Everton v Oldham Athletic

Moyes edges closer to holy grail

February 26, 2013
By Richard Jolly, Goodison Park
(Archive)

David Moyes did not linger by the pitch. After the final whistle, he beat a brisk, business-like retreat into the bowels of Goodison Park. A job had been done professionally, but there was little for him to celebrate. Not yet, anyway.

Kevin Mirallas gives Everton the lead at Goodison
PA PhotosKevin Mirallas gives Everton the lead at Goodison

After 11 years of plaudits but no prizes, of overachievement without the most tangible measure of success, the quest for his holy grail is gathering pace. It is a mission that has acquired greater significance as the prospect of a top-four finish has become more remote, but Everton are now 90 minutes away from Wembley, albeit in a semi-final.

Oldham, who had delayed their progress, were brushed aside at the second attempt.

Only Wigan, their quarter-final opponents on March 9, stand in the way of a trip to the national stadium. However, the problem is that Everton may then have to defeat two of three superpowers, in the shape of Chelsea and the Manchester clubs, in order for Moyes to lift the trophy he desires and, perhaps, requires for his reputation and legacy.

Admirably as he has done on a limited budget in his reign, the fact is that Bradford have now reached as many finals as, and Swansea won more major honours than, the Scot during his time at Goodison Park. That, he hopes, will change.

"It is obviously an opportunity to win some silverware and that is the ambition Everton needs to have and does have," Moyes' assistant, Steve Round, said, looking ahead to consider a trip to Wembley. "It's something everyone looks forward to at Everton - the manager, the players, the supporters. It is where we want to go."

A side who had lost their way of late had recovered a little of their flow, Round reckoned. Their opener illustrated as much. Kevin Mirallas wafted his left foot to divert Darron Gibson's cross in, controlling his half-volley beautifully. "A quality finish," the assistant manager said.

Yet Everton have developed a habit of losing leads, and this one almost disappeared after a minute. Jose Baxter curled a shot against the inside of the post - evidence of a technical talent that may mean he does not stay in League One for long. It was agonisingly close to a goal for the former Evertonian on his return to Goodison Park.

Then the advantage was doubled when Leighton Baines drilled a penalty under Dean Bouzanis. It was given for handball against Connor Brown although as, for the second time, Nikica Jelavic went to ground after a tussle with James Tarkowski, the cumulative evidence was that Everton merited a penalty somehow. There were no complaints from Tony Philliskirk. "I thought the referee was excellent," Oldham's caretaker manager said.

He was less complimentary about his side's defending. "We are disappointed with the goals we have conceded, in particular the third, which you could say has killed the tie a bit," he added.

That goal came when Leon Osman applied a glancing header to Steven Pienaar's cross and Bouzanis, expecting the lurking Jelavic to get a touch, only palmed the ball into the back of his net. If nothing else, it was testament to Jelavic's nuisance value - but the Croatian was desperately short on confidence and incapable of finding the target himself. "He just needs a goal," Round said.

Oldham got one, a reward for their endeavours. The giant Jean-Yves Mvoto induced jitters at corners; the similarly sizeable Matt Smith scored from one. The substitute headed in Jonathan Grounds' delivery to make his campaign more schizophrenic. The target man has more goals against Liverpool and Everton - four - than he has in League One all season.

"I might get criticised for not starting the lad," Philliskirk added, though he and his charges merit credit for their efforts.

Matt Smith pulls a goal back for Oldham
PA PhotosMatt Smith pulls a goal back for Oldham

"I am very proud of the boys," the caretaker boss said. They have illuminated the FA Cup and, with an orange kit that bordered on the fluorescent, almost rendered Goodison Park's floodlights irrelevant. They were given vocal backing by the Oldham faithful, among them the club's most famous fan, the usually taciturn Paul Scholes.

Scholes has unwanted memories of Everton's last major honour as part of the defeated Manchester United side in the 1995 FA Cup final. Everton have to go back rather further, to 1912, for their previous FA Cup victory against Oldham. That came just before the Titanic met an unfortunate end. A century on, Moyes' men remain afloat.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Seamus Coleman. The Irishman broke forward at every opportunity and to great effect. He adds another dimension to Everton, aiming to mirror Baines and give incisive running from deep on either flank.

EVERTON VERDICT: February has been a bleak month, but at least it ended on a high. Moyes' men were positive from the off with the sole concern their continuing, but surprising, frailty against the aerial ball. Marouane Fellaini sat the game out with a knee problem but it is not serious, while Mirallas showed signs of getting back to his best after an injury-hit season.

OLDHAM VERDICT: Now reality will bite. They are only one place and one point above the League One relegation zone and face two of League One's top teams, Sheffield United and Tranmere, next. Rather than eliminating top-flight opposition, their priority now is to avoid demotion to the fourth tier. Play as they have done against Liverpool and Everton and it is a battle they should win. As it is, the presence of players like Baxter and Grounds suggests they should be higher up the table.