Amidst the despondency that has hung around since the Anfield derby humiliation on Tuesday, I imagine I am supposed to feel that all will be validated if Everton beat Sunderland in Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final.
Well no, not for me. Not good enough Dave. That’s just not acceptable.
The decision to rest key players confesses a lack of belief in the squad’s ability to consistently rise to the occasion; it is a white flag to the demands of a top club.
If the passing of the manager’s decade in charge was not sufficient motivation to go for the throat, then the inevitable ’10 years and you’ve won fuck all’ chants should have been. I thought Moyes would be salivating for this game: the chance to eradicate an unwanted legacy against the enemy at their place, and create the sort of momentum and spirit that defines his success at Everton, leading into a quarter-final.
I can even imagine him sat intensely brooding in a darkened room all week, watching old tapes of Liverpool’s European Cup finals on mute with nothing but a bottle of Scotch and Alex Ferguson’s “knock Liverpool off their fucking perch” quote ringing in his ears.
More pertinently however, Liverpool had lost their last three with Everton losing just two of the last 16 in all competitions.
Mockery of the fans
But instead, Moyes decided to drop four of most influential players (plus Tim Cahill and Phil Neville) from the weekend’s uplifting home win against Tottenham, and in so doing, devalue one of world football’s most intense rivalries; he made a mockery of the fans who had paid to go and watch. It beggars belief and my fear is that it will stick long in the mind.
Everton’s success under Moyes has been characterized by gutsy, cohesive performances against the Premier League’s richer, more talented teams. The club’s failure to enter the elite is due to the infrequency of those games.
Now of course money comes into it, but when you consider that a win would have taken Everton above Liverpool, I really don’t think competing is beyond our current means, especially when you consider that we didn’t turn up for the first half of the season.
Admittedly, Everton’s fixture list for March is tough – seven games including consecutive matches against Tottenham, Liverpool, Sunderland and Arsenal – and of course, squad rotation is essential to modern football.
But to have pinpointed the derby, and such an important one, as a losaeble game is frankly un-Moyes-like in its gutlessness. Call me a fantasist but I don’t think aiming to win all four was out of our reach. Yes I am incredibly biased, and still unsettled by that numbing performance, but let me give my claim some depth…
In 2009, when Everton reached the FA Cup final, we played Liverpool three times in 16 days, with games against Arsenal and Manchester United sandwiched in between.Of those five, we lost only once to a bloody Cristiano Ronaldo penalty, and if Leon Osman, Tim Cahill and Phil Neville had started the game on Tuesday – which they well may have – Everton would have fielded nine of the 11 players who started the majority of those games.
Three years down the line, how can you throw in the towel without accepting you’ve gone backwards? How can you interpret surrender as anything other than admission of inferiority?
The spirit that galvanises Everton was cultivated in atmospheres like 2009 and Tuesday at Anfield. To deny fans the unique pride, dedication and passion we have come to expect, denies the very nature of Everton Football Club.
Now just to position myself definitively: I am a huge Moyes fan, and nothing will ever sway me from that. He has done too much good to ever become bad in my eyes. But after the galling shambles that was the start of the season, and now our fleeting source of optimism – our recent form – sacrificed for a cup tie, there is but one thing to say: we better bloody win.
By Chris Smith