Everton and under-pressure manager Sam Allardyce are running out of time -- and matches -- in their increasingly laboured attempts to salvage something from this season. The Toffees would need to win all nine remaining league games to match the 61-point return from last season.
Any illusions Allardyce might have had about the task facing him and the expectation of supporters are surely gone. His backtracking after ill-advised comparisons between Everton and some of his former clubs is testament to that. Seven defeats in the last 10 games and a succession of puzzling decisions in matches has eroded what little goodwill Allardyce may have had upon his arrival.
The reaction of the away support during and after the 2-1 defeat at Burnley last time out left little doubt as to the anger and frustration felt by supporters, while the booing of underperforming midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin when Everton led 3-0 against Crystal Palace last month highlights a crowd unafraid to express their views, regardless of the situation in the match.
Results elsewhere had opened the door to seventh place, but limp defeats at Watford and Burnley, two teams in worse form than Everton heading into those respective matches, has again closed it. The defensive nightmare gifting Burnley their first win in 13 games has Everton six points adrift of seventh place. Defeat at Burnley also pushed Everton into the bottom half at the expense of upcoming opponents Brighton, with the visitors unbeaten in seven matches and fancying their chances of adding to the discontent circling around Goodison Park.
At a time when the cost of football continues to rise and supporters must part with hard-earned cash to back their team, there is an expectation of effective football, preferably eye-catching, and a team willing to match the effort made by fans. But on both fronts, Everton are shortchanging as two wins in 12 matches and no clean sheet in the past 10 is nowhere near good enough or acceptable, even more so given the level of spending in recent seasons.
Since starting in encouraging fashion, picking up 10 points in his first four games, Allardyce has overseen a return of just nine points from the last 33 available. By way of comparison, former manager Ronald Koeman received his marching orders after opening the season with eight points from a possible 27.
Allardyce acknowledges the need for wins, pointing out that he cannot keep losing matches and expect to stay in a job. That should offer some hope, but actions on the pitch count for more than words off it. That applies to both Allardyce and his players as the Burnley loss joined an extensive list of failures this season.
One thing this team desperately needs is some conviction and leadership. The image of captain Ashley Williams flailing an elbow pinpointed the leadership vacuum in this team. Allardyce favours experienced players as Koeman did, even though the majority have been among the biggest disappointments in a season full of them.
But if some good can come from Williams' absence, with regular captain Phil Jagielka no longer guaranteed his place in the team, it should be the appointment of right-back Seamus Coleman as captain. Returning to fitness after a lengthy absence, the Republic of Ireland international leads by example and, more importantly, demands more from his teammates. Coleman has never been afraid to let another player know when something is not working or needs improvement.
Allardyce need only look at the home win against Leicester in January to see what Coleman adds to this team, both in terms of ability and leadership. Playing his first game in 10 months after a horrific double leg break, Coleman tirelessly worked throughout the match, betraying his lack of football, still running hard as the clock ticked into its 94th minute.
Coleman sets the mark for the rest of the team to follow. Allardyce noted in his news conference that Everton need to give supporters something to get behind; Coleman wearing the captain's armband would be precisely that.
Allardyce retains hope of a long-term future with Everton, however improbable that seems, but setting Coleman up as the captain might at least help this struggling team in the short term.