This despite the fact that most of the same posters were predicting a difficult game away to a side that we often struggle against, who've already beaten us twice this season and who are (in some cases quite literally) fighting for their Premier League survival.
Whilst I too am frustrated that we haven't taken the chance to close the gap on a stuttering Villa (and equally stuttering Arsenal) and do realise only too well that had we nicked a goal last night and at St James' we'd be now right in amongst it. That we didn't achieve that is certainly not due to lack of effort of at least 90% of our squad (I'll happily throw Jo to the lions), nor do I believe necessarily down to any failing of tactical nous.
Yes, it was a counter-intuitive decision to bring Yobo in to displace our star centre-back to right wing, but the result didn't seem to be a weakening of the defence (i.e., we gave very few chances away and didn't concede against some talented forwards ? Santa Cruz especially) and certainly we were robbed of any wing back play that Baines was playing on the other side, but do we really think that an unproven, unplayed Lars Jacobsen was the man to provide this? Otherwise, the only option would be to play Neville at right back and pull him out of a defensive midfield role that he'd been excelling at.
Elsewhere in midfield, those clamouring for Gosling on the right and complaining about Rodwell in midfield seem to me to be mainly the same people clamouring for Rodwell to play in midfield and who berated weak performances from Gosling in recent games. The calls for Van der Meyde playing for any more than 10 minutes really can't be taken seriously... and the same goes for Saha, who we are clearly protecting for the weekend.
But enough of the explanations; ultimately, as the title suggests, I do genuinely believe there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful, so here's 10 for a start!
1) We are still in the hunt for 4th
Arsenal may have beaten West Brom but that doesn't disguise an out-of-sorts side who (like us) are suffering from key players being out and whose form is worse than ours. They've got Blackburn, Newcastle and Man City next and although at the top of their game you'd expect them to win all 3, right now anything could happen.
Villa are now in danger of collapsing. Their last 3 games reads LDL and their next 3 games are against a resurgent Spurs (who still need the points to be sure of avoiding relegation), Liverpool and Man Utd... and after that, they play us.
2) We're still in the FA Cup and have a good chance of making the semis
Boro are struggling and, although they did beat Liverpool away, most of that confidence must have been eroded by being tanked by Spurs on Wednesday. Sure, the FA Cup isn't as prestigious as it was, but in previous years we've bemoaned early exits and we're still hanging in here.
3) We are still trying to play some passing football
Yes there has been more of the ball in the air since Arteta's injury, but claims of a total return to hoofball are wide of the mark. Looking at the 'highlights' yesterday there were plenty of examples of neat passing moves alongside the more direct stuff.
4) We have a superb defensive core
Admittedly right back is now a problem with Hibbo out for a couple of weeks, but there is cover of a sort and overall with Lescott, Jags, Howard and Baines it's one of the strongest units in the league.
5) The left hand side is working well
I don't understand some of the stick Pienaar gets to be honest, I think he's a skillful player who creates chances, has shots and is combining very nicely with Baines down the left. Last night he was unlucky not to score and had what looked like a very strong penalty appeal turned down.
6) Cahill is getting back to his best
Okay, our forward line is ragged and injury ravaged, but in Cahill we do have a proven goalscorer who's fit and predatory.
7) We're blooding some very promising young players
Gosling and Rodwell clearly have plenty of development to do, but they are getting experience and showing lots of promise. Clearly Baxter is thought of as an option too and Vaughan will be back in the next game or two to offer an attacking option. Even Fellaini (not a youth academy product), though struggling a little at present, has to be considered a qualified success so far in his first season.
8. We have a brilliant team spirit and an unrivalled work ethic
One of the best things Moyes has done for Everton is to instill a really strong spirit and togetherness. Where other clubs are full of wantaway players on ridiculous contracts, undermining the manager and offering excuses, that just doesn't happen at Everton.
Almost all players are honest and put the team first (Anichebe and VDM aside), there's harmony and balance in the dressing room, no diamond-studded ear-ring wearing wankers or pub brawlers. Sure we don't have as many superstars as some, but neither do we get all the aggro that goes with them. Out on the pitch this is underlined by a team where (almost) everyone gives 100% week-in, week-out. They might not always play well, but no-one can deny they put a shift in.
9. We have Louis Saha
I know he's injury ravaged and can only play every other game at best, but when he plays he is capable of giving us a real extra dimension and indeed even changing a game single-handed. Not only can he chip in with goals (admittedly only 4 so far) but crucially he also extends our play, setting up chances with astute passing, flicks and skill.
That's not to mention his attitude which seems absolutely spot on. He's not a shandy bench-warmer, he wants to play. If we can manage to keep him fit for even half of the games on he run-in, he could be a very important factor.
10. We have David Moyes
Does he make some odd decisions? Sure. Does he get it plainly wrong from time to time? Absolutely. Would I change our steely eyed, high principled, truth-speaking Scot for any other manager in the Premier League? Not a chance. Whilst I admire Wenger's footballing principles and Ferguson's ruthless success, I think we have the right man for the job here.
With a little more money (and we're not talking Man City millions ? look how that's working out) and a little bit of luck to ensure he can put a decent team on the pitch, I do believe he's the man to guide us to glories.
We're cementing Europe as our base ambition, alongside making progress in cup competitions and improving the team each year. Let's face it, if we still had Arteta (who is our best creative player) we'd be feeling very confident about reigning in Villa for the CL spot and having a good go at the FA Cup this season; even without him we have a chance. The principle reason for that is David Moyes.
Ultimately there's 10 games left in the Prem and anything could happen (the way things are going I think that ~65 points will be enough for 4th). We've got a good chance to get to the FA Cup Semi-Final on Sunday, even if we don't play particularly well.
Yes, we need to improve and find a balance that works in our midfield, which is not going to be easy, but right now we still have a chance. Until that chance disappears, I for one am going to stay positive, get behind the team and enjoy the ride. COYB!
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1 Posted 05/03/2009 at 15:19:08
Let’s all move on to Sunday and hopefully a trip to Wembley. The future is bright and one thing I will take from this season, is that we are now a top six side for next season. A couple of decent signings and who knows what we can achieve.
2 Posted 05/03/2009 at 15:40:38
The Premier League is shite this season and there was a massive chance for ourselves to step in and take a hand in the race for 4th place but no, we fail yet again even though Arsenal dont seem to want it and Villa are doing an Everton last season.
Fans like yourself always look to tomorrow as the answer but tomorrow rarely comes in football. A combination of poor early form this season along with gross mismangement by the board and Moyes has seen to it that the pipe dream of CL footy will once again fade away.
Next season will be much much harder for Everton to remain in the top 6 let alone challenge the big 4 who will by then be the big 5 with Spurs not far behind. I just don't see us getting better next year, only worse I am afraid.
3 Posted 05/03/2009 at 16:03:37
I would agree mostly with points 7 and 10 being the most important.
Without the classic CM critisms, here is a possible starting 11 with players all under the age of 24 now,
Coleman Rodwell Irving Baines
Vaughan Big Vic
Now i know its no world beater and we’d defo go down with it. But it does show how with a few additions and the regular class in Arteta, Jags, Lescott, Yak, Timmy etc that we truly are going places.
Whilst doing this "research" i noticed that Lescott is a whole day older than Jags. Shit stat, perhaps one Stelling might want.
4 Posted 06/03/2009 at 01:20:24
Good article, which insightfully showcases a range of the factors that saw us shake off the early season malaise from the loss of Carsley and lack of transfer activity. The problem is that we have quickly forgotten the context in which the season kicked off ? a brief recap is in order:
Even Moyes loyalists would have to admit to being deeply disconcerted by what can only be described as the ?evident drift? in July and early August. We were undone by a Paul Ince led Blackburn on opening day, and it looked to be one of those seasons...
Moyes?s contract negotiations were looking increasingly iffy, there were 2-3 weeks when basically no concrete messages about transfer activity plans came out, and then Moyes took to the airwaves to denounce himself for not doing enough.
The talk of Everton being in a ?very bad situation going forward? and needing 5-6 new signings purely for numbers (all talk of only excepting top shelf quality players gone) was morale-sapping.
Given the earlier indications that were would be substantial funds to ?kick on? coming on stream, I can understand why Moyes will have felt so downbeat, and it was a sense of foreboding shared by the players ? even the likes of normally rock-steady Lescott was basically laying down a marker to the board to put the ship back on course by bringing in new players before it ran aground.
In summary, we were in serious danger of unravelling, and the media building up the narrative of Tottenham, Portsmouth and Villa all being ideally positioned to push on and supplant us only made things worse.
We got a few ropey victories in the run-up to the Wigan debacle, but form players like Arteta, Lescott and Pienaar were feeling the ire of the fans. When there were serious calls for Arteta to be dropped to the bench for ?laziness? it shows what a state the performances on the pitch were in.
For Moyes, his coaching staff and most importantly the senior players to turn the mindset of the club as a whole around against this backdrop is an amazing feat.
Even after the setback of an agonising last minute loss to Villa in December, who were billed as the ?new Everton? repeatedly this season, we managed to pick ourselves up. Since then we?ve gone on a fantastic run, and its in no small part a sign that the Everton players still believe in the incremental, but sustained season-by season progress vision that Moyes offers, and want to prove that money alone can?t buy Premier League success.
We can?t take the position we are in right now for granted. It?s a monumental achievement to be in 6th, when our net spend over 7 years is only around £25-35 million in TOTAL depending on varying transfer figure sources.
In the Moyes era we have husbanded finite resources and put ourselves back in a sustainable long term position. We?ve progressively lowered the average squad player age season by season, but given youngsters time to develop into regulars.
We have turned average players into gutsy, committed and at times inspired performers (Hibbert and Osman), and taken good budget-buy players like Arteta, Cahill and Lescott and turned them into the envy of managers like Mark Hughes, Harry Redkapp and dare I say it probably Rafa too, who throw mud against a wall and hope it sticks when it comes to transfers.
If we lose Moyes in the next 18-24 months, we wouldn?t instantly crumble and become relegation fodder, but we?d be at sea in terms of tram cohesion, because the special atmosphere he?s managed to cultivate, in an age of Premier League player shallowness and self-interest, is phenomenal.
Everton play as a unit, some might even say as a family, where no one is allowed to carry the can ? the players don?t make excuses for draws, they persevere. They don?t whine about our terrible luck with injuries to our most influential players, some of which have been season-ending.
We?ve been able to once again punch massively above our weight, despite squad size and huge financial constraints, not because of one factor, it's down to many. But the over-riding reason we can be positive heading into the future, and which underpins everything we?ve achieved, is that the spirit and the unity of this team only gets better in adversity.
5 Posted 06/03/2009 at 10:00:00
Anichebe out for the rest of the season, along with Arteta, and other names still on the inactive roster may well present a problem, but Middlesbrough on Sunday won’t present too many awkward moments, and after that the fact of the matter being it’s two wins away from FA cup festivities not seen since the days of John Major and Conservative rule, whether that comes to pass remains to be seen.
So, still all to play for.