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April perspective on August hopes

Comments (35)

As pleased as we all are today, I think it?s safe to assume that nobody here is ecstatic about how this season has turned out, and we?ve all gotten a little grumpy about unrealized expectations. But I think that?s misplaced. My perspective is that this season could have been a whole lot worse, and some key people prevented that from happening.

Back in August, we all had high hopes ? perhaps even a fifth-place finish and Europe ? for what we saw as the best Everton team in years. But those hopes would have looked pretty silly back then had we been able to look ahead to April and know that:

? Eight starters would miss large chunks of the season;

? Both of our midfield drivers would perform miserably, and one would leave the club while the other would be lost to injury again for the run-in;

? Our best goalscorer would start only 14 games, and our only real creative force would be the left back;

? Of our two young budding midfield stars, only one would develop into a true top performer, and he?d be blown out by injury;

? The loaner who sparked us last winter would stay home in LA;

? By spring we?d be so depleted as to send out a side featuring SEVEN nominal defenders and three players projected as reserves back in the summer;

? Our only real Player of the Year candidates would both be defenders.

Had we seen all that in the crystal ball last August, I think most of us would have expected to find Everton staring at the relegation abyss come spring.

Instead, after all that catastrophe, with today?s win we?re a solid 7th, one spot ahead of last year?s finish and only a slot or two back of where we had hoped. And if we can get past the RS into 6th, I'd say that would make it a pretty decent season.

I think we owe a great deal of credit to four people who get little appreciation, at least on ToffeeWeb. In ascending order, they are:

4. Tim Howard ? Yes, his distribution is terrible, but I don?t care. A goalkeeper?s primary job is to stop shots, and Howard is one of the best shotstoppers in the world. He makes every save he should (no bleeders or dribblers getting through) and more than a few that he shouldn?t. He?s kept us in games we could have, and perhaps should have, lost.

3. Phil Neville ? On most teams, the captain is usually the best player. On ours he?s one of the worst (today?s screamer notwithstanding!). But while Pip?s skills may be lacking, his leadership is breathtaking. He doesn?t just impose his will ? he uses it to drive his team on. The true test of a leader is his effect on the people around him, and Everton are a much, much better side with him in it.

2. Sylvain Distin ? Baines may be brilliant, but he?s able to rampage forward ? and get away with his soft defending ? only because he has Distin behind him. The big guy hasn?t lost a step at 33... he still has blazing speed and tremendous power, and he has made crucial plays in almost every game, with very few mistakes. As far as I?m concerned, he is Everton?s Player of the Season in a walkaway.

1. David Moyes ? Okay, here we go... I can hear the howls of the Moyes-out brigade from 5,000 miles away. Yes, his strategy and substitution choices drive us crazy sometimes. But a manager is judged by results, and year after year Moyes gets better results with less talent and fewer resources than anybody else in the Prem. Again this season we are looking down at teams with much higher payrolls and considerably more expensive talent. And again this season the only clubs ahead of us are the ones with all the multimillionaires. I?ve yet to see any of the fire-Moyes flamethrowers here actually nominate a potential replacement whose record matches up with Moyes?s. I?ll take this guy anytime.
Mike Gaynes, California     Posted 09/04/2011 at 16:20:02

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Tim O'Connell
1   Posted 09/04/2011 at 21:39:15

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I have great empathy with your post and I would just add Ossie in your list as he has been crucial in the last 6 matches to get us out of trouble and looking up not down.
Ken Buckley
2   Posted 09/04/2011 at 21:40:50

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Mike, two points. For the main body of your piece, well that's just football. None of us know anything, we just all hope for the best and never cease to be amazed at how things work out. There is no Moyes Out brigade beyond cyber space. The fans were singing his praises today and do at almost every match. Phil Neville had his very own song today and he loved it.

Almost all of us matchgoers take it as it comes, warts and all. We celebrate, we moan, we blame all and sundry and then come back for more. We all want better and have done for years. The fact we don't get it seems to matter little as our misguided optimism knows no bounds as we follow the team through thick and thin. Win, lose or draw, your average Blue will find something to cheer them on a match day. Don't we just love this most unpredictable of sports?

John Keating
3   Posted 09/04/2011 at 22:10:50

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Mike, I fully agree with your point on Phil Neville. Total professional. Watch the way he rarely celebrates when we score, straight over to Moyes and reorganises things.

Ken, spot on; I would just like to add that, since we've had so many injuries, it's great to see how Osman and Hibbert have responded. Both have their fair share of critics and both have, I believe, answered them all.

Osman has had to come more inside where he's far more effective, though his crosses today were brilliant. Hibbert would still have been warming the bench had Neville not had to come into midfield.

Well done to both.

Tom Bowers
4   Posted 09/04/2011 at 23:06:03

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I am not an Ossie fan but have to admit he played well today. However, he doesn't have too many games like this and that's my beef about him. He scored last week but was poor in his finishing the rest of the game which we should have won.

Hibbert is another who falls in the same category. We desperately need a class right back next season. Distin has been great this season and Jags is coming back to his best. Neville's experience shows but Heitinga is an enigma these days.

All-in-all, this makeshift squad have battled well to bring the season round somewhat. It would be an unexpected bonus to get into the Europa Cup given some of the very poor results we had earlier in the season. I like Beckford, he has that little turn of pace which gets him into space but his decision-making is poor on occasions and so I hope Cahill is back next week to support him against Blackburn.

Dennis Stevens
5   Posted 09/04/2011 at 23:36:23

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The sad thing is, particularly when one considers how our depleted squad has battled back up to 7th in the League, that the remarkably open League this season means that results more in line with expectations earlier in the season, when we had a pretty complete squad to select from, would have seen us right up amongst the current top 5.

Yes, it would be nice to have a bit more money to improve the squad further, but this was generally recognised as our best squad for many a year. Therefore, I find myself frustrated, yet again, by Moyes's apparent inability, for whatever reason, to get the best out of his best players.

Phil Rodgers
6   Posted 10/04/2011 at 00:57:47

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The thing that winds me up the most (I wish it didn't) is the media complete ignorance of any achievement we make is just overlooked every single time. Sounds like I am being a bitter twat, but it really drives to distraction!!!
Jackie Barry
7   Posted 10/04/2011 at 04:49:27

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Sorry I'm not being fooled by all this. This season no matter what happens has been very poor.
Mike Gaynes
8   Posted 10/04/2011 at 06:12:43

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Ken, thanks for your perspective. The only Everton fans I hear from are the folks here, because I've never been to England, and my teammates on my over-50 side are all supporters of the Other 6 (except for one who is a former Birmingham City hooligan, complete with stab wound scars). So it's nice to know that Moyes has more support in the stand than on this site.

We do love this game and this team, don't we? Maybe someday you and I will share a beer and Blue day at Goodison.
Mike Gaynes
9   Posted 10/04/2011 at 06:59:21

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Phil, I wish I had your problem. Virtually all the EPL coverage here is about ManU, with a little Chelsea and Arsenal thrown in. There's no media coverage of Everton here at all, unless it relates to Howard (and last year Donovan). The Wolves game was the weekly EPL feature on ESPN2 (at 4:30 in the morning here), and after the game they interviewed Marcus Hahnemann, who didn't even play in the game. But he's an American.

Trust me, the level of ignorance you see every day is nothing compared to what an Everton fan deals with on the far side of the Pond.
Lynn Thorne
10   Posted 10/04/2011 at 08:16:52

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Thanks Mike for some brilliant perspective. We do often finish as the 'best of the rest' which with our resources is brilliant. So many people are quick to decry everything at the moment.

It is going to be very hard this summer and I do sometimes fear the worst of losing players and worst of all Moyes. Kenwright needs to bring in some investment by hook or by crook.

But I am proud to be an Evertonian.

Paul Gladwell
11   Posted 10/04/2011 at 08:50:04

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Since Pienaar pissed off to help keep a bench warm, Osman has taken on a big responsibility in this free role he has and has been superb creating and scoring goals which even, though I loved Pienaar, was something he never did too well.

It would be nice if we do sell big for Moyes to find a few good bargains but you can bet Kenwright will pocket half and we will hear his mouthpiece tell us half the cash off Rodwell or whoever has been used for our new signings' wages.

Nick Wall
12   Posted 10/04/2011 at 08:46:35

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We've over-performed against our money and resources. But we've under-performed against our abilities and what we're capable of, and we shouldn't ignore that. Moyes knows it and the players know it. They're not hiding behind excuses of injuries, and neither should we.

The injury crisis we have at the moment looks worse because we have probably the smallest squad in the Premier League, and several of them are out on loan. But if you take the season as a whole, our luck with injuries has been no better and no worse than any other club.

The problems have lain elsewhere: the failure of the likes of Arteta and Pienaar to deliver match-winning performances; Bily's indifferent season; the fact that Rodwell hasn't yet stepped up to the next level; the woeful lack of form of our strikers before Christmas.

Of course, credit is due to Moyes and the players for the manner in which they've turned things around since the new year, but let's not forget that six games ago we all thought that we were in a relegation dogfight. A few spirited if rather scrappy wins can't and shouldn't be allowed to gloss over what has for the most part been a disappointing and frustrating season.

Brian Waring
13   Posted 10/04/2011 at 09:07:01

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Mike, the start of the season we had a fully fit squad, and Moyes said it was his best ever. But for all that, we have been mainly shite.

Picking up the injuries now has nothing to do with how we have performed for most of the season.
Paul Gladwell
14   Posted 10/04/2011 at 09:24:55

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Nick, sorry mate, we had if you include Rodwell our whole first choice five man midfield out yesterday and have done for how long? I cannot see that type of injuries on a regular basis anywhere else.

Yes, other teams have had big injury lists but I have yet to see one of such importance to beat that. Teams have players out from different positions but that's our whole midfield.

Paul Gladwell
15   Posted 10/04/2011 at 09:35:08

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Tom ? Osman scored last week and was MotM for many people and has been for weeks. For his misses, the one at close range was down to it not coming down quick enough for a little man and the half volley he could have done better with but it was not the easiest of chances.

The lad cannot win, he has been the reason we never got dragged into a relegation dogfight with his goals and assists and it is about time certain Blues recognised that.

Anthony Hawkins
16   Posted 10/04/2011 at 10:11:21

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I get the vibe and sentiment of this post, really I do. Yet I cannot help but feel somewhat bemused by it too.

The team have been playing great over the last 6 games or so and everybody rightly celebrates. What this post fails to capture is that this season has been shoddy. If we can play like this now, WHY weren't we playing like this at the start of the season?

Some state there have been injuries. There were a couple to none major players but this season we started with pretty much all our star players and it's only now when we've lost most of them that games have flowed and the results have come.

The team has performed exceptionally well lately; however, over the season, it has significantly underperformed... this season will be the first where I say "we could and should have done better" and Top 4 was definitely within our grasp.
Dave Roberts
17   Posted 10/04/2011 at 09:45:47

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Osman's performances recently have meant that we haven't really missed Pienaar as much as I thought we would. Pienaar's main fault was poor final delivery despite incredibly hard work in the build-up. Osman is much better in that department and, despite the fact that he is not a striker, he looks far more likely to get a few than Pienaar ever did.

As for the 'Moyes Out' philosophers, yes, his decisions can be frustrating at times but who would be a serious contender to take his place? Most of the so-called 'top managers' like a lot of money to spend... Jesus, even Awwy Wedknapp was complaining in the press last week that Spurs didn't give him enough! There's nobody better than Moyes out there who would look at Everton given the state of the finances.

There's always Big Sam of course, Christ, wouldn't that be a step up? O'Neill left Villa because he felt the club did not provide him with enough financial support so little chance of him then... and in any case he's an overrated whinger in my opinion.

This season has been poor in many respects but that has been due to an inability to turn chances into goals especially early in the season and a leaky defence. Nevertheless, it has not prevented the team, despite a few terrible performances (and who doesn't have them?) from playing some pretty decent stuff. When I go to the match nowadays I expect to see the lads play a bit of decent footy and even if our shortcomings this season mean we don't always get the result, I usually do. As disappointing as this year has been, that dire 'boot the ball down the middle and hope for the best' shite that we used to suffer every week not so long ago is now largely a thing of the past.

Football is a funny game and confidence plays a huge part. We played Blackburn and Villa off the pitch at the start of the season on their own gorunds, played great stuff and got beat. That happened time and time again, home and away. Confidence starts to ebb away, panic sets in, booed off the pitch twice at Goodison so playing at home becomes riddled with anxiety. Add to that another long list of injuries making it impossible to get a settled team on the pitch not to mention a creche on the bench and is it any wonder we're not where we expected to be?

There is a lot wrong that needs to be fixed but FFS there is also a lot that's right that needs to be recognised and encouraged.
Mike Gwyer
18   Posted 10/04/2011 at 10:11:15

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Lots of good comments but it really does show that what the eye is seeing is often misleading.

I have noticed that comments from match day supporters tend to differ from people who watch the game on line or via other media (TV based).

We were getting battered for the first 20 minutes, our passing was shite and the players were really all over the place ? for me, Neville was probably one of the worst. If Wolves had had a decent striker, we would've been a couple down... but hey, Neville and Heitinga seemed to have a couple words, a bit of slagging match, then presto. Heitinga breaks up play, the ball is played to Osman (and something that may not have been noticed on screen was the obviously rehearsed, but bloody quick, movement by Beckford, Bily and the French kid Magaye?? ? this state of play put at least three Wolves players out of position and led to our first goal.

From that moment on, we were always on top; Distin and Jags were, for me, playing for fun ? Wolves were not going to score, end of. Our movement was now absolutely spot on and the man marshalling all this was Mr Moyes ? any player moving out of his zone was soon earmarked by the Moyes man himself or Neville.

So yes, Osman and Distin both had good games, but the guvernor was there in all his glory yesterday and those 11 players played Moyes's game to a T.
Gavin Ramejkis
19   Posted 10/04/2011 at 11:32:16

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Mike other than the goals and some decent saves at both ends the game was fairly forgettable, Osman made some intelligent moves on both wings and Beckford after missing a good chance with a saved header did pull a defender out of Bily's way for his cracker. Magaye is still a kid and full of mistakes yesterday, none less than his one-on-one but he'll improve with game time. I think if they had Doyle playing they may have got a goal back but it's history now so I'll happily take the win and move onto the next game.
Norman Merrill
20   Posted 10/04/2011 at 11:25:46

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At Molyneux yesterday, I really enjoyed the game, our fans gave as good as they got from the Wolves hordes, and after a very shaky first 15 minutes we got to grip with the game. After Beckford opened the scoring, Neville increased the lead with a finish that any player would have been proud of.

The home fans had given us some usual abuse, ie 'out of work' crap, and their rendition of the YNWA but after Bily had scored that screamer, the sounds only came from the fans in Blue, sending some early-exit Wolves fans home to the sound of "You're going down".

Not a great game but the result and the goals gave all the travelling fans something to talk about on the journey home.

Ben Jones
21   Posted 10/04/2011 at 12:10:29

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With Osman, credit where credit's due. He has saved us big time in the last 6 weeks
Trevor Lynes
22   Posted 10/04/2011 at 12:07:30

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I cannot understand how fans thought we had our best squad for years at the start of the had virtually no cover for many positions especially left back and i said then that it would be a cats after me if Baines got a long term injury....most teams have long injury lists too..BUT they have decent cover and that is the priority for any team with the slightest ambition.
The loan system is a terrible thing for clubs (like us) as we lend out too many players to be able to cope when we have inevitable injuries...everyone and his dog knows that Saha is prone to injury and he is very much like Ledley King...can only play a few games before needing treatment...
I honestly feel we were lucky yesterday as our start to the match was absolutely abysmal and I agree with the article that stated that our seasons best players have been in defence.
Distin has been terrific and a true bargain buy...he is a consumate professional who is always in condition and still has good pace.
He and Jags are a great double act with Hibbert/Neville and Baines being the real hero's collectively.
Howard is a decent keeper (not great).
Osman is having his best form that I can remember and his block in front of our goal saved a certain goal when we were playing rubbish.
Im still not happy with Heitinga and Bily as they are really not worth the money spent on them when you compare them to Distin.
Becks is showing improvement and its a shame that he has not been able to strike up a real partnership due to Saha's injury.
Just a second mention of Ozzie...if he played like yesterday every week he would be ousting Barry from the England squad.
Andy Crooks
23   Posted 10/04/2011 at 12:24:52

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It is amazing how some inspired performances from a patched up side deflect for what has happened since August. You know what, by the end of the season talk of champions league next year will be starting again. This season has been poor and some wins, however enjoyable and welcome, doesn't change that.
Andy McNabb
24   Posted 10/04/2011 at 12:49:36

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Good article, Mike and like others I would only differ in that Osman has to get a mention.
I wonder if players ever read sites/blogs where they are slagged off no end?
He has shown both character and ability and it's about time he got some credit. I firmly believe without his influence we would be sitting just above the bottom 3 instead of top of the form table.
Ryan Holroyd
25   Posted 10/04/2011 at 12:43:03

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I really do believe that had we had a top class centre forward who was fit we'd be challenging for 4th place.

Our inability to convert chances has cost us big time.

As for Moyes, I think, in the main, has done a great job at our football club. There is no "Moyes Out" campaign amongst regular match goers. There really isn't.

If we could just start a season half decently......
Andrew Keatley
26   Posted 10/04/2011 at 14:31:21

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The opening twenty minutes yesterday were horrible.

Osman was particularly excellent. He was full of running, effective in possession, and really rallied the players around him in terms of effort and standards.

As Gavin (19) stated, the run from Beckford that created the space for Bily to fire in from 25 yards was superb. It shows that Beckford does have good instincts - and is prepared to do the selfless, unglamorous work that Moyes loves in his strikers. I wonder if Yakubu would have done the same...

The league this year has been very strange. We have underachieved - but so has almost every team in some way (except maybe Blackpool, Bolton and WBA) - and we are looking at a possible higher finish than 12 months ago. It doesn't, however, disguise the fact that this season has seen Everton struggling to find any kind of fluency, and that Kenwright cannot continue to rely on us fortuitously treading the choppy waters of the top 8 in the Premiership on his diet of no investment and rising debts.
Nick Wall
27   Posted 10/04/2011 at 14:48:55

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The other big problem we've had this season which noone has mentioned is lack of consistency. A promising performance against Man United is followed by a miserable home defeat against the barcodes. We beat Manchester City, then struggle against West Ham and Stoke, then bounce back again to beat Spurs. We knock Chelsea out the cup then blow it against Reading. What's going on here ? And how do you fix it ? Is it the players fault, or the manager's ?
Jay Wilson
28   Posted 10/04/2011 at 15:18:53

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With regard to finishing chances created, there was an interesting stat in the Guardian yesterday. We have the highest number of shots cleared off the line in the league, 12 in all. Just 2 of those going in could have given us another 4 points at least. Football really is a game of very fine margains.
Mike Gaynes
29   Posted 10/04/2011 at 16:05:48

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I will happily bow to the groundswell of support for Osman and admit that I could have mentioned him as well. Actually I've always been a big fan of both Osman and Cahill... two exceptionally intelligent footballers who get the absolute maximum out of limited talent, and as such are terrific symbols of Everton football itself. I'm especially happy for Osman because he takes so much slag from the doubters.

The reason I didn't mention either one in my list was a preference to give recognition to full-season contributors who don't get the credit they deserve. As crucial as he has been recently, Osman was pretty much a non-factor for the first half of the season. And Cahill, who scored so many thank-god goals early on, hasn't contributed much over the past couple of months.

My point was for the season as a whole, the guys I did mention have been the most important contributors.

Great points by Nick and Jay. To Ryan's point, I'd suggest that the absence of a top-class midfield playmaker has been an even greater problem this season than finishing. So many final balls have just been terrible. The one thing about this season that completely stunned me was the dropoff in Arteta's level of play... he created virtually nothing.

Mike Gaynes
30   Posted 10/04/2011 at 16:33:42

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Just sitting here watching Villa celebrate a goal against Newscastle. Think about Villa... finished two places ahead of us last year, more talent than us, more depth than us, higher payroll then us, and mired just above the zone because they've shipped 53 goals through their leaky central defense.

They've got our old friend Richard Dunne; we've got Distin. They've got Houllier and headlines about mutiny in the ranks; we've got Moyes. They've got Petrov as their captain; we've got Pip.
We're 7th; they're 16th.

Enough said.
Ernie Baywood
31   Posted 11/04/2011 at 04:40:15

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Lots of valid points about how the last month or so have gone but isn't all largely irrelevant?

When the opportunity was there to achieve something we weren't up to the challenge. Players didn't have the nerve and the manager didn't have the nerve. We trotted out loads of possession against some poor teams without actually trying anything different.

Now we're on a little unbeaten run I'm supposed to be happy with somewhere between 6th to 8th position? No chance - this was entirely predictable. The league finished for us in about January. What we've done since doesn't matter.

I'll always enjoy an Everton win but I'm not reading anything into these performances or results. Win a few in the 3 or 4 months leading up to next Christmas and we will still be in the competition.

This season was marked as a 'fail' a few months ago. I'm not giving them more marks once the real test has finished.

Apologies if I sound like a miserable bustard. Its because I am.
Ernie Baywood
32   Posted 11/04/2011 at 04:49:14

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Mike Gaynes #30 - if we finish 7th and Villa finish 16th... who wins?

I would say neither of us.
Sam Hoare
33   Posted 11/04/2011 at 12:21:01

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Ermm... Ernie, we would.

By 9 places and then about £5m in prize money.
Ernie Baywood
34   Posted 11/04/2011 at 13:01:05

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The "Famous £5m" DVD won't be a big seller Sam.

As for the difference between 7th and 16th... they're just degrees of failure.

We get 'junk time' points each year. Not good enough no matter how many teams sit below us come season's end.
Anthony Hawkins
35   Posted 11/04/2011 at 14:16:39

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If there is one thing that gets to me more than over optimism or a clouded positive view (eg, "haven't we done great this season!") is an overly negative view (eg, "Anything less than first is crap/ a loss).

The team have not done as well as they could or should this season and the season is not a complete write-off.

The impression I get is that Moyes's failure to bring in a known quality striker adversely impacted the team's ability to score. However, I would also say that the team has not played to the best of its ability for a large proportion of the season, regardless of the striking options.

Of course Moyes should shoulder some of the blame; however, I do not think it is all down to Moyes. How come the players are suddenly performing well? Is it something Moyes has changed? Not from what the man himself is saying.

I remember back to when England lost a match whilst Beckham was still playing and he came off the pitch saying "No-one said play long balls, we just did it". There is only so much any manager can do once the players cross the side of the pitch.

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