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DAVID MOYES insists Everton FC’s failure to sign high-profile reinforcements in January – and his own contract uncertainty – must not be used as excuses for the club’s current slump in form.
The Toffees are bidding to end their recent four-game win-less streak tonight by beating League One side Oldham Athletic at Goodison to secure a place in the FA Cup quarter finals.
Moyes admitted the Latics’ galling late equaliser in the previous fifth round meeting at Boundary Park, and his side’s late defeat by Norwich on Saturday, has hurt the Blues but he refused to blame their struggles on off-field concerns.
Asked whether the lack of signings during the January transfer market has hit morale, he insisted: “You know it would be easy to say yes, the transfer window has had an effect on our performances since, just as it would be very easy to say it has got anything to do with my contract – it would be easy to make those excuses.
“But at the end of the day it’s not had an affect. It’s about the players we have got, and the players we have got have been working great for the past year. The truth is, from January to January we have outperformed most clubs.
“I don’t know how many defeats we’ve had in the past year, but it’s not many and you know something I think there’ll be very few teams with a record similar to us, and very few teams who have done as well as us, so hey – the players may be entitled to a wee dip. As soon as we get a negative result, people are trying to write off our season. I have been expecting somebody to ask me what happens if we don’t get through against Oldham.
“I’d say, look at our situation – how many clubs don’t have anything to play for at this stage of the season? We have, we are still in a really good position. We are sixth in the table, we have a replay in the Cup at home to get into the quarter-final.
“If we’d just gone sixth and had this game to get into the quarter-final, we’d be saying ‘hey, this is good’. So we have to try and look at it in another fashion.”
Everton still have injury doubts over Victor Anichebe for this evening’s replay, and have fresh concerns about Marouane Fellaini who suffered a knee-injury during Saturday’s defeat at Carrow Road.
But while Moyes accepts his decision to delay his contract talks until the summer is something of a gamble if Everton finish the season poorly, he is determined they must deal with the expectations raised by their strong first half of the campaign and keep their silverware dream alive.
He added: “What I’ve said is I want to see, I just want to wait and see where we are, so yeah, maybe it could be seen as me taking a gamble, but I don’t want it to be seen as us making any excuses here over my contract or the transfer window.
“We have no excuses here, we try and take it as men if we can. Yeah we have a moan at the referees, but we try and take what we get on the chin and move on, and try to use it to make us better.
“We have expectation now, and maybe we have noticed it where we’ve played against the teams below us. I didn’t know this, but we’ve not had the results against the teams below us, but we’ve done quite well against the teams who are up there.
“Maybe we are finding we can’t deal with what it is to be the team that is being top and driving through. We have got to learn to deal with that. What tends to come from that is you get moments where people are needed to win you the game, and they will do.
“Also you need to keep your concentration in the end, and that is what we have to do.”
DAVID MOYES believes Everton FC face a season-defining fortnight – but the defiant Blues boss has backed his players to resurrect their flagging momentum.
The next two weeks will determine whether the Toffees can keep their dreams of silverware alive, and whether they also grab the vital Premier League victory required to keep them in the mix for Europe.
And starting with tonight’s fifth-round FA Cup replay against Oldham at Goodison, Moyes is urging his men to dig deep into their reserves of mental toughness with their hopes of a successful campaign in the balance.
He said: “I think it is a big game, because these two weeks we are in now are big weeks. Norwich was a big game in the league, and we now move into Oldham, then Reading, then we don’t know if we have a Cup game after that.
“It is maybe not against the top teams but it is still a period of tough games coming up. We have to try and knock one off at a time.
“I think we are in a period of maybe seeing what direction our season is going a little bit, so we have to look at that and see.”
Moyes will send another strong team out to face the League One Latics tonight, aware that victory will mean Everton have a run of four consecutive home games next month.
Progressing to a quarter-final Cup clash against Wigan at Goodison would mean their scheduled trip to face Arsenal at the Emirates on March 9 would make way until later in the season, and ensure plenty of home comfort at a time Everton need every bit of solace they can get. Most of all, however, he desperately wants to keep that inspirational Cup run fever alive.
“The cup does galvanise the place, it is difficult to explain but it keeps you on the way up. A good run can really lift the place, and that is what we are hoping to do,” he says.
“We haven’t seen games out lately, and we all know we have to be a bit tougher to see those games out and win games, and we have to try and show that a bit more than we have been doing.
“But maybe the season is beginning to take a wee bit of a toll on the players now. I’ve always said we’ve had to be grafting at it constantly and grit it out all season, and that may be having an effect.
“But we’ll get a second wind I think soon and kick on again.”
Moyes knows his side’s first obstacle comes in the form of Oldham’s 6ft7in striker Matt Smith, who almost singled-handedly vanquished Liverpool in the fourth round before scoring the last-gasp equaliser against his side at Boundary Park.
“He is a handful Matt Smith, because he’s a big lad who can jump as well,” he says. “I think you see that type less and less in football these days. He’s maybe a bit of a Duncan Ferguson, and maybe there’s a bit of Andy Carroll in him.
“I think they won’t change their approach, they’ll try to keep playing to the big lad when they can. They’ll use him, they’ll play directly to him, I can’t see them changing that style.”
Everton have conceded decisive late goals nine times already this season; and Smith’s header at Oldham was followed by Grant Holt’s strike on Saturday. It is a flaw Moyes is keen to iron out.
“Apart from five or so minutes at Norwich, we didn’t do an awful lot wrong,” he says. “I’m not saying we did everything right, but in the end we lost when we didn’t deserve too, we lost a game we shouldn’t have.
“That’s happened a few times, so it’s a concern. It’s because we haven’t killed teams off. We need to do one of two things, either kill teams off, or make sure we don’t concede.
“This is maybe a part of the season when it hasn’t been too kind for us, but you can look back at every month and see we have performed pretty much brilliantly each time. In January we won four out of five? and it could just be that in our last two games decisions have gone against us, otherwise February would be very different.
“I think maybe it’s because games are really tight too. Not many teams are scoring lots so games are really evenly balanced most of the time, and one or two bad decisions can affect the outcome.
“Even in the cups it can be pretty tight too – you can see that with some of the teams that are getting through to the later stages. I don’t fitness levels have anything to do with it, I’ve managed in the lower leagues and I don’t think that’s ever been a factor.”
While agreeing that his defence must sharpen their act, Moyes hopes they are given better protection from the referee this evening.
“I am expecting more from all of them,” he says. “At Oldham I thought the keeper did well, and I thought he was fouled. If we all jump with our arms up and take them away at the last minute, does that mean it’s ok? We may go and stand in front of the goalie – is that not ungentlemanly conduct?
“If we try and block the goalie’s vision, what is the rule with that? I agree though we have let goals in from within the six yard box, and we have to deal better with that. You should see where the ref’s position was at Oldham – it was incredible!”
OLDHAM caretaker manager Tony Philliskirk knows Everton boss David Moyes will leave no stone unturned in trying to derail the npower League One side’s remarkable FA Cup run.
Despite a difficult season in the third tier, the Latics have produced inspired form in the Cup – dumping out Nottingham Forest and Liverpool before Matt Smith’s equaliser deep into stoppage time secured a 2-2 draw against the Blues and a return at Goodison Park tonight to determine Wigan’s quarter-final hosts.
It was not for the lack of trying that Moyes’ men failed to put away their opponents at the first time of asking and Philliskirk was made fully aware of the Scot’s meticulous approach before they locked horns at Boundary Park.
“I spoke to David for 15 minutes before the game and he’d personally come to our game against MK Dons,” he said. “He’d watched the DVDs of every round we’d played in previously so I think he’d done his homework.
“And he got what he thought he was going to get, which was a very tough game. David gave us the utmost respect and I’m sure he will in the replay.
“I wouldn’t expect anything different. David’s the ultimate professional, his staff are ultimate professionals. I’m sure he does that for all his Premier League fixtures so he’s treating us in exactly the same way.
“Obviously it’s a massive game for Everton, a great opportunity for them.
“They’ll be thinking about going on and getting a Wembley appearance if they get past us and they get past Wigan.”
Philliskirk, who had his squad practising penalties yesterday, is wary of tackling a wounded animal on the back of Everton’s weekend defeat to Norwich.
“It’ll be a really tough game for us, in some respects their defeat at Norwich is probably not a good thing for us,” he added.
“I saw David’s interview after the game and he’s obviously smarting after the defeat.
“I played there many years ago and it can be an intimidating place to play, Goodison Park.”
David Moyes has insisted that neither doubts about his future as manager nor a failure to add significantly to his squad last month can be used as an excuse for Everton’s poor form.
Everton go into the FA Cup fifth-round replay at home to Oldham Athletic tonight on the back of four matches without a win, a sequence of results that Moyes puts down mainly to a lack of killer instinct at key moments.
That Everton’s downturn has coincided with growing uncertainty about Moyes’s position, after he put contract talks on hold until the end of the season, has raised questions about whether the lack of clarity is affecting his players.
It is a suggestion, though, that Moyes dismisses, as is the implication that results would suffer after the transfer window came and went without Everton adding anyone to their squad other than John Stones, a teenage full back signed from Barnsley on deadline day.
“You know it would be easy to say yes, the transfer window has had an effect on our performances since, just as it would be very easy to say it has got anything to do with my contract,” the Everton manager said. “But at the end of the day it’s not had an effect.
“The players we have got have been working great for the past year. The truth is, from January to January we have outperformed most clubs.
“I don’t know how many defeats we’ve had in the past year, but it’s not many and, you know something, I think there’ll be very few teams with a record similar to us, and very few teams who have done as well as us. So the players may be entitled to a wee dip.”
The winners of tonight’s replay will earn a tie at home to Wigan Athletic in the quarter-finals and, after Everton’s hopes of finishing in the top four of the Barclays Premier League were damaged by recent setbacks, Moyes acknowledges the next fortnight will be pivotal. “This is a big game because these two weeks we are in now are big weeks,” he said.
Matt Smith is expected to start for Oldham after his equalising goal deep into stoppage time earned the npower League One side a replay. The towering forward was compared to Didier Drogba by Brendan Rodgers after he terrorised Liverpool in the fourth round and now Tony Philliskirk, the Oldham caretaker manager, and Moyes have claimed that the 22-year-old has similar qualities to Duncan Ferguson and Andy Carroll.
“The likes of Duncan Ferguson is a good comparison. Andy Carroll too, he is outstanding in the air,” Philliskirk said. “In footballing terms, Matt is a novice. If he keeps developing, you never know where he might end up.”
Oldham caretaker boss Tony Philliskirk reckons Everton fans will get a reminder of their old hero Duncan Ferguson, writes Chris McKenna.
Latics travel to Goodison Park for their FA Cup fifth-round replay and
Philliskirk believes goal hero Matt Smith is just like ex-Toffees star Ferguson.
Smith, 23, has been a revelation in League Two Oldham’s Cup run having bagged two goals to dump Liverpool out before bagging a late equaliser against Everton to force tonight’s replay.
He said: “The like of Duncan Ferguson is a good comparison - how good was he in the air? Andy Carroll too, he is outstanding in the air.
“In footballing terms Matt is a novice in the professional game. If he keeps developing, you never know where he might end up.”
Philliskirk has urged caution though for any Premier League sides looking at taking a punt on his big man.
Having spent four years out of the game during time at university, Smith is in just his second year as a professional.
The 6ft 6in striker has caused havoc for defenders and Philliskirk reckons he is still very raw.
The Oldham boss is yet to decide if Smith will even start having only come on as a substitute in their win over Portsmouth on Saturday.
He said: “He has loads of work to do, he has to learn the game. The FA Cup has heightened his profile massively because of his goals against Liverpool and Everton.
“I think, with the attributes that he has got, Premier League defences do not like playing against him.
“Centre backs are players that are now adapting to dealing with smaller forwards, who play in a European style.
“If you stick a 6ft 6in fella up there, they will be like ‘what is going on here?’
“It is only his second season in professional football. He has years ahead of him. I think you will see the best of him in three or four years’ time.”
For the best perspective of how much hunger a football manager has, best ask the professional who is on the outside, looking in at him. Paul Gerrard, Oldham Athletic's goalkeeping coach, was an Everton player for the first two years of David Moyes' time at Goodison and he goes back from time to time, to see his opposite number, Chris Woods, and catch up with friends. It was when he called in a few months ago that Gerrard got the sense of how desperately Moyes keen is to get his hands on the FA Cup this season.
"It's clear how much he wants the trophy," said Gerrard. "He's achieved so much and there are very few, if any, better managers around, but he wants the silverware to show for it. The FA Cup campaign obviously means everything to him."
On the face of things, Everton ought to have the scent of Wembley in their lungs once more, with tonight's fifth-round replay against Oldham and a possible meeting with Wigan Athletic standing between them and a place in the semi-finals. But Moyes has been achingly close before, at Wembley last April when his side were so desperately poor in the semi-final with Liverpool, and in the final when Guus Hiddink's Chelsea rendered Louis Saha's rapier fast 25-second goal an irrelevance, four years ago.
"It definitely affects a club when you're on a Cup run," Moyes said yesterday. "It's difficult to explain but a Cup run does keep you on the real up. Something we need to keep going…" But it is the prospect of an endgame on 11 May, and a piece of silver to cap these 11 golden Goodison years of his, which will drive him tonight. Some managers have gambled with their fortunes in this season's competition but we can expect nothing of the sort against the physical threat of Matt Smith and Co, under the lights.
"In my time, when you played you used to have one of those type of strikers every week," Moyes said of Smith. "But maybe not so much nowadays. There could be a bit of Duncan [Ferguson] about him, maybe a bit of Andy Carroll, that type."
You always sense that Moyes' own management years in the less dazzling reaches of English football, at Preston, help him on these occasions. He knows Oldham's world inside out, spent 15 minutes speaking to the caretaker manager Tony Philliskirk before the 2-2 draw at Boundary Park 10 days ago, gave him his telephone number and encouraged him to call if he needed advice on what to do next. The two men go back to youth-team games when Philliskirk's son, Danny, and Moyes' son, David, played for the Oldham and Preston sides.
Of course, their two clubs – divided by 57 league places – are worlds apart in so many ways. There are few better illustrations of that than the uncertain future of Gerrard, an excellent and popular player-goalkeeping coach who has been assisting Philliskirk since Paul Dickov stood down as manager – but who received a letter on New Year's Eve informing him that he was being released as part of cost-cutting measures and would serve three-months' notice. "I'll just hopefully be able to find something else," said Gerrard, who played 90 games for Everton between 1996 and 2004. He and Philliskirk have delivered three straight League One wins, since taking over.
Moyes also finds his own club's season at a staging post from which he admits things could go one of two ways. Following an extraordinary 68-point haul in the course of 2012, a tally bettered only by the Manchester clubs, a promising January has given way to a poor February, with the last-minute nature of Saturday's defeat at Carrow Road a desperately disappointing one. Progress tonight, at home to Reading on Saturday and in the Wigan Cup tie, if Everton secure it, could deliver all the momentum back. "It is potentially a season-defining two weeks, Moyes admitted. "I think we are in a period of maybe [learning] what direction our season is going in."
It's alien territory, really. Everton are used to being the dark horses, storming in on the top-six places and threatening, not the established sixth-placed team, proving themselves as a member of the elite.
In the background, Moyes' unresolved contract issue is always there. "What I've said is that I want to see, I just want to wait and see where we are, so yeah, maybe it could be seen as me taking a gamble [with the club's patience]," he said. He's not pushing his luck with Everton, of course. His future is in his own hands. But it may very well lie elsewhere, which makes this quest to hold the FA Cup aloft all the more significant.