The best way (in my humble opinion) to assess where Everton stand in the Premier League right now is to look where they have come from over the past year and a review of our eventful 2009/10 campaign.
The previous nine months have contained more drama an intrigue than can fit in a single blog, so I thought I would break it down into monthly sections, starting with August and September 2009...
The summer 2009 was supposed to be the one where Everton pushed on from their heroic performance in the FA Cup Final and built a team capable of challenging for the top four. But that also was what supposed to have happened the summer before, only for a chronic lack of movement in the transfer window (mainly down to lack of funds) that meant the season began with a bench full of kids with the new arrivals only strolling through the gates on deadline day.
So, you could forgive the fans for feeling a sense of dread when the same thing happened again a year later, only this time Moyes faced a battle simply to keep his existing players let alone add to them.
Manchester City’s dogged pursuit of Joleon Lescott cast a long shadow of the Toffee’s pre-season. They were never shy to speak to the press about their interest in the former Wolves man, as well as the extortionate wages they would offer him. The behaviour of boss Mark Hughes, who before last summer was a manager I respected, left a lot to be desired and his arrogance throughout the whole saga meant he lost a lot of friends.
To give Lescott his due he kept a dignified silence for much of the close-season, choosing to keep his head down and concentrate on his game. But no-one could blame him for wanting to line his pockets and his transfer request, when it arrived on the eve of the season, was depressingly inevitable.
He was still an Everton player though when we faced Arsenal on the opening day, though he had expressed his reluctance to appear in the starting line up to David Moyes the day before as his mind wasn’t focused on football. Moyes insisted Lescott play, perhaps in a desperate attempt to hold back the inevitable transfer. But after a shocking 90 minutes that saw Everton capitulate time and time again, eventually losing 6-1,Moyes probably wished Lescott had stayed at home.
The team looked disorganised, dispirited and worryingly unfit. Moyes revealed he felt his side wasn’t physically ready for the season, which drew understandable criticism from the supporters. That, after all, is his job.
A Europa League win over Sigma Olomouc eased the gloom around Goodison. The highlight of the 4-0 victory on a humid summer’s night at Goodison was a cracking 25 yard strike from Jack Rodwell – there would be more to come from him as the season progressed. A 1-1 draw in the away leg ensured we would play in the group stages of the newly revamped Europa League.
The league campaign though was to go from bad to worse. Burnley were on a high after beating Manchester United in midweek, but Everton’s performance in the 1-0 defeat at Turf Moor, which included a missed penalty from Louis Saha, was worryingly inadequate. The excitement and anticipation that had built up since May had been quickly extinguished.
Autumn was well on its way when Wigan arrived at the end of the month. With Leighton Baines’ last minute penalty giving Everton a welcome first three points of the season at a soggy Goodison. But despite the victory we entered September knowing the side had yet to really perform this season.
Deadline day once again proved a busy one for Everton as Johnny Heitinga became a welcome last minute recruit to replace the departed Lescott, who finally got his wish. The Dutch international joined Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Sylvan Distin and Lucas Neill at Goodison, as Moyes readied his troops for a busy domestic and European campaign.
Our poor league start continued at Fulham with a disappointing 2-1 defeat, despite Cahill’s first half header putting us in front. The game will be remembered for a nasty injury to Phil Neville, who joined the likes of Phil Jagielka and Mikel Arteta on the sidelines. Little did we know at the time but out injury list was only going to get worse...
The return of regular European football was a welcome distraction to our league woes and a resounding 4-0 win over AEK Athens in our first group game gave both the players and fans a timely confidence boost. This was shown in our next league game as a brace from Louis Saha – looking as fitter than at any time in the past five years – and a Joseph Yobo strike gave Everton a comfortable win over Blackburn at Goodison.
The goals continued to flow at the KC Stadium as The Toffees progressed in the Carling Cup with a 4-0 win over a weakened Hull side. The match is best remembered for a goal from Yakubu, his first since rupturing his Achilles 10 months earlier. His celebration with physio Mick Rathbone showed the relief Yak was feeling after a frustrating spell on the sidelines as well as a big thank you to Baz for the hard work he put in to get the Yak back on the pitch.
If we thought our league position was poor then that was nothing compare to crisis club Portsmouth, who had lost every single one of their games so far when we travelled to the South Coast at the end of the month. Even I will admit Everton rode their luck at Fratton Park as Pompey missed chance after chance as they sought to cancel out Louis Saha’s first half goal. But that well known Everton resilience brought another welcome three points and suggested that our season was back on track.
Little did we know things would get far worse before they got better.
Next time: Injuries send Everton on the slide.