By Elliott Bretland
It’s starting to come together. Bit by bit. Week by week.
Stage one is complete. Maintaining standards, consistency, energy.
Everton were in a dire mess at the end of the last season and Ronald Koeman had a huge job on his hands when he first walked through the doors at Finch Farm.
Roberto Martinez, sacked months too late ahead of the final game of the campaign, allowed standards to slip to monumental lows. Players were unfit, they were turning up late and he himself was neglecting the very basics on the training field.
As far as the fans were concerned, going to the match was a hugely depressing chore and the soul had slowly and grimly been ripped out of the club.
However, after nine months of immense hard work, Koeman and his staff are now shifting the last bit of debris from the disaster area left by the previous regime.
Make no mistake, the Everton boss still has a huge amount of graft to put in as he shapes and moulds this team for glory but he has already given us back the football club many felt we lost in 2016.
When he first arrived, Koeman could not believe the abysmal fitness levels of the players, players who had conceded countless late goals because they simply didn’t have the legs to go past the 80 minute mark.
He set about changing that and, with the help of fitness coach Jan Kluitenberg, restored each player to the level needed to be a Premier League athlete able to last the distance.
In turn, on Saturday, Everton scored two injury-time goals rather than conceding. Shattered and battered, our frontmen did not stop putting in the hard yards and reaped the rewards.
Koeman has demanded the best from his players. He insists they press, they harry, they run. From minute one to 90, they must not stop.
The Dutchman has managed to squeeze every last drop of effort from his squad and Everton have rediscovered their hunger and drive.
The midfield three of Idrissa Gana Gueye, Morgan Schneiderlin and Tom Davies are a hive of energy that swarm every blade of grass and tire the opposition into submission.
Two Koeman signings and an academy star who is rightly starting matches, the trio have breathed new life into what was a tired and morbid Everton only twelve months ago.
Having been allowed a free role under Martinez, Ross Barkley has benefited most from Koeman’s approach and has shone for the Toffees since the turn of the year.
Playing with discipline, the midfielder now knows his role and is growing in confidence and maturity with each game.
Barkley struggled to impose himself previously but now has a huge bearing on matches, his decision making has improved drastically and he is a star performer.
As well, players struggling for form have immediately lost their place in the team but have thus been reinvigorated by Koeman’s decision to drop them – Phil Jagielka impressing in the wins over West Brom and Hull while keeping two clean sheets after being forced to watch on from the sidelines for over a month.
The Everton boss is a ruthless but fair figure of authority and is exactly what was required after Martinez lost control, leaving supporters in the depths of total despair and desolation.
After a serious disconnect between fans and players last season, they have won us back.
The walk to Goodison is a fun one. Pre-match excitement has returned in place of dread.
Fans were buoyant to make the trip to L4 on Saturday despite the fact our star striker had refused to sign a new deal earlier in the week.
However, such is the wave of positivity the club is currently riding, Everton won, Romelu Lukaku scored twice and fans sang his name from the start.
The doom and gloom which enveloped Goodison Park last season, the high levels of toxic and vitriolic atmosphere has been extinguished by Koeman and his management team.
Everybody is pulling in the same direction. The 4-0 scoreline against Hull perhaps flattered Everton slightly but the game encapsulated everything Koeman wants to see from his team.
We pressed, worked hard and pushed the opposition right until the last kick, clinically doubling our goal tally late on.
Twenty-two goals and five clean sheets in six league games this year. We’ve won every single one.
What makes it even more impressive is, have Everton really moved out of second gear to earn any of these victories? Not really. We expect to win too.
It seems as performances improve, so too should the ease with which we win at home. Fortress Goodison.
Hull, West Brom, Sunderland and Bournemouth are the last four teams to visit the blue half of Merseyside and have left with nothing. Of course, they are games we expect to win and should win. The point is, in the past, we have not.
After severely doubting our chances to get a win over the line even when two goals up at times last season, Koeman’s Everton take the lead and the result has never looked in doubt this calendar year.
The very fact we expect to take three points and sit with confidence as we watch on from the stands shows just how far Koeman has dragged us up. He has hauled us back to the standard we expect.
We want to see, as a minimum, commitment, fight and professionalism. We are getting that.
Yes, the defeat at Tottenham was a black mark on what has been a near exemplary year but that in itself can be turned into a positive – it showed us where we need to improve and told Koeman of what not to do when we visit Manchester United and Liverpool in the coming weeks.
The pride is back and the optimism is high. Something is brewing at Everton. Koeman does not accept second best or below par performances. Nor do Evertonians.
The standard has been set but be sure Koeman will be working hard to take it up another level. We demand it, as does he.