Pulling Out All the Stops
And so, it came down to this. One game, the proverbial “Cup Final”, but this time no silverware on the line, just the top flight status of the club, a founder of the Football League and - perhaps less gloriously - one of the “big five” behind the establishment of the Premier League and the revolution in the game that would ensue from it, for good or ill. It’s hard to recall, given the travails of the last three decades, that Everton FC was a major player back in 1992, along with Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. The road back to the heights represented by the club’s glory days in the 1980s is a tortuous one, with the route unclear, but the slide, at least had to stop and on Sunday, it did - temporarily perhaps, but for now that is enough.
Sean Dyche, brought in four months ago in what was a late attempt at a firefighting job and given no material support, has accomplished the task he was entrusted with; namely to stave off the existential threat that a drop out of the top flight represented. With a weak, unbalanced team, beset with injuries concentrated in a few key areas, he has battled manfully and fully deserves all the plaudits that will be heaped upon him, for the magnitude of the challenge he faced cannot be understated. I am not ashamed to admit that, when the ex-Burnley chief took over at the end of January, with the club having obtained a pitiful 15 points from 20 games under Frank Lampard, I believed we were finished.
On Sunday, we saw that even in its degraded state, the Blues squad is just about decent enough to survive, when helmed by a competent manager. Viewing the line-ups as they took to the field, it’s hard to make a case that Bournemouth’s contained too may players that would improve Everton, yet here they were, six points ahead at kickoff and safe for weeks. The visitors had little to play for, other than personal pride, a desire to ensure the integrity of the competition and perhaps to avoid finishing a surprising, topsy-turvy campaign on a negative note, following three straight defeats. Everton of course, had everything at stake.
One thing the manager, during his 18 games in charge has never failed to cajole from his charges, is maximum effort. At press conferences Dyche may sometimes talk in what seem like management clichés, but he believes what he says, no doubt about it and it is apparent the players are completely on board. The visitors may have dominated possession, but there was only one side playing with intensity and if the Toffees attack wasn’t hobbled by injury and and utter lack of depth, resulting from spectacular failure by the executives and ownership at the club, then they win this game easily. Instead, nervous fans had to wait until the 57th minute to take a breath - only to then face the anxiety of seeing out another 33 minutes, plus ten added.
Make no mistake though, the Toffees deserved this win, on application and effort alone, even if the quality was more than a little patchy.
Never, Ever Can This be Permitted to Happen Again
Everton entered Sunday’s game against Bournemouth with their fate still, somehow in their collective hands. After selling talismanic forward Richarlison last summer; permitting the clearly failing Frank Lampard reign to continue far too long; repeating last season’s folly in prevaricating over appointing a replacement; giving that replacement no assistance whatsoever during the Winter Transfer Window, which was Everton’s last chance to apply a patch to a squad worn thin in several positions; in truth the club would have deserved its fate, should that be falling out of the English game’s top flight for the first time since 1954.
The ignominy of relegation, in itself an embarrassment for the fabled old club, one whose name still - even now - possesses a little of the lustre that it has enjoyed for almost its entire history, was a bad enough prospect, given the hurt that would be inflicted upon its battered status in the game. Far worse, however was the impending financial destabilisation that dropping into the Championship would entail. A potential collapse into administration waited, forestallable only by the whim of majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri in continuing to foot Everton’s bills; at best a tenuous prospect.
We were here last year and one thing is now abundantly clear: that if the current regime running the club remains in place, then there is every chance, even with the capable Dyche as manager, that we could find ourselves repeating this nightmare again next season. In seven years as the majority shareholder and the person who signs the cheques, Moshiri has displayed no capacity whatsoever to learn from his mistakes; the fact that the man he bought Everton from - Bill Kenwright - still remains as Chairman and de facto shot-caller on a day-to-day basis, is both incomprehensible and deeply unsatisfactory.
It’s long overdue for the Blues to be run in a professional manner. The inscrutable Moshiri is well-intentioned but - in football matters - gullible, prone to uninformed decision-making, overly reliant on shadowy advisors and a Chairman who is set in his ways and out of touch with the modern game. Everton were never rich enough to advance simply by throwing money around like a Friday night drunk. The much bandied-around huge figures the club has splashed on transfers and which make for nice headlines (the latest is £700m according to the Guardian) were in reality relatively modest: approximately €245m net over seven seasons, or an average of €35m per campaign. Even spent well, those sums are dwarfed by the big hitters in the division.
To compete, the club has to look at those rivals who are operating intelligently, not try to muscle in when outclassed in that department. This means fully committing to the Director of Football model. Kevin Thelwell has taken a lot of flak recently, but it’s clear he’s been hobbled and overridden by the owner and Chair, as was his predecessor Marcel Brands. Thelwell has been busy rebuilding Everton’s footballing structure, after the havoc wrought during Rafa Benítez's short, but destructive time at the club. Everything points to a competent man who is capable of putting the Blues on a steady footing, given the opportunity.
The same goes for Dyche. If he’s allowed to work with Thelwell and his recruitment staff, without interference from above, then he has a fighting chance, but all prior evidence points to this not happening, as the current decision-makers appear incapable of change. For the club to reverse the way things have been going, Moshiri has to sell up and whoever comes in will (surely) then replace the board with a team of experienced, serious professionals. This is what has to occur. Will it? Who knows, but we must continue to keep the pressure on and hope. The alternative is the status quo, which leads to where we were on Sunday and the club’s luck is surely running short.
Adios, Yerry Mina. The big Colombian won four of seven aerial duels, made five ball recoveries and blocked one goal-bound shot, hurling his often fragile body in the way. In possession he was as composed and unflustered as he always is. The 28-year old departs Everton having managed only 76 starts in the Premier League, over five seasons. When he’s played, the Blues have looked a better side. It’s probably quite telling that over the last two, dreadful campaigns, he started just 18 matches. Bafflingly overlooked by Dyche when apparently fit enough for the bench, the manager got there in the end, selecting the central defender for each of the last four games, from which Everton earned seven vital points.
Idrissa Gueye, returning to Merseyside from a three year stint with PSG in the French capital, has been the glue in Everton’s midfield and that was never more true than on Sunday. The 33-year old still shows amazing energy and work-rate, even if he may not be quite able to cover the entire width of the field, as was the case during his first period with the Blues. Against Bournemouth, the veteran patrolled the middle of the pitch, combining for ten tackles and interceptions, in addition to ten ball recoveries. Too often forced to play a role that doesn’t exactly suit him, he’s been an invaluable asset and has a lot left in the tank on this performance.
Deployed at right wingback, James Garner stood up, looking a natural in an unfamiliar position. Second only to Dwight McNeil, operating on the opposite flank, with 54 touches, the 22-year old was rarely troubled on defence, making four tackles and interceptions combined, in addition to eight recoveries. In what has been an injury-ravaged campaign, he demonstrated the versatility and calm head that points to a promising future with the Toffees.
Dyche has to take a lot of credit for reintegrating Abdoulaye Doucoure back into the team. Puzzlingly ostracised by Lampard, the Malian has proven his worth since and did so again at the weekend, in decisive, critical fashion with his well-taken goal. When used correctly - which hasn’t been often at Everton - the midfielder can be a real menace.
Amadou Onana, somewhat off the boil in recent weeks, showed what a genuine prospect he is. The Belgian used the ball intelligently, being second in the side behind Conor Coady with a 79.3% passing accuracy, including two key passes but contributed defensively, making a total of five tackles and interceptions, as well as battling in the air, winning four of seven aerial duels. If Everton can retain the 21-year old beyond the summer, the challenge will be to consistently get the best out of him within Dyche’s system.
Stats provided courtesy of fbref.com