By Dave Downie
Everton finishing seventh in the Premier League has never been regarded as a significant achievement in the last decade or so. In fact we’ve finished in that position, or higher, in more than half of our campaigns since the turn of the millennium. Nothing much to celebrate then, for a club that’s tried and ultimately failed to break into the elite of the English game.
The dour draw with West Ham this weekend all but sealed the Blues’ fate as ‘best of the rest’ given the stronghold, both on and off the pitch, of the six sides immediately above. Indeed, it’s a title Evertonians are accustomed to – *eagerly and conveniently forgetting the two seasons preceding Ronald Koeman’s arrival.
Again, nothing to write home about on the face of it.
But whilst the usual frustrations in not being able to mount a serious top-four (now six) challenge are at the forefront of many fans’ minds, it’s worth giving this season some context and more pertinently a greater appreciation of the progress Everton have made under the new regime.
Ronald Koeman will never get the credit he deserves from either the national media or a number of supporters because for many this is a return to what had previously become the status quo for the club. But consider the seismic shift that has had to happen in less than a year to put Everton in a position where it can again address the issues in bridging the gap to those above them – it really is a considerable achievement.
It’s a year to the day since the heartbreaking FA Cup semi-final defeat to Man United. Astoundingly, it wasn’t the last of Roberto Martinez’s tenure and it’s hard to banish the feelings that we all departed Wembley with on that day. It was a an all-time low by the standards of the last ten years and given the ridiculous efforts at Anfield a few days earlier.
Everton were in a mess.
Thankfully Martinez was sacked and replaced by Koeman, but it’s easy to forget the deluge he left behind before bizarrely being given the Belgian national job.
Fast-forward a year and Everton have never been better placed to mount a challenge for the success that eluded them throughout the years when they occupied the Europa League places. Koeman has pragmatically driven the club back to where it was several years ago, only this time he’s backed by the ammunition that can take the Blues to the next level.
Goodison Park is now a fortress again with fans relishing games at the Old Lady – a year ago it almost became a chore to support Everton at home and the atmosphere, although still not great, is much better. Add to that the emergence of some outstanding young players and the addition of top-class players in Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye, and it becomes clear just how marked the improvement has been under Ronald Koeman.
Yes, the next challenge is much more difficult one, but for a club in transition this season, Everton and Koeman have done fantastically well.