Improvement needed as Oldham snatch deserved replay

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesA late Oldham equalizer left a dejected Everton facing a fifth round FA Cup replay.

For the third successive FA Cup tie, Everton were on the road. The last time this happened was 1989-90 when, spookily enough, Everton lost at Oldham in the fifth round. Those of a superstitious nature had every right to worry and while Everton avoided defeat, those worries were justified when Matt Smith rose to ensure a Goodison Park replay.

- Match report: Oldham 2-2 Everton

For the most part, this was painful. Teams in the Football League expect to do the basics well, never mind teams with Champions League aspirations. Once again, set piece problems and individual errors are making clean sheets impossible. Registering just four clean sheets, only strugglers Reading and Wigan boast fewer shutouts in the Premier League this season.

The overriding frustration is that the goals conceded are eminently avoidable. The Oldham opener came after a series of individual errors. From Leon Osman over-committing on the halfway line, to Phil Neville backing off, and Darron Gibson failing to track the runner, the opening goal was decidedly poor from an Everton viewpoint.

The last gasp Oldham equaliser saw this season's Achilles heel strike again, as another set piece led to an opposition goal. Making a number of vital saves throughout, Tim Howard was helpless to prevent Smith's equaliser. Pulled from pillar to post by Lee Croft, the officials should have awarded a foul on Howard but that does not excuse the lacklustre defending from others.

Marking Smith for the late equaliser was Shane Duffy, the young centre back thrown on in injury time to deal with Oldham's aerial threat. David Moyes often favours an extra centre back in the latter stages of important matches, but disrupting the defence at such a late stage is always a questionable move. Dropping too deep, the visiting defence were already struggling and the extra defender did little to alleviate matters.

During the first half, Everton were too direct and it played into Oldham's hands. Far better with the ball on the floor, improvement was required when the teams trudged off at the interval. Fortunately, the improvement arrived and swiftly. Victor Anichebe departed at halftime, injury striking again, with Kevin Mirallas taking his place. Ironically, the injury worked in Everton's favour. The team returned to their usual setup, Marouane Fellaini pushed forward and Osman returned to his central role.

Using the ball better, there was more cohesion and control within the side. When Phil Jagielka nodded Everton in front, the expectation was that Moyes' men would use their greater quality and experience to see out the game. That happened, for a brief period, before tiredness and poor decisions began to creep in.

In the latter stages, as the defence dropped back, the midfield failed to provide enough cover. The Everton team resembled three separate units rather than one sturdy structure. The gap between attack and defence widened and Oldham, flooding the midfield, began to work their way back into the match.

Prior to his substitution, Steven Pienaar was one of the few to produce anything like their best. Missing at Old Trafford, the return of Sylvain Distin improved the team; his pace and aerial strength are valuable commodities. Elsewhere, Osman struggled, especially during his stint on the right side and Neville is a growing concern in any position.

The replay is set for 27th February and, while this was a largely poor performance, Everton should learn their lessons and progress into the quarterfinals. The downside is the extra fixture; one the paper thin squad can ill afford. Significant improvements are necessary in upcoming matches with Everton currently running out of steam.

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