but also created the second goal for the Toffees in extra-time.
The former-Olympiakos star has been carrying a slight injury and that is why McGeady started the game and not Mirallas. He is one of the Toffees most creative and best players. His goal from the free-kick was the eighth of the season.
If Mirallas can stay fit and carries on producing performances like that of last night then he can be a vital player for the rest of the campaign for the Toffees.
Everton have seen a turnaround in their fortunes in the last few games. Confidence was low prior to Romelu Lukaku’s last-gasp equaliser in the first game of this tie. Since then the Toffees also produced a decent performance against reigning champions Manchester City at the weekend to claim a 1-1 draw.
It seems that the mood in the Everton camp is now brighter. The Everton team that appeared last night looked far more like the one which looked so confident last season. They seemed confident and determined.
Even when the Toffees went one goal down their heads did not seem to drop and they kept going and against all odds with ten men equalised. A few weeks ago heads would have dropped and the Merseysider’s would just have accepted the worst.
The confidence seems to have returned to the Toffees team and strangely despite last night’s defeat they will head into the next game in high spirits.
The visiting fans quite rightly showed the players their appreciation at the end of last night’s game and the players reciprocated by throwing their shirts into the fans. It was a moment that showed that the fans and players are together in the team’s current situation.
The last three performances from the Toffees may have raised morale, but they have not produced a win. The Toffees face a vital home game with West Brom next Monday, a game that they are favourites to win at odds of 4/5 against the Baggies.
Now under Tony Pulis the Baggies will be no pushovers and could leapfrog Everton in the Premier League table with a victory. The side from the Midlands will likely be a tougher opponent under Pulis than under former-Everton coach Alan Irvine.
However, if the Toffees display anything like the spirit they showed against West Ham then they will be confident of recording their first victory in eight games in all competitions and everybody connected with the club will be breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Can last night’s performance be a turning point for Everton’s season?