As the clock hit the 35-minute mark at Sincil Bank on Wednesday evening, the more pessimistic breed of Evertonians could have been forgiven for forecasting another false dawn on another Blues campaign.
Here their team were, trailing League One Lincoln City in the EFL Cup to a 20-second goal, on the back of an insipid 2-0 defeat at newly-promoted Aston Villa which left Everton with four points and one goal from a relatively kind opening three games of the season.
But then, in a split-second, that sense of inevitable gloom was punctured, by one kick of the ball from Lucas Digne’s left foot.
Everton had hardly played badly up to that point and did not deserve to trail to a Lincoln side which they largely dominated, but Digne’s majestic free-kick from more than 30 yards from goal not only levelled the scoreline, but re-open the floodgates.
Up until then this campaign, the Blues had looked an alarmingly soft touch in an attacking sense; a mere six shots on target from their first three league games, following a pre-season which saw them draw three of their seven friendlies 0-0 and not score more than once in any of them, certainly suggests as much.
It has become a narrative all too familiar to those of a blue persuasion on Merseyside; especially recently under Roberto Martínez and Ronald Koeman, who both oversaw successful debut campaigns in charge of Everton, before promising so much and delivering so little from then on.
Under Marco Silva this term, Everton have never looked as dysfunctional or as hapless as in the last days of either Martínez or Koeman, but the admittedly extremely early signs hardly made for inspiring reading.
Since Digne’s equaliser, though, it has been an entirely different story. Lincoln undeniably forced Everton to work for their 4-2 victory on Wednesday night, but nonetheless, they were kept at arm’s length for much of the match thereafter. Irrespective of the strength of the opposition, to put four past them felt particularly significant given how their feeble finishing prior to that night had cost them dear.
To then supplement that with a resilient, dogged 3-2 home win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday has made this last week feel even more of a seminal moment in Everton’s season.
The quality, as much as the quantity of goals scored, is something Silva should take great heart from, also. While few doubt the ability in Everton’s attack, they had at times previously, seemed on different wavelengths to each other, crossing wires to leave the Blues passing up key opportunities to score. Against Lincoln and Wolves, though, that could not be further from the truth.
Digne’s wonder strike set the tone, but it was just as satisfying to see his inch-perfect cross meet the head of Richarlison, who put his early-season struggles behind him to open his account for the campaign. Minutes earlier, even forgotten man Cenk Tosun had a pivotal part to play, stretching brilliantly to meet a cross from the much-improved Gylfi Sigurðsson and allow Alex Iwobi to nod the Blues 3-2 in front.
There was a certain sense of déjà vu about Sunday’s victory, too. Again, a superb Sigurðsson cross led to an Iwobi headed goal, and again Digne provided Richarlison with a wonderful delivery to allow the Brazilian to plant a perfectly-placed header past Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patrício, in what proved to be the winner ten minutes from time.
Both of these results also feel especially vital, though, because of the amount of character Silva’s side had to show. A far cry from the side who withered away at Villa Park with little resistance the previous weekend, they have shown themselves to be a team in every sense of the word, who did not falter when Lincoln took their early lead, or when either they or Wolves equalised late on in both matches.
This was typified by the tireless, professional performances in both games from Fabian Delph, who has slotted in to Everton’s midfield seemlessly in his first two appearances since his summer move from Manchester City. While Morgan Schneiderlin and André Gomes looked patently ill-suited to play alongside each other at Villa, Delph partnered the former at Lincoln and the latter against Wolves, dovetailing with both admirably.
Though clearly not as obvious a direct replacement for the departed Idrissa Gueye as another new signing, the injured Jean-Philippe Gbamin, Delph has provided a welcome alternative; he will still willingly put a tackle in, but his exceptional passing range has given Everton’s midfield an extra dimension. His own skillset enabled Schneiderlin to carry a more manageable defensive workload at Lincoln, before allowing Gomes to flourish from a more attacking sense against Wolves.
In essence, then, Everton just looked a side with a far better balance in these last two games. And while the seemingly impregnable defence has gone slightly awry, conceding twice each in all of their last three matches, there is certainly an argument to be made that, 12 months ago, the Blues would have not had the mental fortitude to see off a Wolves side who had twice pegged them back.
This was the week when Everton’s season truly began. Now, with an international break to take stock before a fairly desirable run of fixtures, Silva and his team genuinely have something to build on.