Yesterday’s result at Goodison can be seen as a marker of how far Everton have come in the past six months. Last season, when Tottenham Hotspur journeyed to Goodison, they left feeling justifiably frustrated. Despite dominating possession, playing 'better football’ than Everton and creating more chances, they ended up losing one-nil. With a face like a haunted-bulldog questioning its own reality, it’s often difficult to decipher Harry Redknapp’s emotions on looks alone. Yet, such was his disgust over the unfairness of the result, that in a post-match interview his facial muscles managed to temporally organise themselves in the way that an ordinary human’s would and register his utter loathing of the game’s outcome.
Back then, Spurs were flying high, heading for Champions League football and arguably one of the teams of the season. Everton were by contrast a bit sh*t. Our traditional end-of-season rally was only just starting and our season form until that point had been pretty poor. The only way we had got the three points in that game was by putting as many men as possible behind the ball and hoping to catch Tottenham Hotspur out on the break.
Fast-forward a few months to yesterday and it’s evident just how much Everton have improved. This current Spurs side might not be setting the league alight in the same way that Redknapp’s did during the first half of the 2011/12 season, but they are nevertheless one of the better teams in the league. And while a top-four finish might not look as guaranteed as it did last year, AVB has still put together a side that has the capacity to take on any of the Premier League’s best.
And so it was pleasing that Everton gave Tottenham Hotspur a decent game yesterday. In contrast to last season’s fixture, where our approach could best be defined as ‘victory through attrition’, in Sunday’s match we met the opposition in terms of skill and creativity, and for significant periods were the ones doing the dominating.
It’s likely that most headlines and reports will concentrate upon the last few minutes of the game, where Everton snatched victory away from Spurs in the cruelest of ways via two injury time goals. As a supporter of a club who for a long time have been characterised by a lack of resilience, it’s heartening to witness a side that are now capable of competing until the final whistle.
As usual this is probably attributable to the David Moyes effect. Moyes is a manager who seems able to instil ‘non-Everton’ qualities into Everton sides, such as combativeness, toughness and resilience. It’s the reason why we are now able to come from behind to win games, take on sides that are technically superior to us and win games in the way that we did against Tottenham Hotspur yesterday.
But beyond the headlines, it’s important to realise that with the exception of a short period after half time, where Spurs threatened to grab hold of proceedings, this was Everton’s game. And this matters because once again the club have illustrated that they can out-compete the best that the Premier League has to offer
Regardless of how well the team had started the season, our December fixtures were always going to be a measure of how much the team had improved this season. In recent weeks, Everton have entertained Arsenal and Spurs at home and faced City away. From a potential nine points we have taken five, and were it not for a dubious penalty decision against Manchester City we could have taken more.
The club has also won these points in a way that will please the fans. Rather than grinding teams down, which for the last few seasons has been our tactical default setting, Everton have been matching these big guns in terms of skill and creativity. When you throw in decent results and performances against Manchester United and Newcastle, it’s apparent that Everton’s lofty position in the league is deserved. At the moment at least, we are justifiably a top-four team.
It was also pleasing yesterday to see Jelavic get his name on the scoresheet again. If Everton have had a problem this season it’s been our inability to turn chances into goals. There have been countless games so far, such as those against Fulham, Norwich and Reading, where Everton have dominated the opposition, created chance after chance and yet ended up with at best a point from the game.
A key element in this has been the inability of Jelavic to rediscover the knack for scoring that he seemed to possess towards the latter part of last season. While in part this has been attributable to the club’s new style of play, one which relies less on pumping balls into the box (something that Jelavic thrives upon), there have still been plenty of opportunities for Everton’s number seven to add to his season’s goal tally.
The absence of a constant threat in front of goal has arguably been the difference between Everton hovering between the Europa/Champions League places and nestling between our Manchester neighbours at the top.
Hopefully, the goal will give Jelavic a degree of confidence, a vital lift. If the club really wants to maintain and consolidate its position at the top then an in-form striker is an absolute must.
Because his form is really the last piece in the jigsaw. Everywhere else, Everton currently have it right. With players like Hibbert and Gibson back from long-term injuries and players like Baines, Fellaini and Osman in the form of their careers, the club has never been better placed to make a serious assault on the top-four.
There are big games coming up this month, tough away fixtures at Stoke, West Ham and Newcastle and a tricky home match against the always unpredictable Chelsea. However, as testing as these games might be, if the Jellyman can rediscover the magic that made him an instant hero at Goodison last season, then there’s no reason why any of them can’t end in an Everton victory.