From one extreme to another barely covers it. Despite the kits, the location and most of the players being the same, the Everton that rose to the occasion of the visit of the Premier League champions, Manchester City, were unrecognisable from the side that cowered against Wigan Athletic exactly a week earlier.
It was a performance as good as the performance against Wigan was bad – if the Wigan defeat was the nadir of David Moyes’ 11-year reign, it’s not exaggeration to suggest this may have been the high-point. It’s difficult to think of a match where every player contributed so fully, and more than one of the players who earned the 2-0 victory entered the best performance of their Everton career.
After the low of Wigan a week ago, the performance – even more than the result – was exactly what was needed. The club was divided in the week prior. Fans on one side, players on another, the manager and the board on yet another. But this was a performance of togetherness, a show of unity, and put everyone back on the same side.
The difference was most telling in the post-match interviews, immediately after the final whistle. Leon Osman and Seamus Coleman, the joint-men of the match as named by the television broadcaster, were clearly exhausted, dripping with sweat and almost too tired to speak. The manager was hoarse, too. Against Wigan, some of the players barely broke sweat but against City, to a man they gave everything.
In the aftermath of this victory, though, it’s important that not all of the problems so ruthlessly exposed following the Wigan defeat are forgotten. The rows that took place last week were generally bundled into one homogenous mass, when really there were three distinct strands to them.
First, was the problem of the performance, and generally performances since Christmas. By digging deeper against City, that was has largely been solved – for now, at least, although defeat to Stoke could see this issue back at square one.
Secondly, the question of Moyes’ contract, and we are no nearer a resolution here. But 11 years on from his first match in charge, and in a week where he has come in for heavy criticism – some deserved, some not – it should be noted that Everton are in a far better state today than they were when he took over. But at the same time, that doesn’t give Moyes a free pass either.
And thirdly, there is the long-standing problem of the club’s ownership and finances. This is an issue that can’t be solved with one match, no matter how excellent the performance, and has so many strings to it it’s hard to know where to start. One day a fascinating book will be written on the subject, surely.
So while Evertonians are understandably and rightly basking in the afterglow of a performance for the ages, it is still only one game. There are nine more this season, and the next two will be encountered without Steven Pienaar or Marouane Fellaini. Everton’s season can still end in relative glory, but for that to happen, the City performance will have to become the norm, not the exception.
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