With Everton having survived in the Premier League in the two preceding seasons by the skin of their teeth, battled through the summer 2023 transfer window with practically no budget for incoming transfers, and Sean Dyche embarking on his first full season as the Blues’ manager under those difficult circumstances, expectations for 2023-24 among most Evertonians were low.

Retaining the Club’s top flight status for a 71st consecutive year was, arguably, the summit of our ambitions, although if you took the view — as this author did — that the Everton squad was better than performances under Rafael Benitez and Frank Lampard might have suggested and that a bedded-in Dyche could see further improvement, then a solid mid-table finish wasn’t out of the question.

This was still a somewhat optimistic assessment, given that the likes of Richarlison, Alex Iwobi, Anthony Gordon and Demarai Gray, some of the Club’s most creative and dangerous players, been sold in the preceding year or so while the alternatives to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who had battled injury throughout 2022-23 and made just 15 Premier League starts, after Neal Maupay rejoined Brentford on loan were two very unknown quantities in new signings Beto and Youssef Chermiti.

Added to that, Dyche’s record over his first half-season in charge at Goodison Park was decidedly patchy and featured just five wins. Even the decisive victory, a dramatic last-day escape with a 1-0 triumph over Bournemouth, was tight, edgy and reliant on Keiffer Moore missing a gilt-edged chance and Jordan Pickford being attentive enough to make a decent save from Matías Viña’s late volley.

Article continues below video content

Fears that Dyche, who appeared to lose his way in his final few months at Burnley after a decade in charge at Turf Moor, might struggle at Everton appeared to be justified in the opening games of the new season. Having won just four of his nine home fixtures after taking over from Lampard midway through 2022-23, the Gaffer lost his opening two games at Goodison of 2023-24, albeit narrowly and very unfortunately by a goal to nil to Fulham and then Wolves.

The team had 34 shots across the two fixtures without registering a goal and put in a horrendous display at Aston Villa in between to really set the alarm bells ringing among the supporters that staying up again was going to involve another titanic struggle.

After the new arrivals Beto and Arnaut Danjuma had spared the Toffees blushes at Doncaster Rovers in the Carabao Cup, the first League goals came, also in Yorkshire, in a 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane against newly-promoted Sheffield United. Danjuma was on target in that game as well, suggesting that the player Everton had sighed on loan at the second attempt after being snubbed by him six months earlier, was worth the wait. Sadly, the reality would be quite different — it was the only Premier League goal the Dutchman would score in the Blues’ colours.

Dyche’s side failed to match the heroics of his first match in charge at Goodison by losing at home to Arsenal, at which point they were languishing in 18th place but things started to come together as September wore on, starting with a hugely creditable 3-1 win away at Brentford that saw Calvert-Lewin score his first of the season.

An even better display at Villa Park in the League Cup, that not only made up for the awful showing in the League game a month previously but also inflicted on Unai Emery’s team their first home defeat for months, came next. But, just when Dyche seemed to be getting a handle on things and a tune out of his team, they suffered an ugly home loss to Luton Town, one that seemed underscore some uncharacteristic naïvete in his side’s defending and the folly of pairing Beto and Calvert-Lewin in a 4-4-2.

They bounced back with a resounding 3-0 win over Bournemouth, though, with loan signing Jack Harrison sweeping the pick of the goals home from outside the box, were hugely unfortunate to be robbed by referee Craig Pawson of the chance to take on Liverpool with 10 men apiece at Anfield in what ended up being a 2-0 defeat but got back to winning ways with three victories in four in all competitions.

With another laudable away win, this time by 3-2 over Crystal Palace thanks to a rare Idrissa Gueye winner, the Toffees had dragged themselves into 14th place and were starting to look up the table rather than over their shoulders. The dreaded verdict from a Premier League independent commission into the Club’s breaches of Profitability and Sustainability Rules in 2021-22 would swiftly peg them back, though.

With a stunning recommendation that the Club be handed a historic deduction of 10 points — one more than Portsmouth had received for going into administration 15 years earlier — the Commission came down hard on Everton and dropped them back into the bottom three and 19th place.

The response from the fans was defiant and damning of the Premier League and though the team were shell-shocked in their next match, falling behind to Alejandro Garnacho’s stunning overhead kick into the Gwladys Street goal and ending up losing 3-0, Everton were ultimately galvanised by the Commission’s ruling.

The Blues went on a four-game winning run that included handsome wins over Newcastle and Chelsea, erased the 10-point deduction, lifted them out of the relegation zone and once again put mid-table safety in their sights. Their momentum appeared to die, however, on a December night under the Goodison lights with Amadou Onana’s penalty in a shootout against Fulham in the Carabao Cup.

Everton were potentially just one kick from the semi-finals but Onana, taking the Toffees’ fifth penalty after Bobby de Cordova-Reid’s miss had handed the initiative to the home team, stroked a pathetically weak effort too close to Bernd Leno and the pendulum swung the other way as Gueye hit the post and Tosin Adarabioyo converted his kick to win the Quarter-Final for the Londoners.

What followed would set an unwanted club record in the Premier League for matches without a win as Dyche’s team sunk back down towards the bottom three. Successive defeats to Tottenham, Manchester City and Wolves closed out 2023 on a sour note and though a terrific free-kick goal from André Gomes in his final season at the Club eventually won the FA Cup Third Round tie for Everton over Palace, the Blues were dumped out in the next round by Luton.

Meanwhile, in the Premier League, the winless run stretched into early April, although February had brought some good news with the decision by an Appeal Board to reduce Everton’s PSR sanction from 10 to six points. That had lifted the Club up a place from 17th to 16th but it wasn’t until a fortuitous penalty late in the game against Newcastle at St James’s Park that the team’s fortunes finally began to change on the pitch.

Calvert-Lewin, who hadn’t registered a goal for over five months despite enjoying an extended run of fitness to lead the line for most of the campaign, scored from the spot to earn a morale-boosting 1-1 draw and, after going 13 games without winning in the League, Everton finally claimed three points by beating Burnley 1-0 at Goodison Park thanks to a blunder by goalkeeper Arijanet Muric and Calvert-Lewin’s diligent closing-down.

If that long sequence of winless matches had caused an increasing number of Evertonians to seriously question Dyche’s abilities as the Toffees’ manager, the doubts about the Gaffer appeared to be solidified in the very next game. Hoping that the verdict from a second independent commission to dock Everton another two points, this time for breaching PSR limits in 2022-23, would once again prompt a strong, unified reaction from the players, the fans were left aghast as the Blues were smashed 6-0 at Chelsea — the Club’s second-heaviest defeat of the Premier League era.

All the while, ever since mid-September, a takeover bid by US private equity firm, 777 Partners, had dragged on, many weeks beyond the projected 12-week timeline to gain approval from the League via the Owners and Directors Test. A slew of negative articles questioning not only 777’s suitability as stewards of the Club but also their very ability to raise the funds needed to buy out Farhad Moshiri and meet the League’s requirements for approval by Norwegian digital publication Josimar hinted that the whole endeavour was doomed to failure but the process was still not resolved by the time the season ended on 19 May.

Indeed, it would be almost another two weeks before a second deadline extension granted by Moshiri expired and the Anglo-Iranian was forced to open the doors to other prospective buyers. One of those, MSP Sports Capital, who had already fronted Everton £158m to cover a portion of the construction of the new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock, had the chance to take a 51% majority stake in the club on the 15th of April, the night of that heavy defeat at Stanford Bridge, when a deadline by which 777 Partners had to repay that loan expired, but they elected not to.

That left the saga to drag on while, on the pitch, Everton and Dyche responded to the drubbing by re-finding their groove and ensuring safety from the drop with room to spare thanks to a rousing week to close out April that saw them win three home successive home games. Relegation rivals Nottingham Forest were beaten 2-0 on the Sunday, the Blues beat Brentford 1-0 the following Saturday and in between was the result of the season, a chest-thumping victory in the Merseyside derby.

Jarrad Branthwaite, who had returned from a season-long loan at PSV Eindhoven in 2022-23 to cement his place in Everton’s line-up in an impressive breakthrough campaign that would end with him being called up by England, forced home the opener in the first half before Calvert-Lewin rose highest at a second-half corner to double the advantage. It was Everton’s first win in the Goodison derby in almost 14 years and, sweeter still, it effectively killed off Liverpool’s hopes of winning the Premier League title in Jürgen Klopp’s final season as the Reds’ manager.

It meant that after a 1-1 draw at doomed Luton and a slender 1-0 win over already-relegated Sheffield United, a trip to title-chasing Arsenal was rendered largely meaningless from the Blues’ point of view. Nevertheless, they were harshly done-by with a poor refereeing call that allowed the Gunners to claim a late victory that was in vain given Manchester City’s home win over West Ham that handed them a fourth consecutive Premier League crown.

Without the points deducted by the Premier League under an opaque and inconsistent sanctions framework that saw Forest lose half as many, Everton would have finished 2023-24 in a highly respectable 12th-place berth. Dyche had his critics during the season but emerged with enormous credit having navigated the team — and, in many respects, the Club — through a turbulent and difficult campaign.

Despite a long drought in front of goal. Calvert-Lewin would edge Abdoulaye Doucouré for top scorer with nine in all competitions and Branthwaite would be named the Players’ Player of the Season for a fine season alongside the virtually ever-present James Tarkowski that made him the top transfer target of Manchester United that summer.

It meant that though the Club’s immediate financial future was clouded in uncertainty, the foundations were there for Everton to avoid a fourth straight season scrapping for their Premier League lives.

How to get rid of these ads and support TW

© ToffeeWeb