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DAVID MOYES knows the drill by now: unearth a rough diamond, polish him up, watch the elite circle, battle to keep him – and then sell big.
He is also acutely aware that Marouane Fellaini - who scored the equaliser here and conjured the assist for the winner from Nikica Jelavic - will be the next Everton player on his rivals' wishlists.
But he maintains that when they come calling, chequebooks in hand, there will be one important difference to the script.
"I'm not in the mood now to keep the fight going all the time because we've had to do it with a lot of players," said Moyes, who bought the Belgian, above, for £15million in August 2008, but would more than likely seek double that price now.
"Everybody knows where he is and if they want to come and watch him that's up to them. There would be a big price on his head."
But the drill is no longer to be dreaded.
"I think we've got to the stage at Everton where I say, 'Look, we've lost some really good players but I don't think it has stopped us from progressing the team'," he said.
"I was dead against selling our better players and I'm still dead against it.
"But I have to realise that if I have top players and I can't give them trophies, cup finals, European football, I might have to accept that is what they're thinking.
"My big job is to keep driving us on so they can see Everton being a force and a challenge."
Moyes is no different to those players and if Everton can show him they can be competitive in the Premier League then the countdown on his contract, which has seven months left to run, can be stopped.
David Moyes believes his Everton team are the best he has assembled in 10 years as manager but their hopes of hanging on to fourth place in the Premier League depend on keeping Marouane Fellaini, who may be a target for Chelsea and Manchester United when the transfer window opens in January.
Moyes expects the offers to come for his most gifted player, who is under contract until 2016, but thinks he will stay until the end of the season in the hope of leading Everton into the promised land that is the Champions League. Unbeaten in eight league matches after Saturday's hard-earned victory, Everton are well equipped to build on an impressive start throughout which they have not looked back since beating United on opening day.
Moyes accepts that they have played enough games for a meaningful assessment to be made of their potential and favourably compares this team with the one who finished fourth in 2004-05. He is confident that the class of 2012 have the edge in terms of individual ability and collective cohesion, and consequently in the quality of football they are playing.
Moyes said: "We've got players now who can come up with something special when we need it. Sometimes it's Leighton Baines, [Nikica] Jelavic can do it and now Fellaini is. When we need somebody to come up with something, as we did against Sunderland, he's the one we look to.
"We've not got as many points as we had at this stage of the season when we qualified for the Champions League [20 now, 23 then] but it's still a pretty good return. I'm a wee bit disappointed that we have not taken more points because I think we should have. We dropped four in the 90th minutes of games against Fulham and Newcastle, so we could be further ahead than we are but I'm sure other clubs will be saying the same."
Fellaini's future is clearly key to continued progress. The hirsute Belgian is not only the club's leading scorer, with six in 10 league appearances, he is also their cleverest provider, their powerful target man and when required their midfield tough guy. For all-round ability and versatility, he has no peers.
Moyes knows it and said: "I've been saying for a while that Fellaini is as good as anybody around in the things he does." Can Everton keep him is the £30m question. Moyes again: "Everybody knows where he is, if clubs want to come and watch him they can but there will be a big price on his head. I'm not in the mood to keep the fight going all the time because I've had to do it with a lot of players over the years. You might say Everton have lost good players but have actually gone on and improved. We sold [Mikel] Arteta and others and we all felt really down when they went but we've had to pick ourselves up and find others, and the players we've got here at the moment have shown that we can. Fellaini knows what I think and vice versa. More than anything he'd love to take Everton into the Champions League and that's what we're both trying to achieve."
Man of the match by a distance, Everton's own Muscles from Brussels scored their equaliser with a classy finish from 17 yards then set up Jelavic's winner with a backheel. Poor Sunderland's crest was well and truly fallen. Until Fellaini's late intervention they appeared to be on course for only a second win of the season, courtesy of Adam Johnson's first goal since his £10m transfer from Manchester City.
It was also the league's lowest scorers' first for nearly nine hours but it wasn't enough. Martin O'Neill said: "We were very unlucky. We should have won the game. It's probably true that not taking our chances is the story of our season so far, and the ones we had here were clear cut. But we'll turn it around. Next week, when we play at Fulham, we'll have played 11, seven away and only four at home. Given a reasonable amount of fortune, things will turn when we level that up."
David Moyes has often fought like a Samurai warrior to fend off bids for his prized assets.
When asked the inevitable question about the future of the season’s most prolific match-winner, Marouane Fellaini, the Everton manager sounded more like a Zen preacher.
Wayne Rooney, Joleon Lescott, Mikel Arteta and, to a lesser extent, Jack Rodwell, all departed Goodison after a prolonged period of wooing by top-four clubs.
The fear is Fellaini will be next, but after seeing the Belgian maintain the early pace in the Footballer of the Year running, Moyes embraced a new mantra: “Four times bitten, five times shy.”
Fellaini, who scored a 76th-minute equaliser against Sunderland before creating Nikica Jelavic’s winner three minutes later, has made it clear he is craving Champions League football. There is acceptance from Moyes that if he cannot deliver it, the Belgian will move on.
“Everybody knows where he is and if they want to come and watch him that’s up to them,” said Moyes. “It would be a big price on his head but I’m not in the mood now to keep the fight going all the time. We’ve had to do it with a lot of players.
“We’ve got to the stage at Everton where I say, 'Look, we’ve lost some really good players but I don’t think it’s stopped us from progressing the team’. In fact, people might say Everton lost good players and improved. We all felt really down when we’ve lost players but we’ve had to pick ourselves up and go and find other ones.
“I was dead against selling players and I’m still dead against it. Don’t think I’m saying that people can come and just take my players. But I have to realise that if I have top players and I can’t give them trophies, cup finals, European football, I might have to accept that that’s what they’re thinking. My biggest job is to make sure that the players here can see that Everton have got a chance and be competitive in the Premier League.
“But Felli knows what I think and I know what he thinks. He’d love to take Everton into the Champions League and that’s what we’ll try to achieve.”
Moyes’s words not only reflect his growing stature as the ultimate finished article as a manager – victory here owed as much to a clever tactical switch, sending Fellaini back into midfield minutes before the double whammy of his goal and assist – but also growing confidence that extravagant ambitions can be achieved.
This Everton side is unrecognisable to the majority Moyes has overseen during his 400-game reign, capable of winning games in a variety of ways. They were not at their fluent best, Jelavic particularly struggling against a courageous Sunderland defence, but class players need only a moment to define an afternoon. So it proved when, after 76 minutes of Everton toil, O’Neill’s side succumbed.
The Sunderland manager felt mugged, but his suggestion that his side ought to have been three-up at half-time overlooked the fact that that would have been an absurd reflection of the balance of play. Everton’s more proactive style leaves gaps at the back. Adam Johnson took advantage in first-half injury time after Stephane Sessegnon and Steven Fletcher squandered early sitters.
“Those were clear-cut chances,” said O’Neill. “Some players will have taken a lot of confidence from the game.”
NIKICA JELAVIC can become one of the Premier League most prolific marksmen this season after returning to scoring ways during Saturday’s win over Sunderland, says Everton FC team-mate Steven Pienaar.
The Croatian’s second half goal at Goodison sealed an important three points for Everton as they remained in the Premier League’s fourth place, and Pienaar believes his team-mate will quickly return to his ruthless best.
Victory over Martin O’Neill’s men was hard fought and Pienaar reckons Everton’s timely return to winning ways after a string of draws could prove to be vital.
He said: “I’m really delighted he has scored. I told him in the week just to be patient and keep working hard because things will turn and I’m thankful it has.
“I think people tend to forget we only really have one fit striker so we can’t put too much pressure on him. The most important thing is that he’s been working hard.
“We always knew he had the ability to score goals and I think he will be right up there among the top scorers in the league this season.”
With West Bromwich Albion winning away at Wigan on Saturday, Everton had to take maximum points to keep in fourth spot, and Pienaar said he was relieved they managed to see out the game despite not being at their best for parts of it.
“When you come from four draws in a row there’s pressure because we knew we had to win to get it out of our system,” he said. “A lot of people might have thought the wheels were coming off a bit but we just had to keep going.
"We’ve been playing really nice football lately but we need to get the results the dirty, hard way too. Look at Manchester United the last couple of seasons when they’ve been near the top or winners and they haven’t always played the best football but they’ve got the winning mentality.
“With this result it might not have been the best display but it might be important at the end of the season. It was about the result and we’re all really pleased.”
Last week South African coach Gordon Igesund reiterated his desire to try and persuade Pienaar to change his mind over his recent retirement from international football, but Pienaar insisted he remains happy with his decision and focused on the club he re-joined in the summer.
He said: “The most important thing was for me to think about myself and my body. To be honest I’ve got a reason why I retired from international football and it was for my health that it was important.
“I think it was a good idea not to go back and hopefully I can stay fit for the rest of the season.”