The new year at Everton brings a familiar feel. Yet again, David Moyes' side cross the halfway point of the Premier League season having generated some momentum. Yet again, a difficult autumn, following the departures of key players, is slowly brightening into a run of results. And this, so far, in a harder financial climate than ever for the club.
Everton host Bolton Wanderers tonight, fuelled by a four-match unbeaten run which is their longest of the season. Victory this evening would move them up to ninth, still with a game in hand. It looks like the budding of an impressive turnaround, but it would certainly not be the first time. Everton tend to rouse themselves after Christmas: in the last two seasons they were 14th at this stage, and finished eighth in 2009-10 and seventh in 2010-11.
Moyes said yesterday that he hopes for more of the same. "We've not been that consistent this season," he said. "But if you look at our past history, we tend to get better as the season goes on. We tend to go on runs in the new year. I've got to hope this could be the start of one. Everyone is talking about it and drawing my attention to it.
"Sometimes I'd rather just go along quietly and at the end of the season say: 'Hey, we've had another good second half to the season.' "
The Everton manager warned, though, that these spring sequences are based on hard work. "I keep getting reminded about it but there is certainly no guarantee," he said. "Winning games in the Premier League isn't easy."
Driving Everton up the table this year may require even more effort from Moyes. Everton have been unable to replace the creative talents of Steven Pienaar and Mikel Arteta, both sold last year, and there are fears that Tim Cahill is not quite as sharp as he once was.
Strikers Jermaine Beckford, Yakubu and James Vaughan have all left, too, with no real investment in replacements. It is little surprise, then, that Everton have at times struggled to create chances, their 1-0 home defeat by Stoke last month being a good example. Tonight's likely return of Landon Donovan, on loan once more from Los Angeles Galaxy in the United States, ought to help.
Moyes admitted: "We haven't won enough games. We probably haven't played well enough. We may need to grind a few results out. "
If Everton can continue their rise it would make for one of the most striking trends in English club football. David Weir, who played for five years under Moyes at Everton, could not explain the phenomenon but suggested it might explain in Moyes' training methods.
"He works his teams very hard at the start of the season, so he probably gives them a base whereby the club becomes strong at the end of the season," Weir told The Independent. "You can train to peak at certain times: obviously at this time of the year when there's a busy run of fixtures you need to peak, and at the end of the season as well when the games mean that little bit more."
That sense of timing, combined with fiercely drilled work ethic, will be needed more than ever this season, if Everton are to repeat the feat. "He demands hard work, he doesn't allow anyone to get away from that," Weir added. "That's just a matter of fact. I think Everton have gained a reputation as a hard-working team and a difficult team to beat purely down to that."