Everton’s stay-away board of directors weren’t present again to witness it but after being forced to endure the worst first half of a Premier League season in the club’s history, loyal but long-suffering Blues fans enjoyed their first taste of ‘Dycheball.’
Frank Lampard’s reign as manager ended with four consecutive home defeats for the first time since 1958 as three clubs in the relegation zone, Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Southampton (the latter two of which were both bottom), plus Brighton & Hove Albion, who dismantled Everton 4-1 with three goals coming in the space of just six chaotic minutes early in the second half, all securing three points at Goodison Park.
Here though, against Premier League leaders Arsenal, a team only beaten once all season in the competition (3-1 at Manchester United back on September 5) – we’ve had a new monarch since then and are on a third Prime Minister – new Blues boss Sean Dyche was able to steer an under-achieving group of players who went into the fixture joint bottom of the table to their first three points since October 22. Apart from a few one-eyed Gooners online throwing their toys out of the pram over the result like spoilt children who for once didn’t get their way, few could begrudge Everton this potentially season-saving win as they finally stopped the rot.
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Centre-forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin has only scored once all season but could have conceivably netted a hat-trick against the team who GQ magazine last April claimed he was on the “brink” of joining, much to the fury of Everton chiefs ahead of a survival showdown at Turf Moor, which proved to be Dyche’s final home game in charge of Burnley. In the end, two of the new manager’s former Clarets charges James Tarkowski and Dwight McNeil combined for the only goal of the game but in truth this deserved success against high quality opponents was more than a smash and grab.
On-loan defender Conor Coady was caught on camera after the final whistle admitting to centre-back partner and match-winner Tarkowski: “It’s about time isn’t it?” and he was right. For all that the first half of Everton’s season was rotten, time though still remains on their side.
As much as Lampard, a former world-class midfielder who picked up a treasure trove of honours turning out for Chelsea, had united and galvanised the Blues fanbase a year ago after Rafael Benitez’s ill-advised and fractious tenure, he appeared increasingly helpless when it came to stopping what looked like dramatic plunge towards the Championship. Dyche though, battle-hardened by a playing career in the lower divisions of English football followed by nine-and-a-half years in charge of Burnley, is up for the fight and very much knows the territory.
It’s testament to the chaotic, revolving door policy of the Goodison hotseat under Farhad Moshiri that Dyche is now the sixth different manager to take charge of Everton in their last six home games against Arsenal, with the others being Benitez, Carlo Ancelotti, Duncan Ferguson, Marco Silva and Ronald Koeman (Lampard and Sam Allardyce never had one), but while his arrival and subsequent victory as brought new hope to a grand old club on its knees, it must be remembered that this is also a huge career opportunity for the 51-year-old. Having lost his first 10 games against Arsenal as a manager, Dyche had only beaten them once before.
That came in the artificial conditions of behind-closed-doors football due to the coronavirus pandemic when his Burnley side triumphed 1-0 at an empty Emirates Stadium thanks to an own goal. Curiously, Everton’s only ever success there also came via an Arsenal player putting the ball into his own net in the same 2020/21 season.
After largely getting Burnley to punch above their weight for almost a decade, the Kettering-born gaffer will feel he deserves a crack on a bigger stage and while he’s arrived on Merseyside at a time of crisis – some might have turned their noses up at this self-proclaimed ‘Marmite manager’ during better times, perhaps due to some kind of football snobbery – there is already a belief among many that he and the Blues could actually be a good fit for each other. Before each game at Goodison, a series of Everton songs from various eras are played on the stadium’s PA system to get fans in the mood and they often include lyrics pertaining to how the Blue boys are expected to approach the game.
The reworking of The Farm’s ‘All Together Now’ for the 1995 FA Cup final includes the line: “The spirit’s stronger in the Blues today, we’re gonna play the Everton way…
“The Golden Vision, Dixie Dean, The School of Science, by far the greatest team.”
There’s variation for a start. Although both adorned by the Gwladys Street faithful, ‘The Golden Vision’ (Alex Young) and Dean were arguably, in terms of playing style, the antithesis of each other when it came to Everton centre-forwards.
As for comparisons with ‘The School of Science’, manager Joe Royle himself dubbed his Wembley winners as ‘The Dogs of War.’
Another popular ditty, ‘We’re forever Everton’ proclaims: “We play it on the carpet, we play it in the air,” before later adding: “Everton’s the team that plays beautiful football.” But just what is “the Everton Way” Also, is there only one way?
We could probably produce a book, never mind a single newspaper article debating that one. Whatever many of us think is ‘the Everton Way’, this correspondent would argue that the Blues have veered sharply away from it in recent times.
A variety of different managers with varying football philosophies have muddled things up and the result has been a sharp disconnect between those on the pitch and those in the stands at Goodison. When was the last time that an Everton side really played in a manner that upheld the kind of values that Blues supporters want to see?
Roberto Martinez’s sides had their moments and enjoyed some impressive results during his first season in charge on their way to a club record points haul in the Premier League era. But they often relied on patient, or downright slow build-up play. It could be said that not since the days of the Catalan’s long-serving predecessor David Moyes almost a decade ago now have Everton really served up the kind of football that their fanbase really appreciates.
That’s up-tempo, in your face stuff. It’s not hoof ball but it’s not tippy-tappy either.
Moyes’ Everton sides would try and get the ball into the opponents’ danger areas quickly and then attempt to play their football there. That’s also how the club’s most-successful side under Howard Kendall in the mid-1980s also operated.
Even outsiders such as Manchester United stalwart Gary Neville said recently, that’s how Everton should be playing. It’s not a retrograde step for the Blues to go back to that way now under Dyche, especially if it continues to produce results.
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