Not for a long time had I looked forward to a week following Everton as i did last Saturday. We had dug deep to take three points from Spurs meaning we approached the Merseyside Derby at Anfield unbeaten in 9 games, recording wins over Chelsea and Manchester City too, whereas our neighbours were on a run of three consecutive defeats and King Kenny was feeling the pressure.
We had played well at home, grinding results out when we had too but also playing some sound football in the process of tallying up points to put us in contention for a spot in Europe again. Combined with the poor form of Liverpool, we also found ourselves with the opportunity of leapfrogging them in the league.
I arrived at the pub on County Road and optimism was high. After the performance against Tottenham, my words were "I can't wait to see Pienaar, Drenthe and Jelavic run them ragged on Tuesday." little did I know what was coming.
At 7pm, the Liverpool team was announced. It was strong, but absolutely beatable. Confidence rose yet again amongst us all - until David Moyes brought us right back down to earth with a bigger thud than when Victor Anichebe falls over. SIX changes from a WINNING team for a Derby at Anfield. No Heitinga, no Neville, no Osman, no Drenthe, no Cahill and no Jelavic. Instead, he selected Hibbert, Jagielka, Coleman, Rodwell, Anichebe and, one of the only positives, Pienaar. By the way, hands up who thinks Pienaar wouldn't have played had he played against Tottenham AND not been cup tied?
I don't want to dwell on the game as it was one of the worst Everton performances I've ever seen. In a Derby made it harder to stomach. A hat trick from the one man band made me sick. And it was all down to David Moyes.
In celebrating his 10year anniversary at the helm, there is no question the man has worked miracles on a shoe string budget. He creates his own kitty by juggling his players around. He has just about kept this club above water single handed. He brought us European football for a few back to back seasons and took us to Wembley again, twice. But, in the last seven days, he has got everything completely wrong.
We were turned over by a very average Liverpool side. Deservedly so, no blue tinted excuses from me. We were beaten because the manager picked an under strength side by altering a starting eleven who were bang in form. I have to say, if Jack Rodwell and Victor Anichebe never played for Everton again, it really would not bother me one bit. Not one. In addition, what Ross Barkley has to do to get a game is simply hard to comprehend, especially given these two crabs are being chosen before him (however, Barkley has been left out of the reserve team which drew 1-1 v Wolves today, an indication of his involvement on Wednesday, perhaps?)The only change I would have made to the side which beat Spurs would have been Steven Pienaar in front of Leighton Baines in the left. Obviously. But, he was saving the big guns for the FA Cup quarter final onSaturday, wasn't he.
Messed that one up too though.
We should have gone into Saturdays tie with Sunderland brimming with confidence after taking at least four points from two very tough fixtures, if not six. Instead, the supporters were not happy, players were not happy and the pressure on the manager had increased to not only beat Sunderland, but to win the FA Cup. After all, he had compromised the Derby at Anfield for an FA Cup tie.
The game against Sunderland started off really shaky. The pressure was clear for all to see. It had transferred to the players. We couldn't string two passes together and it took a very poor goal from our point of view to kick us into action. Leighton Baines threw a peach of a cross in after some good football in the middle of the park, Jelavic flicked the ball on and Tim Cahill redirected the ball into the Gwladys Street net. How I'd longed for that on Tuesday! Game on. We didn't look like conceding again and the tie only looked like it was going one way - until David Moyes, yet again, spoiled it.
Tim Cahill was having his best game for ages. He was winning headers, putting himself about, linking the midfield with the forward and the wide men nicely and proving to be a real pain in the backside for Sunderland. On 70 minutes, Moyes switched the Aussie with Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian was bossing the midfield, breaking up play, composed and assured. He did look tired. But, the switched neutralised Everton and handed Sunderland a get out of jail card. From then, we only really had one clear chance, which Mignolet did very well with a class double save. Apart from that, the midfield lost any meaningful purpose and we resorted to long balls from deep, which the Sunderland defenders simply marshalled out for goal kicks.
In complete contrast, our friends from across the park didn't pick a side which reflected players needed a rest. They made one change in the Derby. They swept us aside. The win ended a run of three losses and provided them with a platform to press on from. And they did. They beat Stoke, booked themselves a semi final place at Wembley and are now looking forward to playing us (or Sunderland) in London on April 14th.
Imagine we had started a strong eleven at Anfield, like they did. Imagine we would have won, like they did. Above them in the league, fans happy, players booming with confidence and pride, the manager on a pedestal, bang in form at home to Sunderland, 90 minutes from Wembley again. Meanwhile theres pressure everywhere around Liverpool FC and on their manager with a banana skin of a tie against Stoke to look forward to.
Graeme Sharp was discussing the Derby per game with John Aldridge, with the latter admitting he wasn't looking forward to the game. When Moyes named his team, Sharp deflated. "David Moyes has just handed this game to Liverpool before a ball has been kicked. The players don't need to rest. They want to play in the Derby and they want to play on Saturday too." Correct.
That is why I have absolutely no doubt that David Moyes' 10 year anniversary was tinted with helping a mini revival at Liverpool FC.
Second chances very rarely come about. I hope the manager grasps this one with both hands, puts Sunderland to bed a week tomorrow and doesn't look back as he goes on to have the name Everton engraved on the famous trophy.
Onwards Evertonians. I hope so.
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