Forgive me. Anyone watching MOTD2 will know that the game was dominated by Manchester United, and Everton could hardly string a pass together. Once again, the focus on the Club that used to be all-conquering, and with just a little byline for “plucky Everton”, the Blue side of Stanley Park just daring to try and get back to its own glory days, the days its fans crave, and that history should at least think whatever karma-purge it’s now endured has now come to an end. Surely l’il ol’ Everton should have it’s time in the sun back?
Well, no. It doesn’t quite work like that. It doesn’t become your ‘turn’, just because you’ve gone 21 years (and it will be – at best – 22 seasons; I’m not counting the Charity Shield) without a trophy, and you think it’s about time we got more than an occasional rub of the green. You’d be a bit optimistic if you wandered through life expecting your bus to turn up, especially when you haven’t even left your FIFA17 sofa, let alone bought yourself a ticket. These things come to those that have a) skill b) effort and yes c) a huge slice of luck from time to time. I would argue that Leicester’s triumph last season was borne out of all three, and not because they’d never previously won the League’s top honour. And nor was it because they had plastic or paper clappers, FFS. They were just far and away the best team.
There isn’t, however much we might pray to him/her/it, a higher being that dishes out titles and trophies based on supporters bemoaning their luck, and whilst we know that Everton has a few gaps in the skills department, we might think we don’t get our fair share of luck or penalties in the 90th minute (who expected ‘Penalty to Liverpool’ to appear on their newsfeed whilst they were 4-3 down?), the one thing that has really got our fans sorely vexed these past few weeks has been the lack of effort. One game occasionally you’d excuse, but when you think that our last 90 minutes of end to end effort was at City, merely two months and 6 PL games ago (and some might even argue at that one), you don’t necessarily expect the tide to turn in one game against one of the leading Brands in World Football. But in terms of effort, that game yesterday was as much of a sea change as I’ve seen for many a season, about as closely resembling the Southampton, Swansea and Chelsea performances as much as I resemble King Henry VIII. And if you even dare to respond ‘wittily’ to that one, you’re blocked.
But yes, effort much improved. Not perfect, but much improved. The bellwether for effort is the phenomenal (and I really mean that word, unlike some that over-use it…) Idrissa Gana Gueye. Hands up who, unsportingly, hope Senegal get knocked out early in the AFCON, and/or every January Everton fixture is called off due to the weather? Or both? Dear oh lord, not since the days of a Carsley, maybe even in his own (mental) way a Gravesen, and certainly a Ball (Alan, no offence Michael), have I seen a player cover so much ground at Goodison. There was a time when McCarthy expended similar effort, but whilst JimmyMac buzzed around and threatened to stick a foot in, Gueye is always at you, always niggling, nagging, even naggling, always going where less brave men fail to tread. Rojo nearly took him out at the knees and curiously avoided the straight red that at least the MOTD2 pundits did see and agree on, but perhaps if he’d stayed down rather than pop up like some Whac-A-Mole, before realising “actually, that did hurt” (“En fait, cela a fait mal” if you’re reading this Idrissa…..), maybe Oliver might have seen more retrospective justice was in order. Instead, he dusted himself down, to renew hostilities with Pogba, Ibrahimovic, Martial, or any other multi-multi-multi millionaire strutting his stuff within his half mile radius. He is incredible. By his own standards, he’s had a muted few weeks, infamously getting caught on the ball a few times last week, but against the near-neighbours up the East Lancs, he was once again demonstrating that he’s more of a destroyer like Cars than trying to be a gifted creative type. His tempo and tackling helped retrieve the ball, break up attacks, and defend from in front of the back 4, so protecting Stekelenburg who didn’t have a shot or header to save all game, because the attacks broke down more often than not, making sure that danger lobs in the box, our Achilles Heel of late, were kept to a minimum. The carnage nearly caused by such a move in to our area after a Cleverley mistake, make you realise why it’s so important that doesn’t happen.
Let’s talk about Tom Cleverley. I’ve only ever booed one player, that fateful day when Fellaini’s effort and skill almost made me suspect he’d taken a brown envelope along with his 10 team mates when we could barely raise a smile, let alone a meaningful attack against Wigan in the Cup 5th Round. And to be honest, Fellaini only got it because he was being substituted and those of us left in the ground needed to vent their spleen on someone, anyone. When Cleverley got booed by many on Sunday, as he too was substituted, I thought that was a boo-too-far. OK, the guy had a bit of a stinker in the second half, having done one or two decent things in the first, and he certainly didn’t want for effort in the time he was on the pitch. With a bit more skill and a lot more luck, he might have caught that aerial loft cleanly when presented with Williams’ inadvertent header back towards him at the back stick. Did he really merit the abuse as he left the field, and a fair amount as the game was being played? Don’t get me wrong, he’s a squad player for us at best, and may even be shipped out sooner rather than later, but I think there’s a certain amount of respect our players need when they’re obviously putting a shift in for the shirt and for the Club. Cleverley has not been one of those to moan and groan on a public platform about his lack of opportunity at Goodison, he’s knuckled down as far as I can tell, and whilst he may not represent our future, he’s very much part of the here and now and deserves support not vitriol given his work ethic.
As I reflect some 24 hours after the final whistle, do I think that the game yesterday was a corner turned? There’s been too many false dawns (you can keep your false 9s) for me as an Everton fan to get over-excited, but if we show at least that effort from now on, we won’t come up too far short. Maybe we’ve seen the corner and are about to turn it, but there’s always the risk that we go down the one way street the wrong way, and now is not the time for that. We badly need to beat Watford, before the ball-playing red and whites arrive next Tuesday, and the pace and fluency of the RS the week after. Not because we’ll lose the last two of those, but because nothing breeds success more than success itself, so a win at Vicarage Road, home to Bradley Walsh, Elton John, my cousin, and a collection of ‘never-heard-of-hims’ that have gelled in to a decent team, and will represent a real threat if we don’t turn up, is an absolute must if we are to generate any momentum in to the joy that is 2017.
Our job is to support our team at the game, and perhaps debate the good, the bad and the Straq in more private forums – like Twitter…….