By Chris Bascombe
If Premier League points were given for fighting talk, Everton would be top of the table.
Every week, the players are on-message when discussing the club’s perilous situation above the relegation zone, stressing their determination to put it right.
Then the away games come around and passion displayed in some interviews is not matched on the pitch.
There is no more vivid example of how and why it has gone wrong than the four days preceding the international break, when a committed, hard-fought home victory over Newcastle United at Goodison Park was followed by the abject FA Cup surrender at Crystal Palace.
Defeat at Selhurst Park was a tipping point for manager Frank Lampard, who – for the first time in his fledgling reign – called out the players’ mentality.
“It’s not just the manager saying it – the players agree with that statement,” says Alex Iwobi, reflecting on Everton’s wild inconsistency.
“It comes from within us. We know that sometimes we don’t give the fight that we’re capable of giving.
“If we fight, we are capable of competing with anyone in the league.
“It starts in training. If we’re all trying to fight and be the best that we can in training then it transforms into matches.That’s what we’re hoping to do.
“Even before Frank came we were saying we had to show more character.”
It begs the question, why is it such a problem doing so on the road?
“We are trying to remain consistent,” says the midfielder.
“We know that is the issue we have. But we believe we can make results like that against Newcastle more regular. The manager is telling us to keep going. We know we have the quality. We just have to show it on a regular basis.
“We had numerous meetings to try to psyche each other up and get ready to go again.
“At home, we’ve had some good performances, but away we don’t know what it is.
“We know that our away form has not been great. That is something the manager has been trying to work on. I feel it is a mental thing.
“You can’t hide from the fact that the league table shows where we are but we are not looking at that, we are taking it game by game and the next one is coming up against West Ham.”
By his own admission, Iwobi’s Goodison career has ‘room for improvement’. A £34m transfer deadline day signing during the reign of Marco Silva in 2019, Iwobi is working under his 5th Everton manager, inclusive of Duncan Ferguson’s caretaker stint prior to Lampard’s arrival.
He is one of the many big-money deals cited as an example of how majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri was squandered £500 million. How does such criticism impact on a player and the squad?
“It gives me that sense of hunger to prove people wrong,” says Iwobi.
“I have heard negativity all my life, growing up, when I was at Arsenal, not being able to get a contract and this and that. I am sure that’s what many people in the team feel like. Seamus (Coleman) was talking to us saying this should give us the hunger and the will to go and fight for our club and show people that Everton’s not soft and Everton’s not going down. Everyone feels the same way, we need to fight and show people what we are capable of.
“It is difficult (when the manager is often changed) but we’re professional players and we should have the mentality to cope.
“Every player thrives on confidence. If the manager gives you that faith and belief it gives you that extra boost to express yourself. The manager we have now gives me that confidence.
“The one thing Seamus is always telling us is that we’ve got to keep on fighting and giving 100 percent.
“Whenever we’ve done that, it doesn’t matter which manager we fight under, we’ve normally been able to get results.
“We’ve got to keep giving 100 percent – especially under Frank, who has been in the game himself – and we’ll be able to get results.
“As players, we know it isn’t down to the manager or the fans. It’s down to us at the end of the day.”
While the team has struggled, Iwobi’s form has probably been at its most encouraging, his 97th minute winner against Newcastle a personal highlight.
“Crazy scenes,” he reflected.
“One of those feelings you wish never disappears. We want to have that atmosphere all of the time so we need to keep working to make sure there are many more feelings like that.”
But such moments will count for nothing unless Everton survive, and fixtures like Sunday’s trip to West Ham a part of a challenging run-in.
“If relegation does get mentioned, it doesn’t get mentioned a lot,” says Iwobi.
“I won’t lie, it has been mentioned once or twice. But we’re trying to look forward, not behind.”