As part of our Everton Rewind series we are going back 11 years to this weekend in April 2009, with Everton preparing for an FA Cup final against Manchester United at Wembley, their first visit to the national stadium since 1995.
David Moyes believes silverware could be just around the corner for his developing Everton side as they prepare for Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United.
The Toffees have not won a trophy since 1995 but head to Wembley in buoyant mood having lost just one of their last 11 matches in all competitions.
They face a formidable challenge in the shape of a Manchester United side chasing an unprecedented quadruple.
Moyes, though, will be content with just one and believes his side are not far away from converting on-field progress into tangible success.
“Everton will win a trophy soon, that is for sure. The Champions League would give you the higher revenue to try and add more players, which in turn would hopefully mean that you would get to more cup finals. But as a football man I feel the players at Everton will win a trophy soon and I’m looking forward to that happening.
”The group we’ve built together is growing all of the time, and as the team is growing the performances are growing, too. I hope it is this time, but if it is not it is going to be soon. We want to win a cup. Last season we got to the semi-final of the League Cup, had a good run in the UEFA Cup, so we are getting better as a cup side. The pedigree is getting better.”
The feeling of optimism around Goodison Park is in sharp contrast to the autumn, when a poor start to the season saw the team win just two of their opening 11 matches in all competitions, crashing out of both the League Cup and UEFA Cup in the process.
The turning point appeared to arrive against Manchester United in October, specifically a challenge by captain Phil Neville at the start of the second half.
With the Toffees 1-0 down, Neville launched a full-blooded challenge that took both the ball and a fair chunk of Cristiano Ronaldo, leaving the Portuguese rolling around on the turf.
United were enraged, Everton were defiant, and the crowd were whipped up into a frenzy.
Club-record signing Marouane Fellaini equalised shortly after to earn the Toffees a point, with the side going on to win their next three matches.
Reflecting on Neville’s tackle, Moyes added:
“That was someone trying to take ownership and leadership of the team and taking the responsibility to make something happen.
”That can be with a tackle, it can be with a pass or someone scoring. But Phil Neville did it for us with a tackle that day. He’s tried to take a lot of ownership for what goes on and he deserves a lot of praise for that. I think if you asked Phil Neville, he’ll probably say that he’s as much at home here, if not more so, than he ever was at Manchester United.”
With a small squad and limited budget, Moyes can ill-afford injuries to key players, but that is exactly what he has had to deal with. Last season’s top-scorer Yakubu ruptured his Achilles in November and was immediately ruled out for nine months. In February, Mikel Arteta suffered a cruciate ligament injury against Newcastle and was ruled out for the rest of the year.
With young striker Victor Ancihebe also sidelined and loan forward Jo cup-tied, the brittle Louis Saha, who has started just once since the turn of the year, and youngster James Vaughan are Everton’s only fit striking options.
”I’ve had to find other ways of playing this year because of the injuries and I’ve actually found that Everton need the football in Europe. We need it for the development of our players.
”We want to be doing it regularly. Manchester United have that experience. They’ll be used to games like semi-finals. We are relatively new to it.”
Moyes has also stirred up a bit of controversy by openly questioning the appointment of Mike Riley as referee for Sunday’s encounter.
Moyes has an uneasy history with Riley, who awarded a controversial penalty against Manchester United on the final day of the 2002-03 season, with defeat costing Everton a place in Europe. The Yorkshire official also sent off Tim Cahill in the first Merseyside Derby of the season in September.
“A member of the press asked me if Mike Riley was a Manchester United supporter and I think that’s something you would need to bring up with the FA.
“If you’re saying that he is, you’d hope the FA would look at it. It is something that one or two managers would have something to say about.”
An FA spokesman insisted there would be no change of official:
“All our referees are fair, unbiased and objective,” he said. “Mike Riley is one of our top officials and we are 100% confident he will do a good job on Sunday.”
Is Moyes playing mind-games to try and influence the referee? I guess we will find out on Sunday...