The last time I wrote one of these columns, Everton’s season looked all but done. A 4-1 defeat in the FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal seemed to have put an end to the Toffees’ challenging for anything of note in the final knockings of the campaign. I was expecting a strong finish, but at best a spot in next season’s Europa League.
At that particular juncture, Everton were off the pace in the race for the UEFA Champions League and supporters were ready to file this season under “transitionary,” as is so often the case when a new manager takes over. But, as I’m sure you’re well aware by now, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Roberto Martinez guided the team to five consecutive league wins on the back of that FA Cup exit, and suddenly Everton had a sniff of a potential fourth place finish. With that, of course, comes the glitz and glamor of Europe’s elite competition.
It was still but a dream at that point, but with Everton set to welcome Arsenal to Goodison Park in Week 33, a win would make Champions League football a very realistic ambition.
A massive game, one of the biggest Goodison has hosted for many years. As supporters, they’re the kind you relish, but with the Aintree Grand National meeting taking place a day before the game against the Gunners, there were a few weary faces and a plenty of sore heads on Sunday morning for those who had enjoyed a day at the races. Like my Dad.
I have to admit, I was a little worried the atmosphere might suffer as a result. Early games on a Sunday don’t typically produce the most raucous of crowds anyway, and when you factor in a city of hangover-stricken Liverpudlians, it’s not a recipe for stellar crowd backing.
But on arrival at the ground, there was that buzz that has been festering for weeks now, a buzz that has gripped the region as of late. Everybody’s talking about the football and the whole of Merseyside is unashamedly excited about what the end of this season might bring.
That buzz was transmitted into the ground ahead of the game, and the players fed off it. They were up for the clash from minute one, and when it became wholly apparent Arsenal were not, the noise levels lifted again.