David Moyes shared digs with Joe Jordan in their Bristol City days and shares a fair few of his compatriot's characteristics, too, so the Everton manager certainly raised a laugh yesterday when he inadvertently and incongruously slipped a Robbie Williams lyric into his analysis of where his club currently stands in the football firmament.
Beating Chelsea in the 2009 FA Cup final "might have allowed us to say we are back, and back for good," Moyes declared. He hadn't meant to sound so cheesy – "That's 'Take That' isn't it?" he said, when his brain computed what had just tumbled out – but given how far away Everton stand from fulfilling a lyric penned in 1995, the year they swept past Manchester United to lift the FA Cup, there was a dark resonance there for any pessimists who care to look.
The side Moyes takes back into combat with Chelsea in the FA Cup fourth round replay at Stamford Bridge today are certainly a long way from the place they stood on that sunlit Wembley afternoon nearly two years ago. Last Sunday's league defeat at Bolton, arguably their worst display in Moyes' nine years on Merseyside, was a reaffirmation of how badly Sir Alex Ferguson got it wrong when he persistently tipped Everton for the top four, pre-season. "It was rubbish, no doubt," Moyes yesterday reflected (of the game, not the prediction) and defeat in west London would certainly leave Everton in a dark place, with only relegation to fight against.
Moyes said his players had still not got that Wembley defeat to Guus Hiddink's side out of their systems when they reassembled for pre-season training six weeks later. "I thought we felt a bit empty when we came back in. We knew that we had a chance, we didn't play that well and didn't quite get there. We were all still hurt," he recalled. But Goodison will seem a far more desperate place on Monday if Everton – without Louis Saha, leaving them short on strikers again this season – go out. "Forty points will be enough," Tim Cahill said yesterday of the league struggles ahead, not exactly what Everton fans want to hear.
How has it come to this? How close to calamity have Everton fallen this season? Well, not as close as the rumour mill has it. Suggestions that the club were close to administration last month, seemingly on the basis of the fact that the year-end results were published marginally later than usual, were a source of understandable anger to those seeking to navigate a course for the club. A victory at the Reebok would actually have taken them three points off Owen Coyle's eighth-placed side with a game in hand. Moyes agreed yesterday that Everton's years of over-achievement have actually created a greater sense of "crisis" than there would be at a club who had not punched above their weight so consistently.
Yet the future is not within Moyes' control. Though the 2009 team essentially remains intact – minus Steven Pienaar, the significance of whose loss to Tottenham cannot be over-estimated – Everton's financial results earlier this month, with 10.7 per cent wage growth exceeding revenue growth at a greater rate in percentage terms than at most Premier League clubs, and £4.5m interest payments draining the club, revealed the financial chasm developing between Everton and their former peers. Moyes, who has spent only what he has raised for the past three years, has already spoken of the risk of losing Marouane Fellaini if he and others cannot be convinced that Everton are going places. Pronouncements by the Belgian's father that Chelsea are interested are lost on no one.
Moyes still seems to believe it is in his power to change things, though. "I think the perception of the club is down to the team and the manager and at the moment we are not doing well enough. It is up to us to change the perception," he insisted. Rarely in the Premier League era has a club owed so much to one manager as Everton and thus, once again, chairman Bill Kenwright finds himself wondering whether Moyes really can revive the spirit which David Ginola, one of Moyes' first and briefest recruits, last weekend declared had gone. Can a manager's team talk carry the same weight after seven years of hearing it?
Cahill, who has attracted more criticism than most Everton players this season, answered the second question. "There is no sense from me that the manager's message isn't getting across," he said. "He has helped make my career, he has helped make a lot of players' careers and I think we need to remember the good stuff not just on the pitch but off it that he has done, and repay that."
Another source of improbable motivation for Cahill is the way Scott Parker is leading West Ham. Everton need some of that, though Cahill also feels that Moyes' oldest message – about defensive resilience – has been lost and that the lesser clubs whom Everton once sailed past have now worked the club out. "We have probably played too much football this season and it has worked against us," Cahill said. "Other seasons we have prided ourselves on being one of the best teams defensively and winning ugly, winning 1-0, and you have to find a happy medium. It is nice to play beautiful football but now it is starting to take its toll. We just need to go back and scrap and fight. Everyone who plays Everton used to say we are one of the strongest and hardest teams to play against. We need to bring that back quite quickly."
A consequence of the trend Cahill points to is that Everton's performances against the leading sides is far better – the two Manchester sides, Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea are cases in point – which is why Moyes dares to feel some confidence heading into west London. "We lost to Shrewsbury in the FA Cup [in 2003] and the gulf between us and them was bigger than the gap between us and Chelsea," the manager reflected. "Hopefully the Cup will become the Cup and we can bridge that gap."
Quite what this fine club will do when Moyes departs does not bear contemplation. But a win today will at least mean that pessimists in the L4 postcode on Monday will be talking of a winnable fifth-round tie with Reading, no league matches against top-six sides until 23 April, the promise of Jack Rodwell and Seamus Coleman, Ross Barclay beginning light jogging at last in the long road back from a broken leg – and an Everton side back for the time being, if not for good.
Moyes' Miserable Season
*Everton crash out of the Carling Cup to Brentford in the third round after losing on penalties in September, reserve goalkeeper Richard Lee saving Jermaine Beckford's penalty as the Bees win 4-3 in the shoot-out
*Ten-man Everton lost 4-1 at Goodison Park to fellow relegation candidates West Bromwich Albion in November, with playmaker Mikel Arteta sent off for a stamp on Gonzalo Jara
*Steven Pienaar's contract dispute ends predictably badly for Everton, who are forced to lose their playmaker on the cheap to Tottenham Hotspur during the January transfer window
*Louis Saha hits a purple patch with eight goals in six games...before injury strikes again. Everton muster one shot on target in the 2-0 at defeat at Bolton, "a performance as bad as I can remember since I have been in charge," says David Moyes