Everton’s year looked to be in disarray when their manager of 11 years standing took flight down the East Lancs Road for a new challenge. David Moyes was regarded by many to be keeping the Blues punching above their weight and many eyes beyond Merseyside predicted that his absence would signal a terrifying free-fall.
What we now know for sure is that Moyes was well and truly holding Everton back these past few years, not holding them aloft.
Roberto Martinez has swept everyone up in his positive approach to the game and it seems his promise to chairman Bill Kenwright of Champions League football was not an empty one.
Rewind 365 days ago, Everton were placed 6th in the league table before the New Year’s Day fixtures, with 33 points (the same points as Arsenal one place above them).
As we see in 2014, Martinez has the Blues sitting in 4th spot on 37 points having won two more games in the process.
What is perhaps more telling about Martinez’s achievements in his six months in charge (and about the openness of the Premier League this season) is that last year Moyes’ side after 19 games were a massive 16 points adrift of league leaders Manchester United. Martinez after 19 games has Everton just 5 points off the top.
2013 began favourably for the Toffeemen, going unbeaten in January with two FA Cup wins and a comeback against Newcastle at St James’ Park which featured one of the goals of the season: a real belter of a free kick from Leighton Baines.
The Blues experienced some patchy form over the next month or so, surrendering all too easily to the eventual champions (and the eventual club of our then manager) at Old Trafford and scraping through to the quarter finals of the FA Cup: a home tie with relegation certainties Wigan Athletic.
Fate is a strange creature, and the fact that the manager who so brilliantly masterminded Wigan’s 3-0 victory on that day in March (and who went on to lift the trophy against the odds) would return to the scene of the crime to take the reigns at L4, is an odd twist not lost on Evertonians.
But Everton bounced back from that disappointment with a brilliant yet hard fought win over title chasers Manchester City. Everton have a recent history of having their say in the title race. After helping City to the title the year before by drawing 4-4 at Old Trafford, they thought it only fair that Utd have the trophy this time round.
The Blues had been hovering steadily below the Champions League places all season and were still in with a shout of making fourth when they travelled to White Hart Lane at the start of April; just five points off fourth placed Arsenal with a game in hand.
Everton took the lead in that game, having come from behind and looked set to keep themselves in the thick of the pack. But a last minute Gylfi Sigurdsson goal kept third placed Spurs where they wanted to be and Everton limped over the line to 6th.
Evertonians knew before their second to last game against West Ham that it would be one of the last times Moyes would take charge of the Blues; the announcement that he would succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford signalling the break up of an 11 year marriage with Everton.
Before the embarrassment of his actions in the 2013 summer transfer window, Evertonians were more than complimentary about the Scot, recognising the achievements of a man who took on an ageing side with only a prayer to help them avoid relegation in 2002, and left them with their most talented first team since the title winning sides of the 80s; a side regularly challenging for European places (as well as finishing above Liverpool in consecutive seasons).
But it cannot be ignored that the general opinion of Moyes among Blues post August 31st has changed dramatically. While Martinez’s appointment was greeted with what would be fair to say impassive agreement, the Spaniard was quick to make his mark, swooping to bring in Joel Robles, Antolin Alcaraz, Arouna Kone and the one that really whetted the appetite, Barcelona starlet Gerard Duelofeu. All signed up just as the window opened in June.
Moyes meanwhile continued his usual transfer policy of ‘waiting till the last minute’ but in his disruptive pursuit of Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines, the Scot managed to ruin his 11-year relationship with the Everton faithful.
The new Man Utd boss may have got one of his men, but Blues (and Martinez) were more content to lose the towering Belgian than the country’s best left-back. And with £28 million coming in for the midfielder, Martinez was able to complete Everton’s best three transfers of the summer, bringing in Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku on loan while Wigan’s James McCarthy signed on a permanent £13 million deal.
It brought some relief to what had been an indifferent start to the season. Everton had drawn their first three games, two of those goalless draws but September brought a close to the transfer window as well as Everton’s first three points of the season; a well fought victory at home to Chelsea.
Everton’s season took off, and not even a disappointing 2-1 reverse at Fulham in the Capital One Cup could dampen the optimism around Goodison Park.
A thrilling comeback at West Ham saw two moments of set-piece genius from Baines’ left-foot and Lukaku’s debut goal, and after 45 minutes at home to Newcastle, the Blues’ 3-0 lead and pleasing on the eye football really had pundits taking notice.
Everton started December 5th, level on points with the neighbours but faced a tricky couple of days which started with a mid-week trip to Old Trafford and ended with a visit to the Emirates. But Martinez’s side had been playing some of the best football in the league and a first win at Man Utd in over 20 years capped off a fantastic week before Duelofeu grabbed a more than deserved point against Arsenal.
For so long as Everton boss, Moyes spoke about raising expectations at the club. Since his departure, the expectations of Evertonians have certainly been met and for the most part, surpassed. Many saw this year as being one of transition but Martinez has surprised even the most hardened of sceptics.
But there is a feeling among Blues that there is more to come, and that with the players at our disposal there is no reason why the perennial ‘over-achievers’ under Moyes can’t fulfil the target of Champions League football that Martinez so confidently promised back in June.
The 2012/13 season may have ended in an all-too-familiar fashion, where Everton fought so ‘bravely’ but fell so ‘admirably’ at the final hurdle. But there is the sense that 2014 may just see Everton back where they belong.
Best Player of 2013
There are enough candidates in this award for an entire squad. Lukaku’s goals have been vital since arriving in the summer, while Barry and McCarthy have become mainstays of the Everton midfield. Tim Howard and Stephen Pienaar have been back to their best, while Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin have formed a solid partnership.
But Leighton Baines has been in outstanding form yet again, scoring some important goals as well as providing them.
Best Young Player of 2013
This award comes down to two players, despite many youngsters impressing in the royal blue. Gerard Duelofeu has shown glimpses of his remarkable talent while McCarthy’s commanding performances in the middle of the park belie his 23 years.
But I cannot split the contributions of Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman. Martinez described Barkley as a ‘diamond’ of English football and he has given the 20-year old the platform to show the world how good he is. He’s scored some stunning goals and his enthusiasm to get on the ball and make things happen is infectious.
Coleman meanwhile just keeps getting better. He was a raw talent when first brought over from Sligo Rovers for a measly £60,000 but he nailed down a regular berth last season and his defending has improved no end. Also adding goals to his game.
Best Game of 2013
November’s Merseyside derby was the best we’ve seen in the Premier League and the 3-3 draw was probably a fair result, despite Everton conceding so late. The comeback at West Ham was one of the most exciting games of football, with the result constantly swinging in the balance until Baines and Lukaku helped steal the points. Outplaying Arsenal at the Emirates for 45 minutes even had Gunners singing the Blues’ praises.
But the 1-0 win at Old Trafford cannot be over-looked. Moyes tried and failed to get Everton to beat Man Utd at their place, and after 11 years and one change of allegiance, he finally did it!
Best Goal of 2013
As mentioned earlier, Baines’ thunder bolt at St James’ will live long in the memory, as will his two curling free-kicks at West Ham. Coleman has also scored some memorable ones, more recently at Swansea and against Southampton. But this one goes to Everton’s latest academy product for his equalising goal on the opening day of the season.
Shifting it on to his wrong foot, Barkley let fly from 20+ yards to net his first goal for his beloved Blues at Norwich.
Best Signing of 2013
Another award with a large pool of potential winners. Barry and McCarthy have been integral to the patient passing game Martinez has imposed at Goodison, while Duelofeu has mesmarised with his pace and trickery at times.
But the one known as ‘the Beast’ scoops the best newcomer award. Lukaku has become the missing piece in the Everton puzzle: a powerful centre forward who scores regularly. His nine goals so far this season have helped propel Everton into fourth.
Most Disappointing Moment of 2013
Everton were 2 games from going the whole of 2013 without losing at home when Sunderland arrived for the Boxing Day clash. Tim Howard conceded a penalty, was dismissed and the Blues could not make up the deficit. How very Everton.
But the moment that trumps them all has to be the 3-0 defeat to Wigan in the FA Cup. Everton were offered a near perfect route to the final at Wembley, but a disastrous 4 minutes in the first half saw Everton collapse and Martinez’s Wigan took full advantage.
The only refuge Blues can take from the dismal defeat was that Wigan went on to shock the world by lifting the trophy in May, and the man who masterminded it would be chosen as the next Blues boss. It was clearly just meant to be.