It is the time of year when thoughts turn to the dust gathering at the back of empty trophy cabinets and though Sven Goran Eriksson, his club Manchester City 32 years and still waiting, seemed more interested in Europe when asked last week if fourth place or silverware was his priority, Everton captain Phil Neville expressed a different preference ahead of tonight's Carling Cup semi-final first leg at Chelsea.
"We finished fourth three years ago, but we were out of the Champions League three months later and everyone had forgotten about it," Neville said. "People still talk [here] about the [Howard] Kendall days and those players still walk around the club and are legends. That's what happens at a club like this. If we win a trophy this year, then it would be remembered forever."
The humiliation Oldham dished out at Goodison on Saturday calls into question just how interested in silverware Everton really are. But David Moyes, who has only a League One title at Preston to show for the 10 years in management which he completes this month, provided a hint in his prickly response to questions about Saturday's FA Cup game ("I was waiting how long it would take for you to ask; that question is a bit disappointing") that the result hurt more than some imagined and he suggested that silverware might be the priority.
"I can't [afford to have a] loose tongue and speak of winning a cup final, not with the level of competition which is ahead of us," he said. "But the supporters would really enjoy a trophy."
That Goodison trophy cabinet untouched since Joe Royle's "dogs of war" clinched the 1995 FA Cup and never decorated with the League Cup, thanks to Liverpool's Milk Cup final victory over Everton in 1984 is not the only reason why a win would be so priceless.
There is also a feeling around Goodison that Everton, with their new 15m Finch Farm training complex and a new stadium whose construction should begin before the year is out, are finally advancing into football's elite again and that they need to stop looking like a beaten side just when the final hurdle or two brings top-class opposition into view.
"One thing I did notice when I came here was the glass was always half empty," Neville said. "Because of the lack of success over the previous 10 years there was a lot of negativity in certain sections of the club. For example, we went to Tottenham in my first season where we hadn't won for 20 years, and you could sense there was no way we were going to win because of that negativity.
"It was the same with the FA Cup tie against Chelsea in 2006. We had played really well at home and drawn 1-1, but the feeling after that game was: that was our chance, and we were already out of the competition before we had even gone down there for the replay. We had to get rid of that mentality." Neville believes the club have done so and that the current side is actually a better, technically superior side to the one which secured a Champions League place when he arrived in 2005. "People are looking forward to games rather than thinking negatively," added the 30-year-old captain.
Moyes will be missing Mikel Arteta still suspended for his sending off against Arsenal and the injured Leon Osman tonight and if proof of his determination to prevail were needed, it came in his disclosure that he applied albeit unsuccessfully an imaginative interpretation of Fifa's 14-day rule to keep Steven Pienaar in the club's ranks for the game.
In a move which Moyes acknowledged had not best pleased the South Africa manager Carlos Alberto Parreira, he had maintained that since tonight's match comes 15 days before the nation's first game, rather than the start of the tournament, his midfielder does not have to leave Britain until later this week. "We're the one who pay their wage, as I've said before," said Moyes, who had already been given permission by Nigeria to keep Aiyegbeni Yakubu and Joseph Yobo for tonight's tie. Fifa, however, did not agree with Moyes, and insisted yesterday that the South African depart immediately to join up with his national squad.
It is four years since a side outside of the established elite Middlesbrough, in the Carling Cup final against Bolton last walked off with a piece of serious silverware and Moyes believes the task is getting harder, with all the major clubs looking to win a trophy a season.
The one-sided nature of Everton's League game at Stamford Bridge in November, which saw them sneaking a late equaliser, is another reminder of the size of the task in hand. Yet that said, Everton do have 11 away wins this season and Tim Cahill, their most constant threat, is back in the side tonight nine goals to the good this season and with memories of his 2004 FA Cup final appearance for Millwall against Manchester United to whet his appetite for another final.
"We hope we can upset them," said Moyes. "But this will be the biggest test of that because Chelsea could quite easily see themselves in a final or a semi-final of the Champions League. It's like going to one of the Champions League favourites for the semi-final of a domestic cup."
Sticky Toffees for Chelsea
Everton go into tonight's semi-final yet to win the League Cup, but they do boast an impressive recent record at Stamford Bridge. David Moyes' side have held the Blues on three occassions in the last four years in Chelsea's backyard. Avram Grant will hope to replicate Jose Mourinho in winning the League Cup in his first season as manager.
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