You’re welcome Manchester United, the title is now yours to lose. Hopefully, yesterday’s destruction of Manchester City’s flimsy title hopes can be regarded as payback for Everton’s role in the undermining of your faltering and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to capture the league last season.
For Everton though, the result is another twist in what is turning out to be a bit of a weird season. I don’t think I’d be alone amongst Evertonian's in being filled with a sense of foreboding before yesterday’s game. Last week’s utter capitulation against Wigan was quite possibly one of the worst performances that Everton have displayed under Moyes. Rarely has the side looked so clueless and so inept. But really, you could see it coming. Poor results, a sense of growing inertia and the constant ‘will-he-or-won’t-he’ debate surrounding the future of our manager all seemed to be conspiring to ruin what had once promised to be a stellar season. Set against this backdrop, the Wigan result can be put into context, even it was horrible to endure.
But although there were many Everton-based reasons for thinking we’d get nothing from yesterday’s game, my main issue was the fact that we were facing a City side who had to win to stay in contention for the league. Like a band’s difficult second album, City have found recapturing the magic of their amazing title winning season a tough act to repeat. A bloated squad, a temperamental dressing room and a manager who sometimes gives the impression that his heart is not in it, have combined to produce a campaign that has stuttered from the off. Despite this, the club still lies second and the title, while unlikely, was still a possibility.
In light of this, what I expected at Goodison yesterday was to see two opposites lined-up to face each other. On one side Man City, a side packed with talent and fired-up with the prospect of winning domestic glory. And on the other Everton, a side packed with some talent but not that much and one demoralised by their humiliating exit from the cup. If this had happened, then the result should have been a given with City walking away victorious. But that’s not what happened.
It’s been a long time since I saw Everton play like they did yesterday. This was more reminiscent of the side that humbled teams at the beginning of the season. You would think it was the home team who were lying second in the table and hoping to win the league and not the visitors.
In fact, it was hard to believe that this is pretty much the same team that Moyes put out last week in the cup. But were that side was lethargic, aimless and dispassionate, this one was tenacious, hungry and committed. From the off, City were never given time to settle. Everton harried, chased and attacked like their lives depended upon it, which considering the look on Moyes’ face last week could well be near the truth.
Like a lazy indie-band, Everton plundered the eighties for yesterday’s tactical inspiration, employing Coleman and Baines down the wings to terrorise the City back-three with cross-upon-cross. It’s a style of play that has fallen out of fashion recently but one that when employed properly can be devastatingly effective.
But despite our crossing prowess and aerial threat, when Everton’s first goal arrived it came from a piece of individual brilliance, with the tireless Osman treating the Goodison faithful to a wonderful finish from twenty-five yards out. In truth, the goal seemed inevitable. Everton always seemed the team more likely to score and after Osman’s strike could easily have added two more to their tally before half-time.
We’ll never know how much more convincingly we could have beaten City because not long into the second half, Everton found themselves reduced to ten men, following the sending off of Steven Pienaar for a second bookable offence. From that point on is was very much a ‘backs-to-the-wall’ performance, with City throwing everything that had at the Everton eighteen-yard box.
Ultimately though, all their huff-and-puff was to no avail. Everton withstood the onslaught and even found time to rub salt into the visitor’s wounds by sneaking an extra goal in injury time, courtesy of Jelavic. His assurance in front of goal was a welcome sight. Who knows what this will mean for the player. It might provide that all important confidence boost that he needs or it might just be a one-off. Either way, it was just nice to see an Everton forward score for a change.
The win and the style in which we achieved it was more than I could have ever hoped for today. It’s been a torrid few weeks for Evertonians; awful form, out of the cup, out of the European positions in the league, Liverpool seemingly on a roll and the genuine prospect of managerial upheaval in the summer. We needed a win but to do it by outplaying one of the best teams in the league is a wonderful bonus.
What’s this means for the rest of the season is unclear. I was ready to give up after last week, certain that we’d drift slowly downwards as Liverpool crept slowly upwards. But now I’m not so sure. Maybe Everton have still got what it takes to get something out of the campaign. Maybe there’s one last twist in this tale?