Reality check at Reading

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Jan Kruger/Getty ImagesDavid Moyes' Everton started the brighter of the two versus Reading, but a poor second half doomed the Toffees.

Reading's first win of the season brought Everton back down to Earth with an almighty thump. Everton were abject in the second half, with the team looking a shadow of the one that dominated the first half. The failings remain the same at present and Everton continue to drop points through squandered chances and individual defensive errors.

Everton were dominant throughout the opening period and the only complaint could be the lack of goals, with Steven Naismith's neat finish all that Everton had to show for their dominance. Chances came and went, but the failure to convert them proved costly. The result of this game should have been beyond all doubt by the interval. Eventually, the missed chances, and Martin Atkinson's refusal to award two clear penalties, would come back to haunt David Moyes' men.

Everton currently sit in fifth place, making a mockery of recent troubled starts, but there is a sense of frustration and it grew today. Despite the strong start, Everton could and probably should be higher. The opposition have been gifted points in at least three matches this season. If Everton are going to challenge for a European place, these constant errors need to be eradicated.

I took to this blog last week to defend Seamus Coleman after fans began to make him the team scapegoat; and that still applies. Once again, over the course of the ninety minutes, he did little wrong. Unfortunately, he showed his inexperience and, after losing his man for the opener, his rash tackle also led to the winning goal. While Coleman continues to learn the ropes at right back, mistakes are liable to creep in and Everton would benefit from the return of Tony Hibbert.

A tactical choice that baffles is the insistence of bringing eleven players back for set pieces. Leading to an overcrowded area, Tim Howard is unable to claim the ball with any conviction. Certain players seem unsure of their roles, as a number of them end up marking no one, and there is no outlet should the ball be cleared. Leave one or two players on halfway and the opposition will put three or four back, thereby making the area less crowded and easier to defend.

Moving forward, the midfield is a worry. After the match, Moyes confirmed Phil Neville's absence for the near future; the club captain faces six – eight weeks out after a knee operation. Following his fifth booking of the season, Marouane Fellaini will miss the Norwich game and doubts remain over Darron Gibson and Kevin Mirallas. Thin on the ground, Everton will hope no more injuries strike as the bench starts to resemble a football nursery.

In terms of player performance, Thomas Hitzlsperger impressed on his full debut before tiring and Leon Osman continued his recent form. On the left, Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar were not at their best with the good and the bad coming in equal measure. Naismith took his goal well but was largely anonymous. In defence, Sylvain Distin is surely edging towards a recall with the Jagielka/ Heitinga partnership failing to convince.

The defensive errors are proving expensive and Everton are without a clean sheet in eight games. Breaking recent habit, Everton took the lead here and ended the run of conceding first in matches. Accustomed to fighting back in matches, Everton seemed out of practice with being in front. In the second half, Reading forced Everton back and met little resistance. Devoid of fight and any semblance of grit, Everton sat back and Reading seized the initiative with ease.

Everton remain a work in progress but the lack of depth is starting to catch up with the squad, so it is imperative that the performance levels do not begin to falter. The number of chances created is encouraging, but Everton need to sharpen up and start taking them. At the other end of the pitch, the concerns are greater and the search for defensive stability and that elusive clean sheet continues.

Frustrating and disappointing, this was a reality check for Moyes and his players. After a dominant first half, Everton appeared to take victory for granted -- something you cannot do at this level. The home side were always likely to come out firing in the second half and Everton simply surrendered instead of toughing it out. Next weekend sees the visit of Norwich and Everton need to sharpen up in all areas on today's evidence.

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