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Joe Strange - Everton prove you can't buy team spirit

Published: 21 Dec 2010 - 11:45:38

As regular readers of this blog will already know, I'm an Evertonian. Through the good times and the bad, the poor and the even poorer - the Blues are in my blood and always will be.

Minus a couple of forgettable seasons, David Moyes' reign at the club has been something that every Everton fan can be very proud of. On an extremely limited budget he's done an admirable job, helping the club regularly qualify for Europe, taking his side to an FA Cup final in 2009 and picking up a number of personal accolades along the way.

But with success comes increased expectation. Prior to the Moyes era, fans had become numb to season-after-season battling against the drop. Mid-table mediocrity was classed as a good campaign and most accepted that the glory days of the eighties were well and truly gone - the club was going nowhere.

Fast forward almost nine years and the Goodison Park faithful have an altogether different outlook on where the club should be and what it should be achieving. A top six finish and at least one decent cup run have become a minimum requirement on the blue half of Merseyside, a sign of the huge progress made under Moyes and his staff.

While the former Preston boss has transformed the club's reputation on the pitch, any dips in performance or form are now often greeted with disproportionate criticism and calls for the manager's head. Moyes has made Everton fans expect better, and to some extent he's paying for it.

Going into August of this year I was as optimistic as I've been heading into a new season. Despite spending just £1.5 million on new talent, we finally had all of our key players fighting fit and ready to continue their superb form from the second half of the 2009-10 campaign.

For once it didn't seem to matter that our Chairman couldn't stump up the cash for an exotically named foreign star - this was the season that we would fulfill our potential and make a real assault on the top four. Champions League here we come.

Almost halfway into the new season and this side, the side tipped for big things by the more knowledgeable pundits and journalists, was sitting in 16th position - just two points off the bottom three.  As you can imagine, the disappointment in and around the club was almost tangible.

That's not to say that Everton's hard-fought away win over Manchester City last night has made up for an otherwise frustratingly inconsistent campaign, but it has gone some way to appeasing the fans who know just what Moyes and his players are capable of.

The performance at Eastlands yesterday evening was in stark contrast to most of Everton's displays this season. For once it was the opposition who dominated proceedings but continuously failed to find the back of the net, a problem which has dogged the Toffees' failing strikers since their opening game at Ewood Park.

Manchester City's expensively assembled side kept the ball well and created a number of clear cut chances, but a mixture of good fortune, brilliant defending and genuine desire helped the Blues record an eye-catching win over a side supposedly challenging for their first Premier League title.

Few could argue that mammoth performances from the likes of Tim Howard, Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin didn't merit a much-needed three points, while contributions from the in-form Leighton Baines, the prolific Tim Cahill and the ever-improving Marouane Fellaini showed the quality of a side that should be comfortably in the top-half of the table.

But while the memorable rear-guard display, clinical finishing in front of goal and valuable points haul will have left most Everton fans with a renewed sense of faith heading into Sunday's Boxing Day clash with Birmingham, it was the scenes after the final whistle that were the real joy to behold.

The players screamed and shouted with delight at the final whistle, congratulating each other for arguably the most impressive 'team' display of any club this season. David Moyes was straight on the pitch, hugging his players and celebrating as one with fans. It was a great showing of togetherness, and one which is far too rare among many other clubs - City included.

I'd love to see Moyes given even a quarter of the financial backing given to Roberto Mancini over the last year, to see if he really can turn Everton from a very good team into a great one. But if it meant sacrificing passion and team-spirit for overpaid, big-name stars who don't get along then I know what I'd rather have.

Give me Tim Cahill over Mario Balotelli any day of the week.

Nil Satis Nisi Optimum.

FOLLOW JOE ON TWITTER @joe_strange
DSG


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FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:joe strange
A product of Brighton University's prolific youth system, Joe Strange has boundless energy and the enviable ability to cover every blade of grass in his Monday blog. Joe has written for a variety of football websites and fanzines and is also a regular contributor to golf.co.uk. Despite being born and raised in Kent, 'Stranger' is a diehard Everton fan and counts his team's penalty shoot-out victory against Manchester United last season as his most memorable football moment. Follow Joe on Twitter @joe_strange.

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