Commentary: Moyes puts realistic spin on Everton's trip into rare air

Everton 1 - Aston Villa 1
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The Independent Online

In the high (competitively speaking, that is), thin air at the top of the Premiership David Moyes insists he has never taken a long view on Everton's post-Rooney season.

In the high (competitively speaking, that is), thin air at the top of the Premiership David Moyes insists he has never taken a long view on Everton's post-Rooney season.

The fastest-rising young Scottish manager since Bill Shankly made his Long March across the Pennines from Huddersfield Town says he goes from one game to the next, storing points against the kind of pressure that came while he was halting, by a harrowing margin, the rush of relegation in the last campaign.

Nor, he also declares, had he measured the odds against his team smashing their way into the millionaire's row of English football's three-club élite. However, when he thinks of it his normally intense expression breaks into a smile and he says, "Wouldn't it be wonderful?"

Wonderful that wealth, celebrity and winning might just not be the immutable equation of today's game, that while the big guns squabbled and postured and washed so publicly their filthy linen, a team could come from nowhere and beat all those odds.

Wonderful that such an achievement could come not from a sudden injection of wealth - say from a Russian oilfield - but the sheer will of a football man and his players.

"I wouldn't say we are where we are [three points off joint leaders Arsenal and Chelsea] because of what happened with Wayne Rooney," says Moyes, "but there's no doubt we've all had to look at ourselves here and produce the best we can. I'd like to have tons of money but I'm grateful for what I have."

It is a collection of players who are over-achieving to an extraordinary and stirring degree, players like the drifting Marcus Bent, talented but at times irresolute to a potentially terminal degree, and the ageing central defenders Alan Stubbs and David Weir, who both felt the force of Moyes's candour in the close season.

He told Weir and Stubbs he didn't see any future for them as they headed into the last year of their contracts and Bent, at a small-change £400,000, was bought to occasionally augment the speed of the now-departed Thomas Radzinski.

In this most unglittering but always engaging match, Bent scored his third goal in eight days, equalising Lee Hendrie's latest spectacular strike with some delicate precision of his own, and Stubbs and Weir were dream-like in their consistent effectiveness.

"Sometimes in football you need hungry players and the situation here is very basic ... if you don't want to work, we don't want to have you here. Our disadvantage is that we have a small squad. Our advantage is that we don't have any sulkers," added Moyes after burying the disappointment of losing two points which, on the balance of the game, Everton just about deserved.

Bent wasn't always excluded from the sulking category and he was impressively frank after his latest triumph. "I moan about the system [it obliges him to run endless point duty as Moyes packs his midfield] but I'm adapting to it. Now when Duncan [Ferguson] comes on to support me, it feels alien. We're on such a high now we don't look for the results of the teams below us but those of Arsenal and Chelsea. Frankly we're expecting to win all our games, and that's why we are so disappointed now."

Villa, despite the fecundity of Hendrie's current game, generally expect to draw - they've done it in six of their 11 games now - and even with the beautifully struck goal and the energy of former Everton midfielder Gavin McCann this was again the most they could hope for against a team of quite relentless honesty.

David O'Leary had his great crisis at Leeds after some years of brilliant work but if some of his post-game comments might still carry the franking of the Blarney Stone, his rehabilitation at Villa Park remains solid enough. He said he had a "lovely bunch of lads" at his command, but they had to remember they didn't have the talent to support anything less than flat-out commitment. In fact, Juan Pablo Angel, Carlton Cole and, as we had been reminded so recently, Hendrie all have the potential for exceptional work. Here, they were obliged to run their way out of trouble after the midweek defeat at Burnley, and that they did it with some reward will surely stand as one of their better achievements this season.

Certainly Everton have produced a remarkable level of consistent application, and there were times when it threatened to engulf Villa's resurrection. That it didn't was mostly due to faulty markmanship. Bent might have added to the coolly taken equaliser which came when Weir produced a gem of a through-ball. Leon Osman, who beat Tim Cahill for the heavy industry award but only by the finest of margins by the standards of Moyes's Everton, a mere bucketful of sweat, had a glorious chance to put Villa away.

However, Moyes was in no mood for recrimination, and it wasn't hard to understand why. Just a few months ago he had a club laid bare by the desperate need to part with the best young player in England, maybe the world. The pain was only intensified by the sickening background to the deal. Most of his team were in the last year of their contracts. Many hard judges saw Everton as prime candidates for the drop. Yet here they are one win away from the top of the Premiership. It is not supposed to happen but, in these of all times, we surely should thank God it has.

Goals: Hendrie (26) 0-1; Bent (33) 1-1.

Everton (4-5-1): Martyn; Hibbert, Weir, Stubbs, Pistone; Watson (Ferguson, 66) Cahill, Gravesen, Osman (McFadden, 84), Kilbane; Bent. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Campbell, Fox.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Sorensen; De La Cruz, Delaney (Ridgewell, 58) Mellberg, Samuel; Solano (Whittingham, 77), Hitzlsperger (Davis, 60), Hendrie, McCann; Angel, Cole. Substitutes not used: Postma (gk), Moore.

Referee: S Dunn (Gloucestershire).

Booked: Everton: Cahill. Aston Villa: Hendrie.

Man of the match: Stubbs.

Attendance: 37,816.

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