Everton Football Manager 2018 Series: Episode 7

With 2017 fading into the sunset and 2018 showing itself in via the back door, there was little let up in the fixture list for Everton.

A daunting December had offered up a mixture of results and, whilst most were positive, we needed to bounce back from two expected losses against two elite sides.

Our first game of the New Year saw West Ham host us at that there London Stadium with the opportunity to put that Chelsea defeat behind us:

everton38Well stalemates are always likely, and neither side could break the other down in a even contest. I guess our upcoming FA Cup third round game would be the game to end our mini goal drought.

Fleetwood Town were the opposition we’d be facing on home soil and the prospect of a giant killing at Goodison Park didn’t bear thinking about:everton39It’s a good job we did a decent enough job to prevent that then. Sandro and Gylfi Sigurdsson bagged first-half goals to put us into the hat for the next round, though it would’ve been nice to score more.

But we must plow on, and another long trip down to the south coast is in order to face recently promoted Brighton at the Amex. We hadn’t been playing well but I still expected a win:everton40And a win is what we got, albeit in late fashion. They were the better side but, like any good Manchester United knock-off team, we grabbed the decisive goal to leg it back up the north west with three points in the bag.

Speaking of United, how about we host them next in the Premier League? I’d prefer not to either, but we might as well get the formality that is a loss to them out of the way:everton41I was joking, lads, we can end this run you know. Not this time around evidently as the Red Devils’ class told once more. We’ll find a way to beat you one day, Jose…

Croydon called next and the chance to move on swiftly from that Goodison defeat was in order. Would we reign supreme against royalty in the form of Crystal Palace (see what I did there? No? Oh blow you then…):everton42Hmph. I don’t know what was more baffling. That both of our goals were own goals from the same guy or that we drew because our nemesis Christian Benteke nabbed himself a brace. Curses and what have you.

No matter. A fourth round FA Cup encounter with Championship side Wolves would get us back to winning ways, even if it is at Molineux:everton43Double hmph. It seems we just can’t hold a lead of late and, even more annoyingly, they outplayed us for much of the contest. We’ll have to do the deeds at Goodison instead.

I’m not tempting fate by saying “Blah blah we’ll beat Spurs blah” as I’m starting to learn that not everything is rosy in our camp… but I remain hopeful. We’re at home after all and beat them in north London back in October. What could possibly go wrong?everton44That. That’s what could go wrong. Uuuuurrrggggh.

Everton Football Manager 2018 Series: Episode 6

There’s an old Christmas carol – ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ – which may have been an apt song of choice as Everton thundered into the month of December.

Some decent form in the Premier League and on the continent had set us up nicely as the halfway stage of the season approached fast, but whether we could maintain that moving forward would determine if it would be a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays for all involved.

A monster trip down to the south coast lay in store with Bournemouth the first team who had the chance to make us want to consume all of our advent calendar chocolate in one go:everton30We’ll stick to the ‘one piece a day’ principle then. An even contest punctuated by two classy goals from two of our more senior attackers did the deeds and had us dreaming of continental football next term.

But that would have to wait as our final Europa League group game was next in line. An away day in the Russian capital would determine if we’d finish top and have a good draw in the last-32:everton31Good lads! A very, very promising away display and top spot in Group C was ours despite the fitting wintry weather. It’s a good job we won for those 425 hardy fans who made the journey, wasn’t it?

With European football done and dusted until February, our league position could be handed a mighty boost heading into the New Year. First up was a home clash with West Brom:everton32You know, I’m starting to enjoy these winning runs. We were handed all three points by some laughable Baggies defending – two own goals, really? – before Cenk Tosun put the gloss on a routine win at Goodison but we’ll take it.

Could Watford do what West Brom couldn’t and halt the Blue juggernaut in its quest for a top four berth? Magic ‘8’ ball says ‘not likely’, and it was proven right:everton33Again, it wasn’t vintage but we were doing enough. Second half strikes from Nikola Vlasic and Davy Klaassen ensuring we continued our stunning form of late and even pushed us into the heady Champions League qualification spots.

Only three days had passed yet again before a visit to the Liberty Stadium to take on struggling Swansea. Could we finally make it two wins out of two on the road?everton34Yes. The answer, finally is yes. A lacklustre first 45 – how many times have we said that? – made way for a terrific second period that led to a late triumph thanks to young attacking duo Sandro and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. We were up to third. Bloody third, lads!

But not for long. After an easy run of fixtures we were sent to the Etihad to endure our toughest league test for some time. And it didn’t exactly pan out well:everton35We really did our best but Manchester City completely blew us away. In truth they should have won by more and our attacking forays were about as regular as a bus replacement service when the train strikes are on.

Still, the chance to bounce back against Middlesbrough at home came on Boxing Day and might prove to be a lovely belated Christmas present for us all:everton36That’ll do nicely. Tosun and Theo Walcott back among the goals, a clean sheet and putting that City result to bed was definitely needed.

Before we saw 2017 out we faced a daunting game against Chelsea.. We weren’t at the races against City but, on home soil, I suspected we’d give a better account of ourselves:everton37We certainly give it a good go, but ultimately Willian’s first-half strike proved to be the difference. Still, fourth in the standings and in the next round of the Europa League and Christmas had indeed come at the right time.

Everton Football Manager 2018 Series: Episode 5

After an outstanding October, the bitter winds of November could have heralded something of a downturn in Everton’s fortunes.

The wind was certainly behind us and, with a Merseyside derby win fresh in the minds, it was time to take advantage of our confidence levels and continue to perform above expectations.

A trip to Sparta Prague was first up as we looked to book passage to the next round of the Europa League:everton24And the disappointment of failing to hold a lead away from home continues. We weren’t bad as the stats show but, ultimately, a goal on the stroke of half-time for our Czech opponents did enough to throw us off our game. Qualification for the last-32 would have to wait.

A draw away from home is never particularly a bad result, especially on the continent. Or when compared to this absolutely out-of-nowhere scoreline as we travelled to face a Leicester side struggling in the Premier League:everton25Go on, laugh it up. I certainly did. Once I’d stopped crying into my coffee and resisted the urge to launch my laptop from my bedroom window.

I’m still at a loss to explain why we were so bad. We genuinely couldn’t handle Kelechi Iheanacho or Jamie Vardy. I’m still having nightmares about them now.

We couldn’t out-battle the Foxes, but maybe we’d have more look against the Magpies. They’re much more squishable, right?everton26Right. The perfect response after a drab first half with super-sub Cenk Tosun showing his class against a team we should be beating – and did beat – on home turf.

Back to Europe and another chance to throw our name in the hat for the last-32 stage. Rosenborg secured an unlikely draw in our first encounter but, with a strong team out there, I had every expectation of securing a vital victory to all-but-confirm our progression:everton27Bish, bash and bosh. A stunning display of attacking verve, unrelenting tempo and clinical finishing -let’s not talk about our lack of clean sheet again eh? – ensured we’d at least finish runners-up in the group.

And still the games come. Another journey away from Merseyside, and this time our team bus trundled up to surprise top flight package Stoke City, who were lying in fourth at the time. Could we ‘do a Spurs’ and secure a priceless three points?everton28This is starting to smart. They weren’t lethal but we were second best throughout the game and deserved to fall to defeat. It’s not as if we were resting players either. A return to the drawing board for our away tactics was long overdue.

But that would have to wait as, a mere 72 hours later, Arsenal rolled into town. This would be a true test of our mettle. Beating the Gunners would surely send out a massive message to everyone else, despite our terrible record on the road:everton29What. The. Absolute. F*ck. Just take that screenshot. Take in all of its majesty, its awe and realism.

A quite amazing 25-minute hat-trick from Sandro blew the visitors away as we scored our first three main goalscoring opportunities and, in spite of the north Londoners’ valiant fightback – which did make me bite a few nails down to nothingness – a fourth for my Spanish hero and one for Gylfi Sigurdsson handed us the points.

A rollercoaster of a month brought to a close, it was time to draw breath before heading into the madness that was December. Though how much more crazy could it get? Wait, don’t answer that.