The Opening-Day Curse?

Looking back at the win over Manchester United in 2012 that sparked an 11-year run of opening-day fixtures without defeat for Everton

David Hardman 19/08/2022 4comments  |  Jump to last

Background

I was quite surprised to learn that the recent defeat against Chelsea was Everton’s first opening-day loss for 11 years. Towards the end of David Moyes’s time at the club, losing the opening match had almost become the team’s trademark. Four seasons in a row it happened, setting the team up for a poor start to the season that it seemed to take them longer and longer to correct each time.

Sandwiching opening-day losses to a gradually deteriorating Blackburn side came a hideous 1-6 reversal against Arsenal in 2009, with Everton’s consolation goal only coming with virtually the last kick of the game, as all the unrest surrounding Joleon Lescott’s departure seemed to have affected the entire defence.

The Blues managed to top that in 2011 by somehow losing their opening game twice! The London Riots had caused the scheduled opener at White Hart Lane to be postponed. Consequently, Everton’s first game took place week later, at home to Neil Warnock’s newly promoted QPR, which they proceeded to lose, possibly the most deflating result of the lot. Then, when they did eventually make the trip to Tottenham in January, they lost there too.

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Of all the times for the unwanted opening game run to come to an end, it came against (the then mighty) Manchester United.

More Background!

Something felt different about the pre-season this time. The latter half of the previous season, it wasn’t just that the results picked up as usual – the standard of football on display had improved dramatically. This had been helped in no small part by Landon Donovan’s second loan spell at the club but, even after he returned to Los Angeles, Jelavic, Gibson and Pienaar (back on loan from the aforementioned Tottenham) helped continue the positive upturn.

During the summer, Everton managed to bring Steven Pienaar back to the club permanently, and following Nikica Jelavic’s success the previous year, Everton once again raided the now-dissolving Rangers for Steven Naismith. Kevin Mirallas also arrived to add further pace and flair to the attack; he was arguably the last of Moyes’s quality bargain signings.

Even the departures of Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell did little to dampen the mood. While a great servant to the club, Cahill had only managed a couple of league goals in the previous 18 months as age and mileage – both on the pitch and the frequent travelling to represent Australia – appeared to finally be catching up with the attacking midfielder. It was one of those rare deals that seemed to suit everyone.

While Rodwell had always shown potential, by the time the 2011-12 season ended, he’d become a peripheral member of Everton’s squad. Unfortunately but inevitably, he also failed to establish himself in the expensively assembled Man City first team – the speculation being that he and Scott Sinclair were signed that summer to help City meet their quota of home-grown players.

Significantly, the sale of Rodwell only took place after players had already arrived, making it the first time in 5 years that the club had proactively spent, and also meant they’d got their new signings in early so they had time to gel. If anyone needed an indication that this would be different and hoodoos were to be broken, it came in the final pre-season friendly when Tony Hibbert scored!

The Game  

A couple of years earlier and with no consultation or even announcement, the Premier League, in their wisdom, decided to stop having midweek matches in August. The only way to enjoy the first home game under the floodlights was if it was selected for Monday Night Football on Sky TV. This match was – and what a great night for Everton it proved to be.

Marouane Fellaini’s towering header from Darron Gibson’s corner proved to be the only goal of the game in an electric atmosphere. The big Belgian put in a Man of the Match display as he tormented United’s (admittedly makeshift) defence, and also put Osman through on goal only to see his effort hit the woodwork.

Resolute defending at the other end kept United out, the closest they came being when Jagielka cleared off the line from future Everton man, Tom Cleverley. Even the introduction of their new striker Robin van Persie failed to breach Everton’s defence.

The opening-day curse was lifted, Everton had not only avoided defeat in their first game, they’d beaten the champions-elect.

Epilogue

Everton continued their positive start, ending September in 2nd place in the Premier League and staking their claim as serious contenders for a Champions League spot after two last-gasp goals saw them steal the points from Tottenham in December.

It would be easy to say that, in contrast to other seasons, the team had a good first half but a poor second half of the season, fell off the pace, and once again failed to qualify for Europe. The reality is that Everton’s form throughout the season was actually good enough to maintain their place in the Top 6.

Unfortunately, due to both domestic cups being won by lower-placed sides, Swansea and Wigan respectively, 6th place wasn’t high enough to merit a European spot that season. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong in the comments, but I believe that must be the only time this century that 6th place hasn’t qualified for Europe!

As for Manchester United, they responded quickly to this setback and, backed by the goals of Robin van Persie, went on to cruise to their 20th title. Who would have believed at the time that in the next 10 years and counting, they wouldn’t even come close to winning another?!

Near the end of the season, the club, and the entire footballing world, were rocked by the news that Sir Alex Ferguson was to retire. This news would have a huge impact on Everton, but that’s a different story.

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Reader Comments (4)

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Lee Courtliff
1 Posted 20/08/2022 at 07:38:23
I was also surprised to learn that was our first opening day defeat in over a decade.

I was also at the United game, and it was a great atmosphere. Vidic simply couldn't handle Fellaini that night, he was immense.

With only 4 games to go we were still in with an outside chance of a Top 4 place, as it was a good, consistent season with only February (?) costing us genuine points as we didn't win a game.

Even with all that, I was still glad Moyes left as I'd accepted that is all we would ever be under him... The Best of the Rest, as they used to call us. It had all become so predictable and stale, imo, that even a good season wasn't enough to convince me that we'd make a breakthrough under him. The Quarter-Final against Wigan was simply devastating.

Little did we know a Billionaire was around the corner!!

Finn Taylor
2 Posted 20/08/2022 at 09:18:11
Two things about that season... we played really well and fell away in Feb ruary 2013... but did the players know Moyes was off at that point? And there was a kinda... oh well... was Moyes head elsewhere?

Moyes had been in charge 11 years then – the optimism of his early years had been replaced by a pragmatism that hyper-economics were now ruling the game – without ludicrous funds available, where could Everton really go?

Michael Kenrick
3 Posted 01/11/2022 at 10:14:21
"6th place wasn't high enough to merit a European spot that season."

Funnily enough, David, this happened just the season before (2010-11), when Fulham (8th) got in via the Fair Play table (thankfully, Uefa stopped that nonsense in 2016), Stoke (13th) lost the FA Cup Final to Champions Man Utd, and Birmingham City (18th) won the League Cup.

The sides that missed out on Europe? Liverpool (6th) and Everton (7th).

Danny O’Neill
4 Posted 01/11/2022 at 10:22:55
Let's not forget that finishing as League Champions on 2 occasions wasn't enough to get into Europe. Not just Europe, but the premier competition to pit our wits against the best.

I'm getting bitter. I'll stop there.

I think the next near miss was the Martinez first season. If I am not mistaken, any other season, that points tally would normally have qualified us for the Champions League.

What could have been.


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