THE month that turned it all around began with a New Year’s Day victory at the Hawthorns courtesy of Victor Anichebe’s goal and saw Everton progress in the FA Cup by edging out tough non-League opponents Tamworth at Goodison.
The month ended in a glorios victory over Manchester City at Goodison when Nikica Jelavic was paraded on the pitch at half-time, and – just before midnight – David Moyes sealed Steven Pienaar’s pivotal return.
UNBEATEN throughout, this was the month of The Straq. Everton’s cult hero Denis Stracqualursi was not a particularly talented player but his attitude and work-rate made him quickly popular. Straq chipped in too, with a strike in the thrilling victory over Chelsea at Goodison, and to ensure progress in the FA Cup. ‘Feed the Straq and he will score’ was the increasingly less tongue in cheek chant of the Gwladys Street faithful.
IF ever there was a month of contrast it was this. From the ignominy of a 3-0 defeat at Anfield, when David Moyes prioritised freshness for the FA Cup quarter-final against Sunderland, Everton ended on a high.
They had to travel for a replay at the Stadium of Light to vanquish Martin O’Neill’s men in the end, but they did it on a memorable night when an army of Evertonians descended on Wearside in free coaches provided by the club.
POOR Sunderland were thrashed 4-0 as Everton warmed up in formidable style for their biggest fixture in years. The FA Cup semi-final all-Merseyside clash at Wembley gripped the nation, and had Bluenoses believing they could taste a rare Wembley victory over their out-of-form rivals.
It wasn’t to be though, and a 2-1 defeat felt almost self-inflicted when errors by Everton allowed Liverpool to seize the day despite Nikica Jelavic’s early goal. The Blue half of the city wallowed in abject misery, which few suspected would be helped by a visit to Old Trafford next.
Many feared another hiding – instead they got arguably the Premier League’s game of the season as Everton showed admirable spirit to fight back in a thrilling 4-4 draw.
WITH the finish line in sight Everton could dream of the previously unlikely feat of European qualification, but draws with Wolves and Stoke undermined those hopes. That prize went to Newcastle, but at least the Magpies were put in their place at Goodison on the final day of the campaign. Alan Pardew’s arrogant comments beforehand were rammed down his throat as Everton won 3-1.
The end of the season had come too soon for Moyes’ side which was firing on all cylinders after a characteristic upsurge in January. The challenge then was continuing that form in the first half of the next campaign....
EVERTON had to wait until Monday August 20 to start their season, but for frustrated supporters the visit of Manchester United was worth waiting for. It had everything that you expect from a Goodison night game under the floodlights. Marouane Fellaini went on the rampage and Everton were good value for an emphatic 1-0 victory.
Then the Blues turned on the style to rip apart Aston Villa on their travels, before dissembling Leyton Orient in the Capital One Cup at Goodison.
HIGH-FLYING West Brom provided some deflation at the Hawthorns by stopping Everton in their tracks with a 2-0 defeat. But fears that Moyes’ men would revert to type and struggle in the autumn were unfounded as they were robbed of victory over Newcastle at home, when the teams were greeted on the pitch by the poignant strains of ‘He Aint Heavy He’s My Brother’ to show Merseyside unity in the Hillsborough families fight for justice.
The Blues put Swansea to the sword at the Liberty Stadium next and although a Capital One Cup capitulation at Elland Road provided a low point, there were still signs this team could achieve something. Elsewhere, Fellaini was disciplined for reportedly telling journalists in Belgium that he was ready to leave Goodison – a statement he quickly denied.
THREE games, three draws in a month which summed up Everton’s potentially costly habit of the season so far. The point against Liverpool at Goodison nearly felt like a positive in the end when Luis Suarez’s late goal was wrongly ruled offside, but clashes with QPR and Wigan should both have yielded victories.
EVERTON followed a solid home victory over Sunderland with an abject defeat by Reading at the Madejski Stadium which was to be only their second defeat of the campaign. They threw away three points at home to Norwich by conceding a late equaliser, before showing signs of improvement in matching Arsenal in another Goodison stalemate.
STILL well placed in the table, the Blues went to the Etihad Stadium and came away feeling they might have had all three points but for another dubious decision when Fellaini was ruled to have fouled Edin Dzeko in the box. No matter, they followed it with a memorable victory over Spurs at Goodison courtesy of Jelavic’s late, late winner. The striker’s manic celebration became a viral internet hit among fans as he dived into the crowd and pinched one fan’s blue hat before high-fiving the entire Everton bench.
Fellaini’s head-butt meltdown at Stoke meant missing their key man for three games over the festive period, but Everton have coped admirably and end a positive year with concrete evidence that there is still plenty to play for.