Players let their hair down as Moyes sounds new battle cry

The Premiership: Everton's modest magician tells his men: Let's do it again

"...And cancel Christmas!" How many Premiership managers were stirred from their turkey-induced comas yesterday to nod in total agreement when Alan Rickman bellowed this order during the inevitable festive transmission of The Prince of Thieves?

Not David Moyes, that's for sure, but as the Premiership's very own Robin Hood - well, he has robbed points from the rich to give to the poor - maybe it's no surprise that he's not siding with the Sheriff of Nottingham. It should also come as little shock that Moyes has bucked the trend that insists clubs should downscale their Christmas parties. The Everton manager has been bucking trends all season, and bucking everything else for that matter, and wasn't about to disappoint now.

"I took all the players and their wives out in Liverpool a few weeks ago and we had a grand old Scottish night," said the son of Blythswood. "We had Scottish food, malt whisky and Scottish dancers. We had a ceilidh band in and we were all doing 'The Gay Gordon' and 'The Dashing White Sergeant'. We even had a few of the players singing 'Flower of Scotland' by the end of the night. That was our Christmas do and they all enjoyed it. There were no complaints, anyway."

"Scottish night", "malt whisky", "The Gay Gordon", "wives"? Has this disciplinarian, supposedly hewn from the same granite as all those other legendary Glaswegian autocrats, suddenly gone soft? Look at what certain clubs - today's opponents, Manchester City, for instance - have been through in the past few days and it's difficult not to reflect that Moyes was lucky to escape with his life, never mind his players.

Today, in the opposing dug-out at Goodison Park, an uncharacteristically grim Kevin Keegan would doubtless confirm as much, but then, when you're third in the Premiership and your squad are as united as Moyes's so obviously are, perhaps it makes sense to let your hair down. Especially when the clippers are to be out in earnest for five months that promise to be of the hardest labour.

"Starting against Man City, we have to forget about all the points we've got and begin anew," said the 41-year-old, reverting to type. "I'm setting my sights now on the second half of the League as being a fresh start. In my mind, Everton now have no points at all and are not third in the table. Of course, I'd love to say we'll do as well as we did in the first half, because that would be unbelievable. But, let's be fair, even if we don't quite emulate that, then this mindset might still drive us on to be very successful. So we must say, 'That's gone, we're not going to talk about it, we're not even going to think about it'."

Which is a whole lot easier said than done, because right now, Christmas or no Christmas, the blue half of Merseyside are up to their necks in a winter wonderland, and not even the Pied Piper who took them there will bring them back to their senses with the shrillest sounding of reality. Moyes has only to listen to his starry-eyed chairman to discover as much. "If Everton qualify for the Champions' League," said Bill Kenwright on Friday, "it would be the most glorious thing that has ever happened to me." Ah, people are getting carried away, aren't they? Whatever happened to Moyes's edict that the words "Champions' League" should be banned around Goodison? Indeed, whatever happened to his edict that the words "Uefa Cup" should be banned around Goodison?

But he only has himself to blame, not forgetting a wafer-thin squad who have made up with resilience what they lack in crunch. And, talking to their leader, it is impossible not to sense at least a modicum of the pride oozing from this most modest of men when he looks out, disbelievingly, from the verge of the Premiership's summit.

It is to his great credit that he can somehow resist ramming the words of those who declared Everton would be relegated straight back down their cynical throats, although he is prepared to acknowledge that what has come to pass is not the norm. Neither was it anticipated.

"What's happened here is that we've got up there without any cash, letting players go and getting the odd one in here or there," he said. "We've shown what can be done without great finances, and that's good, because there's not always going to be barrel-loads of money about in football.

"I feel that because they're strapped, some clubs manage to talk themselves out of success. We'd obviously all rather have it than not have it, but if you don't get it then what do you do? You have to make the best of whatever you've got, that's what. Maybe clubs are looking at us and wondering how we've done it with a small group of players."

And therein lies the Everton secret - a compact, tightly knit band all prepared to scrap and die for each other. "It doesn't always work, mind," said Moyes, "and maybe we've been a little bit fortunate, but from my point of view it can be put down to the players, their application and the fact that they've bonded so well with each other."

If that sounds like this was Moyes's gameplan when he was lured from Preston in 2002, it wasn't. Circumstance dictated he pared down his squad, but now he has seen the merits in compression he is loath to swell the numbers purely for numbers' sake. "I appreciate that with five games in 14 days this is the time in the season when a small squad like ours can get found out. But we've got quality like Duncan Ferguson, Kevin Campbell, James McFadden and Joseph Yobo all on the bench, who can make an impact.

"So what I've got, the 16 or 17 players at my disposal, I'm very happy with. The hope is that they will get us through this busy Christmas period, and if everything goes well, if we don't get too many knocks, we can avoid getting into a situation when we have to buy players just to fill holes."

But with the well-publicised transfer funds now available, it is accepted that a striker is uppermost on the shopping list, with Southampton's James Beattie at the top of that. But Moyes is not and never will be a "spending" manager. "We might have a bit of money around now, but we still know that things are tight and you have to do a bit of wheeling and dealing," he said. "People may be thinking Moyes has done great because of the Wayne Rooney money, but if you take that out of the equation we actually had a surplus on our deals last summer. I'd like to turn round to you and say that was because I knew exactly who was going to work out best, but which one of us can honestly say which players will work out and which ones wont?"

At Everton they suspect they know the answer. Because if Moyesie doesn't know, nobody knows.

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