The theme across SB Nation blogs this week is greatest teams never to win a title. As we all know, Everton have been waiting a loooong time to add to their trophy haul. But at one stage, towards the end of the last decade, they went pretty close...
2007 to 2009 was the arguably peak of the David Moyes era, but the failure to win a trophy in this period appeared to haunt the Scot for the rest of his Goodison tenure.
It had everything you expect from a Moyes side - dogged determination, rigid organisation and a never-say-die spirit. But it was also sprinkled with a bit of quality and was capable of some sparkling football, contrary to the workmanlike image portrayed by the wider media.
It was a hugely enjoyable time to be a Blue, yet will also be looked back upon with frustration at the side’s failure to secure any tangible success.
They were tantalisingly close to breaking into the top four at a time when - pre Manchester City takeover - Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal had those positions sewn up. They also went agonisingly close in knockout competitions, none more so than in the 2009 FA Cup.
Moyes extracted everything he could from the squad but the club’s perilous finances at the time meant he was unable to add strength in depth, particularly during the January transfer window. He also suffered rotten luck with injuries that deprived the team of key players at vital moments.
Moyes’ team was built around defensive solidity that made them very hard to beat. Tim Howard was the mainstay in goal with Leighton Baines establishing himself as first-choice left back. Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott formed a solid partnership in the middle, with Joesph Yobo adding depth. The Nigerian occasionally moved across to right back if Tony Hibbert or Phil Neville were unavailable.
A combination of silk and steel saw the likes of Neville or Lee Carsley deployed in a defensive midfield role, giving the more creative players such as Steven Pienaar, Leon Osman and Mikel Arteta licence to roam forward. Tim Cahill then played off the main striker, usually Yakubu or Louis Saha. Marouane Fellaini, a record buy in the summer of 2008, was used both in midfield and up front as a target man.
Where they got to
- Premier League: Fifth
- UEFA Cup: Last 16
- League Cup: Semi-final
- FA Cup: Third round
- Premier League: Fifith
- UEFA Cup: First round
- League Cup: Third round
- FA Cup: Final
Best and worst games
There were a host of memorable matches during the 2007-08 season. The standout league game was probably the 7-1 thrashing of Sunderland in the November, which formed part of a 13-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
The UEFA Cup run yielded a clutch of thrilling matches, including the nervy qualifying victory against Metalist Kharkiv, Leon Osman’s goal of the season contender in the 3-1 win over Larissa and the 6-1 Yakubu-inspired thrashing of SK Brann.
Then, of course, there is the Fiorentina game.
Though it ultimately ended in defeat, Goodison produced a fearsome atmosphere not seen since the mid-80s as the Toffees clawed back a 2-0 goal first leg deficit.
As the commentator said, Goodison Park was “shaken to its 100-year-old foundations” when Mikel Arteta buried Everton’s second to level the tie. It is such a shame that they couldn’t complete the job.
The fact the tournament was so open that year made the result even more frustrating. The final, held just up the road in Manchester, featured Scottish side Rangers and Russian outfit Zenit Saint Petersburg, who Everton had beaten in the group stages. An opportunity missed.
The 2008-09 season actually got off to a disappointing start, with early exits in both the UEFA Cup and League Cup. However, things picked up at the turn of the year, with the FA Cup run at the heart of their revival.
The Toffees played Liverpool three times in the space of a fortnight at the start of the year, drawing twice at Anfield in the league and cup fourth round before famously winning in the final minute of extra-time courtesy of Dan Gosling’s strike.
Wins against Aston Villa and Middlesbrough followed (League Two Macclesfield were the only lower division side Everton faced in the competition that year) before a meeting with Manchester United at Wembley.
The game itself, against a much-changed Manchester United side, wasn’t a classic.
A key turning point of the game came when Danny Welbeck went down under a challenge from Jagielka in the box, but referee Mike Riley waved away the claims. Earlier that week Moyes had questioned the appointment of Riley, suggesting he may have an allegiance to Red Devils.
That was swiftly denied by the FA, but did Moyes’ comments impact Riley’s thinking when it came to the tight penalty call? We will never know for sure.
After 120 goalless minutes, the game went to penalties. Just two months earlier, Everton had crashed out of the UEFA Cup on spot-kicks to Fiorentina so Toffees fans understandably feared the worst, especially when Cahill blazed his penalty way over the bar.
But two saves from Tim Howard, combined with successful efforts from Baines, Neville, James Vaughan and Jagielka, sealed the most dramatic of victories.
Everton only lost our times in 25 matches in all competitions at the start of 2009. Sadly, one of them came in the FA Cup final.
On a baking hot May afternoon at Wembley, Everton wilted against Chelsea and were deservedly beaten despite Louis Saha’s opener after just 25 seconds, the quickest goal in an FA Cup final.
They can rue rotten luck with injuries though as Phil Jagielka, Mikel Arteta and Yakubu were all sidelined through long-term injury, the spine of the side. Take the equivalent out of the Chelsea team - John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba - and the game may have been very different.
Other forgettable games inevitably include derby defeats, most infamously in October 2007 in what is know known as the Mark Clattenburg derby. The referee enraged Evertonians when he appeared to change his mind under pressure from Steven Gerrard and show Tony Hibbert a red card instead of yellow. He also failed to send Dirk Kuyt off for a chest-high two-footed challenge on Phil Neville. And, seconds after Kuyt had slotted a late penalty, failed to award Everton a spot kick when Jamie Carragher hauled Joleon Lescott to the floor.
He wouldn’t referee an Everton game again for five years.
The return match the following March was not as dramatic but saw the same a result. The Toffees slipped to a limp 1-0 defeat at Anfield which all but ended their hopes of a top four place.
The start of the 2008 saw Everton lose to 1-0 at home to League One Oldham in the FA Cup third round. They then looked set to secure a credible 1-1 draw in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, but Lescott failed to jump for a high ball allowing Shaun Wright-Phillips (!) the chance to head late winner.
The Toffees huffed and puffed in the second leg but couldn’t fine a breakthrough, with a late Joe Cole strike sealing victory for the Londoners.
Moyes did a wonderful job fashioning a competitive team on a tight budget, but ultimately they fell just short of becoming a great side. Everton’s financial woes played a part and I wonder what the team could have achieved had Moyes been able to invest in the squad in the two January transfer windows. The loss of Yakubu and Arteta in the 2008-09 season was a particular blow and left the team desperately short of creativity in the second half of the campaign.
Sadly, the 2009 FA Cup defeat proved a watershed moment. The rise of Manchester City meant Everton were no longer ‘best of the rest’ and that summer was severely disrupted by the Joleon Lescott transfer saga.
Moyes’ demeanour changed too. Far from seeing the club’s lack of transfer funds as a challenge, he let it become a millstone around his neck (knife, gunfight etc...) and left him open to accusations of being over-cautious. That negativity dogged the final few years of his tenure and maybe accelerated his eventual departure in 2013.