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Time for Everton to deliver

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Phil McNulty | 10:29 GMT, Friday, 26 September 2008

Everton and Liverpool devoured column inches and claimed headlines on a daily basis in a summer of sub-plots on Merseyside.

And while Saturday's first derby meeting of the season promises to be dramatic enough on its own, the events of the summer still provide an intriguing backdrop to activity on the pitch at Goodison Park.

Contracts, takeovers, signings (or lack of them) - accompanied by so many differing versions of events that one seasoned observer of Merseyside football told me "it's been like covering four clubs not two."

The stakes are always high in a game that shed its rather fanciful "friendly derby" tag many moons ago - but for Everton in particular, the coming days could shape their entire season.

Everton look a shadow of the side that finished fifth last term, going out of the Carling Cup at Blackburn on Wednesday with the jeers of their own fans ringing in their ears.

It was a reaction manager David Moyes said was fully justified - especially as it was estimated that the travelling contingent of Everton fans accounted for half of the 14,000 crowd at Ewood Park.

Throw in the fact that Moyes had to haul off his club record £15m signing Marouane Fellaini at half-time and you can gather that the mood around Goodison is not bursting with optimism and goodwill.

Fellaini has cut a tragi-comic figure in his early Everton games, a lost giant finding himself over-run by the little people. Everton's very own Gulliver.

Moyes will hope memories of his outstanding displays against Liverpool in the Champions League (which apparently did not, taken in isolation, prompt him to shell out a quite astounding sum minutes before the transfer window closed) will cattle-prod the big man into life against a familiar foe on Saturday.

If Standard had not already discovered how generous Everton could be when buying Fellaini, they certainly found out when they were gifted a 2-2 draw at Goodison Park in the Uefa Cup last week.

It leaves Everton on the brink of an exit in a tournament they worked so hard to qualify for, and one on which they had pinned many hopes this season.

But little has gone right for Everton since last May - and most of the wounds have been self-inflicted.

The club had a nightmare summer of transfer inactivity, a ground move stalled, chief excutive Keith Wyness resigned and there were laboured contract negotiations with Moyes that continue as I write this blog.

Any considered and precise strategy to build on last season's fifth place was conspicuous by its absence - although pointing the finger at a single culprit is an inexact science and there may well be more than one.

Chairman Bill Kenwright has been blamed for not providing enough cash, while Moyes has also been criticised for failing to take charge of the situation and being pro-active about signing new players until the shutters on transfer window were creaking into action.

The last day dash to Belgium to sign Fellaini may turn out to be an inspired coup, but it also had the inescapable whiff of desperation about it.

Moyes appeared to distance himself from the club's assertion that money had been available all summer when he expressed his regret at not having signings before the season started.

My information is that Moyes had a "flexible" £10m to spend from 1 June (flexible upwards presumably) plus anything he pulled in from sales. This will have left him with £20m-plus after Andrew Johnson's sale to Fulham.

This is not a bank-busting figure and the argument from those defending Moyes' management in the summer is that the serious money, accrued through Johnson's £10.5m sale, arrived too late to sign the sort of players needed to seriously threaten the Premier League's top four.

He has a valid point - but his policy of bringing in players so late was devastatingly flawed and has made a major contribution to Everton's uncertain start to the season. There was cash to spend £15m on Fellaini, although there did not seem enough to land Moyes' main summer target, the £18m-rated Sporting Lisbon midfield man Joao Moutinho.

Moyes' new contract has also cast a shadow over Everton this summer and, as ever with these things, becomes a matter for more debate when results are poor.

David Moyes

There is still hope he might even sign a new deal before Saturday's derby, but the clock is ticking and it is starting to fall into the "believe it when you see it" category.

I was informed from inside Everton in May that a deal had been agreed "in principle", the assumption at the time being that the principle was a guarantee of a major transfer fund.

I have since been told on several occasions he will be signing the contract "shortly" - and indeed the BBC was told last week that he was on the verge of signing a five-year deal.

The contract remains unsigned, with Moyes in the final year of his current deal, and my latest information is that it is still with the club, but will represent a £60,000-a-week deal if and when it is signed.

Presumably it is waiting final adjustments from Kenwright - although he might be tempted to make some interesting changes should Everton go out of the Uefa Cup next week.

Moyes' stock remains high with Everton fans, but supporters rightly judge managers on results and he might experience something of a credit crunch if they do not fall for him in the next week.

Kenwright does not enjoy Moyes' popularity with fans - they lack faith in the chairman and are never slow to let him know.

Many Everton supporters are openly hostile to a move to Kirkby and feel Kenwright has not delivered on new investment (despite what he once now infamously called a "24/7" search).

Kenwright's cause is not helped when Everton fans recall the fiasco of the ultimately non-existent Fortress Sports Fund in 2004.

He admitted at a recent Extraordinary General Meeting, called by fans unhappy at ground move proposals, that he wanted the club to have a new billionaire owner.

The only name linked, and this was vague at best, was Indian businessman Anil Ambani. Everton do not appear to be an attractive proposition to investors, especially when one of their first tasks could be to provide at least £100m to build a new stadium.

It could present an embarrassing scenario for Kenwright if he appears in front of Everton supporters this time next year and there is still no new investment and still no new ground, but do not bet against it happening.

Kenwright has asked the man who is winning a reputation as an investment "Mr Fix It" Keith Harris (no not that one) to find a buyer, but he has also been instructed to do the same by Newcastle so it may not happen in a hurry.

It leaves Everton in the sort of no-man's land that only good results can take you out of - but they can be sure Liverpool and Standard Liege will not be in the mood to lend a helping hand in what will be a pivotal few days for Moyes and his side.

Liverpool, their win against Manchester United apart, have not convinced this season and they have not been a picture of peace and calm either - with the relationship between chief executive Rick Parry and their turbulent manager Rafael Benitez a matter for public debate in the summer.

The club's supporters are in no mood to make peace with owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett and they also crave new investment, although Liverpool will have no difficulty finding it should their current American owners decide enough is enough.

Robbie Keane - vastly over-priced at £20m - has so far failed to settle, but he has punished Everton before and will see this as the perfect opportunity to ignite his Anfield career.

Everton will hope the sight of the old enemy will somehow spark them into reviving last season's excellent form - and provide the best possible diversion away from the current unsettled mood at the club.

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