It hasn’t been the greatest of seasons, in fact Evertonians have been put through the mill more times than I care to remember. But a sparkling performance on Saturday – a sixth game without defeat – has put Everton top of the form table and within shouting distance of the top six.
Once again a David Moyes side is ending the season strongly and like seasons past it has taken the team to hit rock bottom before launching a spectacular recovery.
Back in 2008 it was a dismal 1-0 away defeat to Wigan in early December, the following year it was a 3-2 loss away at Hull – again in December - after being 3-0 down at half-time.
This year we had to wait a little longer for our nadir – 13th February at a soggy, gloomy Reebok Stadium. That depressing 2-0 defeat left us three points above the drop zone and such was the alarming lack of fight among the players, relegation, or at least a desperate scrap to stay up, was definitely on the cards.
But a frustrating defeat in the Cup to Reading apart, we haven’t lost a game since. In fact since mid-December only Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United have picked up more points.
Like in 2008/09 and 2009/10 we started this season dreadfully slowly and a late season surge has lifted us into the top seven. Phil Neville got it spot on Saturday when he spoke how pleased the players are following their recent run, but there is still a strong sense of disappointment in the camp given the poor start they made to the campaign.
You also have to wonder how Everton can compete and get any higher than the current position – with the imminent take-over of Arsenal by Stan Kroenke five of the top six are owned by billionaires, while Spurs have hardly been shrinking violets in the transfer market in recent years either. The odds are so far stacked against us it is barely worth bothering with.
But we all live in hope right?
Our greatest chance rests on youth and that a generation akin to the likes of Beckham/Scholes/The Neville’s et al can all come through at the same time and save us some cash. For that reason it was good to see Gueye start on Saturday as well as Velios and Adam Forshaw come off the bench. A rumoured bid for 18-year-old, 6ft 6in Darlington central defender James Burn is also a sign that far from moping about the lack of funds at Goodison, Moyes is getting on and dealing with it.
Youth development is one of our strongest cards with Ray Hall and the Academy staff doing a fantastic job to train and develop youngsters into Premier League players. If we can pick up the best local talent as well as bringing in youngsters from across the country and beyond we might have a ‘golden generation’ of stars come through the ranks. Which, I’m sure you would agree, would be far more satisfying than a billionaire’s scattergun approach to the transfer market.
Back to the game at Molineux for a moment and a few talking points came out of the match which was surprisingly comfortable given Wolves' pressing need for Premier League points.
Magaye Gueye did ok on his first start and should have got a goal when sent clear but his tame finish was easily saved. But it seemed the perfect game to try some of the youngsters (not that Moyes had a choice!) given we were out of sight by half-time.
Velios and Forshaw did ok too and just giving them some game time sends out a strong message out to young players that Everton are a club who gives them a chance, which I hope will prove a stronger pull then cold, hard cash.
Diniyar Bilyaletdinov again proved why we really want to like him with an absolute thunderbolt just before the break. It was a truly special strike and if you put together a YouTube collection of his Everton goals you would think we would have a Messi-esque player on our hands. Sadly he goes missing for too many games to make his intermittent strikes worthwhile. His all-round game needs improving before he can really convince me of his worth to the team.
Another player who needs to improve his all-round game is Jermaine Beckford, who despite nodding home his ninth goal of the season was hauled off in the second half for apparently ‘going through the motions’. Beckford wasn’t happy and decided to have a whinge at Moyes. Bad idea. The Scot rightly put Beckford in his place and came out with a great quote after the game:
I was upset with him. He accepted what I said - I don't think he had any choice. I told him that this is what you do at Everton. Everyone knows the team comes before everything else.
Some Leeds United supporting mates warned me off Beckford’s cockiness. But when you are banging them in left, right and centre in League One you can get away with strutting about a bit. But not in the Premier League, and not for an Everton team under David Moyes.
The manager is fair and accepts people have bad games. He has also been patient with Beckford as he makes the undeniably large jump up from League One to the Premier League. But what Moyes doesn’t tolerate is lack of effort and indiscipline, which made his response to Beckford’s outburst both correct and encouraging.
But I don’t want to end this piece on a negative note; too many times this season my Monday morning dredge through the previous weekend’s match has been a tedious and depressing exercise. But like the English weather things are looking up for Everton and it is so nice to look back on a positive result and performance – I haven’t been as relaxed watching Everton all season as I was in the second half.
It shouldn’t be allowed to mask what has been a disappointing season, but thinking back to that dismal day at Bolton, things could have been a lot worse. And for that Moyes and his players deserve our praise.