THE second half was only just under way and Phil Neville had received the ball in the centre circle. As the hosts started to mount an attack against an obdurate Swansea side, Everton’s skipper was shaping to slip the ball to Seamus Coleman down the flanks but he wasn’t doing it quickly enough for some.
Within the split-second it took the former England international to pick his pass, murmurs of impatience and a few irate cat-calls broke out as anxious Evertonians urged their team to up the pace.
The Goodison faithful have grown accustomed to some fine performances this season, and when it doesn’t click there is a small minority that don’t hesitate in vocalising their concern.
That is, of course, the right of paying spectators, but Neville believes over-anxiety could be counter-productive at this point in the campaign.
With the Toffees still well-placed in fifth and comfortably within touching distance of fourth-placed Spurs, the 35-year-old insists now is not the time to panic.
“It’s about relaxing. I think we need to relax a little bit – the fans, the players, all of us. There was a bit of anxiety against Swansea when we should relax and enjoy the games coming up,” says the veteran.
“I’m not worried at all. We’re in a fantastic position. We’ve played every team in the Premier League and I don’t think we can be scared of any of them.
“We can puff our chests out and say ‘Right, we can do this’. Notoriously we get going in the second part of the season and I’m sure fatigue won’t be a problem because we’ve got one game a week.
“Obviously the fans and the manager were disappointed after the draw with Swansea but you’ve got to put things into context. The way I look at it we’ve come out of this Christmas period against West Ham, Wigan, Chelsea, Newcastle away, Cheltenham away and we’ve been full of energy and life. Our form has been good.
“Swansea was one of those games when we had a bit of a dip.
“We didn’t play with the vibrancy that we have been doing and we fell below the standards.
“But I still think we’re right in there with the hunt. We're in a great position to attack the second half of the season and we’ve got nothing to be scared of. We didn’t lose and we kept a clean sheet.
“I’m staying positive. It was frustrating because you think we need to pick up the three points against Swansea at home with the tough away games coming up but it never works like that in the Premier League.”
The former Manchester United man has seen enough of the vagaries of high-stakes top flight football to realise that this stage in the season does not give a true indication of how things will pan out.
“Look at Tottenham, they were probably expected to beat QPR but only got a point,” he says.
“It’s that time of the year when results don’t always go according to plan and it’s about slugging it out and coming through this January andFebruary period still in the mix.
“There’s 16 games to go and maybe recently people outside the club were getting a bit carried away with talk of qualifying for the Champions League.
“There’s a long, long way to go and plenty of football to be played.
“If we’re still in the hunt at the end of February then we can look at it.
“I think with our record against Swansea, them not beating us in the Premier League, we knew they’d have to change.
“They played a quick counter attacking type of football, sat deep when we had it, and allowed us time and space – tempting us to either hit it long or play at a slower tempo than we usually do.
“We prefer a quick tempo and an up-and-at-‘em type style and we couldn’t reach those levels.
“It’s probably the reason we didn’t get the result.”
Neville hopes that positive approach translates to a calmer winning performance against Southampton on Monday, when the Blues must compete against the tendency for new managers to grab a victory from their first game in charge.
But regardless of the man in the dug-out at St Mary’s, Neville admits it is a player missing from the Everton ranks whose return cannot come quickly enough.
Kevin Mirallas is edging closer to fitness but the former Olympiacos player, who picked up a gong in the week for the best foreign player in Greece last year, is unlikely to recover in time to face the Saints.
“When teams drop off and sit deep you’re maybe looking for a bit of individuality,” says Neville.
“Teams are going to defend against our left side so we need to balance that with play on the right and need individuals stepping up to the mark.
“Kevin definitely has produced moments of brilliance this season and we hope now we can keep him fit because he is definitely a match winner. The sooner we get him back the better because he can turn a game around on his own.
“You’re looking for someone to get hold of the ball, carry it 40 yards and beat a few men and Kevin Mirallas is probably the best man in the squad to do that.”
As one of the original founder members of the Football League, Everton are a club steeped in history and tradition and have played more seasons in the top flight of English football than any other club. Their association with the greatest cup competition in the world has thus conjured some wonderful moments, and this offering from Sport Media celebrates a century of memories since their first FA Cup success in 1906. Celebrate a century of memories with 'Everton's FA Cup 100'. Read