What a week.
It’s been a while since I last wrote about Everton, so let me fill you in on a wonderful few days for supporters of the club.
I’d just about calmed down ahead of the home game against Stoke City following a ferocious Merseyside Derby the week previous. So often with these sorts of games it’s a case of ‘after the Lord Mayors show’: the fans are a little subdued, there is a danger the players might not be quite as up for it and talk pre-match typically centres round the last week’s game, not the upcoming one.
So on reflection, making a few changes was an inspired decision from Roberto Martinez. Bryan Oviedo, Leon Osman and Gerard Deulofeu all came into the team and having been on the fringes of the first team squad, all looked to make an impression. They galvanized Everton, and Deulofeu in particular lifted the crowd with a dazzling performance. Stoke were blown away and they eventually caved in to a 4-0 defeat. It’s a cliché, but it was a game that could have been 10-0 if it wasn’t for Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who made some outstanding saves.
It set the tone for what was an understandably huge game for Evertonians, as the midweek fixture list saw the Toffees pitted against former manager David Moyes and his Manchester United team at Old Trafford.
Midweek games are never desirable. Especially away from home. But it’s not that far to Manchester and with the game obviously significant, we made the trip along with 3,000 raucous Evertonians hoping to sample victory at the home of the champions for the first time in 21 years.
The build-up to the game focused on Moyes, his time at Everton and his failure to win at any of the traditional top four in his time at the club. So often we’d travel to Old Trafford, to the Emirates, to Stamford Bridge and most pertinently, to Anfield, hoping for a win, but in the end being delighted to pick up a draw.
It was refreshing to see that from a blue point of view, there was enormous positivity heading into this one. Martinez had alluded to how important it was to Everton to overcome this mental block when facing the top teams and there seemed to be a genuine belief amongst the supporters that they could do exactly that.
We arrived into Manchester and met a few of my Manchester City-supporting friends for a couple of drinks, who naturally wished us well before the game. For those of you who haven’t been to Old Trafford, the stadium itself is situated about three miles outside Manchester city centre and we jumped onto a crammed Metro train up to the ground. The train station at Old Trafford is literally opposite the visiting supporters section and with about thirty minutes to go until kick-off, we went straight in.
At away games, in the concourse underneath the stand, things are always a little bit crazy. There are always blokes trying to sneakily have a cigarette, smoke alarms are going off, supporters jostling for space whilst trying to keep their beer intact and bar staff buzz about trying to pass out pints and pies on a metronomic basis.
Then the singing starts and that tingle runs down your spine. Everyone is tightly packed, bouncing around, hands in the air, beer flying everywhere; it’s like being at a concert in many respects. Often, the brilliant atmosphere forged under the stand fails to transmit when everyone meanders up to take their seats. But there was no danger of that at Old Trafford and the Evertonians were in superb voice from the first to last minute.
The game itself was brilliant. United attacked, Everton attacked. Marouane Fellaini, despite his subsequent ridicule, played pretty well and gave United a steadying presence in midfield. He was covering Ryan Giggs regularly, who looked to burst forward at almost every opportunity. Romelu Lukaku bullied Nemanja Vidic and the Gareth Barry/James McCarthy midfield axis gradually wrestled back control of the game.
Both sides hit the woodwork before Everton snatched it late on through a tidy finish from Oviedo. Typical delirium ensued as the ball was slotted home by the Costa Rican at the back post. It’s difficult to describe exactly what things are like when you score a big goal away from home. I know it’s chaotic, but I get so transfixed by the action and the subsequent celebrations it’s difficult to take things in sometimes.
So I’ve included a video here from a supporter who must have been no more than five rows in front of me that does a pretty good job of capturing the moment:
Much was made of the Everton supporters’ reaction to Moyes following that game. Chants like “David Moyes is full of s**t” and “sacked in the morning” rang out. Disrespectful? Not in my book. Don’t forget, Moyes departed with the well wishes of every Everton supporter before speaking ill of the club and trying to unsettle two of the teams star players. He burnt a lot of bridges with his conduct and it was nice to stick the knife in a little bit.
Anyway, he will have seen first hand the progress the side has already made under the stewardship of Martinez. The Toffees played without apprehension or a sense of inferiority in the Merseyside derby. They did exactly the same at Old Trafford. Something Moyes couldn’t master 11 years into the job, never mind four months.
The fans, myself included, were delighted coming out of Old Trafford. I felt like I was walking on air and the journey home was littered with talk of the game and the outstanding performances put in from the players. Not to mention, further excitement ahead of the trip to Arsenal.
I had every intention of making the trip to the Emirates. But when the game was moved by Sky Sports for TV coverage, it clashed with a family wedding. So reluctantly, I had to sell my ticket and rely on updates from friends. In truth, I was absolutely gutted to be missing it.
I was warned about checking my phone during the day. I was warned about sneaking off to the bar to watch it on the screen. So when I had a quick look at around half time I was pleased to see all the messages were effusive about the Everton effort. “Completely outplayed Arsenal here”, “Battering them”, “Barkley bossing it”.
Wow. But I also sensed heartbreak after reading “still 0-0 though”. We all know what usually happens here, don’t we?
But it didn’t and I was delighted to see the team had recovered from a goal down to snaffle a draw. I watched the game back on Monday and the team and Ross Barkley in particular looked the absolute business.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about an Everton team in my lifetime. Yes, there are loan players making big contributions and yes, Deulofeu, Lukaku and Gareth Barry could all be elsewhere next season. But the contributions from the likes of Barkley, Oviedo, James McCarthy, Kevin Mirallas, Phil Jagielka and Tim Howard – to name but a few – have gone somewhat unnoticed.
And of the loan players, Barry is out of contract in the summer, Deulofeu could stay another season and Lukaku – whilst I harbor very, very little hope that a permanent deal can be done – seems to love absolutely everything about the club. Just look at the passion he exudes after the goals against Arsenal and Manchester United. He just gets Everton and seems to be loving every second of his time with the club.
Anyway, if these players can fire the team into the Champions League, Martinez will be able to attract a much higher calibre of players down the line. I suppose sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate.
Everton are playing with a real swagger at the moment, and with a favorable looking fixture list coming up, have an excellent chance to cement a place in the top four.