Continuing my review of last season I look at the period between December and January as the Toffees finally (finally!) start to hit form...
Another injury, this time to Dan Gosling, meant Everton were literally down to their last 11 fit senior players for the clash with AEK Athens in Greece (seriously it was just getting ridiculous). Thankfully the players displayed some battling spirit to overcome the opposition and the elements with a soggy 1-0 win that secured qualification from their group with a game to spare.
Back in the Premier League and another defeat looked likely when Michael Dawson headed Spurs 2-0 in front at Goodison. But the introduction of young Seamus Coleman galvanised the Toffees, who dragged themselves back into the game thanks to Louis Saha and Tim Cahill. Tim Howard had the final word though, saving Jermain Defoe’s dramatic injury time penalty to secure a well earned point.
That new found spirit was carried into the next game at Stamford Bridge where Everton came from behind twice to secure a 3-3 draw, though even the most staunch Blue would admit there was a touch of fortune about each goal. The two draws however stopped the rot and gave the players something to build on for the upcoming festive period.
With Europa League qualification already assured David Moyes rested his entire first team for the home match with BATE Borisov. The kids (and Carlo Nash) put up a brave fight, only losing to a late deflected goal, and no doubt took great benefit from the experience.
Back in the league and Everton were starting to build some momentum. They put Birmingham to the sword early on at Goodison but critically failed to add to Biylaletdinov’s early strike and the Midlanders equalised with virtually their first attack to grab a point. It was Everton’s turn to come from behind though on Boxing Day with Marouane Fellaini’s late half-volley securing a deserved point against Sunderland.
They were edging closer to a win and finally, with the last game of the year, they grabbed their first victory in the league since early November. James Vaughan and Steven Pienaar with the goals late on against Burnley to ensure Evertonians felt at least a twinge of optimism going into the New Year.
2010 began with a 3-1 win over Carlisle in the FA Cup, although the score line suggests the game was a lot more comfortable than it actually was for the Blues, who had to rely on late goals from Tim Cahill and Leighton Baines before securing passage to the 4th round.
With the entire country under thick snow Everton’s clash with Arsenal was one of only two Premier League games to survive the weather that weekend. And I’m glad it did as it proved to be one of the most entertaining contests of the season. Everton took the lead twice, first through Leon Osman’s header and again through Steven Pienaar’s delightful chip. But a deflected strike from Denilson and Tomas Rosicky’s injury time goal rescued a undeserved point for the Gunners. The game was also notable for the debut of Landon Donovan, who joined on loan from LA Galaxy.
After Joleon Lescott saga last summer the visit of Man City assumed more significance than in recent years and thankfully the players matched that with a convincing performance, certainly the finest of the season so far. In truth the score line should have been more than 2-0, but Evertonians didn’t care, especially when Fellaini, in the form of his life, nonchalantly pirouetted his way past Craig Bellamy in the centre circle late on to earn a round of applause from the Goodison crowd.
It wasn’t just Fellaini who was in good form; much of the side had regained their old touch, which made the non-performance against Birmingham in the FA Cup all the more mystifying. To be fair Alex McLeish’s men got their tactics spot on, but with Derby lying in the next round Everton fans knew a great chance for another cup run had been missed. The one bright spot on an otherwise dismal day was the long awaited return of Mikel Arteta from a serious knee injury.
Thankfully, back in the league Everton’s resurgence continued, this time against free falling Sunderland. Tim Cahill gave the Toffees the lead with a simple header early on before Donovan notched his first goal for the club a few minutes later. Everton made it nine Premier League games unbeaten the following Saturday, with Tim Cahill’s late goal giving Everton the points against Wigan.
David Moyes and his men had transformed their season in the space of eight weeks. With injuries clearing and the club back in the top half, we could all start looking upwards again.
Next up: Everton grapple with formidable February.