A supporter talks to Everton s Anthony Gordon, left, and Abdoulaye Doucoure, right, at the end of the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park in Liverpool, England, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Liverpool won 4-1. (AP)
Everton had just slumped to a 4-1 loss to Liverpool in the Merseyside derby _ the heaviest home defeat to its fierce rival in 39 years _ and the atmosphere was turning toxic.
``Sack the board'' was the predominant chant that swirled around the storied stadium. The boos at the final whistle might have been the loudest heard there all season.
Dissatisfaction at a controversially hired manager and a club leadership under fire for its haphazard recruitment methods had come to a head.
``I can see a team that is giving everything,'' said Rafa Benitez, the manager to whom Everton turned in the offseason despite his previous connection to the red half of Merseyside. ``The commitment of the players is there.''
The problem is, they just aren't good enough.
After a lavish and somewhat haphazard outlay of about $750 million on players since Farhad Moshiri became the club's majority shareholder in 2016, Everton reined in its spending this summer following the appointment of Benitez. Four players came in at a total cost of barely $2 million.
The effects of that belt-tightening are there for all to see. Hit by injuries to some key players like star striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Everton is winless in its last eight Premier League matches, earning two points from a possible 24 in the team's worst run of results in 22 years.
After a strong start under Benitez _ the team won four of its first six games _ Everton has plunged to 14th place in the 20-team league and is five points above the relegation zone.
The contrast between Liverpool's devastating attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane compared to Everton's, which was led Wednesday by a 32-year-old player in Salomon Rondon who joined on a free transfer from the Chinese league, was stark.
And it wasn't lost on Benitez.
``We lost because we made mistakes against a top side,'' he said. ``You have seen how much money Liverpool have been spending and they have been successful over the last few years and it can happen if you make mistakes.
``Against other teams maybe not, but against a top side you suffer.''
Benitez said he still had ``confidence we can do well'' but accepted that the team's fate depends on getting players like Calvert-Lewin and Colombia defender Yerry Mina back fit again. It doesn't sound like he is expecting to have money to spend in the January transfer window.
``I have been in Newcastle and the owner wasn't spending money,'' said the 61-year-old Benitez, referencing another English team where he was manager. ``In January, hopefully the team are not depending on two or three players coming back as we are at the moment.''
While Benitez is an easy target for abuse by Everton fans having been manager of their neighbor across Stanley Park from 2004-10, they are starting to turn their ire toward the top of the club.
Footage on social media showed one supporter confronting director of football Marcel Brands as the Dutchman left the director's box at Goodison after the Liverpool game. ``Did you recruit them?'' the fan shouted at Brands, who stopped to respond but quickly walked away. ``It's garbage,`` the fan added.
This is supposed to be the start of an exciting era for the club, which is planning to move into a new stadium by Liverpool's waterfront _ costing a reported $700 million _ for the start of the 2024-25 season.
That development and the effects of the pandemic are behind the limited spending this year which might leave Everton without a strong enough team to play in its new home.
Heck, at the current rate, Everton _ whose last major trophy was the FA Cup in 1995 _ might not even be in the Premier League.
The stream of fans heading to the exits after Liverpool's fourth goal showed just what they think about their team right now. The fans that stayed made their feelings known in another way.
``I have to take the positives and the positive of this team is at the beginning of the season everyone was so happy, with the commitment and the way we were playing and winning,'' Benitez said.
``We have to go back to this first phase.''
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