When Everton struggled under David Moyes and even under Walter Smith to some extent, Evertonians could console themselves with the idea that the players suffered too because at least you could see they were trying. It has been said that Ronald Koeman’s Everton are certainly lacking confidence, but they are also lacking personalities to identify with, which then translates into flaky reactions when things are not going well.
It was difficult to tell what briefly spurred Everton on the most here. Was it Ashley Williams pushing Lyon’s goalkeeper to the floor before swinging punches at Lucas Tousart, the midfielder who came to defend his teammate? Or was it the fan in the Gwladys Street end who lurched forward with a child in one hand and a fist in the other, trying to catch a Lyon player in the subsequent 22-man confrontation right in front of the advertising hoardings?
Suddenly, Goodison became charged. Everton will surely be in trouble with Uefa for this. Yet somehow, Williams was only booked and allowed to remain on the pitch. He scored Everton’s equaliser moments later, appropriately with a thumping header.
Cue for a stadium shuddering to its ancient buttresses and an Everton victory? Not so. The other person booked for scrapping scored at the other end shortly afterwards. The finishing touch from former Chelsea winger Bertrand Traoré was rather more subtle than Williams’s – gorgeous in fact, a back heel flick. Suddenly, Goodison was flattened again.
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Farhad Moshiri was not one of them but there were those high up at Goodison Park – let’s call them old timers - who were not unimpressed by Koeman's start as Everton's manager, not because of results but approach; his reluctance to ingratiate himself into this club's very particular culture, his sense of otherness.
Everton’s season improved but Koeman remained as he was. What they must think twelve months or so later, then. Another defeat here leaves Everton bottom of their Europa League group and facing a swift exit from the competition. Depending on results elsewhere on Saturday, they might be in the Premier League’s relegation zone before facing Arsenal on Sunday. This after a summer where expectations were raised because of record spending.
It is Moshiri and not Bill Kenwright who makes the final decisions at Everton now but with Kenwright still heavily involved in counselling and considering he places so much value on personal relationships, especially in lean periods, will Koeman have displayed enough ardor for an institution he loves so much? Koeman was never viewed as a long-term appointment by the fans. It feels like he is running out of friends.
The list of players enduring horrid seasons is too long. The announcement of Everton's team had brought mixed thoughts. Width and pace in attack, finally. Tom Davies in his best midfield position finally, though Davy Klaassen – oh no. Then Cuco Martina and Williams in defence, please - not again.
There was blame attached to Lyon’s opener – a penalty after just four minutes, only this time neither Martina nor Williams were responsible. Instead, it was Mason Holgate whose unruly swipe sent Brazilian left back Marçal tumbling and from there, captain Nabil Fekir calmly established a lead.
Lyon were without five first-team regulars including striker Mariano Díaz, their leading scorer with seven goals in eleven outings since signing from Real Madrid. A game plan was well-rehearsed, though: going narrow defensively and using fast wingers to spring counter-attacks whenever Everton’s confidence drained in the final third and possession was surrendered. Despite Everton’s equaliser, this was the pattern throughout the second half as well – a pattern that led to Traoré’s winner.
It had been 15 years to the day when the autumn sun shined over a packed Goodison Park and Wayne Rooney became the most famous teenager in England by walloping a shot past David Seaman at the Park End. Rested here, according to Koeman; on a squally night, Everton’s season became that bit darker.
Everton (4-3-3): Pickford; Holgate, Keane, Williams, Martina; Klaassen (Lookman h-t), Schneiderlin (Sigurdsson 55), Davies; Vlašić, Calvert-Lewin, Mirallas (Sandro 67). Subs not used: Baines, Gueye, Besic.
Olympique Lyonnais (4-2-3-1): Lopes; Tete, Marcelo, Diakhaby, Marçal; Tousart, Aouar; Traoré, Fekir (Ferri 60), Depay (Ndombele 89); Mabilda (Cornet 70). Subs not used: Gorgelin, Rafael, Owusu.
Referee: Bas Nijhus (NED)