Tuesday 26 February ~
It seems strange to say, on several counts, but Harry Redknapp is right – the Premier League looks exciting this year. At the end of February the league is neatly divided, exactly in half at tenth place, by an eight-point gap between Tottenham and West Ham. Both upper and lower halves are compelling but one of the most prominent sub-stories is the competition for fourth place. In their convincing victory over Manchester City last night Everton reclaimed that place, but also proved their progress under nearly six years of David Moyes's control and vindicated their policy of manager continuity.
The 2-0 win was an impressive and convincing one, hailed by the press and almost disbelieving Evertonians alike. Yet in the immediate aftermath of the game even the language used by the opposing managers reflected different sensibilities. Whereas Sven-Göran Eriksson trotted out the usual lines such as “the dream must be to play in the Champions League”, David Moyes instead talked of “getting the club back to where it was many, many years ago”. Moyes built up Everton's side whereas Eriksson went out and bought his, and it shows. Yet this was largely a product of circumstance. In 2005-06, there might have seemed to be justification for sacking Moyes, with the team exiting Europe at the first hurdle and hovering around the bottom three for much of the season. But the Everton board held their nerve. Many other club owners wouldn't have done – a list of League managers by their date of appointment is startling. The tenth longest serving manager, Paul Fairclough at Barnet, has been at Underhill for less than four years.
So while the teams either side of Everton, Chelsea and Liverpool, are in perpetual state of managerial limbo and Tottenham plan a £40 million attempt to “crack the top four” Everton look much healthier. With Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres as key contributors, Liverpool are still marginal favourites to finish fourth, but Everton look to be the better unit. Maybe the club that finishes fourth this year will be the one that has approached the challenge with the most patience and dignity. Ed Upright