First off, congratulations to Phil Jagielka on a very well-deserved place in England's full Euro 2012 squad. Jags will join Leighton Baines in the English side that begins Group D play on June 11 versus France. Other Everton players who will feature in the tournament include John Heitinga for the Netherlands, Darron Gibson for the Republic of Ireland, and Nikica Jelavic for Croatia. (please don't get hurt, guys)
So, the results are in (though you can still vote here), and the RBM readers seem split as to which Everton match was this season's worst, excluding the two obvious contenders. The consensus seems to be that the 1-0 loss to newly promoted Queens Park Rangers on opening day and the 2-1 loss to relegation-bound Bolton Wanderers in January were the two worst matches after the Liverpool debacles, with the two games garnering 35% and 30% of the vote respectively.
Now we can focus on the much happier task of picking out the five best matches Everton played this year. Again, "best" is subjective, so let the debate begin...
5. Everton 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur (March 10)
Just as I determined Everton's visit to Tottenham to be their fifth worst match of the 2011-2012 season, I also think that the reverse fixture was their fifth best. The victory capped a remarkable month of home form for the Toffees, which included five wins in a row at Goodison Park in all competitions, with three wins over Champions League contenders.
It's hard to believe that it took until March 10 for Nikica Jelavic to score his first goal for his new team, but this was indeed the game in which he opened his Everton account. The rest, of course, is history, as Jelavic went on to total 11 goals by season's end and Everton finally started to consistently pose an offensive threat. In this particular win, however, the defensive work of Sylvain Distin and John Heitinga was the real eyeopener. And as I mentioned in my last post, this game was even sweeter for me as I managed to get a little personal revenge.4. Sunderland 0-2 Everton (FA Cup sixth round replay: March 27)
Knowing how Everton's FA Cup story eventually ended definitely puts a bit of a damper on this result, but at the end of the day on March 27 every Everton fan was in ignorant bliss. The season was threatening to come unraveled after the 3-0 "give-up" at Anfield and the shaky 1-1 draw in the original tie at Goodison, and as the day of the replay arrived the feeling among Evertonians definitely seemed like a sort of nervous dread. But amazingly, the Toffees pulled off a surprisingly comfortable victory, with Jelavic again the hero.
I will say that I did not get to watch this match (stupid weekday games at 2:00pm in the U.S. nowhere to be found on TV), so I don't have a ton more to say about how it all transpired. However, I don't think there was another game all year that ended with such an overwhelming feeling of relief.
3. Everton 2-0 Chelsea (February 11)
Landon Donovan's farewell game will probably be better remembered as the game that Steven Pienaar made clear to everyone that the "real" Steven Pienaar was back, with no sign of the impostor that suited up for Spurs for twelve months. It was truly a sight to see Everton not just beat Chelsea, but beat them thoroughly and convincingly. And though we of course didn't know it at the time, our little Toffees had just bossed the eventual European champions.
The 2-0 triumph was also probably the apex of "Stracqualursi-sanity" (okay, maybe it doesn't have the same ring as "Lin-sanity," but work with me here). The Stracq netted Everton's second goal to seal the result for the Blues, confirming his cult status at the club more suddenly than just about anyone I can remember. He's probably gone this summer and in all honesty he probably just doesn't have the technical prowess to succeed consistently at this level, but we'll always have that month or two to look back on fondly.
2. Manchester United 4-4 Everton (April 22)
This is a funny game to rank. Consider for a moment if the result had been achieved after Everton went up 4-0 in the opening fifteen minutes; it might very well have found a spot on the list of the five worst matches. But that's not how it went down, and that's not how Everton fans will remember it.
Certainly, the entertainment value of an eight-goal game contributes to this match's ranking, as well as the fact that the comeback from 4-2 down happened at Old Trafford. When Wayne Rooney scored his second of the day to give Manchester United a two-goal lead with twenty minutes to play, I held out absolutely zero hope of taking anything away from that game. Then Jelavic scored, and then two minutes later Pienaar scored, and just like that a little bit of our Wembley pain was forgotten in the sheer improbability of it all.
1. Everton 1-0 Manchester City (January 31)
Just consider the numbers: Manchester City only lost five games all year, and outscored their opponents 38-17 on the road. Yes, City looked very ordinary on the day (for them anyway), but in my opinion this was still the most complete team effort for Everton all season long. This was the ultimate "David Moyes match" (defend for your lives and hope to nick a goal), and there were certainly more attractive Everton wins this year. But none of that matters, to me at least.
All that matters to me is that we beat Manchester City. Big, bad Manchester City, who bully teams into selling them their best players, who employ a collection of mercenaries teaming up Miami Heat-style, who practically bought the Premier League title. In my mind, there is no easier team to hate in the league (aside from you-know-who, of course). No other victory all year gave me the same satisfaction that this one did, so for me that makes it the best.
So, take your pick. In your mind, which Everton performance over this past year was truly the "best?" Was it beating the eventual champions of England? Was it beating the eventual champions of Europe? Was it drawing the defending champions of England at their home in one of the most thrilling matches in recent memory? Or does a different match stand out more clearly in your mind? While I feel like I've mentioned all of the real contenders, there were other games that deserve a mention too. I would also nominate the pair of 4-0 romps over Sunderland and Fulham, as well as the 3-1 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage which came at a pivotal point in the season.
One thing's for sure, though. As the calendar changed to 2012, it looked like picking five of the year's "best" matches was going to be a near impossible task. Thankfully, as has become the norm Everton managed to provide us with a plethora of memorable moments in the season's second half. So have at it RBM... participate in the poll or comment below, and let us know which match you think was Everton's best.