Rooney rescues point but Koeman under pressure after Everton draw
BRIGHTON -- Three quick thoughts on Brighton 1-1 Everton in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon.
1. Troubled Koeman gets lucky
Ronald Koeman took a gamble when he signed Wayne Rooney this summer. Rooney just paid him back. The former England captain's 90th minute penalty at Brighton salvaged a point for Everton on what might otherwise have been a disastrous day for the Dutch manager. Goalkeeper Mat Ryan's extraordinary reactions prevented the visitors snatching all three points in injury time when they barely deserved one.
This was another underwhelming performance in a season of them. After a summer of unprecedented spending, the Blues find themselves fighting not for the Champions League place they hoped for, but to stay out of the relegation battle they haven't experienced in years.
Defeat here might have been the end for Koeman, in spite of owner Farhad Moshiri's vote of confidence early this month. Referee Michael Oliver's decision to award a penalty for what appeared to be an elbow from veteran defender Bruno Saltor allowed Rooney to buy him more time.
It was a shame for Bruno, who started the move that led to Brighton's goal with a spot of fancy footwork on the right flank. Anthony Knockaert finished it off, but the assist should go to a lethargic Everton defence that, having dodged a bullet when Michael Keane blocked his third goal bound shot of the afternoon, was too leaden-footed to clear the ball away. But this is par for the course for Everton, whose miserable away record continues. They have only picked up two points on the road this season, and they've won only six from a possible 36 with just eight goals in those 12 games.
There has to be improvement soon. The majority of Everton's supporters, who had travelled down in the early hours of Sunday morning for this fixture, stayed for the final whistle to applaud their players, but their reaction to Knockaert's goal was unambiguous.
Their patience with this fare is nearly exhausted.
2. Everton still struggling to provide value for money
Everton should be better than this. Ironically, they were better than this last season before spending a fortune on supposedly superior players. Somewhere down the line, something was lost. No matter what Koeman tries, and he has tried nearly every conventional formation and plausible lineup, Everton look sluggish.
His plan was clear from the outset. If Brighton were allowed to contract their two lines of four, Everton would be nullified. Therefore, he pushed his full-backs, Mason Holgate and Leighton Baines, right up behind wingers Nikola Vlasic and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, with all four of them getting as close to the touchline as possible. Brighton needed to be stretched out of shape. And for the first 15 minutes, at least, they were.
However, Everton's first effort of note came from the centre, Idrissa Gueye driving the ball low towards the bottom corner after 19 minutes, only to be denied by Ryan's smart save. Gueye went close again on 33 minutes, curling his shot just wide of Ryan's far post. But the fact that it was one of Everton's defensive midfielders taking the few chances told its own story. As the first half wore on, Everton's belief in their own abilities seemed to wane. Brighton's lines were left to snap back into place.
When Rooney had the ball, he demonstrated his ability to use it intelligently, but these moments were few and far between. At half time, he'd touched it fewer times than any other Everton player. At full time, only Gylfi Sigurdsson had seen less of it. Until the spot kick, it could be argued his most tangible contribution to the cause was getting Lewis Dunk booked by tumbling over on the halfway line at the first touch of a hand on his shirt.
Rooney is not the player he was, nor will he be, but he is poorly served in this team which already lacks pace and penetration. Did Koeman really need two defensive midfielders against a team as conservative as Brighton? Tom Davies, a player dynamic enough to get from box to box, was left on the bench until the last minute.
3. Brighton solid but must learn to close games out
Brighton will be devastated to have let this game slip away. Happy to play cautiously in the first 45 minutes, they visibly reassessed their chances as half time approached and should have done enough to take all three points.
While they impressed with their tenacity, with Dale Stephens in particularly combative mood, they let themselves down early on with their distribution, giving the ball away repeatedly in the opening exchanges. Pascal Gross was very fortunate that his misplaced pass to Sigurdsson wasn't punished more severely. The Iceland playmaker seemed as surprised as anyone else to receive the ball and the chance was lost.
But in the face of Everton's flat performance, they soon grew in confidence. Knockaert's 31st minute shot, created by a clever short corner, was charged down, Dunk's attempt to blast home the rebound was blocked by Keane on the line. Stephens should have done far better than to blast a snapshot over the bar five minutes before half time.
In the second half, they stepped up. They committed more men to attacks and Everton began to creak. Jordan Pickford was threatened by Gross' floating set pieces. Keane was called into action for last ditch blocks. And then came the goal they deserved. But instead of shutting the game down, the one thing you'd expect this team to be able to do without difficulty, they made mistakes; first with a needless foul on Oumar Niasse by Knockaert, then by a wild elbow from Bruno in the box. Lessons don't come much harder than this.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.