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:We’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:Good 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:You 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:Again, 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?Yes. 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:We 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:That’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:We 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.