That should be encouraging. But right now, it isn’t.
You could say the same of Everton’s trips away to Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United — all of which ended with something of the same chorus repeated: “The Toffees had a chance, but in the end, were undone by a team with superior quality.”
And thus it was again against City. Theo Walcott and Richarlison both had glorious opportunities to alter the outcome of the match, but failed to convert grade-A scoring chances. When the superior Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling had similar chances, they converted.
Ultimately, that was the difference.
Following previous matches away to the big clubs this season, I’ve largely preached optimism — Everton had been beating the teams it ought to, while clearly closing the gap on the teams in front of it, even if the results were no longer there.
But as the results against lower-table opposition evaporated over the last two weeks, that optimism has turned to frustration quickly.
While Everton has found increasingly aggravating ways to drop points to opposition both big and small, the race for sixth place has been blown absolutely wide open. It was just two weeks ago, before Everton took on Liverpool, that the race for sixth looked to be only a two-horse race — Manchester United and Everton.
But after grabbing just two points from the available 12 since then, Wolverhampton Wanderers have moved past Everton to seventh, while West Ham United and Watford FC are level with the Toffees on points.
United sits one point ahead of Wolves and two ahead of Everton and co., pending the result of their match against Liverpool today.
The opportunity that lays ahead of Everton has not changed — United is a dysfunctional circus right now, and the Toffees may not have a better chance to break open the traditional top six again anytime soon.
And yet, the club is dropping points to Newcastle United and Watford, and finding increasingly frustrating ways to prove that they’ve closed the gap, to an extent, on the Premier League’s traditional powerhouses without coming away with anything to show for it.
For a time, that was an acceptable outcome. But, with the table the way it is now, coming close is no longer good enough.
Everton’s fixture list this season did the club no favors — five of six matches against the top six occurred away from home and in the first half of the season, and the club’s position in the table is at least in part due to that weird scheduling quirk. But what was a disadvantage up to this point now clearly becomes an advantage for the rest of the season.
The Toffees host a very beatable Tottenham Hotspur side next weekend — one in the midst of an injury crisis so absurd that Mauricio Pochettino started Ben Davies at center-back against Burnley this weekend.
Following that, Everton plays Burnley (A), Brighton & Hove Albion (A), Leicester City (H), AFC Bournemouth (H), Southampton (A), Huddersfield Town (A), Wolves (H), and Watford (A) before closing out the month of February with a visit from Manchester City.
That’s nine consecutive matches that are eminently winnable — the positive upshot of getting the season’s toughest matches out of the way early. In fact, Everton’s only remaining match away to a top six side is a trip to play Spurs on the last day of the season.
Until then though, you’d have to say that the Toffees have a legitimate chance to win every other match they play, based on their performances in the first half of the season.
But, solid performances without a result simply aren’t good enough anymore. Because of the team’s failure to grab points over the last two weeks, Everton has run out of time for moral victories — they need to start grabbing real ones, and soon.