On the back of a hugely disappointing run of results with the unjust defeat against Manchester City fresh in our minds, should we now be asking ourselves “Are Everton even equipped to deal with a relegation battle?”
Depending on the outcome of the Burnley vs Leicester City game on Tuesday night, if the Clarets avoid defeat the unthinkable happens and we slip into the bottom three of the Premier League and we will be staring down the barrel of a relegation dogfight. Many older supporters will remember those days painfully well especially in the 1990s. The Blues have been here before at the wrong end of the table, but in recent years it’s been when the leaves are still changing colour in autumn, not in early spring.
We saw dramatic late goals from a spirited side in 1994 with Barry Horne and Graham Stuart rescuing the club’s Premiership status after totally inept management from then coach Mike Walker. It was an average squad that was woefully managed but there were leaders on the pitch, particularly Stuart. I also vividly recall Ian Snodin having his own off-the-ball boxing match in a home reverse against Blackburn Rovers. Not condoning violence but players really cared!
During those bleak times we hailed Joe Royle’s 1994/ 95 Dogs of War, epitomised by the midfield trio of Barry Horne, Joe Parkinson and current Under 23 coach, John Ebbrell. Royle famously suggested that an empty potato crisp packet blew onto the pitch one night and all 3 tried to tackle it. Add to that the unbridled fire of Duncan Ferguson, the wicked corner kicks that arrowed towards our then Scottish centre forward by Andy Hinchcliffe playing as a makeshift left winger and you had potency and passion after Walker had been allowed to manage several months too long (that sounds a little familiar too).
We also saw final day salvation in the 1998 season when Howard Kendall’s ill-fated decision to rejoin a heavily financially constrained Blues squad almost backfired (does that sound hauntingly familiar with 2021/22?). Gareth Farrelly’s only goal for the Blues saved the day and other results luckily went for us when everyone seemed resigned to relegation. There were battling qualities and refusal to surrender in that squad also.
Those short excursions to our less rosy past highlight a difference with modern day Everton.
Under Rafa Benitez we had a coach who said the players gave everything in terms of effort, yet most supporters were unconvinced. We’re now over that under Frank Lampard but when we look around for leaders like Ferguson the player, the Dogs of War trio, battlers like Stuart and Snodin, sadly, you will find very few who come close.
Leaders? Seamus Coleman obviously. I turned the official Everton calendar onto the month of March this morning and reassuringly and fittingly in this time of need, our passionate captain is this month’s picture.
Ben Godfrey maybe, but he’s had a season to forget, firstly a shadow of the player from last season then just as he was regaining his own form and confidence, injury came calling. Richarlison channels his passion pretty close to the referee’s card pocket but he obviously cares and he had a good battling game against City despite getting clobbered every time he touched the ball. Andros Townsend is an experienced professional and Abdoulaye Doucoure a fantastic engine but neither are vocal leaders, they instead set the example with workrate. Fabian Delph would get a mention but his disastrous injury record has meant he has played 30 games in 3 seasons. As for the others, nobody would seriously suggest that they do not care but many suffer with either a language barrier (Allan and the unfortunately injured Yerry Mina) or loss of personal confidence as we’ve seen with some of our more experienced players.
There are positive things that will never leave us. The Goodison crowd will always get behind Frank Lampard’s team, the toxicity left the club along with the previous managerial appointment. The players appreciate the mess we’ve been left in and the effort that we saw for 90 minutes against one of the top teams was incredible. Even with a shortage of natural leaders there is now unity where even that had left us under Benitez. As Lampard said after the City reverse, just don’t look at the league table for the next couple of weeks as it’ll likely get worse before it gets better.
The touching tribute to war-torn Ukraine rightly saw the yellow and blue around the stadium, with blue Everton flags flying and no sign of a white flag from the players or supporters. That must continue.
The Everton of 2021/ 22 cannot afford to do surrenders. With luck balancing itself usually we are certainly owed a few generous slices. That, and with this new found team spirit, should see us out of this mess.