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Rounding another corner

1 October 2001

Campbell puts the Blues ahead against West Ham

It's hard to know what to make of Everton so far this season.  What we have witnessed so far portends another rollercoaster ride between now and May, but any time the Blues win 5-0 - irrespective of the quality of the opposition - it brings hope that the team can finally turn the corner once and for all.

Saturday's demolition of West Ham couldn't have come at a better time, particularly for the manager.  The cat-calls for Walter Smith's head started during the unfortunate defeat at Blackburn and defeat at home against the struggling Hammers would certainly have increased the pressure on him significantly.

And, despite many people's views to the contrary, the backlash against Smith has not been about results per se (let's face it, few expected us to come away with much from the games against Manchester United and Liverpool); it was down to the spineless way in which Everton lay down and invited a thumping at Old Trafford and during the Merseyside derby.

However, credit should be given where it is due; and the routing of Glenn Roeder's West Ham to end a sequence of four consecutive defeats in all competitions was a wonderful result that owed everything to the sort of football the fans revelled in on occasions during the 1999-2000 season.  That year, a buoyant Everton driven by the mobility of Campbell, Barmby, Moore and a rare gem of a performance from John Collins destroyed the Hammers 4-0 on their own turf.  Smith's side also walloped Sunderland 5-0 and Bradford 4-0 that campaign, but the Blues still only finished 13th.

And therein lies the cautionary tale: Everton have flattered to deceive before under Walter Smith but stellar performances like these have proven to be mere blips in an underlying trend of frustrating draws and careless defeats.  Everton appear to be slaves to confidence in that a team packed with internationals and players with obvious ability have collectively under-performed because of a lack of self-belief or motivation.

However, what has tended to happen following these surprising maulings of unsuspecting Premiership teams is that complacency sets in and the team starts to believe its own hype.  Needless draws beget defeats beget a slide down the Premiership and the all-too familiar descent into poor football and relegation scraps.  Following the 5-0 drubbing of Sunderland in December 1999, Everton didn't win a League game until February, five games later.  After going on the rampage at Upton Park that February, it was another five games before the Blues recorded another victory.  And following the 4-0 home win against Bradford that April, Smith's side didn't record another win that season.

The true measure of what Smith is capable of at Goodison Park will be how he and his team react to getting their season back on track with the weekend's goal explosion.  Will the manager realise the similarities between the Campbell-Jeffers partnership and the Campbell-Radzinski pairing, which was given its first public viewing on Saturday?  Will Walter Smith have the courage to retain a 4-4-2 formation (undoubtedly Everton's most successful plan of attack) and realise how the one-dimensional likes of Duncan Ferguson and David Unsworth restrict the dynamic potential the current squad has?

Smith has borne the brunt of criticism for the manner of the recent defeats and, even if there is a belief in some quarters that it's good players and not Walter's tactics that are responsible when Everton win, he should, rightly, receive praise for the battering of a team that had beaten high-flying Newcastle 3-0 last week.  Indeed, Smith is the first manager since the days of Kendall's second reign to actually get the team playing attractive football, at least when the temptation of Ferguson's height hasn't interfered.

The win against West Ham and the manner of it provide another opportunity for Walter Smith's Everton to finally turn the corner and mount a sustained challenge for a Top 10 berth and, maybe, European qualification.  They plainly have little excuse not to finish in the top half, playing (as they now are) like two years ago, when they would have finished 10th had they not lost on the last day of the season to Middlesbrough.

The test of Smith's fourth season in charge at Goodison will be how his team performs in the coming weeks.  If they can keep winning, anything is possible.  If they lapse into a series of draws and defeats, progress on last season will be hard to come by.  With the current squad, the opportunity to leave the bottom echelons of the Premiership behind are endless but by no means guaranteed.

Lyndon Lloyd


©2001 ToffeeWeb, 1 October 2001

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