It was only fitting that on the occasion of David Moyes’ last home game as Everton manager the team produced one of their best attacking performances of the season, recording a 2-0 win over West Ham with goals from Kevin Mirallas, one of the Manchester United-bound boss’ final signings.
Moyes worried in midweek that the attention surrounding his imminent move to Old Trafford to replace Sir Alex Ferguson would distract the players ahead of the final two games of the season. If the utterly convincing way in which Everton dispatched the Hammers, managing 36 shots to the visitors’ nine, is anything to go by, they weren’t distracted in the slightest.
That’s despite, even at times during the game itself, the football feeling an afterthought to the goodbye that would follow the final whistle. Shortly after Mirallas’ second goal, on the hour mark, there was a sustained, intense period of singing from the packed Goodison Park crowd, paying tribute to Moyes, but even that was outdone by the scenes after the match ended.
Everton’s players returned to the pitch and formed a guard of honour for three individuals: first, club captain Phil Neville, who had already announced that he was leaving the club at the end of the season. Then came the manager, to a reception even more rapturous than Neville’s. And finally Tim Cahill, making his first return to Goodison since leaving for New York Red Bulls last summer, a surprise guest who came to pay tribute to his old colleagues.
Moyes visibly welled up as he went around the pitch with the players in the usual final home game gesture, but this time it signalled the end of an 11-year era, one that has seen Everton rise from relegation candidates to Champions League hopefuls. He found Everton at their lowest ebb for quite some time and leaves them with a squad containing a number of players the envy of the rest of the teams in the division.
It might have been better had this been the last game of the season, but Everton go to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea next week with little to play for, firmly entrenched in sixth place despite confirming their highest-ever Premier League points total. There remains though a lingering regret in the short-term that European football has proven beyond Everton this season, while much of the comment on local radio phone-ins mentioned the lack of a trophy from the Moyes years.
But coming in to a team staring relegation in the face, as Everton were in March 2002, and leaving them in the Premier League’s top six, having driven the change in mentality that has propelled the club up the table, is an achievement that should never be forgotten and, judging by the emotional reception Moyes was given in his last home game, it won’t be.
Moyes leaves a generation of Everton supporters who have only really known one manager, and a number of young fans who have grown up with Moyes as a constant in their football life. The players at Everton are all his, too, and whoever replaces Moyes has a tough act to follow to develop the same kind of bond with supporters and squad alike.
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