Meantime, in the circumstances we will do well if we hold onto sixth place and manage a semi- or final place in the FA Cup. However badly we performed at the start of the season there can be no gainsaying the way David Moyes and his players have recovered their pride and form. No praise is too high for them, or the no-complaints way they have handled the awful run of injuries. If they actually manage to come home with the FA Cup it would be a truly amazing feat. But that is tempting fate too far. This fan is just pleased we have maintained improvement in the most unlikely circumstances. Current form comes from a determined team spirit forged in answer to injuries. This resurgence didn't seem possible, given our early season form. So all credit to everyone at the club for a superb turnaround. Count me amongst those who thought the situation irretrievable. But it HAS been saved, and is all the better because it was so unexpected. It is also oddly old-fashioned - even contemporary dominant and talented teams don't show that kind of togetherness in these ultra-mercenary days. Moyesy and the players have achieved unlikely miracles in a few months. All praise to them. Our biggest fear was that they would roll over with the close-season shenanigans as precedent. Instead, they showed a lot of personal and collective pride. It is the clearest illustration that whining and moaning gets you precisely nowhere. You either shape up or ship out. Thankfully, Our Boys shaped up.
So........Where were we?.........Oh, yes - a draw against Arsenal home (point stolen by them in the last minute), away loss to Manchester United (lost on a penalty), a famous FA Cup replay home win over the pinkies, a home league win over Bolton (crushed to a smooth paste), Villa soundly thrashed at home in the Cup, and an away draw at Newcastle. Like most of us, I wanted to beat Villa so badly I could almost taste it; for some undivined reason they have turned into a thoroughly unlikeable outfit all round. Their fans contain a disproportionate number of knobheads and there are too many ugly thuggish shaved heads amongst their players, while Martin O'Neill still looks creepy when he's answering interview questions. Better even than that, of course, was the last minute defeat of a hapless looking Liverpool. It will be a long time before we get scenes like those at the end of young Gosling's derby. How very sweet it all was.
The recovery was built around the area we all thought would be weakest after the departure of Lee Carsley. That is, the very centre of the team. Instead, circumstances have dictated the formation of a fortress manned by Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott and Phil Neville, with a late addition of Joey Yobo back from injury. It isn't too much to describe them as virtually indomitable. Their rock solid support provided the platform for Mikky's creativity. Though we have nobody capable of replacing him in that role we might just compensate with youthful effort from Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman and an in-form Marouane Fellaini - if he can stop tripping people up in front of the referee and get on with his game. Up front we have been decimated and now have to rely on Louis Saha, a fine player on his day but sadly those days are notoriously reliant on staying off a stretcher.
The forced emergence of Danny Gosling and an even younger Jack Rodwell has been one of the features of our season. Once again the Academy has produced two very promising teenagers, though Gosling arrived a year ago from Plymouth. Both look the part, albeit in a gangling adolescent way with lots of growing to complete and much playing to learn. Of course it is never possible to say how young players will develop but there's no question these two have all the makings if they keep their heads clear of nonsense and stay injury-free. Only time will tell if they can grow up with David Moyes' management system. Waiting in the wings is a still younger Jose Baxter. Over the years Moyesy has certainly kept faith with his early proclamation that he wanted a young, hungry team to benefit from the experience of older players. It has been a long, rocky road but we all know the club is in a much better state than it was say six years ago. Such changes are not achieved overnight and NEVER by paying heed to ale house gossipers and whingers - improvements come about in spite of such garbled cretins. Being football, it is also fragile and can be gone in an instant. Had David Moyes not signed his new contract it doesn't bear thinking what might have happened. But he did, and the affect was immediate. Despite trying circumstances he might even have finally cracked the code of completing the final part of a season without fading form. We are about to find out.
Injuries apart, the only fly in the ointment was an original decision by Merseyside Police to move our home game with Stoke from Saturday to Sunday so BNP nazis could hold a march through our city centre. Then the march was abandoned and the match restored to Saturday. Which demonstrates perfectly why no democracy should ever let the rozzers or the military run its affairs. Things are difficult enough for decent policemen with a vocation. All that said, make no mistake about the existence of racist north Liverpool BNP elements who have attempted to infiltrate supporters of both our local clubs. They should be identified and exposed for what they are. Do not let them hide in a crowd. The BNP are a stinking, rotten, hate-filled, tiny minority canker in our local and national culture. They have nothing to do with patriotism. They have nothing to do with a fairer society. They have nothing to do with genuine democracy. They have everything to do with organised racism, thuggery and social cowardice. They stink the place out with their self-pity, loony isolationism and pathetic hatreds. To hell with them, and the sooner the better.
So here we stand, appalling injury list and all, full of fighting spirit, little money and a home FA Cup quarter final coming up. Being Royal Blue Evertonian is many things..........but never boring.
I first saw Mikel Arteta just after he joined us when he came on in the closing minutes as a substitute at Southampton. Ninety seconds after coming on he should have been back on the bench, red carded after a wicked shepherd's hook on one of their midfielders breezing past like the newcomer didn't exist. The Saints player went Jacobson's Organ first into the centre circle right in front of the ref. Mikky got a mere finger-wagging instead of making a dejected trek back, probably out of authoritarian pity. But leniency only served to show just how much shite we were playing at the time. Over in the away section, I sat with my head in my hands muttering to nobody in particular, "What the fuck have we got here? Haven't we got enough problems?" Shortly afterwards the whistle went and then we were on our way back up the motorway to home and the clean Atlantic air stream. Hardly anybody said anything about Mikky except to observe that it looked as though we had signed another deadbeat similar to a few others who had come and gone. His words at the time didn't exactly inspire confidence of a long stay either.
Now fast-forward to the recent Goodison Cup replay against the pinkies, and then an easy Cup demolition of Villa's Brummy Bashers. There, unbelievably, is the same Mikky strolling around in his own time-bubble like he owns the centre of the park, cushioning the ball, tackling, twisting and turning left and right, spreading passes long and short in a master craftsman's display of centre mid footy at its world-class best, looking every bit the kind of player we yearned for for many years. Now we had one, a player we could really build a team with, a side with real potential despite a run of injuries to challenge the A and E department of your local hospital. The transformation was as stark as it was footy wonderful and all the sweeter because it was achieved against very large odds. Genuine Evertonians - not the tiny minority whiners, not the Luddites - knew what long term promise it held. Then we went to Newcastle for a league game and the vision evaporated in a twist of ruptured cruciate ligaments and, separately, a truly disgusting "tackle" by Kevin Nolan on Vic Anichebe.
Mikel Arteta's road has never been easy at any time in his playing career. He seems to have had a restless temperament until he came to Everton in the January "window" of 2005. He had short spells at Barcelona, Paris Saint Germain, Glasgow Rangers and Real Sociedad, and thence to us. All walks of life produce such individuals and football is no different. Clubs came and went with his form and his positional play. He played wide right and wide left, all the time saying he wanted to play centre midfield, a position he only got into at best during occasional ten or fifteen minute phases of play. Almost everybody, including me, thought him too slight for centre mid. Me, I was happy for him to wonder across midfield creating havoc wherever he went. One-on-one he was a veritable handful while his free kicks and corners could be almost unplayable. Gawd knows how many goals we got as a result but I'm willing to wager it was an awful lot. Then half way through season 2007-2008 he got a groin strain that gradually reduced his effectiveness until he had an operation in the close season. Team fortunes reduced in exact proportion to Mikky's impact.
I don't suppose we will ever know for sure who originated our modern equivalent of the Kevin Brock Moment. But there's no doubt it came during the last third of our away European tie at Kharkiv in Ukraine in October 2007. Up to then Metallist had been the better team by some distance, home and away. They should have been out of sight and not just leading by one goal on aggregate scores. Then Mikky dropped back to deep centre mid and the whole tie turned turtle. Metallist went belly up as Our Boys suddenly found shape and went for it. Instead of looking like a sorry excuse for a collection of reasonable professional players we looked instantly like a team with purpose. Suddenly everything flowed through Mikky. We won the tie convincingly in the closing third of the game. For the first time this fan saw clearly what Mikky had been banging on about. The only question was whether he could maintain centre mid for ninety minutes in league match after league match. It didn't look likely as the groin strain took gradual affect on his form in the second half of the season. It affected him so badly he, of all people, even started hitting the first man with his free kicks and corners. We wondered if he would be the same man after his operation. When he came back, he wasn't. He was even better. Then a terrible run of team injuries forced him into the central role he said he always wanted. Almost instantly he was utterly brilliant and maturing in the role each match. And just when we thought our injuries situation couldn't get any worse, along comes the Newcastle game and the loss of both Mikky and Victor Anichebe to cruciate ligaments. If we weren't so hardened to this sort of thing it would make you scream.
The question now for both Mikky and Victor is one of recovery. The really bad news is that I have never seen any player recover full form after ruptured cruciates. The most recent example we have is Kevin Campbell. But there is always a first time and that is the way we must think. While Victor is still young enough to have a good chance, Mikky might find it more difficult. If The Best Little Spaniard We Know comes back from this one he might well become one of our all time greats. It will be all the sweeter because we have seen him endure good and bad times and mature during his time with us. Adversity maketh the man. There is much satisfaction in being a part of all that. It is something that cannot be bought by all the money in the world. We keep our fingers crossed for both players.