Late events at the Lane symptomatic of season

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Three minutes -- that is how close Everton were to throwing a cat among the Champions League pigeons on Sunday. On the brink of a first league double over Tottenham since 1986, the Toffees fell at the final hurdle. As a result, the 2-2 draw means Everton will continue their European challenge with a heavy reliance on others.

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Ultimately, the narrow failure to close out this match is symptomatic of the season so far. Through a mixture of missed chances and defensive lapses, Everton have continually fallen short this season. Having already dropped six points to 90th-minute goals, the Blues squandered further points at Norwich; by conceding twice in the last six minutes, another two points fell by the wayside at White Hart Lane.

After the recent three-centre-back experiment, David Moyes continued with bold decisions here. Although reverting to his customary 4-5-1 formation, there were a number of surprising selections. Midfield prospect Ross Barkley made his first league start since August 2011 and John Heitinga received the role of midfield enforcer. The latter worked slightly better than the former.

Barkley has undoubted potential; the trick is finding the best use for it. Used out wide, alternating between the left and right flanks, the youngster often found himself crowded out. Expectations require careful management and sensible thinking. Seemingly discounting his age, lack of experience and the fact he was out of position, some fans expect instant miracles.

Operating on the opposing flank to Barkley, Kevin Mirallas scored another goal plucked from the top draw. Slaloming between Spurs defenders, moving at pace, calmly dispatching the ball into the far corner, Mirallas has a habit of making the spectacular seem simple.

Quiet in the early stages, bordering on anonymous by halftime, the Belgian is worth persevering with in matches. Able to change the game in an instant, Mirallas possesses a trait rarely found within the Everton squad. Shorn of the attacking talents of Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini, the weight of expectation fell on Mirallas, and he delivered in the second period.

Elsewhere, Victor Anichebe continued his recent resurgence. Producing a powerful display, the Everton front man threatened Spurs throughout with his physical presence, troubling Michael Dawson in particular. However, if there remains one criticism of the Nigerian, it is his finishing. Lacking that vital bit of class in front of goal, a match-winning chance went begging in injury time.

While riding their luck at times, this was a strong showing from an Everton side without two of their key players. Let down by key lapses at each end of the match, the performance in between was worthy of more than a point. Sharp on the break, especially in the second half, the Blues were resolute in defence; a trait typified by Tim Howard.

Enduring a poor season, Howard was at fault on several occasions in the early months of the campaign. Before back injury struck, Howard had started to rediscover his form and this -- his second game since returning -- was arguably his best display of the season.

Making one outstanding save in the second half, Howard commanded his area and rushed quickly off his line when required, two aspects that are usually his main weaknesses. Everton need Howard to maintain this level during the latter stages, with clean sheets of paramount importance.

Ostensibly lacking the necessary nous to close out matches -- whether it is quality, experience or strength in depth -- this recurring issue could prove the difference between European football and a near-miss when the season concludes in May.

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