Is it me, or is it fun to support Everton again?
It’s been a whole month now without any post-match fume, Goodison is happy rather than spiteful and even Twitter is a place of polite discourse (mostly).
Three wins in a row without conceding a goal, with two of those against sides in the top six, is the type of Everton we were hoping for when Marco Silva arrived last summer.
The second-half Newcastle capitulation aside, something seems to have clicked with the team during that 17-day break between the Watford defeat and the win at Cardiff.
It allowed key players to get their breath back after a hectic winter period as well as a chance for Silva to truly get his message across.
Since then it’s four wins and a draw from our last five matches and a much-needed sense of optimism for the future.
The only disappointment from the Arsenal game last time out was that it was only 1-0. The Toffees were absolutely superb from the off.
Andre Gomes demonstrated why we should do all we can to sign him permanently in the summer with a masterclass of a performance, dovetailing perfectly with Idrissa Gueye and Gylfi Sigurdsson. A midfield with balance? Who’d have thought it.
The switch of Richarlison to the right and Bernard to the left has worked superbly, not only bringing the best out of each player but also allowing them to develop a relationship with their respective full-back. We have often been too lopsided in recent seasons, allowing opponents to snuff out our attack by overloading on one flank. Now we have genuine threat on either side of the field.
Up front, Dominic Calvert-Lewin continued his rapid development with an all-action display, terrorising the Arsenal backline and selflessly creating opportunities for others.
Then there is Phil Jagielka, called into the team with 15 minutes notice but at the age of 36, demonstrating his upmost professionalism with a vintage display and winning goal to boot.
The run has reignited the challenge for seventh place and a possible spot in the Europa League. I’ve said before that I’m torn on whether the team needs an early start for European qualifiers given the rebuilding job required this summer. However, I take the argument that Europe should be something we push for every year and if managed correctly (which I don’t think it was under Ronald Koeman two years ago) then it should not have a detrimental impact on performance.
Forgive me if I am getting carried away, it has been such an up and down season I want to take the opportunity to revel in an Everton side winning games and playing well while I can. This is the Toffees after all, and some sort of calamity is nearly always around the corner.
That brings us nicely to Saturday and a trip to already-relegated Fulham. Craven Cottage is always a great away day, a traditional old ground by the banks of the Thames with plenty of great pubs within stumbling distance. It would be very Everton though to slip-up just as things were going so well. Or maybe I’m just being cynical and writing off this new-improved Everton too soon? Let’s wait and see.
Fulham raised eyebrows last summer when they splashed out over £100million on new signings to mark their return to the Premier League after a four-year absence.
It was hoped that such an outlay would pretty much guarantee survival and allow the Cottagers to build on the success of the previous season, which saw them narrowly miss out on automatic promotion before beating Aston Villa in the play-off final.
Sadly for the Londoners it hasn’t worked out that way. As Everton have also found to their cost recently, splashing out huge sums only works if they are the right players and can fit into a system and style of play.
A 3-0 defeat at Goodison Park in September started a run of seven straight defeats that culminated in the sacking of Slavisa Jokanovic in November. In came Claudio Ranieri, who despite a 3-2 win over Southampton in his first game, couldn’t turn the team’s fortunes around. The likeable Italian was sacked at the end of February having won only three of his 17 games in charge.
Scott Parker was placed in interim charge until the end of the season but has overseen five successive defeats, with their relegation confirmed following a 4-1 defeat at Watford FC last time out.
Michael Keane, a late withdrawal against Arsenal, has recovered from illness and is set to return in place of Phil Jagielka.
Morgan Schneiderlin is also back after an ankle injury but will probably have to settle for a place in the bench at best.
Yerry Mina remains sidelined with a hamstring problem and is doubtful to play again this season.
With the pressure off and a feel-good factor back, Everton should have the freedom to express themselves in west London.
Fulham, for very different reasons, will also be playing with freedom and the old cliché that sides suddenly perform once their relegation is confirmed is reason to be wary.
But given the way Everton are playing they should have enough to take the points and secure a fourth successive win for the first time since September 2016.
This is Everton though, so nothing is ever certain and no corner is truly turned without the fear of what is lurking beyond it.