A welcome distraction from the toil

FAN'S EYE VIEW No 112: Everton
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It's been a rollercoaster, topsy-turvy kind of season for Everton. But it is really summed up by the last game of last season. We needed to beat Wimbledon to ensure we'd stay up. We did eventually win, after being 2-0 down, and winning a very dubious penalty.

The directors and management were united in their declaration that this situation must "never happen again!" After all, chairman Peter Johnson wouldn't want 30,000 claims for repetitive tension injury landing on his desk!

During the summer, Mike Walker made strenuous attempts to sign some quality players. Usually foreign and usually strikers - but he always drew a blank. The start of a new season, however, saw our usual optimism rising to the surface, only to be cruelly dashed. But we did have one thing to cheer about - the appearance from Club Bruges of Daniel Amokachi.

"Amo" was welcomed on two fronts. He appeared to be a world-class striker, and he was black! Everton were now politically correct. Unfortunately no one realised that poor old "Amo" played in the space between the strikers and midfield. He was asked to play as a target man, and was as useful as Thomas the Tank Engine pulling Gordon's Express!

Everton's season went from bad to downright dire. Knocked out of the Coca-Cola Cup by Portsmouth, it took until the first of November for us to register a win in the Premiership. It came against West Ham at Goodison. On that night in November, Everton were the better of two terrible sides. Gary Ablett nodded in a second-half goal. We started to wobble, as West Ham huffed and puffed in their search for an equaliser. In injury time, Lee Chapman had the ball on our six-yard line with an entirely empty goal to aim at. He drew back his foot, shot, and the ball ended up somewhere in the upper tier of the Gwladys Road stand! Unbelievable! Surely this was Mike Walker's turning point. Sadly, we were never to find out. After a further sterile draw with Norwich at Carrow Road, he fell.

So King Walker was dead, re-enter the King Royle. Under Joe, the situation rapidly improved. But who really should take the credit? Has it been Royle's man-management, Willie Donachie's coaching? Yes to both, I'd say. But we have to remember that, under Walker, the team played like strangers. The purchase of Duncan Ferguson (allegedly by the chairman, initially on loan, confirmed as permanent later by Royle) saved the season. Royle started to play him in his natural position, as a target man.

Everton began to accumulate points and started to move slowly away from the drop zone, but injuries and suspensions began to take their toll. Although progress was made, it was slow. A natural antidote was the gathering momentum of the FA Cup run. While the struggle had been going on in the Premiership, our form in the Cup had been good. The semi-final against Spurs saw Royle's Everton at their best. Even "Amo" came good at last, with his two goals.

After a season like this, an appearance in the final is a bonus. But there is a little bit of spice to the occasion, leaving aside the usual city rivalry. The 1985 final saw Manchester United deprive Kendall's team of a (still) unique treble. We'd already won the League and the European Cup-Winners' Cup. But a combination of a great goal by Whiteside, tiredness and the refereeing of Mr Willis saw United walk away with the match.

Much has been said of Royle's style of play. He has said it's only there to get the club out of trouble. I know full well that Evertonians will tolerate it only for a short while. Next season could be make or break for him. We've had the substance, next season we want the style!