On the coach back from Cheltenham last night, David Moyes would have enjoyed a wry smile, his team are sitting pretty in 5th place in the Premier League and looking well placed to push for a top 4 finish and Champions League football. In addition Everton are comfortably into the 4th round of the FA Cup albeit with a difficult game awaiting them against either Bolton Wanderers or Sunderland.
It was a very different story this time last year, Everton were struggling in the Premier League and there was discontent amongst a large number of loyal Evertonians. In the last 12 months David Moyes has pulled together the third incarnation of his Everton, transforming a team that was beginning to show signs of decline into a genuine Premier League force capable of challenging the upper echelons of English football.
Over the next few days we will look back at the three main teams Moyes has put together before assessing which one can be considered the best of the Moyes era.
Team 1 – 2002 to 2005
Highlights: 4th placed finish in 2004/5
When Everton last finished in 4th place and with it the opportunity to qualify for the Champions League, Moyes had built a functional team, one who knew how to win and possessed a team spirit second to none. That spirit was built on the back of a difficult season and an even worse summer, with top players sold and board room squabbling sending the Blues toward financial oblivion. Moyes inherited a number of players in that team, Stubbs and Weir, both purchased by Walter Smith were instrumental at the back and were ably supplemented by Moyes’ first signing Joseph Yobo. The full backs were suborn, but possessed little flair. Tony Hibbert, Steve Watson, Gary Naysmith and Sandro Pistone shared the duties throughout the season providing a solid foundation that many a clean sheet was based. And with the brilliant Nigel Martyn in goal, the Toffee’s knew one goal was often enough for three points.
One of Moyes’ greatest signings, Tim Cahill joined in the summer of 2004 and provided goals from midfield. Lee Carsley, another Smith signing matured into a combative holding midfield player that provided Everton with a genuine resilience. “Mad Dog”, Thomas Gravesen was a joy to watch, his performances were so impressive in the first half of the season the Dane earned himself a move to Real Madrid. Kevin Kilbane and James McFadden provided width on the left, with a young Leon Osman providing balance and creativity from the right. Mikel Arteta joined the team on loan in January and replaced the creativity lost when Gravesen moved to Madrid.
The forward duties were shared. Surprise package Marcus Bent, who arrived with an initial spurt of goals that fired Everton towards the top of the league. Duncan Ferguson weighed in with a number of vital goals and his performances towards the end of the season which helped Everton home in on 4th place. James Beattie arrived for a club record transfer fee as Everton signaled their intent to return to the big time, although he found goals difficult to come by.
The previous season had ended in disastrous circumstances, with a 5-1 defeat away at Manchester City on the final day leaving the Blues in 17th place, just one place outside the relegation zone. The defeat was their 4 successive loss and influential players including Rooney and Radzinski decided enough was enough and rushed for the exit doors. That summer Moyes had spent much time soul searching and re-assessing his methods and stumbled across an unbreakable team spirit that pushed the Blues all the way to 4th.
The turning point came during the first away match of the season at Crystal Palace. Everton had already lost heavily to Arsenal the previous week and despite not playing particularly well, especially for the first half an hour, Everton came away with a 3-1 win. That match was the start of a 6 game unbeaten run which featured 5 wins. Wins by the odd goal became the norm and Everton won 14 games in total by a single goal that season, many of them 1-0. By Boxing Day the Blues had already amassed 40 points, an impressive total that had them placed third in the league. The second half of the season proved difficult as the pressure began to tell on a small squad, but Everton’s desire was too much for many and a famous 1-0 win over Manchester United at Goodison in March convinced players and fans alike that anything was possible. 4th place was sealed with a 2-0 home win over Newcastle and for the first time in 10 years, Everton secured European Football at Goodison for the following season.