There were some familiar themes in Everton’s 2-1 victory over Sunderland on Saturday. The Toffees conceded the first goal of the game for the seventh fixture in succession. Marouane Fellaini kept up his goal scoring touch with his third in two games. And Everton have still not been beaten by the Black Cats in the David Moyes’ era.
But some things have changed after the hard-fought victory, for both the winners and losers. A Sunderland player has finally found the net after going throughout October without scoring – Sunderland’s only goal last month came from Demba Ba, the Newcastle striker. And for Everton, a run of four draws came to an end as the Toffees recorded a first victory since a Sunderland player last got on the scoreboard, September 29.
Southampton were the opposition when Everton last picked up maximum points, but the newly-promoted side of course struck first to ensure Everton worked as hard as can be for their victory. The draws of October and early November can be roughly divided into two camps, those that were ultimately disappointing – at home to Liverpool, away at Fulham – and those that were perhaps, given the course of the match, points gratefully received. But most important of all is that Everton have rediscovered the winning touch before hurtling into a difficult December.
The rest of November sees two games that would definitely be classed as winnable, a trip to winless Reading and a home game with struggling Norwich City. The third is nigh on impossible to predict, as Arsenal come to town. If the Gunners that capitulated against Fulham are the opponents Everton can take a famous win. If the opponents are an Arsenal playing anywhere near their true capability it might be more difficult.
December is without question on the difficult side of the equation, not least because the 30 days of the month sees Everton play six times, a product of the crowded festive and New Year period. But the opposition is as much of a challenge. Everton play champions Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, welcome the dangerous but inconsistent Tottenham Hotspur to Goodison Park and round the month out by hosting Chelsea.
The standard of some of the teams faced in December is perhaps best measured by looking at what constitutes an easier game. When trips to Stoke City and West Ham United are comparatively comfortable, you can be sure there are some other fixtures capable of causing the utmost distress. The only match in the whole of next month Everton will be unquestioned favourites for is the visit of Wigan Athletic, and Tottenham know just how wrong that prediction can be.
So with the next six weeks or so in mind Fellaini’s intervention becomes doubly important, vital in the short-term of the match itself but also the longer-term of Everton’s season and its true aspirations. The next month-and-a-half then will do much to determine if Everton deserve to be spoken of as Champions League contenders.
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