The transfer window has passed us by once again with no ins of notability and not for the first time our on-field expectations have exceeded the reality of our first three results. If the statistic doing the rounds in the national press is to be believed, then Everton have made their worst start to a league campaign for 11 years. With the coffin-dodgers of Walter Smith’s reign, then such a start would be within most fan’s expectations – but not within David Moyes’.
We all know how far Moyes has taken the club since his arrival in 2002- the likes of Gascoigne, Hughes and Ginola were ousted in favour of the youthful and up-and-coming. Whilst initially tormenting us with some yo-yo years, the Scot ultimately assembled a better, fitter and stronger squad that eventually made consistent improvements year on year.
However, the consistency we would have all wished not to have had was the matter of size- small squad, big problem. Although, whilst Moyes and fans alike would regularly bemoan this ‘little’ matter to news reporters and on fan forums, it fast became our greatest tool.
The fact that we were not expected to be battling with the likes of Spurs and Villa for regular European places, only helped our ambition to do just that. Everton under Moyes quickly gained a reputation for being organised, efficient and dogged in approach; terms used so much that perhaps Moyes could have coined us ‘Everton- The Annoyingly Hard to Beat Club’ instead.
If we track Moyes’ time at Everton back to his appointment and work our way to the present day, then we come across a familiar trend. Everton were overwhelmingly tipped for relegation and appointing a fairly unknown rookie from the division below didn’t instil everyone with confidence. But the Scot won his first game in charge and led Everton to Premier League survival and 15th place.
His first full season in charge saw him take his relegation candidates to the dizzying heights of 7th place – a fantastic achievement with limited resources. Everton got going thanks to a six game winning streak and the stunning arrival of a teenage prodigy no one but us Blues saw coming. I won’t name Wayne’s…I mean names.
After a dismal season long flirtation with relegation in 03/04 that ended in 17th place, no one saw the 04/05 season playing out in the way that it did. An opening day 4-1 hammering by Arsenal was the wake up call no one saw coming, and Moyes’ underdogs (of war, to borrow a phrase from the decade before) defied all the odds to clinch that heaven sent 4th spot, and the chance to play in the Champions League.
And if we jump to the season that has just passed us by, with a threadbare squad stretched to it’s last when the season kicked off, the slow start to the season meant that no one was rushing to their nearest bookies to place bets on Everton making a late dash for a European spot.
What we notice in these instances is that with every ‘success’ that Everton has enjoyed, Moyes has had the gift of adversity. He may not have had the financial backing of his Chairman, but himself and his team had their backs to the wall on more than one occasion. This ‘war-time spirit’ defined the team and was instrumental in our campaigns to continually force the national press to eat their words.
Now we have our best squad under Moyes, the man admitted it himself and I’m sure no Evertonian can argue otherwise. But in some strange twist of circumstances, when all the ingredients are in place for us to potentially serve up our best season in recent years, the resulting concoction has just not cut the mustard.
Even Phil Jagielka has been heard this week in the media trying to put his finger on the reason behind Everton’s bad start: “I know it sounds strange but sometimes our strength has been backs against the wall, knowing we’ve only got 12-13 senior players fit for the next few months and now, every week, five or six internationals are missing out.” (SkySports)
Whilst the first three games have yielded just one point, we have to admit that we’ve started poorly (not that anyone’s arguing that statement). Yet three games do not decide a season and with so many games left to play there is more than enough time to turn things around. I don’t believe a managerial change is the answer to picking up points.
What does have to change is the mentality of the back room staff and the players themselves. They must realise that with a better squad comes expectation. When we lose, we cant look to our bench and moan that we’ve had to fill it with kids. We have great players on the pitch now and they must realise sooner rather than later that they have to get results. The alternative is wait until everyone has completely written us off, and then start proving them wrong.