How different would the mood around Goodison Park be today if Bobby Zamora had not missed an open goal in the 89th minute of Everton’s eventual victory over Fulham? If the England international had found the net and put the Cottagers 2-1 ahead, the late double from Louis Saha and Jack Rodwell would likely not have materialised. The Toffees may still have recovered to take a point but it is far from certain given the lack of time remaining, and instead of a morale-boosting 3-1 win Everton would be reeling from a fourth consecutive defeat.
In response to the three successive defeats Everton have suffered David Moyes made three changes, dropping Seamus Coleman, Tim Cahill and Louis Saha, replacing the trio with Phil Neville, Royston Drenthe and Apostolos Vellios. It was a significant change from the manager. It would have been easy for Moyes to dismiss the last three results, considering the difficulty of visits to Manchester City and Chelsea and the numerical disadvantage against Liverpool.
By writing off the three defeats as inevitable and unavoidable, Moyes could have excused the dropped points and the performances that led to them but that would have been a dangerous position to take, and ignorant of the malaise around the starting XI so evident a week ago against Chelsea. A raft of changes – including dropping the previously indispensible Cahill – gave the team the jolt needed and signified that the manager was fully aware of the problems surrounding his squad.
The streak of matches with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea was pinpointed by many when the fixtures were released as a run of games that could do immense damage to Everton’s season, and so it proved. But the trip to Fulham could have been even more devastating, acting as it did as an unlikely oasis in the middle of those stormy seas. Failure to capitalise on a comparatively simple fixture – the only circumstances in which a trip to Fulham would ever be simple – would exacerbate the gloom around the club, but the three points delivered by Drenthe, Saha and Jack Rodwell avoided that fate.
Now with something of a spring returned to their step Everton can approach the two home games in the next week, against Chelsea in the League Cup and Manchester United in the Premier League, with optimism. Losing is as much a habit as winning but Everton have broken it before it became terminal. The question now becomes can they continue it. Both the Toffees’ next opponents were as scarred this weekend as Everton were relieved, and the prospect of a scathing reaction must be considered very real.
So too, however, must be the prospect of Everton capitalising on Chelsea and United’s respective frailties, such as they are, and recording two more deeply positive results. Progression in the League Cup and three more points in the Premier League become Everton’s new targets, with the knowledge returned that Everton can face challenging opposition and more than do themselves justice.
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