Everton have spent more years in England’s top flight than any other club and have not been outside it for 69 years, but that pedigree will count for nothing and relegation will look almost inevitable if they lose at Leicester City on Monday.
Thursday’s 4-1 home defeat to Newcastle United left Everton 19th on 28 points after mustering one win in 10 games. Their only realistic hope of survival is to claw their way above two of Leicester (29), Nottingham Forest (30) and Leeds (30).
Defeat at Leicester would pile on the pressure for their remaining fixtures against Brighton (away), Manchester City (home) and Wolves (away) so that by the time they host Bournemouth on the final day, it might already be too late for another great escape.
Last season a late surge hauled them to safety, with the team inspired by raucous support from the Goodison Park fans.
They were at it again to create a great early atmosphere against Newcastle but the passion drained alongside the paucity of performance and by the end the ground that has hosted more top flight games than any other was half empty.
How it has come to this is something of a mystery for a club which has spent an astonishing 700 million pounds since being taken over by Farhad Moshiri seven years ago. Although the David Moyes era of regular top six finishes seems ancient history, Everton still finished seventh, eighth and eighth from 2017-19 and were 10th in 2021.
The club’s recruitment strategy has seemingly been to target middling players not deemed good enough by their Premier League rivals, who then fail to flourish at their new club.
The goals of Brazil striker Richarlison played a key part in keeping them up last season but after the club were forced to sell him to stay within the league’s financial rules, the failure to find an adequate replacement has been the number one factor in their struggles.
Forward Neal Maupay has scored one goal in 26 games, to the surprise of nobody at his previous club Brighton where he was considered surplus to requirements.
Everton’s leading scorer is attacking midfielder Demarai Gray with six and the team’s total return of 25 in 33 games is comfortably the worst in the league.
The one glimmer of hope is the return of injury-ravaged striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but even if he plays, his uninspired midfield team mates look woefully ill-equipped to provide him with the chances he needs.
Everton fans had hoped that, under Sean Dyche, at least their defence would hold up, but even that has crumbled in recent weeks, reaching a new low on Thursday as Newcastle’s pacey attackers made Ben Godfrey look like a Sunday league pub player.
This is not what supporters of Everton are used to. Founder members of the Football League, they have spent only four seasons outside the top flight – 1930-31 and three in the early 1950s.
Only Arsenal (1919) have a longer unbroken run in the top flight and in the mid-1980s the Toffees had a legitimate claim to be one of the very best sides in Europe.
However, the last of their nine league titles came in 1987, their last trophy was the 1995 FA Cup and since the Premier League began in 1992, they have finished in the top four only once.
Even against that decline, however, relegation would still be a huge blow for such a distinguished club, and could not come at a worse time as they prepare to move to a new 700 million pounds stadium in 2024 while simultaneously fighting off a probe into their finances.
“At a club like Everton the stakes should be high, that’s what the players need to remember,” Dyche said of the Leicester game.
“If we take on the game and win then it creates a different atmosphere and the belief floods back in very quickly. It’s strange how quickly it can turn around.”
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