Last night's game ended a spell of 5 against the Sky 4. The record shows just one defeat, away, to the current English, European and world champions, by a soft penalty.
Reasons to be cheerful? You bet.
Whilst I will never be satisfied when we give the ball away cheaply through hoofs and suicide passes (there was a bit of both early on last night), to not praise the boys and Moyes for where we are at the moment would be churlish in extremis.
All our boys put in one hell of a shift. A bit worrying given the size of our squad. But the differences in the 2 teams go beyond effort (which should be standard for someone being paid £50k+ a week).
Our style and composure is in a different league to the shambles unfolding across the park. You never see an Everton player calling for an opponent to be carded or sent off (Gerrard, Mascherano). You never see Everton players rolling around on the ground as though they've been hit in the temple by a javelin, just to try and get the ball out of play for a rest and then get up again as soon as we do the decent thing (Torres).
You don't see an Everton manager whinging incessantly about tiredness or injuries (particularly with a squad of 66 players, 42 of them native Spanish speakers). You don't see an Everton manager talking utter bollocks about "crazy things" or labelling a blatant sending off as "wrong" and "disappointing" and "that changed the game".
Seems that we, along with good clubs like Arsenal, maintain high standards of sportsmanship and fairness. We work hard, enjoy our victories and bemoan our defeats. But we don't moan, we give credit where it's due and sometimes you just deserve to lose. When you do, that is a true test of character and manners. Benitez fails on every count. He's proven beyond doubt that he is a very little man indeed. Players like Carragher will tell it how they see it and honestly. Benitez lets his players down, he lets his club down, he lets his fans down, and he lets himself down.
The analysis of Lescott and Jagielka is almost getting boring. Sumptuous, imperious, confident, safe, brilliant. But what about our full backs? Didn't think I'd ever be thinking the words "Hibbert" and "England" in the same context. But unashamedly that is now a valid consideration. I hate to tempt fate, but both Hibbert and Baines are only just back in for extended runs. If their form (and our form) is kept up, by the end of the season these guys could be unassailable.
Hibbert seems to be getting more and more confident. His defending has always been good (it makes Ronaldo switch wings). But his offensive play looks more assured. He made one run last night that made me look twice as I thought it must be Arteta. Baines' run is well overdue and the kid is getting better and better. Sometimes the deficiencies of Baines and Hibbert is more a team issue than theirs. By that I mean that if and when we get a more aggressive and offensive midfield, and real forwards moving around rather than midfielders, I expect the contributions of Messrs Baines and Hibbert to get even better.
Howard had very little to do, but made one excellent save from the Alonso through ball. That showed great speed of thought and body. Whoever it was slagging off Howard last week on TW needs a reality check.
Tiny Tim had a quiet game by his standards, but I think he's earned it. That said, he made several brilliant contributions, the weighted pass to Osman should have been a goal and how in sweet Jesus did he get up above everyone to head that corner inches wide?
Wasn't totally surprised that much of this game whizzed past Fellaini. Particularly as the kid is playing out of position. I still think he's excellent and always expected him to blossom from next season.
Call me a soppy old tart, but I was almost emotional when Moyes sent on AVDM. This has been such a waste of a talent. Sure, most of it can be thrown at his feet. But the guy has clearly had problems and just as clearly wants to make a contribution. I would be nothing short of delighted if this flying Dutchman played himself back into the team and contributed towards a strong finish for us. I can only imagine his confidence right now is near rock bottom. WIth a few outings and encouragement from the management and teammates, I sense this boy could give us something we don't have (width, pace, crossing ability etc).
And then there's the kids. And what kids they are. Rodwell looks almost assured of great things. He is strong and athletic, can pass excellently with either foot and has an eye for a shot. Gozzer is a different animal, more offensive and tricky and unafraid to go for goal at any opportunity. I get SO much more satisfaction about seeing the success of boys like this, than in seeing my club waste £10m on a fat little Mexican (Giovanni dos Santos), or £14m on Craig Bellamy, or £20m on Robbie Keane.
I'm trying to get a perspective on what to expect in this season's run in and next season. So here's how I see the state of play with our squad.
I'm not hankering after another £100m to buy Messi or Kaka. i think we have something that almost no other club has with out togetherness and team ethic. I also think Moyes might just be entering a new era of confidence, almost arrogance, and maybe Steve Round is putting something in the pot. Together I see these as advantage Everton.
As for our squad:
Defence —Excellent, will get even better
Midfield —With the kids now part of the scene, we have gained much needed energy, pace and surprise. If I could have one wish (actually, 2) then I would bring in Moutinho and M'Bia and our midfield would be "the bollocks".
Attack —I have seen much of Jo on YouTube. Those who slag off the Russian league are way behind the times. This is a strong league. Their teams are easily holding their own in European competition. Jo looks fantastic. I hope it isn't JUST a loan and that's it. I think Moyes could get this boy back up where he belongs. He has pace and aggression and he works really hard. He's tailor made for us. With Yak, Saha and JV also available, could be a lot worse.
I'm starting to tempt fate so it's clearly time to close. I have just one wish for this season; that we shoot for the sky and see what happens. It could end up as FA cup winners and 4th in the league, or it might not. But we should be going out now to win every game between from hereon in. Only unwinnable game between now and May is Chelski away. But they are slipping, so who knows.
All this excitement and positivity is making me wobble. Need to sit down and re-visit what I wrote back in October when we were serving up abject dross week in week out. Fickle, moi?
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