IT WAS Seventies retro day at Goodison – but forget flares and platform heels, it was more recent shocking trends which came back to haunt Everton.
The Blues continue to waste chances, continue to pay dearly for it, and continue to defend set-pieces like they’re wearing blindfolds.
Even more worrying is the question – when does a blip become an alarming sign that this season is Everton’s usual Premier League fate in reverse?
Instead of starting poorly and improving in the winter, the Blues are hinting at the opposite.
From blowing away opponents with scintillating attacking football they suddenly seem incapable of going the distance.
It’s as frustrating as it is difficult to pinpoint why. Even without a clutch of key men David Moyes’s side still played some slick football in the opening half against Norwich City, but yet again they were made to rue not taking their chances.
It doesn’t help that Nikica Jelavic currently lacks both efficient service and the cold-eyed assuredness in front of goal which quickly made him a cult hero for the blue half of Merseyside last season.
Before this latest draw which felt like a defeat, Moyes spoke about the necessity of Everton getting the balance right; the necessity to put games to bed while remaining resolute at the back. His words might have fallen on deaf ears, however, because once again his side managed to do neither.
Granted, the Blues’ boss had been forced to re-jig his back line, with injury to Seamus Coleman prompting Sylvain Distin’s return to partner John Heitinga, and saw Phil Jagielka deployed at right back.
But nevertheless they coped with the threat of Grant Holt & Co for 89 minutes before both Tim Howard and Heitinga conspired to allow Sebastien Bassong to head in the equaliser. Howard will regret not coming to punch Javier Garrido’s free kick and Heitinga will wince at the replays which show him lose the Canaries’ French defender.
Whether Mike Jones will wince at the replays of the non-foul from Leighton Baines for which he awarded the decisive set-piece depends on his conscience, but coming from the official who haplessly disallowed Everton two legitimate goals against Newcastle at Goodison in September, it was perhaps predictable.
It’s not just weekly inept officials which are hurting Everton though. Injuries are also taking their toll on the Blues small squad, and the absence of Marouane Fellaini, and Kevin Mirallas in particular was telling.
Even so there were no signs of disjointed jitters in the first-half. The hosts quickly carved out the game’s first chance when Leon Osman turned smartly and flashed a left-footed shot just wide of John Ruddy’s post.
And fears that those various changes to Moyes’ personnel would have a detrimental effect on their football seemed further unfounded when Everton took the lead in stylish fashion on 12 minutes. Thomas Hitzlsperger, scooped a pinpoint pass to Bryan Oviedo, and the Costa Rican ghosted past Steven Whittaker and picked out Steven Naismith who had made a clever late run to side-foot emphatically into the net. Norwich, who have looked so defensively robust in recent weeks, had been clinically dissected.
It seemed suddenly as if a repeat of the 4-1 scoreline recalled in Saturday’s nostalgic matchday programme - when the Blues hosted Norwich in April 1974 – might be on the cards.
An excellent move involving Steven Pienaar and Baines saw the left-back burst into the area and test Ruddy with a fierce low drive which the former Blues keeper could only parry, but Osman’s follow-up volley was into the turf before spinning narrowly over the bar.
The Blues continued to string together some snappy attacking football, with Naismith denied a possible penalty when Alexander Tettey appeared to trip him in the area. Then a sumptuous flick from the former Rangers forward, who was growing in confidence by the minute after his third goal in three starts, almost allowed Pienaar to go through on goal.
Everton were dominating but as their half-chances mounted, it quickly became imperative that they double their lead or risk a repeat of last weekend’s reverse at Reading. Jelavic played a deft pass to Naismith who was denied by Ruddy coming quickly off his line, then the Croatian was spared the embarrassment when he steered a simple header wide from Hitzlsperger’s corner as referee Jones spotted an infringement. Moyes may yet try to add another striker to his squad via the loan market in January.
At least Pienaar, who has seemed a subdued figure in Everton’s last couple of outings, was almost back to his effervescent best in the opening period, and just before the break he nearly set Osman free but the England international could not beat Ruddy from 15 yards.
Predictably there was greater urgency to the Canaries in the early stages of the second-half, and when Heitinga fouled the imposing Holt, Howard had to be alert to beat away Anthony Pilkington’s subsequent free-kick at his near post.
But Everton responded positively as Baines continued to threaten going forward, and Hitzlsperger also impressed; swinging a cross which Distin met to force Ruddy into a diving save.
Back in his own area, Distin had to be sharp to stick out a boot and make a crucial block from Pilkington’s cross as Holt loitered. Then, as Norwich countered again, Heitinga cleared Snodgrass’s effort off the line with just over 20 minutes remaining.
Moyes knows he let a talented goalkeeper depart in Ruddy, and the Norwich keeper thwarted his old side again when Baines imperiously jinked past a string of yellow shirts to shimmy through on goal and sting the keeper’s hands. Then Osman rolled a shot across the face of goal as the missed chances ominously increased.
Holt went close at the Park End with a thumping header, and the nerves around Goodison weren’t eased when the Blues broke and Naismith only had to slide a simple pass across to a supporting Jelavic who would surely have scored but the Scot crossed wildly instead and saw his delivery trickle out for a goal-kick.
Sure enough their wastefulness was punished and all those missed chances seemed glaring.
With Arsenal and Manchester City up next, Everton may have fewer opportunities. If they wish to keep Champions League football on the agenda they can ill afford to keep missing them.