These are supposed to be the weeks when Everton are reminded of the hopelessness of their deepest ambitions, when they are weighed down by the reality of a field that sometimes seems so uneven in might be located somewhere deep in the Alps.
It is just as well that David Moyes and his men treat the proposition as someone else's grasp of the art of the possible. Their own understanding is that if you battle hard enough, long enough you might just get somewhere close.
Last night they were faced with the prospect of a shocking entry into the second half of a campaign which had promised so much. Yet their reaction went to the heart of their meaning. They simply refused to be deflected from their belief that this indeed might be the season when they exceed the very best of their hopes.
It was more than a victory filled with character and moments of superb professional accomplishment. It was a refusal to buckle under the most dispiriting pressure. But then if January always has an edge of bitterness for Moyes, if for the last decade or so it has almost invariably confirmed his status as the most resilient street urchin in the opulent marketplace of the Premier League, this one could hardly have come in more discouragingly
He had a shopping list that stretched no longer than a couple of possible loan deals as Newcastle's latest passing hero Demba Ba travelled to meet Chelsea and get his hands on something described ludicrously as a loyalty bonus of more than £2m. That was enough to invite the old question about how long the Everton manager is prepared to fight against the financial odds, the instant strike of Papiss Cissé, whose own scoring touch had shrivelled in the shadow of the departing Ba, must have brought something close to a pang of despair.
The possibility of ambush on Tyneside can rarely be remote but this one was horrendously self-induced. Sylvain Distin, of all people, was lured with his central defence partner John Heitinga under a huge punt from Tim Krul and when the ball bounced high and loose Cissé towered above Leighton Baines to nod home.
This was the threat of an extremely bad night in the month guaranteed to test so profoundly a crusade which for much of the first half of the season had held the promise of something quite remarkable.
But if Newcastle's Alan Pardew was able to talk blithely of a replacement for the defecting Ba, Moyes was not exactly stripped of options.
He could make the point that has sustained his tenure at Goodison Park for so long and with such enduring prospects for some kind of progress. It was that within his team there is never a shortfall of serious commitment. If he has to scour for talent of the required level, the supply of authentic competitive character appears to be much less elusive.
This was never more apparent than when Everton were required to battle in defence of the lead they fashioned with quite superb commitment after that catastrophic start. After the stupendous free kick of Baines and the goal superbly shaped between Nikica Jelavic and substitute Victor Anichebe (left), Newcastle inevitably rallied before their aroused following. At one point Everton could not have been more stretched with both Anchebe and Phil Neville nursing head wounds on the touchline.
It was almost a parable of Moyes' plight. Minus key troops, his team was obliged to fight on against insurmountable odds. But if Everton can do anything, they can face up to such a challenge with exceptional resolve. Indeed, last night when you were reminded it is rarely less than their default position.
This is one that informs all of Moyes' work and last night as they fought so hard to regain their place in the chase for a place in the Champions' League there was another reason to acknowledge that beyond the enclaves of vast wealth in the Premier League, there is another story, another set of values.
That they have been so relentlessly pursued by Moyes for so long, and with such little self-indulgent complaint, was once against a wonder of the game.
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- Alan Pardew
- Leighton Baines
- Newcastle United
- Phil Neville
- Premier League
- Sylvain Distin