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Best laid plans....

16 September, 2002

David Moyes: Despite severe disruption to his plans, his team still looks highly capable

It's fair to say that things don't always turn out how you expect at Everton and the fledgling 2002/03 season has been no different. The Chinese imports, whom many expected would be lucky to get a first team run out in the Worthington Cup, have already made impressive starts to their Everton careers; the club's most expensive ever goalkeeper has made just two starts and his understudy joined him on the treatment table while the third-choice 'keeper has played two very good games in their stead; the Brazilian maestro has barely amassed a half's worth of playing time; the captain and talisman whom the manager expected to lead the charge may never don a Blue jersey again; and the much-vaunted new African star has yet to kick a ball in anger.

Such is unpredictable life at Goodison Park. Had the Blues not pulled the irons out of the fire against Middlesbrough this past weekend, the picture might have been far bleaker.

As it is, those three unlikely points and the manner in which Everton snatched them from Steve McLaren's side has restored some of the optimism with which the Goodison faithful greeted the new season. After the disappointing failure to take anything from 10-man Manchester City and see off a dismal Southampton in the prior two games, Saturday's match-up with Middlesbrough had taken on the air of a a must-win fixture despite it only being the sixth match on the club's Premiership calendar.

Although the visitors from the northeast dominated in the final third during the first half and should have gone into the half time interval ahead, thanks to Kevin Campbell's first home goal in a year, the heroics of Paul Gerrard in goal and profligacy on the part of Massimo Maccarone, Everton went in at half time level at half time. The introduction of a certain Number 18 and the reversion to 4-3-3 for the second half turned the game in the Blues favour and paved the way for Campbell's second and three valuable points from a game David Moyes's side did not look like winning.

After the first six games of 2002/03 it is clear that the attacking style promised by Moyes during his first nine games in the hotseat last season is still very much the foundation of Everton's strategy, although they have paid heavily for erratic finishing and this profligacy in front of goal threatened to undermine the Blues' entire campaign. It still might, unless Messers Campbell and Radzinski can start finding the net with consistency while Wayne Rooney is being groomed for the top level and both Duncan Ferguson and Nick Chadwick are sidelined through injury.

Defensively, pace remains the Blues' achilles heel and it is the lack of speed between David Weir and Alan Stubbs that probably lies behind the number of penalties conceded thus far. The pacey and agile Joseph Yobo could be the answer to that problem, but the fans will have to be patient in their expectancy of the 21 year-old Nigerian who has been on the treatment table since mid-way through the pre-season campaign.

In the middle of the park, if Moyes doesn't quite have an embarrassment of riches, he does at least have plenty of players to choose from, with the industrious Mark Pembridge, the "Jekyll & Hyde" factor of Thomas Gravesen, the graft of Lee Carsley, the discipline of Tobias Linderoth, and the revelation that has been Li Tie. It looks as though the manager has settled on pairing Gravesen and Li together when playing 4-4-2, adding Pembridge when switching to 4-4-3.

On the flanks, the frustratingly erratic form of Niclas Alexandersson, the slow introduction of the now-injured Juliano Rodrigo and the disappearance of Kevin Mcleod from the radar leave a question mark over the team's strengths out wide. So far, with Unsworth, Pembridge and Hibbert, Moyes appears to be making do in wide positions, but you have to wonder if that will be enough in the longer term.

Nevertheless, Moyes's Everton remain a highly capable side and there has been a marked improvement on Walter Smith's final season in charge, even if the differences haven't thus far manifested themselves in a higher league position. The key ingredients of determination and the will to win lie at the heart of the new Everton, but a higher standard of passing football has also been an important change under the new boss.

The next six games will provide far more clues as to how the Blues will fare this season, with Manchester United, Arsenal and Leeds United lying in wait. It will actually be an important phase in the campaign, providing an opporutnity to gain ground on the leaders and put some early distance between ourselves and those teams who are struggling to get going. There is little doubt that Moyes's side have what it takes to win any of those six up-coming games, and the imminent debut of Yobo could be timely boost for the defensive tests that are just around the corner.

Lyndon Lloyd

©2002 ToffeeWeb, 16 September 2002