Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
Everton have breathed new life into their battle against the drop with that stunning win at Brighton to raise genuine hope that they can haul themselves out of trouble.
Most Everton fans looked at their games against the Seagulls and Manchester City as almost certain defeats, meaning they would be relying on results elsewhere.
If you offered me a point from the Amex at kick-off I would have snapped your hand off - 34 seconds later I may have changed my mind.
It is a low bar admittedly, but that was the best Everton performance in years, perhaps back to the early weeks of the 2020-21 season under Carlo Ancelotti.
They were lethal on the counter attack – Abdoulaye Doucoure’s second goal in particular was a thing a beauty – but also displayed some defensive resolve as Brighton tried to battle their way back into the game in the second half.
It is the kind of seismic win that can alter the face of a relegation battle, certainly their rivals for the drop will have been shocked. But it also shows that unexpected results can and do occur at this time of season, so there is no reason why there cannot be more in the next few weeks.
You only have to look at Saturday, with Nottingham Forest claiming a draw at Chelsea and Leeds holding Newcastle. Both easily could have won so Everton have to count their blessings as they remain out of the drop zone going into Sunday’s game. I’d say four points is needed to be absolutely sure, three could be enough if others falter.
Some luck would also be welcome - and let’s face we are due some against Manchester City.
Manchester City stand on the brink of history. After dominating domestic football over the last five years the champions now want to conquer Europe as well, with an historic treble on the cards.
The Champions League is the one their Abu Dhabi owners have always craved, the crowning moment of their expensive project. It was why Pep Guardiola, arguably the best manager in the world right now, was brought to the club.
A battling 1-1 draw at Real Madrid puts them in a great position to finish the job at the Etihad on Wednesday and reach the Champions League final. From an Everton perspective we can only hope they are distracted by that game and put in a performance far lower than their normal exceptional levels.
Pep may well shuffle his pack in anticipation for Los Blancos too but such is their squad it will hardly be weaker, especially as any slip-up could allow Arsenal back into the title race.
It is all set up for a typical end-of-season thriller.
Man City 1-1 Everton, 31 December 2022
Everton have been largely woeful on the road, particularly under Frank Lampard, but this was a rare bright moment as Demarai Gray’s thunderbolt earned them a battling point.
Everton have no fresh injury concerns, meaning Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Yerry Mina, so often prone to niggles and setbacks, are fit and available.
Seamus Coleman will miss the rest of the season after having a knee operation but is expected to be fit for the start of next season (let’s hope he will still be an Everton player).
Andros Townsend has resumed full training and played 45 minutes for the U21s last weekend as he continues his long return from a serious knee injury, though he is unlikely to feature here.
What they said
Everton manager Sean Dyche: I know they’ve got very good players, they’ve got a squad full of them, [Guardiola] might change things, rotate players. We can’t look at everything they do; we need to focus on what we do.
“We’ve focused on that a lot since I’ve been here, some good signs, some not, but overall, there has been an adjustment in the mentality. It’s important to remind ourselves of the good players and good group we’ve got here.”
“They’re a very good side, you’ve got to find a way of competing and if you do that properly and you play well then you’ve got a chance to win.
“The rules stay the same whoever it is you’re playing against, it’s just you’ve got to get all the details right against the top sides, particularly because Man City will work on you if you don’t get the details right.”
Man City boss Pep Guardiola: “Goodison Park during my six seasons here always has been so difficult. For the environment and now for the momentum [they have]. Sean Dyche is a good trainer of his team.
“It is also [difficult] because it’s between Champions League games, but my thoughts are just on Everton, no more than that. so we have to just focus on this game We don’t have much time, because we play Sunday. Thank you so much. It’s a real, real priority the game at Goodison Park.
“They have the history and quality of the team. Brighton is one of the toughest places to go. The result was a real impact not just in table, but in Everton’s mood. It’s a big result. Everyone we saw, we thought that every team will play for something special, and it will be tough.
“Everything can happen. Everton score the first goal in the first minute at Brighton and get an incredible result. Defensive structure and physicality they have at Everton is really good. Everything can happen in a football game.
Despite the euphoria of last week Everton remain firm outsiders for this one against a City side in their groove and eyeing the treble. But if they can match their performance levels from Brighton at a boisterous Goodison, you never know.