Everton Season Review - Part One
This season has pretty much had it all - joy, excitement, disappointment and heartache. There have been off the field protests, a great player leaving, a great player signing, some fantastic victories, some horrific defeats and even a goal from Tim Howard (but still none for Tony Hibbert). Three things in particular will stick in my mind from this season: yet another poor start followed by a strong finish, the signing and goals of the wonderful Nikica Jelavic, and the gut-wrenching horror show that was our semi final defeat at Wembley.
Results during pre-season were distinctly average after a summer unsurprisingly bereft of transfer activity. With no new signings on show, our only real excitement was at seeing the return of Louis Saha and Marouane Fellaini from injury. The planned opening fixture at Spurs was postponed after rumours of a Hibbert goal sparked riots across the nation. Consequently we started a week late, and defeat at home to QPR represented the first of many lacklustre performances during the first half of the season. Things went better at Ewood Park with a narrow victory but it was a lucky win, with the home side incredibly missing two penalties and Tim Howard playing a blinder. Sandwiched between these two league games was a comfortable 3-1 home win against Sheffield United in the Can't-Be-Arsed Cup.
The end of August also saw transfer deadline day, with blues understandably pessimistic about our ability to bring in quality players. In the end we sold Arteta, Beckford and Yakubu, and the only players brought in were on season-long loans: Royston Drenthe and Denis Stracqualursi. The reaction from fans was a mixture of outrage, disappointment and heavy-hearted acceptance. Was our club really in such a desperate financial position that we were selling quality players and replacing them only with loanees?
Before our next fixture, at home against Villa, the Blue Union and their supporters held their first protest march chanting for Kenwright to stand down, with the reported number of marchers varying wildly depending on who you asked. Despite only drawing the game 2-2, this was our best performance of the season so far and we were unlucky not to pick up three points. The encouraging signs continued the following week, with Royston Drenthe and Apostolos Vellios scoring their first goals in a blue shirt as we swept aside Wigan 3-1 for our first home league win of the season. Phil Neville scored a beauty in extra time to put West Brom out of the Carling Cup, and despite performances still being lukewarm compared to what we would see later in the season, results could certainly have been worse. After ending September with a rare but predictable defeat at the Etihad Stadium, Everton sat in ninth place in the table.
The first of our season's three defeats against Liverpool came on 1st October. Losing 2-0 at Goodison, this was also the only one of the season's derbies where we could honestly feel hard done by. But hard done by we most definitely were, with Jack Rodwell being sent off for a nothing challenge in what has to be one of the worst refereeing decisions of the season. Two weeks later following an international break, we suffered a third consecutive defeat, this time at Stamford Bridge - the first time we had lost three on the bounce since November 2009. Spirits were lifted temporarily by a dramatic victory at Craven Cottage, with late goals from Saha and Rodwell sealing a 3-1 victory. Our opener was a screamer from Royston Drenthe, who was proving himself to be a dangerous and unpredictable asset. Any optimism was short-lived however, as three days later we lost to Chelsea for the second time in two weeks to go out of the Carling Cup, thanks partly to a horrendous error by Jan Mucha. Our first home defeat to Manchester United for four years completed a dreadful October for the blues. It had been a tough run of fixtures with a consistent theme: plenty of possession, sloppy defending and no ideas in the final third.
Five defeats in six became six in seven with a 2-1 loss to Newcastle at St James Park. With ten points from ten games and sitting seventeenth in the table, these were desperate times, with fans turning on the players, the manager and the board. Relegation seemed a real and terrifying possibility. After another international break, which saw Jack Rodwell win plaudits from the media for his performances for England, Wolves visited Goodison for our next fixture. After the Blue Union's second protest march, we won the game 2-1 without being convincing, with a headed goal from Phil Jagielka and a penalty converted by Leighton Baines. November ended with a 2-0 victory at Bolton, which remarkably saw us move up to eighth place in the table. David Wheater's red card for a lunge on Bilyaletdinov gave Everton an early advantage, which we made the most of thanks to second half goals from Fellaini and Vellios, the latter of whom was displaying an encouraging eye for goal, this being his third in only 235 minutes on the pitch.
December started badly with a 1-0 home defeat to Stoke. It was an emotional occasion, with a minute's applause being observed for our ex-skipper Gary Speed, as his father looked on from the centre circle. Our performance that day was truly awful. Robert Huth's winner was again the result of a basic defensive error, and the post match reflections from fans were familiar - zero creativity, and why would Moyes not consider playing two up front? Next up was Arsenal away, and again we struggled desperately to create anything to threaten the home side, Robin Van Persie's stunning volley eventually deciding the game.
The following weekend provided yet another disappointing outcome. This time against Norwich at home, we avoided defeat but could only draw 1-1 thanks to a late Leon Osman equaliser. The story was predictable, with Grant Holt capitalising on shoddy defending to put the away side in front, and the remainder of the game being played out with us seeing plenty of the ball, but largely unable to test the opposing keeper. Evertonians were understandably losing patience, the attendance against Norwich being our lowest during Moyes' reign. Swansea's visit four days later represented our only victory in December, before an extremely fortunate penalty decision allowed Leighton Baines to equalise and win us a point at Sunderland, in our final game of 2011. We ended the year tenth in the table, which felt flattering given the number of poor performances we had seen.
The first half of our season had been a predictable disappointment. Fans pointed fingers in various directions, but the bulk of blame was reserved for Moyes and Kenwright. The same old questions were being asked of Moyes - why the defensive substitutions? Why bring everyone back for a corner? Why not give 4-4-2 a chance? As for Kenwright - what was the price tag being placed on the club? Why hadn't he found a buyer? Where was the Arteta money, and why did we let him go for only ten million?
Evertonians longed to be pleasantly surprised by new faces in the January transfer window. A two month loan deal for Landon Donovan had been agreed, but this would not be enough. We all agreed that we needed creativity, and we needed a goalscorer, but with the coffers known to be bare no one really expected any arrivals that could make a difference. This was a horrible time to be a blue. Monsieur Bleu