The new year at Everton brings a familiar feel. Yet again, David Moyes' side cross the halfway point of the Premier League season having generated some momentum. Yet again, a difficult autumn, following the departures of key players, is slowly brightening into a run of results. And this, so far, in a harder financial climate than ever for the club.
Everton host Bolton Wanderers tonight, fuelled by a four-match unbeaten run which is their longest of the season. Victory tonight would move them up to ninth, with a game in hand. It looks like the budding of an impressive turnaround, but it would certainly not be the first time. Everton tend to rouse themselves after Christmas: in the last two seasons they were 14th at this stage, and finished eighth in 2009-10 and seventh in 2010-11.
Moyes said yesterday that he hopes for more of the same. "We've not been that consistent this season," he said. "But if you look at our past history, we tend to get better as the season goes on. We tend to go on runs in the new year. I've got to hope this could be the start of one. Everyone is talking about it and drawing my attention to it.
"Sometimes I'd rather just go along quietly and at the end of the season say: 'Hey, we've had another good second half to the season.'"
The Everton manager warned, though, that these spring sequences are based on hard work. "I keep getting reminded about it but there is certainly no guarantee," he said. "Winning games in the Premier League isn't easy."
Driving Everton up the table this year may require even more effort from Moyes. Everton have been unable to replace the creative talents of Steven Pienaar and Mikel Arteta, both sold last year, and there are fears Tim Cahill is not as sharp as he once was. Strikers Jermaine Beckford, Yakubu and James Vaughan have all left, too.