They started the season with a sense of hope – they finished it with one of certainty.
The Everton fans who embarked on a new era with their club’s freshly-installed manager at Carrow Road back in August could only cross their fingers that this campaign would offer more than just transition. Or that they had the right man in charge.
Now they know.
Everton V Hull
After a record 72 Premier League points, 21 wins and 61 goals – Roberto Martinez is the one to take the Toffees to the next level.
Few doubted that by the time the team coach rolled into Humberside yesterday.
And as it pulled away afterwards, another stylishly-achieved victory in the bag, there could not be a single doubter remaining.
It remains disappointing that the Blues failed to turn a hugely positive season into a sensational one by clinching fourth place.
That task was a step too far. Perhaps the Champions League proper would have been the same, after all you must learn to walk before you can run.
But the intangibles remain the best emblems of brighter things to come. A record points haul may not be something you can put in a trophy cabinet.
Neither do you book an open top bus for a dossier of dominant possession statistics.
But it is the smiles on the faces of Evertonians which mean something more. Something impossible to quantify yet so welcome.
Or comments like “This is the best football we’ve played since the Eighties,” – an admiring sentiment expressed on numerous occasions.
If David Moyes restored stability, pride and progression to Everton, his successor is ready to restore the magic. The potential to dream.
Martinez won’t talk down his side with references to glass-ceilings or financial restraints.
He will simply believe in the restorative and winning qualities of sticking to a philosophy and mastering it.
Then, he will tell you, anything is possible.
He will also say that the hard work is just beginning. Now is not the time to be lulled into feelings of superiority.
Everton might have finished the season in fifth, a place better off than their previous campaign and with five more wins under their belts, but the challenge is to turn that progress into something which can be cherished.
Like silverware. Like a Champions League finish that could herald a financial injection which could transform the club’s prospects.
It was tantalisingly close, yet far away this time. In four of the last five seasons, 72 points would have secured fourth place.
But in the end Arsenal, at one stage clinging on by the skin of their teeth, clinched the final Champions League qualifying place by seven clear points.
They had that extra know-how to get over the line. But Martinez’s men are learning, and learning fast.
A pivotal summer looms. How he supplements his current squad with further loan recruits and permanent captures will be key.
It was testament to the manager’s successful transfer policy last summer that two of his recruits sealed the symbolic final-day triumph at Hull.
Even without goals to his game, the signing of the tireless James McCarthy has been a resounding success. If he can add them, his £13m price-tag will seem even more of a bargain.
Thankfully the Republic of Ireland international is guaranteed to be around next term, even if the same can’t be said for the scorer of the second, Romelu Lukaku.
Whether signing him for the reported price tag of £20m could be considered a bargain is debatable.
But both were impressive at the KC Stadium.
Granted, Everton’s opponents were going through the motions at times. But it’s not this final flourish which will come to symbolise a season of high-points.
Instead fans will think of Old Trafford and the Emirates in December, of home wins over United and Arsenal, and times when their side performed so admirably at Tottenham and Chelsea only to have nothing to show for it.
That’s where they must learn from their set-backs, and absorb the extra nous that perhaps made the difference ultimately in their race with the Gunners.
There was nothing naïve about victory in Hull. Even without two more of their leading lights, with Ross Barkley and John Stones both rested, Everton had too much for the clawless Tigers.
McCarthy’s energy and desire to get into the area and cap a sweeping move with a strong finish, too strong for Alan McGregor to hold, gave the Blues an early lead and they barely looked back.
There were promising signs aplenty. Aiden McGeady’s cameo, all shimmering feet and quicksilver turns bodes well for what he can contribute after a full pre-season. And Leighton Baines, even with a World Cup his immediate priority, showed once again why persuading him to sign a new contract was one of Martinez’s most vital achievements.
Witness the left-back chasing down Hull defenders on the edge of their own area like a man possessed while the first half meandered to a close, just to win back possession for his team.
When senior players like the left-back show such commitment to the cause, amid the environs of what was effectively a dead rubber, it shows a perfect example to the watching youngsters.
It shows that every last kick matters.
There’s a mix of professionalism, rare talent, defensive steel (the second best rearguard in the league), and flair in this side which has turned Blues into believers.
Add a more consistent goal supply to that and some more depth to cope with a campaign on four fronts next time and that belief could be rewarded.
As the travelling Toffees reminded everyone on Sunday, the school of science is on the way back.
The report was glistening after this term, but further tests await.
They wouldn’t want anyone else in charge of overcoming them.
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