Everton focus has been on chaos off the pitch – now Sean Dyche must urgently find answers on it

Sean Dyche
Sean Dyche has not had the money to buy the calibre of players to transform draws into wins - Alex Livesey/Getty Images

You could be forgiven for thinking whoever decided the evening of Easter Sunday was the right time to reveal Everton’s latest eye-watering £89.1 million losses was indulging in gallows humour.

Rather than hailing the prospect of a resurrection, all that can be read from the grim Goodison accounts is the kind of impending doom that the club has been trying to claim is exaggerated for the past few years.

The sardonic interpretation is someone at Goodison Park calculated the most critical gaze would be fixed elsewhere on Bank Holiday weekend, Manchester City and Arsenal in the final stages of their tussle as Everton finally published what the Premier League knew in December – that their financial situation is even bleaker than when they were hit with an initial 10-point penalty (later reduced to six) for breaking profit and sustainability rules between 2021-22.

Before the team’s trip to Newcastle United, there will be plenty of sympathy for manager Sean Dyche as the challenging conditions he and his players are working under become ever clearer. Thirty-one points from 29 games represents undoubted progress over the course of a year for a manager hamstrung in the transfer market and dealing with calamitous problems of others’ making.

Everton’s initial 10-point penalty, and the acceptance the league table was not merely lying but screaming falsehoods when Dyche’s side would have been mid-table, cannot be shrugged aside when casting judgment. With six more points, Everton would be 14th and a comfortable nine points above the bottom three. The prospect of relegation probably would not have been referenced since the first few games of the season.

Sean Dyche during the defeat by Bournemouth
Sean Dyche has overseen a worrying slump in form - Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

But there is another, more critical school of thought that Dyche must now undermine; that events off the pitch have become a convenient shield to excuse how poorly Everton are currently playing on it.

There has been a worrying deterioration in form in 2024, Everton still awaiting their first league win of the year.

Saturday’s defeat at Bournemouth was Everton’s 12th Premier League game without a victory. The last time that happened was at the start of the 1994-95 season, when Mike Walker was sacked and Joe Royle led an immediate revival which ended with the FA Cup.

As the barren run has continued, Dyche’s backers have still been leaning on the repercussions of the initial Premier League judgment on Nov 16, as well as the uncertainty around the ownership, 777 Partners’ bid having the unfortunate, ironic consequence of raising red flags all over Goodison Park.

Among the explanations for the form dip is that Everton are still suffering from the psychological impact of the first 10-point deduction.

“It changes the perception, it changes the feel, it changes the fan base, it changes the feel of performances. That’s just a fact,” Dyche said in February.

“We all measure it differently when the team is top, middle or bottom.

“Does that affect the team whilst the process is going? At first everyone says obviously not because you win four, but you could argue there is a delayed effect.”

There has undoubtedly been more anxiety on Goodison match-days given every fixture has been played amid the sense of being plunged into a relegation battle when – in other circumstances – a push towards the top half would have been the prize.

That said, the view is undermined somewhat given Everton’s best winning sequence followed their initial points deduction.

Supporters and players united behind the idea that the club was being harshly penalised due to the cack-handed manner in which the Premier League determined what constitutes an appropriate punishment for overspending.

It is hypothetical to consider what the Goodison atmosphere would be like if Everton were further away from the drop zone – it would obviously be less nervous but the notion that the Gwladys Street would be content with the style and standard of performances since early January requires a stretch of the imagination.

No Premier League team has scored fewer goals in open play than Everton this season, only two have a worse record for passing accuracy, and none have delivered a greater volume of long passes. Although Everton have deserved more points than they have collected – certainly at home – they have been a tough watch in recent months.

Dyche can point to a series of fixtures, particularly at Goodison Park, where Everton have missed easy chances to give their season a different complexion. There are also several contentious refereeing decisions influencing outcomes, too, although every manager of every Premier League club can read that script.

Frank Lampard, Rafa Benítez and Marco Silva could have made similar arguments to Dyche during their worst, occasionally luckless reigns. There is an eerie similarity – certainly in the case of Lampard – in the way an initial surge of optimism in keeping the side in the Premier League preceded an unsustainable downturn.

Dyche has not had the transfer kitty to recruit the calibre of player that might have turned the six draws since Dec 19 into wins.

Where Dyche is fortunate is, unlike Ronald Koeman, Sam Allardyce, Silva, Benítez and Lampard, there is no Everton executive of authority or clout to offer him a vote of confidence, let alone question his work. The club probably couldn’t even afford to replace him if they were considering it.

Everton’s latest miserable accounts demonstrate the club’s problems go way beyond the manager. Last year, Dyche provided a ray of hope to keep the club in the Premier League. He accepted the formidable task of finding a solution to historic problems, and like those before must feel like managing Everton is akin to walking a tightrope in a gale force wind.

Now he must repeat the trick to ensure the spotlight does not more frequently shine on him.