From January to March things never really went to plan for Roberto Martínez’ Toffees; results began to take a hit and although our performances might have warranted more points from a number of fixtures we found ourselves losing games and dropping down the table. That said we were still within the European places in the league but after such an impressive first half of the campaign it was frustrating seeing us beaten three times and drawing with the likes of Stoke and West Brom. The bar had been raised and we didn’t like it. And don’t get me started on the injuries. We’ve had to cope with a succession of injury blows throughout this season but since Christmas we suffered badly, it felt like with each game we would lose another key player with a serious problem.
But we came through those tough months, we refused to let our season fall away and since the turn of March Martínez and his players have shown that they still want to achieve something this season and they will continue to be stubborn and stick to their task; play good football and strive to get good results. Players have returned from injuries and got themselves back in form – young Ross and Rom to name but two. Others have come in and applied themselves well, proving their worth to the Everton cause – Steven Naismith and John Stones are prime examples. Overall as a Club I am proud we overcame the injury crisis that engulfed our season, and I take heart from how each time we were beaten during those frustrating months, we picked ourselves back up and got back to winning ways.
That is what this new Everton is all about. It has character, it is vibrant, and it wants to succeed. Martínez continues to apply his methods, regardless of who he comes up against. The game at St James’ Park was the latest example of him rotating but starting with an expressive and offensive formation. He began with Rom up top and young Gerry and Ross given the licence to advance. It struck fear into the home side’s defenders and although the Geordies did have some possession and half chances, Everton were there like a predator ready to pounce. Barkley’s goal represents the way the team was set up, we hit them on the break and our fearless attitude going forward got us our rewards. We took our chances and kept a clean sheet, and that win on Tuesday night gave us Evertonians yet more hope that we can still upset the odds this season and finish in at least 5th place.
I have tried to remain optimistic throughout this season and written about the ‘bigger picture’ under Martínez, but at times I’ll admit I was frustrated and disappointed – especially during those aforementioned months. However my underlying feeling that as a Club we are going places under Martínez has been a constant and since the beginning of March this has been added to much more. The wins against West Ham, Cardiff and Swansea were far from convincing, far from assured or confident – but they were wins, and that is most the important thing. The game versus Newcastle was completely different; we hit Newcastle and took our chances and never really looked too threatened, and again we came away with a victory. Each win as important as the next and from the offset Roberto has said this – aim for the top and let’s just see where we end up.
It is too easy to be downbeat or call it ‘typical Everton’ when results don’t go our way, and things could have been very different this season under a new manager with a new style but with the same limited financial resources as his predecessor. But it hasn’t, we’ve surprised a few and many have eaten their words about our Spanish manager, especially those pundits and so-called experts (some Evertonians) who had us down for a bottom half finish, or even relegation. I’d say to those people you have to give managers time, and a chance, and although many football fans want instant success I’d like to think us Blues are more patient types than that. Although nothing as yet has been achieved in terms of silverware or positioning, Martínez has kept us up there or there about at the business end of the table but he envisages much more from this side and together everyone associated with the Club is hungry, and it shows both on the pitch and off it.
As for where we are now we find ourselves in a healthy league position with a number of mouth-watering fixtures to come over the next couple of months. We (57) are above Spurs by a point (56) with a game in hand, and sit six ahead of United (51) who have also played a game more than us too. We also have a superior goal difference (5th best in the EPL) to those two sides (Everton +16/Spurs 0/United +11) which basically is a point in our favour if it comes down to it at the end of the campaign. We are six points behind Arsenal who have had a recent dip in form and face Manchester City this Saturday. Confidence isn’t really with the Gunners at the moment and if things don’t go their way this weekend then things will be set up for a tasty clash with us at Goodison the following weekend. To be fair regardless of what happens this weekend that game a week on Sunday should be a cracker, and it would be nice to get revenge for our FA Cup reverse at the Emirates last month, which came as a massive blow. Looking further down the line we travel to Sunderland, Southampton and Hull and also host Man United, Crystal Palace and Manchester City at Goodison Park before the season is out. Some exciting games to say the least, but before all of the above we go to Fulham on Sunday and that has to be our focus.
Fulham are rooted to the foot of the Premier League with just 24 points and a goal difference of -40. They are on the back of a 5-0 hammering at Man City but the last time they played at the Cottage they beat Newcastle 1-0 and find themselves scrapping for their Premier League lives but running out of games in which to survive. In this league anything can happen, and because we have won well in midweek does not mean we can travel South on Sunday and be complacent. Look what happened against Palace away from home, Stoke, West Brom, think back to our opening three games. Disappointing draws have hampered our progress at times this season and on Sunday we cannot afford that to happen again. Anything less than a win will be a terrible result for the Toffees who do still have an outside chance of the Champions League. Don’t tell that to the pundits or journalists though, they don’t even know who Everton are!
Who knows what will happen from now until the end of the campaign but during the past few months I have seen a lot from our players that tells me they do not want this season to fall away. They want to continue the good work from last year and make Martínez’ debut season at Goodison Park a memorable one. There is still plenty to play for and we have to continue to be up for it because we face some tough tests in the coming months, but the confidence and spirit is there. So let’s keep going and keep showing that we are a good side that is improving and isn’t going to slip away from those Premier League positions that matter.
Each year and season is a journey full of twists and turns and this year has been no different. Life as an Evertonian is often compared to being on a rollercoaster, but if this is the case then I tell you what Blues I don’t fancy getting off that ride anytime soon.
Bring on our remaining eight Premier League fixtures.
Allez Allez Allez Ohhhhhh…