Another season of European football already assured. In the FA Cup final. Regarded once again as a force in the top flight. Not bad for what Everton’s chubby neighbour calls a “small club”. In returning to Roland Hughes*, the star of an excellent Who Are They? last season, we assumed Rafa would not be near the top of his Christmas card list. But then we’re just humouring Roly really, in the hope that his team will be kinder to us on Sunday than they have been in our last few encounters …
It’s been a fantastic season again. I was actually quite worried at the start as I really thought our place as the “next best team” would be threatened by more teams than in previous seasons – Villa, Spurs, Man City.
Thankfully, we’ve confirmed a place in Europe again (four top-six finishes in five years, not bad), and not just thanks to the other teams’ underperformance. We’ve also won a place in the FA Cup Final having beaten Boro, Villa, Liverpool and Man Utd to get there.
We are where we are through hard graft, some classy performances and having fought against the odds with key players (Yakubu, Arteta, Cahill and now Jagielka) out for long stretches of the season.
Those worries that I had at the start of this season will again be felt at the start of the next.
Let’s deal with your questions:
You swept us aside in the first game. Was that you being super efficient or us being rubbish?
It was no 7-1, granted. But it was one of the games that started to put Arteta’s season back on track – he scored two early crackers (the second was not an own goal by Collins…) and continued in that vein for the next few months before a bad injury. Dan Gosling, probably our young player of the year, also scored. We just really wanted it that day, but I remember being worried before the match – Sunderland have the players to punish a team like Everton on a lazy, post-Christmas day.
Can Moyes take you to the next step and re-establish you among the Big Four?
Well he’s done it once already! But I had my doubts at the start of this season whether he could do it on a regular basis.
When the Newcastle job became available, I was convinced Moyes might be off, and thought it might be in the best interests of both parties. How I’ve been made to eat my words.
I don’t expect us to become a regular feature in the Top Four. The financial clout of those above us is just too strong. Making a dent in the hierarchy above us just a few times would be a treat, though.
What Moyes does well is force out results when our backs are against the wall, reinforcing the idea of the little guy against the big guys. Can that work when you are part of the elite? I doubt it
Who are the players who’ve made it happen so far for you, and where do you still need strengthening?
Jagielka has been an absolute rock for us this season. Nothing gets past him, plain and simple. His knee injury deprives us of our best player for the FA Cup Final and I was extremely disappointed for him personally.
I have been more and more impressed with Leighton Baines this season, and he deserved his England call-up. Fellaini, Pienaar, Neville and Osman deserve mentions too, and Arteta picked up his form at last before getting injured.
I am still not convinced by Tony Hibbert at right back, despite wanting to be. He was terrorised against Man U in the cup. What we lack is someone who can do all the ugly work in midfield and another top-class striker. Saha has done well but you can’t rely on him; Anichebe has one more season to prove himself I feel.
Who are the greatest [players you’ve ever seen in Everton colours?
I got into Everton around the time of their 95 Cup Final win, so missed their glory days. I have to say Kanchelskis. I still can’t really believe he signed for Everton when he was at his best for United. Southall, obviously, even if the admiration has been dented somewhat by seeing him walking around a Kwik Save in Llandudno in his tracksuit. And then there’s Tony Thomas, of course.
Why wasn’t Kevin Kilbane on your list?
Zinedine? A hugely underrated player for Everton. One of those 6 out of 10 or 7 out of 10 players who never did anything wrong, but never overwhelmed anyone. The change from signing the Kilbanes of this world to signing the Pienaars instead is indicative of the gradual transformation of Everton under Moyes.
What about us? Were you surprised that a) Keane walked out and b) we have struggled all season?
I am surprised that it came down to Keane leaving and not being thrown out on his ear. As I have said before, how someone could spend so much money for so little return and still demand so much is beyond me. The Premiership is a better place without his posturing, and I can only hope Ipswich Town stay in the Championship for long enough for him to be found out there, too. Sadly, I believe Ipswich have money to throw around – great news for Keane; not such good news for them.
As for Sunderland, I’ve grown to like them recently, and am an admirer of Ricky Sbragia, even if he seems doomed there. They have played some nice stuff, although, for the amount of money spent, you would expect better. They made some wise buys in the summer – Cisse, Ferdinand, McCartney – and I feel next year has to be the year it comes together for Sunderland, otherwise it never will. And of course, that won’t happen – everyone else will be that bit too good compared to them.
Club v country. Remind us of who wins for you and why.
Country, every time. What would you rather win – the World Cup or the FA Cup? There’s your answer. Although, it is pleasing as an Evertonian to be faced with the dilemma at last – Baines, Lescott and Jagielka, three-quarters of our formidable back-line, are now regularly called up to the England squad. Leon Osman, too, should have played for his country by now.
Will you watch the game on Sunday? What will be the score?
Yes, I will be watching it in a no doubt sweaty, crammed bar in Abu Dhabi. Although if the atmosphere is anything like as good as when we won in the semi-final, I won’t mind.
My prediction is a 2-0 Sunderland win. We’re in Europe, and as much as I don’t want to see it, we’ve slowed down and now feel we have our reward for a long, hard season. You won’t deserve to win, but you will.
Man Utd certs for the title now? Who will go down?
I really hope there are no more twists. The last thing this world needs is another Liverpool league victory, so I can only pray Man U wrap things up, and I think they’re almost there.
As for the drop, I completed the BBC score predictor during a quiet afternoon two months ago and it relegated West Brom, Boro and Hull. I am sticking with that, and with Newcastle just – just- scraping by. Sorry, Sunderland fans, although hopefully next season they will drop down, it’s only a matter of time.
* Roland Hughes on Roland Hughes:
I am originally from North Wales, barely an hour from Merseyside, but grew up surrounded by Redsh…. sorry, Rednoses, this is a family website after all. Strangely, since moving thousands of miles away from Goodison to Abu Dhabi, I have seen more Everton games than in the last five years combined on television. Sadly, though, I haven’t been able to join in the buzz that everyone must have felt when we made it to the Cup final. I had to share the moment with a few random Scousers here and ended up hugging a Chelsea fan when Jagielka scored his winning spot-kick. Can’t see me hugging him come May 30th, somehow.