Today is the first day of the rest of Everton’s season

Everton fans have endured a nightmare of a start to the soccer season. Going into today’s match at home against defending English and European champion Manchester United, the Toffees were sitting in 16th place, just one point above the regulation zone. And they had already been bounced from two Cup competitions. Even more ominous was the fact that our defense, the backbone of the team in recent years, had conceded more goals than any other club in the league.

The first half of today’s match was more of the same. The Mancs thoroughly dominated and were a bit unlucky to be up only 0-1.

But Everton came alive in the second half, sparked by their captain (and former Man U player) Phil Neville. Suddenly, Man U was second best all over the park — on the wings where Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar excelled; in central midfield where the make-shift pairing of Morouane Fellaini and Leon Osman suddenly had the better of Ryan Giggs and Darren Flecher; and even in front of our own goal where Wayne Rooney, unstoppable in recent matches, was becoming increasingly frustrated.

Everton’s dominance finally produced the equalizer when Fellaini rose above Man U’s great center-backs to head home a Neville cross. After that, Man U got back into the match, but its prospect of regaining the lead suffered a blow when Sir Alex Ferguson felt compelled to remove Rooney. The ex-Everton star was becoming increasingly out-of-sorts, at one point responding to the taunts of his former fans by kissing his Man U badge. Rooney was already on a yellow card, and Sir Alex could not risk him getting another one. The one-time boy wonder (who yesterday celebrated his 23rd birthday) will have to get his 100th goal at some other venue than the one where it all started for him.

Stout defending from Joseph Yobo, Joleon Lescott, and Phil Jagielka preserved the draw. As heartening was the fact that Everton was not playing for one at the end.

Everton is now entering a key stretch of the season. In our nine matches this season, we have played three members for the “big four” and three newly promoted clubs. But in the next eight matches we’ll be taking on the true middle of the table, all clubs that we finished ahead of last year.

Coming off of today’s second half, and with no Cup matches to play in the remainder of 2008, it should be time to make our move.

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