Tuesday 24 October 2017

Aidan O'Hara: Jury still out on Moyes

HE IS widely respected for the job he has done over a long period at a club which has nothing like the amount of money available to its closest rivals. The problem is that the club haven't won a trophy in years, his own future is uncertain and their hopes of reaching the Champions League seem to be fading.

With all the focus on Arsene Wenger and Arsenal over the past fortnight, the situation at Everton has largely gone under the radar, although the defeat against Norwich brought it into focus.

At 4.35 on Saturday afternoon, Everton sat one point behind Arsenal and would have been hoping for a slip-up from Tottenham against West Ham tonight before Sunday's North London derby, which would have given David Moyes' team a chance to make up ground in the battle for the final Champions League place.

At that time, they were 1-0 up at Carrow Road while the crowd at the Emirates were baying for blood following Aston Villa's equaliser. By the final whistle, it was an altogether different story after Santi Cazorla's winner for Arsenal and two late Norwich strikes.

This morning, Everton are six points behind Tottenham and, rather than planning on facing the best in Europe, are now only three points ahead in the battle to be best on Merseyside.

At a certain point in every season, Everton put together a series of good results which leads to Moyes receiving high praise for his efforts at Goodison Park and being tipped to move onto greater things. Like Martin O'Neill, Moyes seems to have that wonderful knack of being praiseworthy when things are going well for his team but above criticism when it's not.

On Saturday, it was disconcerting to hear him complaining that the referee had played more than the three minutes of injury time which had been announced, giving Grant Holt time to score the winner. When your team is hoping to reach the Champions League and is only drawing against Norwich, any additional time should be a bonus rather than a hindrance.

The defeat means that Everton have now won just twice in their seven league games in 2013, taking one point from nine available. Losing at Old Trafford, as Everton did before the game against Norwich, is hardly a crime but it becomes an issue when Arsenal have earned nine points in the same period and Tottenham seven.

If any criticism of Moyes seems harsh given the wage bill and amount of money he has spent at Everton, it is something that he will have to get used to if, as regularly predicted, he is to go onto bigger and better things.

At Manchester United, for example, there isn't a chance that they could put together a run of one league win in nine games as Everton managed this season between the end of September and the start of December. The positive spin put on that period was that the seven draws out of nine games meant Everton were difficult to beat and unlucky not to have taken more points.

At United, Manchester City, Chelsea or even Arsenal, it would be difficult to spin anything positive out of an early-season run where 17 points are dropped in games that include QPR, Wigan, Reading and Norwich. At Everton, it can be slanted that they only lost twice in the opening 19 games.

After finishing fourth in the 2004-2005 season, Everton and Moyes were unlucky to draw Villarreal in the final pre-qualifying round for the Champions League but, since then, they have been banging their head against the Premier League's top-four glass ceiling, just as Aston Villa did for so long under O'Neill.

Since 2005, they have finished 11th, sixth, fifth, fifth, eighth, seventh and seventh and they are unlikely to improve on that in this campaign. In the context of Everton's finances, they are admirable performances but, at the same time, they don't scream of a manager who is working far below the level he deserves.

Moyes' contract runs out at the end of the season and, given his appearances this season on Sky's Goals on Sunday and Monday Night Football, it seems that increasing his profile is part of a strategy. There's nothing scandalous about appearing on such shows but, equally, it's difficult to imagine Alex Ferguson, Roberto Mancini, Arsene Wenger or even Rafael Benitez sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon having a cozy chat with Chris Kamara.

Tomorrow night, Everton play Oldham in an FA Cup last-16 replay, which should set up a home tie with Wigan and a golden chance for Moyes to reach another semi-final which, again, will lead to an avalanche of praise. It would be the same stage that they reached last season when they produced a dreadful display in losing to Liverpool although Moyes has admitted that he would rather finish in the top four than win a trophy for the first time in his 11 years at the club.

It would be another season that might be enough to get him a job at a higher level. At that level, however, it wouldn't be enough to keep him there.

Irish Independent

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