L’Équipe’s headline on Thursday morning read “Un air de KO” and that’s what came to pass for Everton on a night in Lyon where there had been an air of inevitability if not resignation in the buildup, the team’s third match under the caretaker management of David Unsworth and ultimately their third defeat.
Lyon, as Chelsea and Leicester had before them, had too much for a side with barely a goal threat and though again there were promising signs from a side heavy on youth and in which Ademola Lookman put in a fine performance, on the left wing and then right, there was a familiarity about the way Everton imploded soon after they conceded.
As auditions for the top job go Unsworth could hardly have been handed a tougher run of games, the previous two Premier League champions away from home and now the fourth-placed finisher in France who reached last season’s Europa League semi-finals.
He probably has only Sunday’s home game against Watford to press his claim for the manager’s job now but with interviews reportedly taking place this week, and names as diverse as Sean Dyche, Guus Hiddink and, more alarmingly for many, Sam Allardyce in the frame, it is likely he will soon be back in his role with the under-21s. Unsworth has been here before and should bounce back, though his previous dabble as caretaker in 2016 at the end of the Roberto Martínez era saw him pick four of his boys and oversee a 3-0 win against Norwich City with some guidance from Joe Royle.
That theme persisted in Lyon, with Jonjoe Kenny and Beni Baningime named as starters and Morgan Feeney, an 18-year-old center-back and season-ticket holder, on the bench as the seriously unbalanced squad constructed by the director of football, Steve Walsh, and the now sacked Ronald Koeman stuck to a gameplan and created a couple of decent chances until the now familiar implosion.
Everton’s previous with caretakers is not the best, Steve Burtenshaw scraping together two draws from four games in the spell between Billy Bingham and Gordon Lee in 1977, Jimmy Gabriel, who had one win from one in 1991, picking up a single point from 21 in the period between Howard Kendall II and Mike Walker in 1993-94, and Dave Watson accruing six points from 21 when he filled the role between Royle and Kendall III in 1997.
Watford on Sunday is the final game before the international break and thankfully for Unsworth it is at home. With the team in the bottom three a win is imperative, even if the caretaker all but accepts that his chances of the top job are slim at best, his stats joining the others on a largely forgotten page on the club’s website.
“Sunday is a huge game for me, a huge game for the club, and I’ve left the players in no uncertain terms it’s a huge one for them as well,” he said after the 3-0 loss at Lyon in which he fielded a false No9 in Gylfi Sigurdsson, saw his team stay in the game for 68 minutes and then watched them fold after an unlucky ricochet set up the opener. “I’m sure they will respond and I’m sure the Goodison faithful will get behind us all … we need three points on Sunday. I have told them what I’ve seen and how I think we can move forward, and what I think is required. I think [what I said] is best left in the dressing room.
“Sunday is a cup final for me, I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure everybody is prepared. I’ll pick a team to win against a decent Watford team. We just can’t cave in when we concede; that’s something we need to rectify very, very quickly.”
To that end he should have the services of the 30-something former England trio of Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Wayne Rooney to call upon after leaving them behind for the game that confirmed their departure from the Europa League. Oumar Niasse is also available after thoughtlessly being omitted from the Uefa list by Koeman.
Getting out of the bottom three is the bigger issue and for a club who used to pride themselves on standing by their managers two have been sacked, at great expense, in less than two seasons as the majority shareholder, Farhad Moshiri, looks for the winning formula. A lot of his thought and business planning, if not yet that much of his money, has been invested in Everton’s future, with a site secured for a £300m new stadium at Bramley Moor dock and the deal facilitated by a council-backed loan repayable over 40 years.
Relegation does not feature in the thinking as the loan has to be repaid regardless of league status, with monies from parachute payments, transfer fees and regular income being due to the council in the event that the club start to default. Forty years is a long time to guarantee Premier League football – even for a team who have spent only three seasons outside the top flight since their inception – as is the wait until January, when the new manager will have to sign the striker that Koeman and Walsh so recklessly chose to do without when selling Romelu Lukaku for an initial £75m in the summer.
The Guardian Sport