Fans were unhappy after a heavy Merseyside Derby defeat left Everton 16 points behind their cross-city rivals after just 14 Premier League games
Everton manager Rafa Benitez never seemed to be the first choice of transfer chief Marcel Brands, and the differences between the pair looked to have taken another turn on Wednesday night.
A 4-1 defeat to Liverpool left Benitez’s side 16 points behind their neighbours, with some fans spotted leaving Goodison Park early and another confronting captain Seamus Coleman as Jordan Henderson and Diogo Jota scored either side of a Mohamed Salah double for the visitors.
Those who stayed until the end included one fan who approached Brands directly, questioning the Dutchman’s role in recruiting the players who fell to a sixth defeat in their last seven Premier League games.
However, Brands’ response hinted at continued issues with Benitez which have been hinted at ever since the Spaniard’s appointment.
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As Brands and chairman Bill Kenwright walked past a group of Everton supporters, one confronted him to gesture towards the players on the pitch and ask: “Did you recruit them?”
“Do you think it’s only the players?” was the director of football’s response, with fans interpreting the statement as a dig at manager Benitez.
A number of players brought to the club on Benitez’s watch were in the starting line-up against Liverpool, along with several who arrived for big money during Brands’ time on Merseyside.
Another fan was spotted entering the field of play to confront players after the result, which left Benitez’s team just five points clear of the drop.
Benitez’s appointment at Everton was a controversial one, given the several years he spent in charge of Liverpool more than a decade ago.
Brands didn’t put his name to the club statement welcoming the Spaniard to the club, with Toffees officials claiming he missed the manager’s first day at Finch Farm because he was self-isolating.
“Integrity is, for me, a key word in working with people together – not only with the manager but also with the people around me,” Brands said in a later statement.
“I’m someone people can rely on and that’s what I will also do with Rafa.”
Everton’s last Premier League victory came at home to Norwich City in September, while they were eliminated from the Carabao Cup in the third round by second-tier Queens Park Rangers.
They have scored just once in their last three games, each of which has ended in defeat, and are up against top-six side Arsenal next time out.
Owner Farhad Moshiri has given Benitez his backing, suggesting the return from injury of players such as Dominic Calvert-Lewin can help the manager turn things around.
“Rafa is a good manager and underperformance is largely due to the injuries,” Moshiri said.
“Next two weeks, we will get to a full squad and, in the meantime, results will improve.
“Managers need time. I have no doubt that we will have a strong second-half to the season.”