OK, not a great start to 2014. Yet with each January comes one of the best weekends of football of the year, the FA Cup Third Round. Time for some belated New Year fireworks.
Three third rounds, three fourth rounds, two fifth rounds, one quarter final, one semi final, one final. That’s the FA Cup record under David Moyes. And if I were to sum it up in one easy-use cliché, it’d be always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Hardly Nil Satis Nisi Optimum, is it?
So when Roberto Martinez told the press that the FA Cup is just as important to him as league success, that awoke the giddy little schoolboy in me who takes we’re up for the league and up for the cup as gospel truth until the heart-shattering moment of elimination arrives.
I suppose, technically, we are up for the league and up for the cup, although Everton aren’t exactly on the up and up at the moment. Stoke presented a tough challenge for what will be a run-in more tense than just wondering if Romelu Lukaku’s going to pass to a teammate or the corner flag. They’ve only lost once at home all season, but we’re Everton, aren’t we. We play it on the carpet, we play it in the air. Any way we play it, we play it fair and square. And that doesn’t really work when Charlie Adam is standing on your foot.
Yet it’s time to give the league a quick breather and Norwich are next in the firing line as we look to return to 4th place on January 11th. For now, we return to the world’s greatest club competition – no matter what Paul Lambert says. Martinez can afford to be enthusiastic about the Cup for a number of reasons. Firstly, he won it last year, and there’s no reason why he can’t be holding that famous trophy again in May. Also, our squad seems to have more depth than ever this season. Why? Because every player is trusted to do a good job.
Case in point. Seamus Coleman, so often understudy to Phil “Couldn’t cross a road” Neville, is now ripping up the league from right-back. Ross Barkley is exciting Evertonians and Englishmen alike with not just the odd stormer but a scintillating run of form. Most impressively, a defence devoid of Phil Jagielka or Sylvain Distin wasn’t the all-out disaster we presumed it would be. In fact, Antolin Alcaraz has shaken off his “sicknote” tag and looks a very cool customer at the back – only in the short term, as he is 31 years old. Meanwhile, John Stones has asserted himself as a player club and country should be very excited about. Say what you like about David Moyes – it looks like his last signing for us could be one of his best.
This all means that we have a decent looking starting eleven for the game against QPR, no matter who we put out. We could see Robles, Hibbert, Oviedo, Naismith and Jelavic all start, or perhaps just a couple of them. Frankly, it doesn’t seem likely that Hibbert will play with QPR’s pace-laden options on the wings. We will be wary of this lot, so the tireless Coleman and McCarthy must be shoo-ins. Naismith and Osman could allow Martinez to give Mirallas and Barkley a rest, while the attacking choice is surely obvious. Nikica Jelavic needs a game and a goal, while Romelu Lukaku is knackered and far off his best. Vellios hasn’t run off to join the circus, it turns out, and is knocking about.
It’s great to have choices, isn’t it?
Funnily enough, our second tier opposition have a much greater squad depth, except they’re not as good and have the knack of not being arsed at important times. With Leicester pulling away in the Championship and a vital run-in coming up, old ‘Arry Redknapp – thank God we swerved him by the way, imagine a transfer window of just asking for Scott Parker on loan and Joe Cole on a free repeatedly – will rest a couple of key players.
Rob Green, always worth the odd blunder but often simply the victim of bad press, starts in goal. Ex-Evertonian Richard Dunne will most likely feature, with the likes of Traore – not the old shite one, the younger, slightly less shite one, Onuoha, Hill, Simpson and Assou-Ekotto all in the frame. Assou-Ekotto’s a doubt, but we’ve had enough of daft hair at Goodison. Ross Barkley’s even had enough of hair. Perennial bellend and Twitter jockey Joey Barton will feature and get plenty of stick – get on ‘im lads. The pacy yet wasteful and frankly quite money-grabbing Junior Hoilett is an option, as well as fellow Premier League fall-out boys Benayoun, Wright-Phillips, Jenas, Kranjcar, O’Neil and Diakite all knocking about. I can’t keep up with it all, so it’s likely that a couple of those are injured. Matt Phillips is a handful, while Charlie Austin provides a fair bit of a threat – potentially alongside another former Blue, Andy Johnson. How nice.
Remember too that a few of these meffs carry knives, so steer clear of anyone that looks like they’re up on a Scouser-skewing trip.
Right there, you’ve got the side that we could’ve been. Tony Fernandes is a decent owner it must be said, but it’s a case of money being formed into a side which can’t work together as a unit. Whereas we’re a poor bunch all pissing in the same pot. It’s not ideal, but we keep on going. Luckily, we’re smart with it, and as a result we’ve got a solid squad with a manager that trusts every man and wants them all to either play a part or sod off to West Ham – unless they’re gonna be picky about that too.
Just one more thing. F*cking score Jela. Go on. That’d be Everton, that.