Everton: Under Martinez We're Finally Real Contenders For Champions League Spots
One of the most satisfying things about watching Everton at the moment is the knowledge that so many of the current squad are quite capable of getting a goal. Important, impressive strikes in recent games by the likes of Seamus Coleman and Bryan Oviedo offer comprehensive proof of this. Only record-signing James McCarthy seems incapable of putting the ball in the back of the net. His time will come, surely.
Like many of his teammates, McCarthy is visibly maturing under the mentorship of Roberto Martinez. Their confidence seems to grow with each match. They try their luck from distance and read the game with the accuracy of X-Men.
The team that was overrun at the Etihad earlier this season is not the same group of players who fought their way to victory against an impressive Southampton a few days ago. Things have changed, wholeheartedly for the better. We are meaner, leaner and more decisive. So much so, that several pundits and bosses have described Everton as the best team they’ve seen this season.
Where once, under Moyes, Everton were labelled overachievers punching above its weight - we are now serious contenders for a Champions League place or even a title. The excitement and anticipation of this inverted perfect storm is so much that many Evertonians must be suffering inexplicable nosebleeds. I, for one, am almost medically unable to cope with what’s going on and have sought pharmaceutical advice.
A lot of friends, former football fans who’ve been turned off by the antics and riches of top flight players, have been affected too. This topsy-turvy season, brightened by the open play by the likes of Everton and Southampton, has reignited interest in the beautiful game.
Sure, no one really believes Suarez and his ilk deserve so much money, but the PL is so unpredictable at the moment that it’s almost impossible to look away. It’s an unmissable panto right now, complete with heroes, villains and fat billionaire dames in terrible make-up.
Our shock Boxing Day defeat to Sunderland underlines that unpredictability. I thought we’d put six past the Black Cats, especially as they are rock bottom and because I saw them do it back in the late 90s, when Peter Reid was their boss. But on St Stephen’s Day, as I watched football’s Mr nice guy Tim Howard get red-carded and grimaced as chance after chance went begging, it wasn’t to be. We had so much possession that it was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters throw a game. Maybe the players had too much sherry in their Christmas trifle, or perhaps the wear and tear of the season was starting to show.
Whatever it was, Martinez made some big changes for the following game, including Steven Naismith, Antolin Alcaraz and Leighton Baines in the squad. And it made for a steely performance. Everton had less possession than usual and were pressed high up the pitch by the Saints, who played some very attractive stuff. The biggest worry, post-match, was the shot that stand-in keeper Joel Robles failed to collect. I would’ve saved that shot standing in my jeans. The Spaniard seemed to jump over the ball, which was admittedly hit like a bullet by Gaston Ramirez. Come back Tim, all is forgiven. Ramirez then gave his shirt to a bemused Everton fan, truly a bizarre celebration. It came on the same day that Chelsea’s Samuel Eto’o and Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho swapped shirts at half-time, without their bosses knowing anything about it. There’s sportsmanship and then there’s sportsmanship, but keep your shirts on lads, at least until the end of the game. And if you want to toss one into the crowd, give it to your own fans - who’ve spent considerable time and a load of cash to come and see you. With so much unpredictability in football, it’s comforting to keep some traditions as they are.
With a new year looming, Everton’s tradition of good football forged in the school of science will be severely tested. We will see just how strong our squad is and won’t be that surprised if everyone manages to get on the scoresheet at some point.