Of course, similar sentiments were expressed just over a week ago, when Everton had the chance to follow up on the weekend’s comfortable Premier League victory over Sunderland with the visit of Championship side Reading in an FA Cup tie, and the outcome was a night that will be long in the memory of those inside Goodison Park as the Toffees stumbled to a humiliating defeat. But Everton did recover on their trip to the north east, in more ways than one, not only shaking off the disappointment of the cup knockout but coming back from a goal down to win for the first time this season. The last fortnight or so has seen the good and bad of Everton’s 2010/11 compressed into microcosm, with encouraging steps forward buffeted by damaging results soon after.
If the pattern continues tonight and Everton lose to Birmingham it will be the fourth time in five games Moyes has struggled against his compatriot McLeish. Despite a win at St Andrew’s in October Everton failed to beat City in three attempts last season. They drew twice in the league and lost in the FA Cup as the Midlands side’s resolute defending proved too difficult to break down, although it should be noted that Everton finished one place and 11 points better off. The sort of solidity that so frustrated Everton last season has however disappeared from Birmingham, as a quick glance at last year’s final league table confirms. After 38 games last season, Birmingham had conceded 47 goals with a goal difference of -9. This year, in 27 games, Birmingham have already let in 38 goals, have a goal difference of -12 and still 11 games left, suggesting an eventual tally to eclipse last year.
But Birmingham do have the one thing Moyes truly envies, even more than a backer with deep pockets. The Carling Cup triumph has given McLeish a tangible reward for the hard work of getting his team promoted and guiding them to mid-table last year. Whether the Birmingham manager would swap the Carling Cup for the guarantee of Premier League safety this term is something only he can truly answer but Moyes, who, if Everton beat Birmingham, will have no worries about falling through the trap door, has consistently spoken of his desire to win a trophy. Birmingham, with Carson Yeung supporting some big-name signings, have shown it is possible to take a trophy from the likes of Arsenal, something Moyes has yet to do. Birmingham’s Carling Cup win might not put them in the bracket of the Gunners, but a win over McLeish’s men is equally important to Everton to keep this turbulent season on the right track.