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The Best Of The Premier League Era?

Andy Lewis, 18th April 2012 - 14:31

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Andy Lewis

Andy Lewis

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Andy is a digital media journalist at Everton, working for evertonfc.com and evertontv.

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The Premier League this week launched their ‘20-Year Awards’ series, so I thought it would be a good idea to Evertonise the categories.

Tweet me @efc_andylewis with your suggestions.

Below are my choices…

BEST GOAL

The problem with selecting best goals is do you pick simply the purest strike – the best goal from an aesthetic point of view – or goals which mean something more?

Some goals encapsulate both. Wayne Rooney’s first league goal in an Everton shirt will always be an iconic moment in English football, while it also ended Arsenal’s immense unbeaten run and was, in itself, a stunning goal.

Barry Horne’s thumping volley against Wimbledon in 1994 was an incredible goal that also helped the Blues complete a quite incredible escape.

Both have to be right up there.

But for me and the purposes of this exercise, it has to be the goal that, taken on its own, is simply the easiest on the eye.

Therefore my winner is Diniyar Bilyaletdinov’s last-minute winner against Portsmouth in May 2010. You'll struggle to see a sweeter strike of a ball and there is something beautiful about seeing a left-footer shape a shot in that way. James McFadden's volley against Charlton is a narrow second. In terms of technique it is a more difficult skill, no question, but there is something special about the way Bily strikes a football.

Honourable mentions, in no particular order, must go to Bily’s other great goals against United & Wolves, James Beattie’s goals against Fulham and Arsenal, any of Mikel Arteta’s stunning free-kicks (Hull?!), Bainesy’s growing collection of free-kicks, Steven Pienaar’s audacious dinked finish at Arsenal, Duncan Ferguson’s swivel and hit against United, Lee Carsley against Birmingham, Manny Fernandes against United, Gareth Farrelly against Coventry, that Hinchcliffe free-kick at QPR and all the other fantastic goals I have failed to mention!

It is worth noting that probably the best Everton goal scored in many a year is Leon Osman’s against Larissa – but that came in the Europa League!

Winner: Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (v Portsmouth, May 2010)

BEST SAVE

With three goalkeepers of the quality of Neville Southall, Nigel Martyn and Tim Howard defining the Premier League era, this category is particularly tough to call.

Southall may well have been approaching the back end of his Blues career by that point, but he always had a penchant for a spectacular save – particularly a sprawling, dramatic double or triple save.

Many felt he wasn’t properly replaced until Nigel Martyn came along and it is the man David Moyes describes as his ‘best ever signing’ that wins this one.

Any one of his array of fine saves in the 0-0 draw at Anfield in January 2004 could win, but I have gone for his stop from Steven Gerrard.

Everyone expected the Reds man to notch as he burst clean through but Martyn stayed on his feet as long as he could before showing incredible reflexes and strength of wrist to push his ferocious close-range shot over the bar.

Honourable mentions must go to Tim Howard’s point-blank save from Tal Ben Haim at Portsmouth in 2009 and also his wonderful reaction stop of Paul Scholes’ deflected strike the 3-3 draw against Manchester United last season.

Winner: Nigel Martyn (from Gerrard v Liverpool, Jan 2004)

BEST GAME

Again with picking a best game it is difficult to separate significance from simply selecting the best spectacle.

Everton have enjoyed some great wins. Sticking seven past Southampton and Sunderland, six past West Ham to stay up in the most emphatic manner possible in 1999 and, of course, the odd derby success to boot.

They have also lost some great games. Going down 4-3 to United in 2004 and 3-2 to Chelsea in 2006 and Villa in 2008 were hugely frustrating, but to a neutral must have been quite unbelievable games to watch.

Very close to getting the nod is an absolute goal-fest in October 1999 as the Blues played out a 4-4 draw with Leeds United at Goodison. The visitors were looking to extend a club-record 10-game winning run, and looked on course to do so despite goals from Kevin Campbell (2) and Don Hutchison. But with the Blues down 4-3, David Weir rose to head home David Unsworth’s injury-time free-kick and earn a point from a truly thrilling match.

That is undoubtedly one of the great games of the Premier League era, but the nod has to go to the great escape of May 1994. Trailing 2-0, the Blues launched the mother all fightbacks to preserve top-flight status. There was even the astonishing sight of a Barry Horne wondergoal along the way.

Winner: Everton 3 Wimbledon 2 (May 1994)

BEST CELEBRATION

Naturally when this topic comes up a whole generation of new Evertonians only think of Tim Cahill chinning the corner flag, but the sight of Duncan Ferguson whirling his shirt around his head and flexing his muscles after netting against Manchester United in 1995 wins hands down.

Winner: Big Dunc (v Manchester United, Feb 1995)

BEST QUOTE

There is only one winner and it is emblazoned on the exterior of the stadium. When David Moyes took over as manager he provided a soundbite that is now intrinsic to Everton vernacular.

"I am from a city (Glasgow) that is not unlike Liverpool,” he said. “I am joining the people's football club. The majority of people you meet on the street are Everton fans. It is a fantastic opportunity, something you dream about. I said 'yes' right away as it is such a big club."

Winner David Moyes (March, 2002)

*Although when we interviewed Olivier Dacourt last year we asked him about his then teammate Marco Materazzi, and he said: "Marco got sent off, against Villa I think, and he starts crying on the pitch, so I go up to him and say: 'Marco, you f@##** muppet, what are you doing?". A personal favourite.

BEST PLAYER

The 1990s wasn’t a terrific time for the club so there aren’t too many candidates from the early Premier League years. Dave Watson’s unstinting commitment has to be noted, Southall was still a bright if fading force, while players like Anders Limpar and Andrei Kanchelskis showed frightening ability but lacked longevity.

Duncan Ferguson straddles the decades but for all his quality and enduring popularity, his injuries mean he can’t realistically be considered.

It really boils down to two men who characterise the Moyes era – Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta.

And for all his goals, talismanic performances and leadership, Cahill has to play second fiddle to his great friend.

Arteta was the catalyst for a large shift in emphasis under Moyes – with the Blues’ reputation for being a physical, direct team changing to one with a more progressive approach.

Arteta altered the way Everton played. It was said when he played well, the team played well. That’s not that the Blues were a one-man team - far from it - but such was his ability he prompted the likes of Carsley and Cahill to show what good players they were.

He also brought sheer entertainment, spectacular goals and 100 per cent commitment while always demonstrating he understood what Everton is all about.
 
Winner: Mikel Arteta

BEST TEAM (4-5-1)

Nigel Martyn (GK)

Controversial maybe, but Martyn was such a class act he is hard to rival. Southall’s best years were pre-Premier League and, while Howard has been a great servant and top keeper, Martyn was phenomenal for two glorious seasons in Blue.

Phil Neville (RB)

Very harsh to overlook Tony Hibbert, but the professionalism and leadership Neville has brought to the Club sees him get the nod – and the armband.

Leighton Baines (LB)

David Unsworth can count himself very unlucky not to get in this side but Baines is on his way to being one of the best full-backs of the modern era. Bags of assists, great set-pieces and goals from dead balls. A hugely intelligent footballer.

Joleon Lescott (CB)

Despite the acrimony which surrounded his exit, Lescott was a star for Everton. Always fit, always ready and improved with every game. Really bought into the ethos at the club and was a top class performer. Consistency, hunger and no lack of goals for a defender.

Phil Jagielka (CB)

Another player who, like Lescott, really embraced the Everton way of doing things. When Jags arrived some were unsure where he’d play – right-back? Midfield, even? But he has flourished into one of the best centre-halves in the country. A top player and worthy England international.

Mikel Arteta (CM)

An absolute maestro. As stated above, class personified on and off the pitch.

Thomas Gravesen (CM)

As his former teammates will testify, the Dane was a nutcase – an incredibly talented nutcase. His peers would drool at his ability in training yet it was Lee Carsley’s arrival in midfield which allowed him to get forward and produce his best football. The season in which he eventually moved to Real Madrid he was near unplayable.

Steven Pienaar (LM)

The South African is often described by his teammates as ‘the best player at the club’. David Moyes probably didn’t know how good a player he was getting when he signed him, initially on loan, from Dortmund. Exceptionally gifted, skilful, clever, rarely gives it away and gets the best out of his teammates – especially Leighton Baines.

Andrei Kanchelskis (RM)

While his time at the club was all too short and blighted by injury, Kancheslskis’ impact was huge. In 1995/96 he helped the club to a sixth place finish with 16 goals in not too many games from the right wing. Raw pace, explosive shooting and who could forget his double at Anfield?

Tim Cahill (AMC)

What already hasn’t been said about the Aussie?  A great source of goals, and not just any goals, but winning goals as well. Spirit, commitment and fight – a warrior. He regularly plays through injuries and has great empathy with the fans. A modern legend.

Duncan Ferguson (CF)

Should any player ever surpass Duncan’s level of popularity with supporters then they’ll have done exceptionally well. While injury and suspension limited his time on the pitch, the towering striker’s ability was never in doubt. Practically unstoppable in the air, he also possessed a great touch and a wand of a left foot. He also loved scoring against Man United and Liverpool.

Subs: Howard, Watson, Weir, Unsworth, Fellaini, Campbell, Carsley. And Manny Fernandes as a cheeky eighth sub because he was that outrageously good for the short time he was here.

Manager: David Moyes.

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