Dave Bassett once held Sheffield United's Christmas party in August in an attempt to trick the players into believing they were heading into the second half of the season, in which they had consistently performed better.
Maybe David Moyes will try something similar next August. This year he made sensible changes in pre-season, adapted routines, arranged different fixtures, all to shake off Everton's habitual bad start.
As they approached their opening day fixture at Ewood Park it seemed to be working. Pre-season, which included a tour of Australia, produced six wins out of seven. Everyone was fit, a real rarity at Goodison Park in recent seasons. Key player Mikael Arteta had snubbed interest from Arsenal and Manchester City to sign a new deal. The Liverpool Echo had headlines like "Arteta: I want to help establish Everton in top four", and "Nobody's spot is safe in the team now, says Neville".
At the time the Everton captain, Phil, meant competition for places was so strong that "the manager has got a really difficult job picking 11 players for Saturday".
Six weeks on and Moyes will indeed be agonising over his team selection for the visit to Craven Cottage on Saturday, but only because hardly anyone seems to warrant a place in the starting line-up. Tuesday's Carling Cup defeat at Brentford followed an abysmal start to the Premier League season which has yielded two points from a possible 15.
It is the fifth time in nine seasons under Moyes that Everton have failed to manage more than a point a game from their opening quintet of matches but none has been as bad as this. Not since 1994-95 have the club started this poorly. Then they did not win for 12 matches, a run which prompted the dismissal of Mike Walker, who had been expensively and acrimoniously lured from Norwich only 10 months earlier. No one is suggesting Moyes will be fired: his achievements over the last eight seasons protect him from a bad start and chairman Bill Kenwright is an unabashed fan of the Scot. Evertonians, already unnerved by his being linked with Aston Villa, are more concerned that he will quit, with William Hill offering 11-4 that he will have left by the start of next season.
Moyes said he was happy with the team's performance on Tuesday, but that was for public consumption. Some of the Brentford players thought Everton were complacent and it did seem their superiority in the opening 20 minutes, when the visitors could have scored a hatful, lulled some players into thinking the night was going to be as easy as the 5-1 dispatch of another League One club, Huddersfield, in the previous round. When Brentford increased the tempo Everton found it hard to change back up the gears.
The big problem, however, was not attitude but the quality of the finishing. That has been the story of Everton's season with the 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa, when Everton forced 18 corners, the prime example.
Moyes said in pre-season: "We don't have any money, but we don't need any right now either," but how he must have wished he had had funds to buy a reliable goalscorer. Instead he has Louis Saha, who looks less interested now he has a conventional deal, rather than a pay-as-you-go one, and is again injured; Aiyegbeni Yakubu, who resembled Benni McCarthy as he lumbered around Griffin Park, and seems disaffected after a summer move to West Ham was denied him; and the summer's free transfer recruit Darren Beckford, who is keen and mobile, but still learning his trade at this level. There is also concern among Everton fans about the apparent impasse in contract negotiations with Steven Pienaar, who will be a free agent in the summer.
It is too early to panic but time, said the captain yesterday, for some hard realism. "There are no excuses. No hiding places. We don't deserve to win these football matches at the moment," Neville said. "Everyone says we're playing well but not winning games. Forget all that rubbish – it's got to the point where it's time to realise where we are.
"Maybe at the start of the season we looked at the end of the season rather than concentrating on the now. There's no point blowing smoke up each other's bums. We're just not producing. We need to give ourselves a kick up the backside."
There is hope in history. Back in 1995 Everton, with Joe Royle replacing Walker, went on to lift the FA Cup. Moyes' Everton, finalists in 2009 and a better team, are capable of a repeat, but, said Neville, it was time to stop thinking of possible prizes come the end of the season, but to "focus on Saturday, and just winning". Everton have played at Craven Cottage 10 times since Fulham returned to the top flight, winning one match, losing nine.
Everton results this season
14 Aug PL Blackburn (a) Lost 1-0
21 Aug PL Wolves (h) Drew 1-1
25 Aug LC Huddersfield (h) Won 5-1
29 Aug PL Aston Villa (a) Lost 1-0
11 Sep PL Man United (h) Drew 3-3
18 Sep PL Newcastle (h) Lost 1-o
21 Sep LC Brentford (a) Drew 1-1 (after extra time, lost 4-3 on penalties)Reuse content