Swansea City just don’t beat Everton – that’s what history tells us, but nobody would have been surprised if a new page had been written at Goodison Park on a windy Spring afternoon. In a free flowing game of few fouls and no cards, much good football was played between the penalty areas but, despite five goals, the football inside the areas was of a markedly lower standard. Swansea were, with the influence of Roberto Martinez still evident, more like Everton than Everton – enjoying possession, creating chances and finishing feebly. It was a lucky three points for the Blues in a match that could have ended 3-5 on another day.
If that’s the history and the luck, what about the leadership? Well, I groaned when I saw that, in the absence of Phil Jagielka and with Leon Osman on the bench, the armband had been given to Tim Howard. I’ve nothing against the American stopper – he’s been excellent all season and a worthy successor to Neville Southall and Nigel Martyn and should soon go past Gordon West’s 402 appearances to ascend the third step on the Blues’ goalkeepers list behind only Big Nev himself and Ted Sagar – but is he a captain? Is – with all due respect to Dino Zoff, Peter Schmeichel and and Oliver Kahn – any goalkeeper a captain?
One school of thought claims that football captains’ work is done off the field, in PR exercises mainly, and that there’s little influence a captain can bring to bear on the field for all the eulogising of Tony Adams / John Terry type figures with their supposed Henry V like powers to stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood. Usually I would agree – but not today.
When, having dominated the first twenty minutes, a Leighton Baines penalty gave Everton a deserved lead, Swansea City – fighting for their Premier League lives, lest we forget – committed men forward, played with a hitherto unseen freedom and dominated the game. Everton looked tired, slightly offended at the affrontery of these upstarts and a touch complacent – somebody needed to “have a word”. Howard, isolated in goal and with plenty to do himself in getting the defence organised (a wall disintegrated when Swansea forced a free kick within shooting range) needed to be a captain in the thick of it – he wasn’t.
Gareth Barry and Leighton Baines are quiet lads and may not fancy the captaincy duties; James McCarthy seems quiet too and is still a junior pro (though he will captain the club one day). But playing alongside our injured club captain week-in, week-out is a model pro with 180+ appearances for Everton and experience of captaincy in the Premier League. Syvain Distin should have worn the armband and should have been responsible for geeing up the team during Swansea’s long periods of dominance. It’s what he deserved, but more importantly, it’s what the team needed and didn’t get.