Everton: How David Moyes has reinvented the club
For a team that worked so hard at winning their reputation as the Premier League's slow starters, the table makes healthy and refreshing reading for Everton and manager David Moyes.
Too often in recent times Everton and their supporters have examined the final standings in May and been left wondering what might have been had they produced post-January form before the turn of the year.
They need wonder no more. The platform for a serious push at the top four, achieved almost miraculously by Moyes and his players in 2005, has been firmly set.
Everton under Moyes
Everton move towards two home games with Wigan Athletic and Chelsea before the turn of the year in the Champions League placings and level on points with Arsenal in third.
Goodison Park will welcome the opportunity to urge their players forward with its usual high-octane fervour.
The 2-1 win at West Ham United, fully deserved despite the debate surrounding Leon Osman's disallowed early goal and two highly contentious red cards for West Ham's Carlton Cole and Everton midfield man Darron Gibson, exemplified much of their development this season.
Everton have shifted emphasis significantly from their previous image of a hard-working, organised side moulded very much in the image and likeness of their manager. This season, as they were from January last season following the additions of Steven Pienaar and Nikica Jelavic, they have continued to be an attractive, pleasing on the eye team while retaining that resilience. It is a potent combination.
So, can Everton force another crack at the Champions League after falling agonisingly to Villarreal at the qualifying stage in 2005?
On this season's evidence, and on what we saw at rain-lashed Upton Park, Everton can consider themselves rightful contenders to the two places left to fill after Manchester United and Manchester City sort out first and second between them.
Everton have fallen behind ten times this season - something Moyes may wish to address - but only one game has been lost and, as they did against Tottenham recently, this one was won.
A lack of ruthlessness has cost Everton too many points this season but there is no lack of resolution.
Moyes was elated by his team's display, saying: "I thought the players were terrific and thought our football was magic. It was the same in the second half. These players have got bags of character.
"Any time you play against West Ham you have to show it and for the most part we did. We were playing so well I was stunned when we went behind."
Osman, along with the superb Pienaar, was a central figure in the composed and ordered manner in which Everton went about overturning the lead Cole's early goal gave West Ham.
Everton demonstrated no signs of panic and kept passing until the reward came with goals from Victor Anichebe and Pienaar - although West Ham suffered a serious injustice when Cole was sent off for a challenge on Leighton Baines that was high and a foul, but carried no malicious intent and was harshly adjudged a red card by referee Anthony Taylor.
Moyes was happy to single out Osman, saying: "I thought Ossie was outstanding. If ever there was an England player it was Leon Osman today. He was at a great level, getting on the ball and turning and going past people.
"I thought he was exceptional and if he plays like that he will have more than one England cap."
The victory was sealed despite Jelavic, normally the model of efficiency in front of goal, having a nightmare in pretty much all aspects of his game. Even in these circumstances the Croat's natural feel for space in the penalty area earned him chances he is likely to take next time around.
It was also a win achieved without their outstanding player this season, Marouane Fellaini, serving a three-match suspension by letting Everton, his manager, team-mates and supporters down badly by headbutting Stoke City's Ryan Shawcross.
It is on such factors that Everton's attempt to finish in the top four could hinge.
Moyes has a solid first-team group but Everton's squad would be pushed to the limit by a succession of injuries or, in Fellaini's case, an utterly senseless ban.
Everton will want the giant Belgian back and behaving himself as soon as possible, as well as his fellow Belgian Kevin Mirallas, who looked an absolute steal at £6m before succumbing to hamstring trouble.
Longest-serving Premier League managers
Sir Alex Ferguson - Man Utd - 6 Nov 1986
Arsene Wenger - Arsenal - 1 Oct 1996
David Moyes - Everton - 14 Mar 2002
Tony Pulis - Stoke - 14 Jun 2006
Roberto Martinez - Wigan - 15 Jun 2009
This is why Moyes was so frustrated by Gibson's sending off for a high challenge not unlike Cole's but always likely to suffer the same sanction. It was even the catalyst for the rare event of home fans chanting "You Don't Know What You're Doing" at referee Taylor after a visiting player received a red card.
Everton cannot afford to lose players of the unsung Gibson's influence in such circumstances.
Moyes may try to work the markets in January but it would be a surprise if he had serious money to make major moves.
The Scot himself has issues to resolve, with his contract expiring at the end of the season and with a new one not yet in the offing. Moyes said he will examine the situation more closely at the end of January but he will be as keen as Everton not to allow this to become a sideshow or distraction at such a crucial time.
It is an intriguing state of affairs. Moyes may hanker for a larger budget as Kenwright searches in vain for new investment but will the grass be greener anywhere else? The chairman cannot give Moyes money he has not got but the manager is well-rewarded personally at Everton, is unlikely to be a contender for major Premier League jobs any time soon and has a level of control to be envied over affairs at Goodison Park.
And, very importantly in all his considerations, he currently has a team and a squad that is closer to the finished product than any he has had in almost 11 years at Everton.
Where would life be better for him unless he was tempted abroad, perhaps to indulge in his open admiration for the Bundesliga?
For now Moyes has plenty to keep him occupied at Everton and plenty to please him. If this is their usual slow start then optimism can move on to rarefied levels once they pick up their normal pace in January.
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