Our Euro push can't be allowed to become a damp squib
WHEN Joe Calzaghe faces Bernard Hopkins in a Las Vegas boxing ring later in the month, the Welshman will be on his guard for the late flurries of activity in rounds that the US veteran often utilises to catch the eye of the judges.
David Moyes and Everton ought to perhaps take a leaf from the Philadelphian's book as they appear presently to be doing just the opposite, ie a largely successful season that has seen them surpass most people's expectations is petering out in a disappointing fashion.
Yesterday's encounter against a relegated Derby County only served to underline that feeling as Everton struggled for long periods against a side that has won once this season. They even had to endure the indignity of a nervy finish as Rams goalkeeper Roy Carroll came up from the back in injury time to contest a couple of corners for the visitors.
A dreadful day in terms of the weather was hardly enlivened by the fare on the pitch as the Everton players all looked as if the conclusion of a season that at one point promised so much now simply can't come quickly enough.
Leon Osman's finish, after taking Manuel Fernandes's ball in his stride, was a rare flash of quality amid the swirl of hailstones and poor passes. The Portuguese midfielder has been one of the season's big disappointments, along with fellow loanee Thomas Gravesen, and the Everton manager intimated in midweek that if the pair of them had lived up anywhere near to expectations then the club might have made a more serious push for the fourth Champions League spot. As it stands though, after a run of poor form and Liverpool selfishly refusing to get turned over at the Emirates again, another stab at the UEFA Cup next season now looks the more realistic eventuality.
Portsmouth's progression to the FA Cup final, in perhaps the only game as dull as Everton's at the weekend, has made the qualification for Europe all the more likely, and in the wake of their semi-final celebrations there's every chance that Pompey could also fail to take all three points from a tricky trip to Upton Park in midweek.
In reality Everton should never have had to rely on the results of other teams in order to secure European football but the margins for error are slim at the top of the table and Moyes's men have been dreadful since that defeat at the hands of Fiorentina. The injuries to key attacking players haven't helped in the slightest, although all teams suffer the loss of personnel over the course of the season - it just seems as if Everton don't have enough strength in depth to cope with the absence of, say, Tim Cahill and Steven Pienaar.
Moyes was certainly right though when he stated recently that the problem isn't with numbers per se - he always manages to field a full XI after all - but with the overall quality of the resources he draws upon compared to his rivals.
Clearly the success of the Everton manager's present negotiations with the club concerning a new contract will depend as much on the board's ability to help him bring in the better players that he covets as their willingness to meet his personal financial demands. And no doubt the likes of Bill Kenwright and Keith Wyness will be as hopeful as the fans of giving the manager the fund he requires to compete with the Premier League's nouveau riche - the likes of Aston Villa and Manchester City - never mind the established clubs at the very top of the table.
However, can it be taken for granted that the cash will be found to go out and buy more players from the same sort of bracket as Ayegbeni Yakubu? Unless Moyes can unearth another clutch of cut- price gems like Tim Cahill then that is what is required to significantly strengthen this Everton side - a couple of genuine top drawer players, and we know that they rarely come cheap.
Given that the club clearly borrowed on the strength of the latest television deal to break their transfer record last summer though, is it likely that they will be able to raise the funds to do the same thing again in preparation for next season?
Before we have to worry about all that though, hopefully Everton can pull themselves together for the remainder of their run-in and at least consolidate fifth place so we are not left sweating.
To fail to qualify for Europe now would be a travesty and in no way representative of what we need to remember has been, on the whole, a great season; one that for the most part has been as exciting and eventful as the Olympic torch's journey through London.