Moyes celebrates a blue decade with a trademark win
Everton continue to bother the big boys, frustrating Tottenham at Goodison Park
I was there, ten years ago, when a little-known young Scot was entrusted with polishing the rusted glory of one of the grandest old teams in English football history.
When David Moyes took over, Everton had one won of the last 13, and stood one point above relegation with nine games left. Five years of resigned mediocrity under Howard Kendall and Walter Smith bequeathed their successor a club on the wane, and a squad containing David Ginola and Paul Gascoigne, who were 69 years old between them- and about 30 stone.
Within 28 seconds David Unsworth had blasted Everton into a lead against Fulham, and a club had been reborn. Everton have since gone from being a morsel of food caught in the teeth of the Premier League, which it would spit out if only it could, to bringing Champion's League football to Goodison Park; the last 16 of the UEFA cup; an FA Cup final; and an average league finish of sixth over the last seven years.
"It was the most one-sided second half I've ever seen" said Harry Redknapp petulantly after today's Everton took three points off Spurs. That might just be a way of avoiding the admission that his own hard-to-get flirtation with the F.A. has been a distraction for his players, but it's mainly because he doesn't understand or respect the way Moyes's Everton teams play. What's the point in 70% possession if whoever's on the ball has to get rid of it in the next second? If all of his options are marked? If any shot you do get away will have to get past the flinging body of a defender or midfielder?
At their best, that's what Moyes's Everton do. They play with self-sacrifice to the system. They get behind the ball, picking only the best moments to commit men forward. They play for their team and they want it more than the other side. It might not have been pretty, but for all their possession, Tottenham never carved out the clear chances which Redknapp's arrogant tone might have you believe.
That kind of patience was the main theme of Everton's start to the match. Like they did with Man City in January, Everton allowed Spurs to keep the ball, content to make clever use of what possession they did have. And apart from some careless passing, it went to plan.
Spurs can only blame themselves for the game's single goal. Kaboul looked embarrassingly flat-footed as the strength- and pace-less Leon Osman promenaded past him, while Ledley King literally ran away from the only striker in the box when a cross was about to be made. Nikica Jelavic was that striker, and his finish was of the quality Evertonians have been promised. A patient and considered finish to a chance which Louis Saha, earlier this season, would have lashed over the bar, then turned round and looked pissed off.
Another plus for the Blues is the returns of both Phil Jagielka and Jack Rodwell. While Rodwell could fit right back in next to Marrouane Fellaini in central midfield, it's hard to see how Moyes could justify the immediate removal from the defence of either Sylvain Distin or John Heitinga, who have both played well all season in a constantly changing back-four. And one can only guess what today's match was like for Steven Pienaar, watching the club which owns his contract but wastes his talents playing the club that loves him but only has him until the end of the season, like a man torn between the ex and the wife. But while on a city break with the ex. And she's having a fight with the wife. And winning.
Either way, Everton certainly missed his creativity today, with Royston Drenthe drifting in and out of games.
There is one negative trait of the last decade's Everton which has been evident throughout the last couple of months. The last six games have been against Blackburn, Man City, Wigan, Chelsea, QPR and Tottenham. While creditably beating the three big fish of that six without conceding, Everton have drawn against the minnows. A greater ability to dispose of teams at the bottom of the table would help them return to being a club established in the European places every season.
But that's the ninth game unbeaten for Everton. Not bad, going into the Merseyside derby on Tuesday, in which a win would elevate them above fierce rivals Liverpool....