Striking woes could scupper Everton’s European hopes
Roberto Martinez knew he was taking a gamble when he sold Nikica Jelavic to Hull in January and replaced him with an unfit Lacina Traore - and unfortunately for the Spaniard that gamble has backfired.
February 28th, 2014
Jelavic left with the blessing of most Evertonians who, despite his poor recent goal return, were desperate for the Croatian to re-discover the form of his early Everton career.
But with Romelu Lukaku restricting him to fleeting appearances off the bench and a World Cup coming up this summer, it was the best thing for Jelavic’s career that he moved on.
In response Roberto Martinez brought in giant striker Traore on loan from Monaco. It seemed a good move at the time as the Ivorian could provide cover for Lukaku until the end of the season, with Martinez then free to spend the Jelavic windfall in the summer.
Sadly it has all gone horribly wrong.
For starters, Lukaku went over on his ankle during the disastrous Merseyside derby defeat at Anfield and his been side-lined for the past month.
Traore was unable to come in straight away as he was recovering from a hamstring injury of his own, leaving the industrious Steven Naismith as the club’s only fit striker.
To be fair to the Scotland international he has scored four goals in his last six games, but he lacks the power and strength to be the focal point of Everton’s play – a role so expertly filled by Lukaku during the first half of the season.
Traore did belatedly make his Everton debut against Swansea in the FA Cup, scoring with pretty much his first touch. But he faded badly in the second half and was eventually taken off.
The following week at Chelsea Traore was in line to start but damaged his hamstring again in the warm-up, forcing a last-minute team change.
Martinez revealed this week that the injury may even require surgery, potentially cutting short his loan spell.
Even if he isn’t required to go under the knife it will be several weeks before he can play again, restricting him to a few fleeting appearances towards the end of the season.
All this piles the pressure on Lukaku, a player who had already looked to be feeling the affects of a tough season prior to his Anfield injury.
Everton haven’t being playing that badly, but without the Belgian they simply have no cutting edge, meaning promising displays at Tottenham and Chelsea resulted in 1-0 defeats.
Combined with their Anfield drubbing, those defeats have all but killed Everton’s top four hopes.
That is no reason to give up though.
After such a promising season it would be a huge disappointment to see it all peter out in the final weeks.
There is still the chance to qualify for the Europa League, and an FA Cup quarter-final at Arsenal next week.
But those tasks have been made infinitely harder by the club’s failure to adequately boost the squad’s striking options in January, with Martinez’s gamble on Jelavic and Traore backfiring spectacularly.