Real achievement for teams who have not managed to pocket the Champions League loot is not easy to gauge. Take Everton during David Moyes' spell in charge; three top-seven finishes, once breaking into the prized top four, nothing in the cups, two first-round exits in Europe. Successful?
Even now, with a place in the Carling Cup quarter-finals, progress made in the Uefa Cup and the team lying three points off fourth place in the Premier League, Evertonians are split as to whether they are on the verge of something decent.
Saturday's win against Birmingham was a case in point. They should have had the match wrapped up at half-time, but needed two injury-time goals from Lee Carsley and James Vaughan to prevent being booed off the field. The teams they have beaten occupy six of the bottom seven positions. Flat track bullies?
Afterwards it was put to a relieved Moyes that Everton had recorded four successive victories for the first time in 17 years. Was that good or bad for the manager who has been in charge for five and a half of those years?
"It does surprise me," he said. "But the club has only won one trophy in 20 years. There are a lot of things we need to put right. But we are getting much closer to having an Everton who can be higher. It is a great club with a great history and we need to make some of our own now."
Moyes hopes that, with the strikers he has available, Everton can go on and do just that. Yakubu, their £11.25m record signing, put in a powerful display and scored his fourth of the season after 10 minutes, a finish from Steven Pienaar's cross. Olivier Kapo cancelled that out with a header 10 minutes from the end – his fifth of the season – but Everton prevailed.
Carsley's thunderbolt from the edge of the area brought Goodison to its feet and late substitute Vaughan's neat effort after Carsley sent him clear was hugely popular as it was the young striker's first Goodison appearance since he dislocated a shoulder in the summer.
"You want to see people in this day and age so desperate to play and he is a bit of a throwback," Moyes said of the striker. "There won't be many centre-halves who will look forward to play against James Vaughan when we get him in the condition he should be in. His attitude is infectious. I think he is good enough to force his way in and stay in." That could be bad news for the sidelined Andrew Johnson, James McFadden and Victor Anichebe.
Steve Bruce, despite the assurances he has received from the club's prospective new owner, Carson Yeung, will need to see a lot more from his team if they, and their manager, are to steer clear of trouble. Yet it was hard to focus on Birmingham's on-field problems when seated directly behind Wilson Palacios. The Honduran midfielder, whose brother Edwin was kidnapped from his home last week, watched from the stands.
"He was in no frame of mind to play," said Bruce. "He has had very little sleep as he has been on the phone late into the night catching up on developments. We just hope for Wilson and his family there is a good outcome."
Goals: Yakubu (10) 1-0; Kapo (80) 1-1; Carsley (90) 2-1; Vaughan (90) 3-1.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Yobo, Stubbs (Jagielka, 22), Lescott; Arteta, Carsley, Osman (Vaughan, 80), Pienaar (Gravesen, 85); Cahill; Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Wessels (gk), McFadden.
Birmingham (4-5-1): Taylor; Kelly, Djourou, Ridgewell, Schmitz; De Ridder (Forssell, 79), Muamba, Nafti (McSheffrey, 71), Larsson (O'Connor, 52), Kapo; Jerome. Substitutes not used: Kingson (gk), Danns.
Referee: M Riley (Yorks).
Booked: Birmingam Kelly.
Man of the match: Carsley.
Attendance: 35,155.Reuse content