Everton Club Focus – In-form Toffees hit their stride against West Brom

Andy Hunter in the Guardian last week wrote a piece on Everton’s victory over Sunderland that did much to explain why the result was met with such ferocious acclaim at Goodison Park. It was not just that the club had reached the FA Cup semi-finals and a Merseyside derby with Liverpool no less, although that was a large part of it. But perhaps as equally resonant was a feeling that Everton had finally risen to an occasion, rather than shrunk in its gaze. The match at the Stadium of Light was one of those seminal moments that occur only rarely, an opening to achieve something spectacular, and Everton for once grasped it with both hands.

That has not always been the case. A year ago Everton recorded another memorable FA Cup replay win, over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The game was goalless going into extra-time but Chelsea took the lead and held it until the dying seconds of the extended period. Cue Leighton Baines. The left-back curled a free-kick past Petr Cech to level the scores and cause pandemonium in the away end. Suddenly, the momentum was Everton’s and it carried through to the penalty shootout, when Chelsea came unstuck and the Toffees were through to the next round, a home tie with Championship Reading. After stepping up and surging past Chelsea, surely a meeting with a side a division lower would represent only a minimal problem, right?

Wrong. Everton lost 1-0, and the hard work of defeating Chelsea was now for nought, the emotion of a dramatic comeback victory wasted. Everton cowed in the face of a moment that could have laid the foundations for the success that is craved by all on the blue half of Merseyside, not least David Moyes. If Reading had been dispatched Everton would have been in the competition’s quarter-finals, a game away from Wembley, two away from the FA Cup final and three from a first trophy since 1995. But Everton turned up in body, not spirit. Reading were fully deserving of their win. Everton had no one to blame but themselves.

Fast-forward 12 months to the Stadium of Light. The original match at Goodison had been a rip-roaring affair, one that Everton largely dominated despite going behind early. It was hard to escape the feeling that Everton had already missed their chance, by not wrapping up the tie at the first time of asking. But by the time the replay came around the draw for the semi-finals was confirmed, and a chance for redemption after two defeats to Liverpool this season an added incentive. Everton responded with their consensus most impressive performance of the season. The roar that greeted the final whistle, and the praise that has been offered since, is borne of relief that Everton did not fail as much as anything as much as anything else.

Saturday’s match with West Bromwich Albion can be viewed in much the same way. After the intoxicating high of Sunderland came the mundane reality of the Premier League. Yet again, Everton did not waiver. West Brom were poor but Everton were focused, playing with composure and assuredness to go above Liverpool in the table. There was no humbling crash down to Earth, no Reading-like hangover, just the ideal preparation for the match that is on the minds of all of Merseyside.

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