This may not rank as the prettiest win the Blues will enjoy this season – in truth it was a Boxing Day hangover of a contest, played against a backdrop of driving rain and, bizarrely, the sight of numerous visiting supporters in fancy dress costumes – but it could well be one of their most important. Victory over Wigan Athletic, narrow, scrappy, tense, briefly lifted David Moyes’ side into the Premier League’s top four once more. Another success here against Chelsea on Sunday could see them end 2012 in third place, looking up at only the big-spending, big-hitting Manchester powerhouses.
Their Champions League pipedream is looking a distinct possibility right now. It is an achievement that should not be understated. Moyes’ work at Goodison has long been heralded, and quite rightly too, but he is surpassing even himself at the moment. His Everton side, modestly-assembled, relentlessly-drilled, consistently underrated, are the envy of the cash-rich Premier League. This is no flash in the pan. This is a new, consistent, Everton. One which knows how to win football matches. This win took their 2012 points tally to 68, with one fixture still to be played. It is a haul that would have been good enough for a top-four finish in each of the last two campaigns, and their highest calendar-year total since 1987, when they were crowned champions. Nor are Everton gathering their results through negativity. This was the 16th league game in succession in which they have scored. And again, the last time they achieved such a feat, in 1985-86, they finished the season as champions.
A repeat this season is unlikely of course. Christmas miracles do happen, apparently, but not in the Premier League. And not when a side has failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 15 games in all competitions. Moyes admitted that his side’s defensive frailties are a slight concern. The goal they conceded here, to Arouna Kone, bordered on farcical, and turned what should have been a comfortable finale into a frantic one. Nonetheless, there should be genuine pride amongst Everton supporters at their side’s progress this season. It is easy to forget the state of play here 12 months ago, when the most sterile of draws at Sunderland saw them sneak into the top half of the table.
They were 13 points adrift of the top four after that game, with dissent from the stands spreading. A year on, some issues still remain, but the form, or quality, of the team is not one of them. Everton’s squad can still look threadbare when compared to some Premier League sides, but it is standing up to every challenge thrown at it. Here, as at West Ham, they were without Marouane Fellaini, their most influential player this season. And though the Belgian was missed – Nikica Jelavic’s form, for example, is one cause for concern for Moyes – the result still arrived. If, as the cliché suggests, good sides win games in second gear, then Everton must be a very good side. Their performance rarely ventured above average here, but still they rarely looked troubled.
They have lost just one of their last 16 games now, only two all season long. Only Stoke can match their unbeaten home record. Arsenal, back in March, were the last visiting team to win at Goodison. And even that defeat was somewhat unfortunate – remember Royston Drenthe’s bafflingly disallowed ‘equaliser’ that night? These are times to enjoy for Evertonians. There will be better games to savour than this one, but a look at the league table this morning should spread a smile across even the stoniest of faces. The good news is, Moyes is not content to merely compete.
“Some teams would be taking six points from 12 over the Christmas period and say that’s fine,” he said.
“We’ve got six already and we want to get more if we can. The players have done very well, and we will try and keep it going.”
If the rest of 2012 is anything to go by, Sunday’s should be a clash worth watching. Chelsea are a side on the up, but it would take a brave man to bet against Everton at Goodison. Blue Christmas? So far, so good.