Belfast Telegraph

Neutrals want us to beat Liverpool, says Everton manager David Moyes

By Tim Rich

If sport is all about winning, then Juande Ramos, Christian Gross and Claudio Ranieri are all better managers than David Moyes. They have each won trophies of some sort. Moyes has not.

His chairman, the theatrical impresario Bill Kenwright, might console him with the thought that Albert Finney, Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole did not win a single Oscar between them.

However, last month when discussing the achievements of a decade at Goodison Park, amid all the praise for the way he has taken Everton back to football's top table on a Little Chef budget, Moyes confessed that the absence of silverware ate away at him.

When he was manager of Preston, Moyes used to see Sir Tom Finney, the greatest English footballer of his generation, around once week. He, too, never won a trophy.

His great chance came in 1953 when Preston lost the title to Arsenal on goal average. The following year, Finney found himself overwhelmed by the build-up to the FA Cup final, floundering amid requests for interviews and tickets. That, too, was lost.

The neutrals were unashamedly behind Finney then and Moyes suspects that they might be behind Everton now. "The other three teams left in the FA Cup would want to play Everton. If they had any choice, they would have picked us," he said.

"That's fine. I am a football man, I can understand that, but the neutral would want Everton to win. The neutrals would look at Everton and see how they have tried to build the club and develop the team in a way that gives hope to other clubs. I am not saying it is the right way, but it is our way – and it has been done with real hard graft."

Increasingly, it has been done with some flair. In September, there was a protest march outside Goodison and someone had baked a cake to commemorate the second anniversary of the last time Everton had paid a significant transfer fee. Four months later, some funds were found. Darron Gibson, Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar arrived to provide that most precious of sporting commodities, momentum.

One of the great swelling choruses that rise from the Gwladys End at Goodison begins: "If you know your history ..." If you didn't know your history, you would make Everton strong favourites for this Merseyside derby.

They approach Wembley in the form of a honed athlete. Liverpool, by contrast, look a shambles. They go there after a vicious period of blood-letting that has seen the firing of the director of football, the head of sports science, the goalkeeping coach – anyone, in short, not directly connected with an abysmal run of results. Should Liverpool lose at Wembley, the lady who brings Kenny Dalglish his cup of tea and Scotch egg might find herself looking for work.

However, it is the fact that it is Liverpool that has doubts swirling around the figure of David Moyes. Liverpool under Dalglish have raised their game on the grand occasions. Moyes' record in Merseyside derbies is poor. He has never won at Anfield; there is a theory he plays Liverpool on their history and reputation, rather than their form.

"I continually get told I lose quite regularly to Liverpool," he said with a hint of a smile. "I don't feel that way. If you look at the bigger picture, we have acquitted ourselves quite well.

"We have tried to make a fist of it, I have to say. Games against Liverpool have always been hard but I am relaxed about this one because of the way my team has been playing."

He is a little less relaxed about Dalglish's suggestion that there is a refereeing conspiracy against Liverpool, which might carry a subliminal message for today's official, Howard Webb.

"A similar thing happened before the first derby at Goodison when we got a player sent off," said Moyes. "I don't know what Liverpool's business is. We are not arguing with referees at Everton. We have had our bad decisions but we have taken them on the chin."

Moyes all but sacrificed the last Merseyside derby, sending out a weakened team at Anfield that succumbed to a Steven Gerrard hat-trick. He wanted to save his major players for the FA Cup quarter-final with Sunderland.

Under those circumstances the only option was to win, and when the first game was drawn at Goodison it appeared an opportunity squandered. It might explain why Moyes was so unusually animated on the touchline at the Stadium of Light as Everton took Martin O'Neill's side apart.

"It meant so much to me and the players," he said. "We have had better performances, actually. I made the decision to rest players because I felt we had to try to get to the semi-final. I didn't know who we were going to get, but the Cup was really important to me and I felt we had to do it."

This match might let Everton escape the shadow of Liverpool that has hung over them pretty much since the last time they met at Wembley, the 1989 FA Cup final. Nevertheless, Moyes is sanguine about what one game can achieve. Three years ago, Everton beat Manchester United in an FA Cup semi-final and lost narrowly to Chelsea in the final.

"I thought that would have drawn people back in, brought Everton back into fashion, but nothing came from that day," he said. "But if your profile is high and you get plenty of media coverage, it can only help your club.

"I have always been keen to take Everton back to the days when they were a great football club, something like they were in the 1980s. I keep changing. One year we think we are getting close, the next we drop away. At the start of the year we were making little progress, if anything we were fading away.

"I don't think the semi-final does decide if we are successful this season. I thought at the start that if we finished in the top 10, it would be a good year. We still have to maintain that position but I don't think [today] decides if it's a success now. It's the difference between a good season and a great season."

Liverpool v Everton

Odds: Liverpool 7-5; Draw 11-5; Everton 2-1

KO 12.30pm (ESPN; Highlights ITV 1, 5.30pm)

Ref H Webb (South Yorks)

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