THE clocks go forward next weekend by an hour. I sometimes wonder if it might be to Everton’s benefit if someone put them forward about two months.
For the umpteenth successive season, Everton have recovered from a dreadful start, got back a load of players who have been on the long-term injury list and are now playing with more consistency than any other Premier League team outside the top three.
If the domestic season ran until mid-July, I reckon they would qualify for the Champions League. As it is, they might – with a bit of luck – scrape into next season’s Europa League, and find themselves having another season identical to this one. Incredible.
A week before the start of last season, I was at Goodison Park for Everton’s friendly against PSV Eindhoven. (I wrote a blog post about it somewhere. Hang on, let me see if I can find it… rustle, rustle, scrape, thud, clatter, thwack, boink, rustle, rustle… ah yes, here it is.)
The general mood around the ground that afternoon, as far as I remember, was that Everton had little chance of achieving anything because they had – in Premier League terms – no money. About a month later, David Moyes was linked with the vacant Newcastle job following one of Kevin Keegan’s exits.
And yet while Newcastle ended up going down, Everton finished fifth and reached the FA Cup final. They finished above Aston Villa, who looked a good bet to qualify for the Champions League for about two-thirds of the season. It was a terrific achievement.
Then August came round again, and it all looked to be doom and gloom at Goodison again. Joleon Lescott wanted (and eventually got) out, while Phil Jagielka and Mikel Arteta were both months off returning from serious knee injuries. Oh, and they were battered 6-1 at home by Arsenal, then lost at Burnley the following weekend.
When they lost (very unluckily) 2-0 at home to Liverpool in late November, Everton were 16th in the Premier League, three points above the relegation places, and two points behind Burnley.
If there was a turning point, it was probably the home league game against Tottenham a week after that derby defeat. Spurs were cruising to a 2-0 win when young full-back Seamus Coleman, on as an early sub for the injured Sylvain Distin, inspired an Everton comeback. Louis Saha and Tim Cahill scored late goals to save a point – which might still have been lost had Tim Howard not saved Jermain Defoe’s penalty in stoppage time.
Everton have lost just two league games since. They now sit eighth, and Moyes is talking about Europe. If only the season started a couple of months later.
Saturday’s final match: Everton 2 Bolton 0
Commentator: John Roder
Against Bolton on Saturday, Everton secured their seventh successive home league win, a run which has included victories over Manchester United and Chelsea.
It was a win at the end of a week which saw Moyes celebrate his eighth anniversary as Everton manager. (He is now the fourth longest-serving boss in English professional football, behind Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Accrington’s John Coleman.)
I remember Moyes’ appointment clearly. I was in Preston on the day he left North End and – by a curious coincidence – it was also the day the town won city status. Now city status had been a really big deal when Preston had gone for it a couple of years previously, only to lose out to some other place. (Brighton, I think. Or maybe Wolverhampton. Or maybe both. Oh, it doesn’t matter.) But on the day it finally arrived, Moyes’ exit was a far bigger story. (Indeed, so flat was the reaction from the Preston public to the city status thing that the local commercial radio station threatened/pledged to start its own party on the Flag Market.)
In his seven full seasons at Goodison, Moyes has managed five top-seven finishes. There’s every chance he will manage a sixth this time around.
Bolton boss Owen Coyle had a grumble about Everton’s opener on Saturday – not so much about Gretar Steinsson’s red card for a professional foul on Yakubu, but more for the fact that Arteta’s successful free kick was taken a good seven or eight yards further forward from the place where the offence was committed. TV replays suggested he had a point.
Steven Pienaar’s goal removed any doubt surrounding the possibility of an Everton victory. They’ll probably keep winning, and may even move further up the table. Not for the first time, Everton don’t want the season to end. It’ll be August when problems start cropping up again.
1. Stoke: 7 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
2. Blackburn: 6 (GD: 1. 2L: 3.)
3. West Ham: 6 (GD: 1. 2L: 2.)
4. Everton: 6 (GD: 1. 2L: 1.)
5. Portsmouth: 6 (GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
6. Bolton: 5 (GD: 0. 2L: 7.)
7. Wigan: 5 (GD: 0. 2L: 3.)
8. Hull: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 6.)
9. Aston Villa: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
10. Fulham: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
11. Gubba: 2 (GD: 2. 2L: 3.)
12. Wolves: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 7.)
13. Birmingham: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 7.)
14. Burnley: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 6.)
15. Tottenham: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
16. Arsenal: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
17. Liverpool: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
18. Sunderland: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 7.)
19. Manchester United: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
20. Chelsea: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
21. Manchester City: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
GD = Gubba difference
2L = On second last (Last night’s penultimate match was: Sunderland 3 Birmingham 1.)
(NB. Teams will receive one point for every time they appear last on MOTD. Appearances on MOTD2 are not included. Teams level on points will be separated by Gubba difference – the number of times a team is on last with Tony Gubba commentating. Teams still level will then be separated by the number of times they appear second last on MOTD.)