Everton season review – Toffees follow familiar pattern to finish seventh

Everton: 7th

FA Cup: Semi-finals

League Cup: 4th round

A dreadful first half of the season, a superb second – this is the pattern Everton have followed in the last few campaigns and they stuck to it throughout 2011-12. David Moyes’ side where in danger of a relegation battle before New Year but after it came a run of form that catapulted Everton to the top seven of the Premier League and the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

Quite why Everton so consistently begin each new season with the form of, at best, mid-table mediocrities, is a conundrum that has so far avoided explanation. It hardly seems to matter what sort of summer precedes the start of the league, although the few months leading up to kick-off last August were amongst the most tortuous in Everton’s recent history.

No new signings arrived and the board and sections of the supporters were in open warfare against each other. Matters only deteriorated on transfer deadline day as Mikel Arteta, Yakubu and Jermaine Beckford departed, with Royston Drenthe and Denis Stracqualursi arriving on loan.

Both Drenthe and Stracqualursi were unknown quantities. Drenthe largely remains such since, even with 27 appearances to his name, few could honestly say they knew what to expect each time the winger was on the field. The on-loan Real Madrid player veered wildly between the fantastic and the frustrating, with the emphasis firmly on the latter. And when Drenthe was advised to stay away from the club ahead of the FA Cup semi-final with Liverpool after repeated breaches of discipline, his time at Goodison Park came to an inglorious end.

Stracqualursi, conversely, was almost the perfect opposite. Unspectacular and uncultured on the field, the Argentine made up for what he lacked in skill with sheer heart. No cause was ever lost, no ball ever unwinnable. Stracqualursi became a cult hero amongst Evertonians in the New Year after goals against Fulham, Blackpool and Chelsea capped performances of the utmost dedication. His future at Everton is unclear at the time of writing but there is little doubt ‘Scary Denis’ would be welcome back on a permanent basis.

But it was another striker who really turned Everton’s season on its head. Nikica Jelavic joined from Rangers late in January and, 11 goals in 19 games later, proved worth every penny. From losing at home to QPR, Stoke and Bolton before Jelavic, Everton ended the season scoring 11 goals in three home wins over Sunderland, Fulham and Newcastle.

Equally as important to Everton’s post-New Year turnaround, and the goals that flowed, was Steven Pienaar. Separating Pienaar and Jelavic is nigh on impossible – without the South African orchestrating Everton’s play Jelavic would not have nearly so many chances, but without the Croatian to score goals Pienaar’s work would be in vein, a situation Everton have faced many times before. Tying down Pienaar to a permanent deal is the greatest priority of the summer.

From dismal pre-January also-rans to one of the form teams of the division after the transfer window is a big leap but Everton took it and ended the year on the fringes of Europe, playing stylish, free-scoring football to boot. But now Everton have to discover how to return to that form come August.

Manager- David Moyes: Moyes marked his 10th year at Everton in March and came close to winning a first trophy only to end the season empty-handed. Pre-Christmas Moyes appeared moribund and destined for somewhere other than Goodison Park. But having found a goal scorer in the January sales the manager looked as refreshed as his team.

Player of the season – John Heitinga: Jelavic and Pienaar each made a good case in the six months since joining in January but Heitinga’s form across the whole year is worthy of recognition. The Netherlands international returned to centre-back after playing in midfield last year and was commanding, playing with a balance of style and steel.

Turning point – Nikica Jelavic arrives from Rangers: For £5.5m Everton have found a natural goal scorer. 10 goals in 15 games changed the course of Everton’s season and added an ice-cold edge to Everton’s neat midfield. At only 26 the Croatian has his best years still ahead of him too, and may prove to be one of Moyes’ best signings.

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