Everton’s wingers were a rare source of positivity during an otherwise gloomy campaign.
Summer recruits Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray proved well beyond their worth as the Toffees made a bright start to the season, while Anthony Gordon and Alex Iwobi stood up to be counted during the dramatic run-in.
As a result their places in the squad for next season look fairly secure, with plenty of work needed elsewhere in the squad during the close season. But like so many mercurial wide players the quest for consistency remains the Holy Grail.
Appearances - 35, Goals - 4, Assists - 2, Yellow Cards - 4, Red Cards - 0, xG+xA/90 - 0.26
A breakthrough year saw Anthony Gordon deservedly claim the Young Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards. The 21-year-old visibly grew in stature during a difficult campaign and he was often the only player willing to acknowledge the travelling support as the team’s form nosedived during the autumn. It was clear he cared as much as those fans and was hurting with each passing defeat, yet he stood up to be counted even when things were not going his way. Though it was tortuous to watch at the time, he should emerge better for the experience.
He certainly has the faith of Frank Lampard, who selected him from the start in all but two of his 21 matches in charge. He looked to come of age when his deflected strike earned a crucial 1-0 win over Manchester United in April, the start of the Toffees’ great escape. You also know you are becoming a threat when others start to criticise you. His mature reaction to those critics (mainly of a Liverpool persuasion) accusing him of being a diver suggests he is growing both as a player and as a person. He still has a long way to go of course, but he has laid some pretty solid foundations for himself.
Appearances - 27, Goals - 7, Assists - 4, Yellow Cards - 3, Red Cards - 0, xG+xA/90 - 0.29
Given he was a free transfer signing from Crystal Palace it is fair to say Andros Townsend was not burdened with high expectations among Evertonians. But the 31-year-old can look back at his debut Toffees campaign with a reasonable level of satisfaction. He scored five goals in his first nine appearances, including an absolute howitzer in the win against Burnley and crucial equaliser at Old Trafford, ending the season with a credible seven goals to his name.
His form dropped off as the team’s results began to crumble, though he was one of the players perhaps most hindered by the continued absence of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who would have relished the former Tottenham winger’s deliveries and set pieces from wide. His attitude also cannot be questioned, meaning he is thought of fondly by Evertonians despite not being the most naturally gifted player in the squad. He would have likely played a crucial role in the run-in too had a nasty knee injury suffered at former club Palace not ended his season in March.
Appearances - 39, Goals - 6, Assists - 5, Yellow Cards - 3, Red Cards - 0, xG+xA/90 - 0.34
An absolute steal at just £1.7m, the signing of Demarai Gray was a rare bright spot from Rafa Benitez’s generally unhappy reign.
Like fellow new-boy Townsend the former Leicester winger started the season on fire, with with three goals in his first five games, including a fine solo goal at Brighton and breakaway finish against Burnley. His last-minute winner against Arsenal in December also proved to be one of the moments of the season. But the fact he would only score one more goal - against Hull in the FA Cup - shows why he was available for so such a knockdown fee last year.
Gray had faded badly in his previous seasons in the top-flight at Leicester City and then at Bayer Leverkusen, and did the same for the Blues too. His talent is without question, but unlocking the secret to consistency throughout the season is the challenge facing Lampard and his staff next year.
Appearances - 33, Goals - 3, Assists - 3, Yellow Cards - 1, Red Cards - 0, xG+xA/90 - 0.30
Unlocking the secret to consistency is a phrase regularly associated with Alex Iwobi, one of Everton’s most infuriating players. Blessed with immense ability the Nigeria international all too often flatters to deceive and has yet to nail down a regular position despite being 26.
But... and I say this tentatively... will this be the year where things finally click?
The turning point was his last-gasp winner against Newcastle, when Iwobi was the coolest person in L4, slotting home one of the most important goals scored at the Grand Old Lady in years.
Iwobi then seemed find a home as a central midfielder and occasionally right wing-back, with his all-action style suiting the energetic, high-tempo approach Lampard demanded from his players as they looked to scrap his way out of trouble.
He started every one of Everton’s remaining 11 Premier League games, the longest run of starts in his Toffees career. Can this finally be the start of something or is it yet another false dawn?