It all looked so rosy at Goodison Park back in mid-September. New manager Ronald Koeman appeared to have stabilised Everton, adding some structure to their silkiness, and taking 13 points from a possible 15. There was talk of European qualification and when they travelled down to Bournemouth on September 24, a win would have sent them top. But they lost, deservedly so too. They’ve only won one game since.

There is no injury crisis to blame here. The eleven who trotted out to meet struggling Swansea on Saturday are arguably their strongest players. Nor is there anything obviously wrong with the shape or make-up of their team. It’s either the attitude or the confidence of the Everton players that seems horribly awry at present.

There are moments in the first half when the real Everton appear. The occasional link-ups between Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, the width that Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman provided on the flanks, the wonderful turn midway through the half that saw Barkley evade Fernandez only to slam the ball well wide from close range. But those moments are in the minority. For much of the game, Everton are slow and overly-cautious, content to push the ball around in the safest possible way. Or in other words, to play like a team that has only won a single game since mid-September. They need to shake themselves out of this slump.

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Swansea have far bigger problems. They haven’t won since the first game of the season, but they came within minutes of winning here. New manager Bob Bradley made eight changes to his starting line-up and those changes brought renewed vigour and focus. The Swans defended in their own half, but pressed hard and broke fast. Everton’s midfield, the industrious pairing of Idrissa Gueye and James McCarthy couldn’t quite get to grips with false nine Gylfi Sigurdsson, allowing him to drop back and forth to create openings. It was he who was felled by the struggling Phil Jagielka five minutes before half-time. It was he who slammed home the resultant spot kick to give Swansea the lead.

It had been an even first half, but that in itself was simply not good enough. Swansea were supposed to be there for the taking. They hadn’t won since August. They shouldn’t have been as organised and emboldened as they were. Everton increased the intensity after the break, but it wasn’t long before the crowd became agitated with their failures and the players transitioned between safety-first balls to wild, hopeful lumps up the park. Aaron Lennon, starting in the league for the first time all season, was substandard. Coach Duncan Ferguson’s face twisted with fury when he gave the ball away midway through the second half.

The final ten minutes brought a desperate surge of runs and, with one minute left on the clock, an equaliser. It will not make the shortlist for goal of the month. Yannick Bolasie lofted the ball into the box, Swansea failed to clear and Seamus Coleman, of all people, looped his header into the net. It was a goal that spares Everton a humiliation, but not an inquest.

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We know from their unsuccessful summer bid for Moussa Sissoko, and didn’t they dodge a bullet there, that Everton have money to spend. Performances like this only emphasise the importance of spending it well. Everton are not a bad team and Koeman is not a bad manager, but they need something to change the mood at Goodison Park. And they need to up the tempo. They won’t break into the top four playing like this.

Iain Macintosh
Is a football writer for ESPNFC and the editor of  The Set Pieces